Category Archives: History


I have been on holiday this week, mostly to celebrate the close of the shooting season and the consequent opening of the archaeology season (Yay! The Glorious 2nd!). Not, to be fair, that I have lacked archaeology over this winter. Anyway, Saturday – the last day of the shoot – was a glorious day, and I decided to get well out of the way, and visit Framlingham and Orford castles.

Orford I have visited several times whilst researching Wimer, but I have been sniffy about Framlingham, because what remains is later than I’ve been interested in. However, the Wimer sequel is in the right timeframe, so I decided to go along; then to drive from Framlingham to Orford, a direct trip I haven’t made before.

Visiting Framlingham was useful for scale, and for viewpoints. The encircling ditches were never filled with water, being a dry route for soldiers to move unseen around the perimeter; I wouldn’t have known that without visiting. Also, the River Ore forms a large mere on the North side – I think that was a conceit of the Howards, centuries later, but when I was there the whole river valley was flooded; I think, in the same weather conditions, it would have been just as defensive in 1216, when John attacked the castle. They surrendered after two days – Roger Bigod was away; I bet he swore!

FramlinghamI am left with a puzzle, though. Henry II had Hugh Bigod’s motte and bailey at Framlingham destroyed, after the Young King rebellions in the 1170s. However, the English Heritage people were insistent that the stone chimneys visible in the curtain wall of the 13th C castle were remnants of the earlier castle – in fact, of the Lord’s chambers. How, if the motte was demolished? There’s no sign of it now.

They also suggested that the castle’s orientation has flipped 180 degrees, with Hugh’s castle oriented South, and his son Roger’s, to the North. Here’s a sketch, using Google Maps.

There were some interesting facts on how the castle was provisioned; in 1386 the dovecote produced 431 pigeons, and there were a team of falconers employed to fish from the mere!

I also loved the drive between Fram and Orford, through Parham, Campsea Ashe, and Tunstall. I indulged my church bent, and went into them all 🙂 Something I hadn’t realised is that the route runs alongside the River Ore – now not much more than a stream, but was it bigger then? Even navigable, or suitable for poling a boat up? The other major impression was how dark and huge Tunstall Forest is, even now. The river route might have been much safer!

Finally I had a nice visit with my favourite castle in the world, Orford. I had Wimer’s chapel to myself in the evening sunshine, and it was such a pleasant place to sit and write. I remembered to count this time; there were 12 seats in the chapel, another numerological reference! And I confirmed another hunch – Wimer’s bedroom is the only one in the castle with a private loo, he really did have a thing about them 😀

A most enjoyable outing.


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Filed under Henry, History, Wimer

British Museum trip – various viewpoints

I am attempting to organise the various aspects of my life, by using separate notebooks for archaeology/detecting and writing. The trip to the British Museum last Friday was a classic example of when that doesn’t work; too much crossover! I’ll try again here.

Having discovered that the BM is open until 8:30pm on Fridays – 6 glorious hours of wandering around one of the best museums in the world, for free, after a morning meeting – I shall have to repeat the experiment as often as possible 🙂

I am particularly worried ab0ut rivets at the moment; it’s too easy for something like a shield boss to deteriorate in our locally very acidic sandy soil, and for the copper alloy rivets to be the only remaining evidence. Plan A was to visit the Sutton Hoo exhibits (Room 2, ground floor), then go upstairs to rooms 49-51, Roman through Early Mediaeval, with a detector’s hat on. Look what Basil Brown achieved, with those beautifully laid-out rows! Unlike him, though, I get my rivets tumbled in plough soil, and so it’s important I know what I’m looking at, and I wanted to see the evolution of rivets through time.

Alas, to my eye, a rivet looks like a rivet looks like a rivet. Clearly this is my deficiency, because there is a whole (as ever, very expensive) textbook devoted to the subject; but there appears to be one design that hasn’t altered appreciably in 3,000 years. I’m just going to have to dump every rivet I find on the Portable Antiquities Scheme and let them sort them out 🙂

To recover from this set-back, I went to the cafe. There, I made the first error in notebook apartheid; I have a couple of pages of notes on the interaction between two young women, following on directly from the rivets. For some reason, they were sitting very still, hands in laps, with only their eyes animated; it struck me that it was a pose very proper to a pair of nuns, and the notes are around status and dominance games linked to eye size…

Then the organisation attempts failed again, as I wanted the larger writing notebook to take some sketches of buckles. I am now equally as worried about buckles as rivets; again, the design hasn’t changed appreciably since Saxon times. I got really into the detail of the Saxon workmanship; here are some notes in the writing notebook, so I don’t lose them!

  • A seax is about 10″ long, this one very crudely made at the cutting edge, but the flat edge decorated beautifully. It was a woman’s; would a man’s be different?
  • Pins for a woman’s veil were needle-fine. An actual needle was about 3″ long and thicker!
  • Bronze rings appeared in all sorts of contexts, from 1-3″ across (probably ought to be worried about them too)
  • 10 shallow silver bowls found at Sutton Hoo, for serving food; decoration is unique circular devices at bottom, cruciform arms patterned out. Bowls 9″ in diameter, 3″ deep. Lovely!
  • Small rings attached to the handle of a sword denote different allegiances
  • The wings of the bird on the helmet look like boars – which would make most of the major Celtic animals represented?
  • The roof height of a typical Saxon hall was 5m! 2 stories – not bad! Would mean that churches were not as impactful as I’ve been imagining.
  • Drinking cups were tiny, only a couple of inches high. Emphasises the difference between ale drinking for thirst and “serious” drinking…
  • Saxon sword bosses were quite small, but the Bronze Age ones were much bigger. Would be interesting to know how that affected function, and use of the boss itself as a striking weapon.
  • You can make a wire torc by wrapping the wire around a springy dogwood or alder twig – then burning away the wood to reveal the heart space inside the gold! I bet that was a magical, ceremonial moment.

Then the last note of the day was back in the detecting notebook – a comment on the changing representations of Christ over time. Pre 1100, the feel was around the strength, invulnerability and majesty of the Christ figure, even on the cross; after that date, there was a deliberate shift, by church policy, to images designed to invoke pity. That should definitely have been in the writing notebook, because presumably the shift was still happening in Wimer’s time – that’s a lovely subtle way of depicting a church, or an individual, as old-fashioned or following new-fangled ways!

Finally, I met up with an old friend, Terry Mummery, and (still thinking early mediaeval) asked his permission to share a lovely pic he took of St Eustace’s reliquary. I’m fascinated with reliquaries and the stunning beauty of the work involved, and this one is just after Wimer’s time, made in 1210. The BM writeup is here, but I prefer Terry’s photo – it gives you a much better idea of how attractive and pleasant the object is. With the skull fragments within, its approachability would make it such a powerful object to the Mediaeval mind – you could really feel like you were praying directly to the saint. I’ve also just noticed that the rivets holding the precious metal sheets together are the standard sort…

Eustace reliquary


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Filed under Archaeology, History

Night hawks and history lectures…

Yesterday, I phoned my favourite farmer up and agreed we’d talk about where to detect next in the New Year.

Today, he phoned me – whilst I was on a conference call, so he got my answer phone. Not one message, but three; of increasing urgency. The gist was, could I please get on a certain field, as soon as possible, and get detecting; never mind the gamekeeper, never mind the shoot, just get on there!

A night hawk has been working the field – a detectorist who is absolutely not authorised, who is just stripping off what treasure he can find to sell on the open market, ripping out the “goodies” out of context and selling it for whatever he can on the black market. It’s the lack of artefacts in context that hurts my farmer and I most, I have been building up such a superb picture of the history of the farm. The rat has been working with his detector set only for gold and silver, digging and leaving holes alongside the hedge – I hope he got lots of aluminium cans! My farmer rides along that headland, as do his children; a horse putting a foot into a hole masked by grass could kill someone.

I hate that kind of behaviour. I will indeed be on that field as much as possible, to keep the bastard at bay.

At night, I have another fabulous discovery – a course on writing historical fiction! Whilst I can’t write any, or soon-to-be-ex-hubby can put a claim on the income from it, I can profitably learn about the craft. It opened today, and I am loving the first reading assignments! One was about my heroine, Hilary Mantel; I have been in awe of her historical writing since I realised that I refused to accept that I knew what was going to happen!

So my days, and evenings, are going to be full of happy stuff for a while 🙂 And with a bit of luck, soon-to-be-ex-hubby has found a flat, and I can sleep at night.


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Filed under Detecting, History