I have previously mentioned that, as part of my dissertation, I am currently in the process of analysing dental pathologies in Anglo-Saxon burials from the Village of Norton, Cleveland. Well, a couple of weeks ago I actually got to visit Norton and learn a little more about the site where these skeletons were excavated.
This is the site of the pagan cemetery. The settlement would probably have been just to the southwest, on the other side of the modern hedge, and the later burial grounds cluster around the same area. A number of important landmarks are visible from the site, and likely influenced its location. The tower of the Saxon church at Billingham, a neighboring settlement, is just visible above the trees. More pagan landmarks include Roseberry Topping, which was associated in lore with Odin, and a possible Bronze Age barrow within the same field as the pagan Saxon burials. In winter it is also possible to see down to the river Tees beyond the treeline. This would have been the main access route into the area, so it would have been important to be able to monitor river traffic.
A hollow way also runs just behind the cemetery, leading northeast from the settlement. Sunken lanes like this are worn into the landscape over centuries of travel, and essentially the same route is still used today, as a modern road can just be seen behind the ancient route.
After the tenth century, there was a major shift in the settlement pattern at Norton. This may have coincided with the expulsion of the Saxon cult of St Cuthbert from Durham by the Normans in 1083. Groups of monks settled in other communities including Norton, and it may have been at this point that the original Saxon church was destroyed and a new church built to the west, with the settlement re-organising around this new centre.
Although the new church at Norton was built after the Norman Conquest, it was built in a Saxon style, which would seem to be a deliberate statement on the part of the monastic community who relocated there. Although the cruciform plan is unusual for a Saxon parish church, a number of classically Anglo-Saxon architectural elements are still visible, including the design of several of the windows, and the former roofline, which was much higher to allow space for the dormitory.
Correction: Although the church at Billingham was mentioned as a landmark, it would not yet have been built at the time when the pagan burial site was in use.
Waltham Abbey has seen several incarnations. The church was rebuilt in stone under the direction of Harold Godwinson in the 1050s, following the miraculous cure of his paralysis which was attributed to a wooden cross held in the earlier church building. Most of the current structure dates from the Anglo-Norman period, and clear parallels can be seen with the famous Anglo-Norman cathedral at Durham in the decoration of the pillars in the nave.
However, a few Anglo-Saxon elements are still visible in the structure of the church, including a section of herring-bone stonework in the rear wall.
Waltham also boasts an early fifteenth-century wall painting depicting Judgement Day, with a heavenly chorus and souls ascending on the left and the damned descending into the mouth of Hell on the right.
In addition to enjoying the patronage of Harold Godwinson, Waltham has been suggested as one possible site for his burial following the Battle of Hastings. If he was indeed buried in the church, it would probably have been beneath the high alter. Today, a stone marker on the site of the Anglo-Saxon alter commemorates his death.
The church also contains a number of depictions of Harold, commemorating its history. These include a modern stained-glass window, and a carving on the exterior walls.
Last Friday we had a field trip for my Medieval Settlement and Communities course. (This is the first time I have been on a field trip since high school! There was much excitement.) One of the sites we visited was the deserted medieval village of Wharram Percy …
View from the North Manor Site:
The North Manor was built at the high end of the village, placing it in a visible position of power. From the Manor, it would have been possible to look down across the entire village and the valley.
One of the earthwork structures at the North Manor site comprises a circular wall with a mound in the centre, and has often been interpreted as a dovecote. However, no excavations have yet been carried out at the North Manor to corroborate interpretations of the manor’s layout and the functions of the various buildings.
The church associated with the settlement sits nestled in the valley below the village. This is a more sheltered location, but one with unusually low visibility for such an important structure within the community.
Here it is possible to see something of the building sequence and history of the church in the cut and fill of various window arches and doorways.
There are also a number of Anglo-Saxon grave slabs which were incorporated into the church walls, a fairly common practice.