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Saxon barrow, church and cemeteries in the old churchyard at Taplow Court

A Scheduled Monument in Taplow, Buckinghamshire

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Latitude: 51.5312 / 51°31'52"N

Longitude: -0.6949 / 0°41'41"W

OS Eastings: 490628.77714

OS Northings: 182168.885727

OS Grid: SU906821

Mapcode National: GBR D6C.Z0Z

Mapcode Global: VHDWK.XS02

Entry Name: Saxon barrow, church and cemeteries in the old churchyard at Taplow Court

Scheduled Date: 3 July 1933

Last Amended: 18 June 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014781

English Heritage Legacy ID: 19050

County: Buckinghamshire

Civil Parish: Taplow

Built-Up Area: Taplow

Traditional County: Buckinghamshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Buckinghamshire

Church of England Parish: Taplow

Church of England Diocese: Oxford


The monument includes a large Saxon burial mound, the buried remains of an
early Anglo-Saxon and later medieval church, and part of the pagan and
Christian cemeteries throught to have surrounded these features within the old
churchyard immediately to the south west of Taplow Court.

The site lies at the southern end of a small spur commanding extensive views
to the west over the River Thames, Maidenhead and the Berkshire countryside.
The barrow mound stands towards the western side of the now disused
churchyard, and measures c.21m in diameter and 4m high. The mound is partly
reconstituted and displays some modification as a garden feature; the top has
been levelled and the sides scarped to provide a spiral pathway to the summit.
There are no surface indications of a surrounding ditch and as a geophysical
survey in the late 1980s failed to locate such a feature, it would appear that
the material for the construction was either quarried elsewhere or scraped up
from its surroundings. The barrow was partly excavated by Rutland, Stevens
and Money in 1883 and proved to be the burial mound or hlaew of an early
seventh century Saxon chief; though not necessarily the individual known as
`Taeppa' whose name became associated with the mound sometime prior to
Domesday and is still preserved in the place name of Taplow (Taeppa's hlaew).
Traces of the body were found within an oak-lined burial chamber sunk some 2m
below the base of the mound, clad in gold embroidered robes and accompanied by
an astounding collection of grave goods. These included a sword, three
shields and three spears, three iron bound and bronze clad buckets, four glass
beakers and four drinking horns, a large bronze standing bowl (possibly from
Egypt), a highly decorated gold belt buckle inlaid with garnets and a pair of
gilt bronze clasps. This lavishly equipped burial was the richest find of the
period in England until the discovery of the Sutton Hoo treasure in 1939, and
it remains one of the finest known examples of its class.

The small rectangular churchyard measures approximately 80m by 35m and
formerly served as the curtilage of St Nicholas' Church, a small parochial
church which stood in the north eastern corner adjacent to the south wall of
Taplow Court, some 15m to the north west of the barrow. The church fell into
a state of disrepair in the early 19th century, was partly demolished in 1828,
and finally levelled during a period of major refurbishment at Taplow Court
itself in 1852. Illustrations made shortly before the church's demise show a
long narrow nave with a timber bell cote over the western gable, a small stone
built porch attached to the western end of the north wall, and a large
projecting structure in the north, (the side chapel added by the Hampson
family in 1633 and a vestry added in 1799). This medieval church superseded a
still earlier structure on the same site for which two recent surveys have now
provided archaeological evidence to demonstrate an Anglo-Saxon date. In the
late 1980s a team from the Sutton Hoo Research Project undertook a geophysical
survey of the site which recorded the buried remains of the church. This
structure appeared with greater detail in the form of parchmarks which were
surveyed by English Heritage archaeologists in the summer of 1995. The
parchmarks showed the foundations of a short, rectangular nave some 15.5m long
by 7.5m wide with walls between 1.5m and 1.8m thick. There was no structural
division for a chancel although the inside face of the eastern end wall was
curved to form an apse. Placed centrally outside the southern wall was a
rectangular projection (7m by 3.5m) with walls of similar thickness, and
traces of a matching projection were discovered in a corresponding position to
the north; both are believed to be porticus, that is small side chambers
devoted primarily to saintly or high status burials. This small, but
massively built church with attached porticus is characteristic of Anglo-Saxon
construction; and the few English parallels for this layout indicate that it
belongs to the eighth or ninth centuries AD. Later and less substantial
foundations related to the expanded medieval and post-medieval church were
also visible as parchmarks, from which it is clear that the later building
utilised part of the foundations, if not part of the superstructure, of the
Anglo-Saxon church.

The existence of the barrow and the early church will have encouraged other
burials in the near vicinity. Barrows of this period are typically surrounded
by satellite graves, (both inhumation and cremations). The early church will
inevitably have founded a cemetery, in effect continuing the burial tradition
on the site. The full extent of these surrounding, and presumably overlapping
cemeteries remains unknown, although it can be said with certainty to have
extended throughout the area of the later graveyard. The later graveyard
itself is an integral part of the history of the site. It includes the remains
of a pre-industrial population drawn from a relatively small community over
many centuries, in unbroken continuity from the early medieval period. The
entire area of the graveyard is therefore included in the scheduling, together
with the remaining post-medieval gravestones, chest tombs and other memorials
which provide further evidence for the development of the burial ground. The
churchyard walls, which are 19th century in date, are not included in the

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A hlaew is a burial monument of Anglo-Saxon or Viking date and comprising a
hemispherical mound of earth and redeposited bedrock constructed over a
primary burial or burials. These were usually inhumations, buried in a grave
cut into the subsoil beneath the mound, but cremations placed on the old
ground surface beneath the mound have also been found. Hlaews may occur
in pairs or in small groups; a few have accompanying flat graves. Constructed
during the pagan Saxon and Viking periods for individuals of high rank, they
served as visible and ostentatious markers of their social position. Some
were associated with territorial claims and appear to have been specifically
located to mark boundaries. They often contain objects which give information
on the range of technological skill and trading contacts of the period. Only
between 50 and 60 hlaews have been positively identified in England. As a
rare monument class all positively identified examples are considered worthy
of preservation.

The barrow, or hlaew, at Taplow has been dated to the seventh century AD and
is an exceptional example, both in the wealth of finds from the site and the
excellent state of preservation of the surviving remains. The barrow, despite
being partly excavated, survives almost in its original form and will contain
further important archaeological remains not found or considered important by
the original excavators, including environmental evidence relating to the
landscape in which the monument was constructed which can now be determined
with modern techniques.

The buried remains of the adjacent Anglo-Saxon church are also quite
exceptional in their importance, as buildings of this type are very rare. The
foundations of this structure evidently survive well, retaining detailed
information about the date and appearance of the church which will be valuable
for the wider study of the development of church building in England.
Furthermore, the church's close proximity to the barrow provides a fascinating
link between the pagan and Christian use of the site, reflecting the site's
continued religious significance, and illuminating the transition from
paganism to Christianity. Whether or not the porticus of the early church
provided for the burial of the descendants of the occupant of the barrow, they
demonstrate ostentatious burial in a similar vein to the earlier monument.
The juxtaposition of these two symbols of authority would not have been highly
significant at the time.

Evidence for continuity in the use of the site and the changes brought about
by the establishment of Christianity will also be evident in the secondary
burials associated with the barrow and church. The pagan Anglo-Saxon burials
will be accompanied by a range of datable artefacts, pottery, jewellery,
weapons and domestic items providing information concerning social structure
and ideology. The Christian inhumations will be largely devoid of grave goods
(in itself an indication of changed beliefs) but, together with the earlier
burials are highly valuable for the study of aspects such as life expectancy,
disease and nutrition throughout the currency of the graveyard.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Gelling, M, The Place-Names of Berkshire, (1976)
Lysons, Reverend D, Lysons, S, Magna Britannia, (1813), 647
Morris, R, Churches in the Landscape, (1989), 460-1
Page, F , The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire, (1910), 241
Page, F , The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire, (1910), 199-203
Welch, M, Anglo-Saxon England, (1992), 92-6
'Illustrated London News' in Relicts of a Viking's Tomb, (1883), 507-9
'Illustrated London News' in Viking's Tomb recently discovered at Taplow Court, (1883), 276-8
Stevens, J, 'Journ. Brit. Archeol. Assoc.' in Remains found in an Anglo-Saxon Tumulus at Taplow, , Vol. 40, (1884), 61-71
Copp, A. & Royale, C, Surveys conducted at Taplow Court, 1987, unpublished report (Bucks SMR)
Fell, D. Daniel, C. & Rimmer, P., Resistivity Survey at Taplow Court, 1987, Unpublished report (illustrated)
Oil on paper (Soc of Antiqs, London), St. Nicholas' Church, Taplow (Red Book), (1825)
Pencil sketch (BRO D/GR/14/84/1), Rutland, J, The Ruins of St. Nicholas', Taplow, from the south west, (1849)
photo in Taplow Church, Rutland, J (after Vansittart Neale), Later copy of drawing of St. Nicholas' Church c.1815, (1847)
reference to finds from Bapsey Pond, 2929,
Scrimgeour, G E and Farley, M, Taplow and its setting, 1987, unpublished report. Bucks SMR
Stocker, D & Went, D, Evidence for a pre-Viking Church adjacent to the Taplow Barrow, 1996, forthcoming article
Unpublished archive (Bucks SMR), Baker, G T and Adlam, R P, Opening the Taplow Vault, (1970)

Source: Historic England

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