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Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Greenwich Park

A Scheduled Monument in Greenwich West, Greenwich

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.4758 / 51°28'32"N

Longitude: -0.0026 / 0°0'9"W

OS Eastings: 538813.000714

OS Northings: 177094.959538

OS Grid: TQ388770

Mapcode National: GBR L1.Q0X

Mapcode Global: VHGR7.X50H

Entry Name: Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Greenwich Park

Scheduled Date: 1 December 2009

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021440

English Heritage Legacy ID: 28893

County: Greenwich

Electoral Ward/Division: Greenwich West

Built-Up Area: Greenwich

Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: Greenwich St Alfege

Church of England Diocese: Southwark

Details

The monument includes an Anglo-Saxon barrow cemetery of at least thirty one
barrows dating to the sixth to eighth centuries AD.

The cemetery is located south west of the Old Royal Observatory on high
ground overlooking the River Thames. The barrows are set back from the edge
of the Greenwich escarpment on a small natural rise 0.9m high; to the north
east the ground falls steeply into a deep valley cutting the scarp edge.

The barrows are low mounds varying in diameter from 3.4m to 9.5m, and are
from 0.1m to 0.7m in high. Twenty two of the thirty one barrows have an
encircling ditch which can now be seen only as slight hollows or grass marks
between 0.6m and 1.9m wide. Some of the barrows have steeper sides and
flatter summits than the round profiles of most of the group. In one case the
mound is separated from the ditch by a berm 1m wide.

The barrow group forms a tight cluster, some less than 1m apart. Almost all
the barrows show signs of disturbance, whether by excavation or tree roots,
and at least four of the barrows are cut by paths which are associated with
later quarrying. A 5m margin of protection is allocated around the barrows
for their support and future management.

The first mention of the cemetery is in Harris's 1719 History of Kent and
they are shown on a 1784 watercolour in the British Museum (Cat. No. G6863)
and in a drawing in the illustrated London News of 1884. The barrows were
plotted by H Sayer in an 1840 plan of the Park and by the Ordnance Survey in
1871.

Twelve of the barrows were levelled in 1844 during preparatory work for a new
reservoir. The reservoir was subsequently built further to the south in its
present position.

The Reverend James Douglas opened at least twenty barrows in 1784; only eight
of these are described by him, and they contained primary burials some of
which were in wooden coffins. Finds included an iron spearhead and knife and
also a shield boss and textile evidence. Douglas thought that some of the
barrows had been opened previously, possibly by a park keeper named Hearne.
In 1927 Martin produced a plan and description of the surviving barrows. The
RCHME recorded the barrows in 1930 and again in 1980 and 1993. The
Commission's geophysical survey of 1994 estimated the size of the original
cemetery to have been about forty, and have suggested linear arrangements
within the group.

Another cemetery may have existed in the vicinity of Queen's House, where
human bones and a hanging bowl were found in 1860 but little is known about
its location.

The Park paths which cross the cemetery, including the make up of the paths
and their tarmac surfaces, are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground
beneath is included.

MAP EXTRACT
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 5 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Beginning in the fifth century AD, there is evidence from distinctive burials
and cemeteries, new settlements, and new forms of pottery and metalwork, of
the immigration into Britain of settlers from northern Europe, bringing with
them new religious beliefs. The Roman towns appear to have gone into rapid
decline and the old rural settlement pattern to have been disrupted. Although
some Roman settlements and cemeteries continued in use, the native Britons
rapidly adopted many of the cultural practices of the new settlers and it soon
becomes difficult to distinguish them in the archaeological record. So-called
Anglo-Saxon cemeteries are dated to the early Anglo-Saxon period, from the
fifth to the seventh centuries AD. With the conversion to Christianity during
the late sixth and seventh centuries AD, these pagan cemeteries appear to have
been abandoned in favour of new sites, some of which have continued in use up
to the present day. Burial practices included both inhumation and cremation.
Anglo-Saxon inhumation cemeteries consist predominantly of inhumation burials
which were placed in rectangular pits in the ground, occasionally within
coffins. The bodies were normally accompanied by a range of grave goods,
including jewellery and weaponry. The cemeteries vary in size, the largest
containing several hundred burials. Around 1000 inhumation cemeteries have
been recorded in England. They represent one of our principal sources of
archaeological evidence about the Early Anglo-Saxon period, providing
information on population, social structure and ideology. All surviving
examples, other than those which have been heavily disturbed, are considered
worthy of protection.

Despite partial excavation and some levelling the barrows in the Anglo-Saxon
cemetery at Greenwich Park will contain archaeological information and
environmental evidence, relating both to the cemetery and the landscape in
which it was constructed. They will provide information about the Anglo-Saxon
presence in this part of the Greater London area in the sixth to eighth
centuries AD at a time when Greenwich was emerging as a Saxon 'wic' or
trading settlement. Whilst there are some 1000 recorded sites of Anglo-Saxon
inhumation burials in England, only about 100 to 150 of these are cemeteries
of equivalent size to that in Greenwich Park. Although a high proportion of
these are barrow cemeteries, particularly in the south east of England such
as in Kent and Sussex, it is not common in a national context for upstanding
barrows of the quality of those at Greenwich Park to survive.

Source: Historic England

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