Nu History Podcast – Episode 4: Beowulf and the Anglo Saxons

The fourth episode of our podcast is here!

For this episode Lilly and Alex are joined by Elton, a historian and “nerd guy about Beowulf” (his own words), who is here to talk about some of his recent work and projects, mostly relating to Beowulf of course!

You can listen through Spotify below, or head to Anchor for links to follow on Apple, Google and wherever else you get your podcasts.

Spring of Water Rises: A history of Orpington before 1900

I recently moved to Orpington, part of the London Borough of Bromley, on the border of London and Kent. Despite only becoming part of London in 1965, Orpington has a long and interesting history which has meant my original idea for this blog post has changed several times. Therefore this post only covers the history of Orpington up until 1900, I hope to at some point in the future to blog about the history of Orpington post 1900. The name Orpington comes from a bastardized version of Dorpentune which means ‘where the head or spring of water rises’.

Tools from the Stone Age, pottery from the Bronze Age and a farmstead from the Iron Age show that Orpington has been settled since early human history, however our first concrete history of Orpington comes from the Crofton Roman villa. It is thought to have been occupied from around 140 AD to 400 AD. The villa was the centre of a 500 acre farming estate overlooking the River Cray. The villa underwent various changes during its 240 year existence, possibly containing around twenty rooms with at least sixteen found during its excavation. By 400 AD it was abandoned and eventually due to the remains of the buildings being taken or lost under soil washing from the slopes above, the villa was lost until 1926 when it was found during construction work. Ten of the rooms are now preserved in the Crofton Roman villa museum.

The next records of Orpington appeared in 862 AD in a charter under King Ethelbert of Wessex. It then appears again in 1032 when King Cnut’s chaplain gave his estate to the Christ Church Priory in Canterbury.  Four years later the area was first recorded as Orpedingetune. Ten years before the Domesday Book in in 1076, there were disputes within the church about the lands around Orpington. The Domesday Book however is our best source of information for Orpington as it records its population as around 75-100 people detailing their possessions and livelihoods. It also included who owned what parts of Orpington. The largest manor belonged to the Monks of Christchurch Canterbury, as had been given to them in 1032. There was a second manor, known as ‘Little Orpington’ which belonged to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but not the monastery.

The first major secular records begin in 1111, with the construction of the first manor house in Oprington, built by the de Rokesle family who then let the manor to Philip de Malevil. By 1281 the house reverted back to de Rokesle family, who had risen to prominence with Gregory de Rokesle holding the position of Lord Mayor of London. However the residence of such a prominent figure seems to have done little for Orpington. By 1363 on the death of John de Rokesle, his lands including the manor house were sold to Sir John Peche.

Upon the dissolution of the monasteries the Priory was given to Sir Percival Hart. In 1554 Hart built on the Priory land, retaining some of the existing buildings. In 1573 Elizabeth I as part of her Royal Progress visited Orpington staying at the property known as Bart Hart. She spent three days in Orpington before moving on to her own property in Knolle. The manor and land would remain in the Hart family until 1671.

The seventeenth century saw the beginning of recorded industry. The Colegates Mill was constructed on the River Cray in 1634. This mill would remain until at least the nineteenth century. In 1654, the Hodgson Brothers built their foundry also on the Cray, where not only did they cast bells for the local St Mary’s Church but also the famous Bow Bells for St Mary Le Bow of Cheapside in central London. Those born in the sound of the bells are considered ‘true’ cockneys. As industry spread so did the need for better transport links with the turn-piking of the London to Tunbridge Wells’s road being completed in 1750 which Orpington was situated on. By the early nineteenth century two paper mills were established which would remain until the Great Depressions in the 1930s. Fox and Sons also established a large brewery in Orpington in 1836. They would later build housing in the area for their employees.

Such development of industry lead to the building of train stations in the area. St Mary Cray Station predated Orpington by ten years arriving in 1858, this helped development around the river Cray. The railway helped Orpington gain links not just with the surrounding areas of Kent but also with London. At this time Orpington was still mostly an agricultural area along with the industry around the Cray. The Vinson family for instance who were the largest soft fruit producers in England invested heavily in the area. However Orpington was growing, with its population increasing from 754 in 1841 to around 4000 in 1900.

By 1900 Orpington had developed from a tiny village to the beginnings of a growing town. Despite its small population until the mid-nineteenth century, Orpington had a rich history dating from the Roman period. It began to develop more into what the town appears as today, although much of the events of the twentieth century would truly form it.

Twice a Queen: Emma of Normandy

Much is known of England’s powerful queen consorts, from Eleanor Aquitaine to Elizabeth Woodville to Anne Boleyn but little is known about the woman who arguably was one of the first of England’s powerful queen consorts, along with her mother in law Ælfthryth. Emma of Normandy was queen consort of England twice, first to Æthelred the Unready and secondly to Cnut the Great. She was the mother to two kings of England, Harthacnut and Edward the Confessor.  Her continued hold on power was due to her determined will which saw her survive the death of both husbands and several sons. The Encomium Emmae Reginae written in honour of her recorded her as a central figure during this period and is one of the major sources. Her position as a daughter of Normandy has also led to her marriage to Æthelred being considered as one of the main events leading to the Norman Conquest of 1066.

Born to Richard I, Count of Rouen, and his wife Gunnor, Emma was born sometime during the 980s. Her brother Richard was Duke of Normandy and another brother Robert was Archbishop of Rouen. Her family’s position was what led to Emma’s marriage to Æthelred in 1002 as a result of an arrangement between the two territories against Viking raids. Emma dutifully provided 3 heirs for Æthelred but her power was limited during her marriage to him. While she seems to appear more during Æthelred’s reign compared to his first wife, such as appearing prominently on witness lists of Æthelred’s charters, William of Malmesbury reported that the pair never got along. Emma was forced to return to Normandy with her two sons in 1013 after her husband lost control of England to Swein Forkbeard and was only unable to return upon his death the following year. By 1016, Æthelred himself had died and Emma had been unsuccessful in convincing him to pass over his sons from his first wife in favour of Edward.

Æthelred’s heir Edmund Ironside however did not survive long, dying at the end of 1016 after struggling to hold off Cnut. Emma soon married Cnut in a mutually beneficial marriage. She retained her position as queen as well preserving the life of her two sons while Cnut benefitted from Emma being seen as symbol of continuity and quelling the threat from Normandy. Emma was afforded a far greater position as Cnut’s wife than she was during her marriage to Æthelred. Sources refer to the couple as pair and Emma also appears in royal imagery such as in the Liber Vitae which includes an image depicting Emma and Cnut presenting their gift of a cross on the altar of the New Minster of Winchester. The Encomium Emmae Reginae also comments that while the marriage began as one for political means, that the marriage became affectionate. By the time Cnut died in 1035, the marriage had provided two children, including Cnut’s heir Harthacnut.

Upon Cnut’s death Emma did not cede her political power. She focused on ensuring that her son with Cnut, Harthacnut could maintain power. Harthacnut however was in Denmark and made little attempt to come to England. Emma was forced to appeal to her sons from her marriage to Æthelred, Edward and Alfred, to come to England to help support her against her opponents. However upon their arrival they were betrayed by allies leading to the death of her son Alfred who died after having his eyes gouged out. Emma was forced to flee to Flanders as her stepson Harold Harefoot took control of England. Upon Harefoot’s death in 1040, Harthacnut had finally joined his mother and the two set sail to England to reclaim the throne.

Harthacnut’s reign was not popular according to the C and E texts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Emma is believed to have convinced Edward to return to England to help reduce tensions but to also strengthen her position. It was during Harthacnut’s reign that she commissioned the Encomium Emmae Reginae, to present her version of events and create a lasting legacy of her life. Emma firmly places the blame for her son Alfred’s death on Harold the Harefoot. Despite the work’s biases, it is considered an important source for 11th century English and Scandinavian history.

Upon the death of Harthacnut’s in 1042, Emma’s power began to decrease. Despite having helped secure Edward’s position, perhaps as a result of her favouring Harthacnunt as heir, their relationship soured. Edward came to Winchester seizing the treasure held there, if it was Emma’s own or the royal treasury is not clear, as well as her advisor Bishop Stigand who was stripped of his office. While Emma would later return to court, and Stigand would also be promoted, it was the end of her influence. In her place the Earl Godwine gained her political power, despite his probable role in the death of Edward’s brother, Alfred. Emma would see him become exiled before she died in 1052 but after her death he returned to power and his son became the ill-fated Harold Godwinson.

When Emma died in 1052, she was buried at Winchester next to Cnut and Harthacnut. She had been queen consort of England twice over, as well as when married to Cnut, queen consort of Denmark and Norway. Two of her sons had also successfully obtained the English throne. In the case of her second husband and her two sons she had been instrumental in their success. Despite not being of English birth and being a woman, Emma navigated the dangers of the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Danish courts in securing a position for herself. For a queen consort with such an interesting life, Emma deserves much more than a footnote in the history books.

Reform or Monastic Revival? An Insight into the Tenth Century English Church

After my row of updates on prehistoric and ancient times, I have decided to go back to my educational roots: early medieval history. In my early years at university, most of research and essay work focused on ecclesiastical history and the believes of people all over Europe. I think it was a subject I felt comfortable discussing- I got incredibly obsessed with theology and philosophy when I was in college and read upon many things written by the Reformers and humanists of the early modern period, and obviously I tracked this knowledge back to the origins of Christianity. So as someone who was being taught by the eminent Barbara Yorke, I felt it was my duty to gain some idea of what has happened in England in the Early Middle Ages in terms of religion and the developments the church had achieved. I must admit that Anglo-Saxon history is, shamefully, not my cup of tea, and certainly not my area of expertise. However, and upon visitation of old blog files and my own work, I have done some meditation on the 10th century reform and deemed it to be an important event that should be addresses. So here it is for you, from the lady that usually deal with the pagan Old Norse, a piece from their distant cousins and their Christian quarrels.


The 9th century has been pretty disruptive for the Anglo-Saxon rulers and the church, mainly due to the rough raids from the Northmen. Many monasteries were targeted and suffered attacks. In addition, Alfred the Great gave a lot of power within the church to the clerks, leaving the idea of monastic life behind, and letting these clerks lead different paths in the way they approached their doctrine. There was little regulation and centralisation on how the church operated as an entity. So with the relative stability of the 10th century it was time to re-evaluate that situation. One of the key players in this reformation of the church was St Dustan.

He started his  career during king Edmund´s reign to be abbot of Glastonbury, where he established the first monastic community. The buildings were restored and the community adopted the Benedictine rule, based in the 8th century Ordo Qualiter. However, king Eadwig exiled him again, and for that period he stayed in Ghent and watched the Benedictine movement on the continent. Dunstan returned to England when Edgar became the king and was promoted to bishop of Worcester (957), London (959) and later, the Archbishop of Canterbury around 960.  His disciple, Aethelwold, was another important figure.  King Eadred sent to Abingdon to found a second community of monks with people from Glastonbury around 955. He became bishop of Winchester in 963. He took advantage of his position to rebuild the cathedral and to remove the clerks from Old and New Minster and replaced them with monks from Abingdon. Moreover, he is responsible for ‘the Benedictional’ movement-the masterpiece is a portrayal of the Virgin’s coronation, with the intention to show the Virgin as a queen, who is receiving her power from heaven. This was to be the canon followed by every ruler of the Anglo-Saxons. Our third man is St.Oswald.  He established another community of monks in Westbury-on-Trym. Furthermore, he contributed to the restoration of places like Deerhurst, Gloucestershire, Winchcombe, Pershore and Evesham. Eventually he became Archbishop of York in 972.

Yet, and despite all of these men having the same religious background and following the Benedictine rule, their styles were different, so perhaps the centralisation of the church was not so successful. In fact, the effort of these three bishops would have been fruitless without the creation of the Regularis Concordia: the document where all the Benedictine rules were put together for all the monks and nuns of England. This compilation of rules was the result of the synod known as the Council of Winchester, summoned by king Edgar, -with the advise of Dunstan- to regulate all the different issues that affected the community of monks. There are references to abbesses and female religious houses in the code that show the movement was not only confined to monks- as many nunneries where then restored, the nuns also needed to be regulated accordingly. One of the main issues address by the Concordia was celibacy-it was common amongst clerks to get married and have children, but this was not acceptable in monastic terms.

Finally, we have to understand that a lot of this reformation and centralisation happened due to the strong links between the church and the nobility. In fact, it was of interest for the monarchy that the church was reconditioned and functional as a way to extend their own power. Many members of the nobility ended in monastic communities or nunneries; these were destinations for second sons, daughters, widows and other members of the family who may not succeed at acquiring power within the court. However, and like with any kind of reform in this sense, it is difficult to asses the actual impact it had, and to what degree these regulations were actually followed. As a matter of fact, we do know that with the dead of Edgar there was another period of discontent. Particularly in Mercia it transpired that not everyone was so keen on this monastic revival. The leader of this small uprising was Aelfhere the ealdorman. Him and his fellows marred monasteries and drove out the monks from their communities, leaving entire minsters unoccupied. Nevertheless, it seems that with his death in 983, the razing stopped, although many Mercian communities remained damaged. In addition, evidence suggest that the reform was not uniform throughout the country. The northern and western regions were not very well-integrated within the system the monarchy and the church were trying to establish; due to this many places likely kept their old structures. And it is unlikely that all the communities and minsters applied rules evenly.

So the success or relativity of this reform is dubious. As a matter of fact, I feel more comfortable establishing this movement as a purely monastic revival, rather than a whole ecclesiastic reform (hence the title, instead of my original “the tenth century English church reform”). In any case, I hope this helps you understand that, religion and the infrastructures of the Christian doctrine were not crystal clear, and like with political systems, it would take many years, and even centuries to establish a degree of integrity and uniformity…Just to through it all away at the turn of the 1500s. But that, is another story…

Interview with Elton Medeiros on postdoctoral research

So we have a very interesting interview for you here today. These are some questions we asked Elton Medeiros, who has come from the University of Sao Paulo to do postdoctoral research here in Winchester for 2013-2014. As he is returning next week we decided to ask him about his experience and research topic…

Why did you decide to do a post doctoral research? And how different is it to doing a PhD?

I think it was – in some way – a natural choice at the end of my PhD. When I was finishing the writing of my thesis a whole group of new ideas based on the research I was developing came to me, but that would have been impossible to explore properly at that time. Therefore, afterwards, talking with my former PhD supervisor (Professor Nachman Falbel), meant I could organize all these ideas and formalize a project of research.

I would say that in practical terms the main difference between my actual research and my PhD is the fact that I do not have to submit my final work to a group of other scholars. I don’t need to be approved on a viva. The reason for this is that a post-doc is not actually an academic title. E.g., when I have done my research I will not receive a title of “Post-Doctor”. The goal of a post-doctoral research is actually to deepen previous research and/or improve your general expertise in the subjects to which you are dedicated (in my case, Anglo-Saxon England history, especially Late Anglo-Saxon period).

Why did you choose your topic (and explain what is it that you research)?

As I said, my decision to do a post-doctoral research was a sort of a natural choice. Actually, I couldn’t find any reason to not do this. And the reason for this is based on the fact that I realized that in doing this research I would “close a cycle” of researches in my academic career. As an undergraduate student in Brazil we have the possibility to do what could be called a “scientific initiation”. It is a scholarship given to undergraduate students with the purpose of putting them in contact, for the first time, with the environment of the academic world and academic research. This results in the writing of reports every six months for the funding agency involved and a final essay or monograph. In my case, I had gotten this scholarship for one full year and decided to do research on the presence of the Scandinavians in England and the politics during the reign of King Cnut the Great. This research – actually the questions that it brought to me – lead me to my Masters research, concerning the importance of the regal figure in Anglo-Saxon England as represented in its literature. For this I used as the main primary source the poem Beowulf (which eventually I decided to translate to Portuguese), and afterwards this lead to my PhD. In my PhD then I decided to explore with much more attention the representation of the figure of the king in this society but in a broader view, not just limited to the characters of Beowulf. Thinking on the representation of God during the Late Anglo-Saxon period as a “Heavenly Monarch” and particularly as the “Lord of Hosts” and its importance as part of a kind of ideological or political-theological ideal that would be present during the times of King Alfred the Great and king Edward the Elder. This is an ideal which would create a parallel between the Anglo-Saxons of the medieval times and the Hebrews of the Old Testament: both fighting against pagan foes and under the guidance of a “God of Battles”, what would transform them (i.e., the Anglo-Saxons) into a “New Israel”.

All of these are part of the background that brought me to my post-doctoral research here in Winchester. A post-doc which is supplying me with very interesting elements to join with my previous PhD research, and enable the writing of a monograph that will serve for a forthcoming book, which for now I am calling “The Kingdom of Holy Wisdom”.

Very generally speaking, the theme of my research here at the University of Winchester is based on the analysis of the practice and nature of the Christian royal power presented in the texts related with King Alfred and his court (as the Old English versions of the Consolation of Philosophy of Boethius and the Pastoral Care of Gregory the Great). The construction of an ideal and a practice of power elaborated and guided by the discourse of the sources and their responsibility within the historical process that will result in the formation and administration of a unified kingdom of England in the mid-tenth century. The main principle of a successful ruler, for the “Alfredian thought”, would be the search for wisdom and due to a “wise government” the kingdom would receive the divine blessings. Such wisdom would be the manifestation of divine Wisdom, responsible for the administration of Creation. Through it would come the power of kings, the fate of nations and people’s lives. Therefore, for example, one of the manifest forms of Wisdom through rulers would be through the laws. The laws of Alfred, thus, were not just forms of social regulation, but representations of his ideal of the practice of power. Within this idea we would have the old codices of the ancient Anglo-Saxon kings linked to those of the Old Testament in order to demonstrate the continuity between the divine laws of Moses and those of his own authorship.

Within this paradigm, we have the identification of the Anglo-Saxon world with the one described in the biblical books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, whereas characters like Moses, David and Solomon served to the Alfredian political thought as practical examples of authority, kingship and wisdom. Authority that was also expressed through the image of the earl, the local lord, as a reflection of the royal authority. So, every local lord and bishop was responsible for the men of his land, as the king was responsible for the kingdom and God for Creation. Expressing the idea that the authority, the power to command and administer, was a key element of social order and royal power, and an emanation of divine Wisdom.

Therefore, the main purpose of my research is to show that King Alfred wanted to bring the Anglo-Saxon society back to the divine order in the new kingdom that was arising. Thus, the path to be followed by their leaders should be the search for Wisdom as the only true way to real power. Hence, a new ideal of Christian royal power was also forged in Anglo-Saxon England.


What is your historical background, and your experience of doing research back in Brazil and here?

[Hmmm… Here I don’t know exactly what to say. What do you mean by “historical background”?]

I would say that after this time here in Britain doing my research and in contact with other researchers, especially other Anglo-Saxonists, my return to Brazil will be very interesting. Generally speaking, due to a bunch of different reasons, in Brazil there is a tendency for medieval studies to be very “theoretical”. It is very common to see Brazilian researches going deep into the theory. That is good! However, it can produce researches which you feel can lack a certain more empirical approach with the evidence of primary sources. Especially in areas like Early Medieval History and Anglo-Saxon England which are not so “popular” among Brazilian medievalists. In the case of the second, mainly because this is a subject that just a couple of years ago started to call the attention of undergraduate and post-graduate students; actually, surprisingly, the first PhD thesis in Brazil about Anglo-Saxon England is from 2011 (and it was my thesis). Today, at least until before my coming to Britain, I was aware of the existence of three Masters dissertations finished (or close to be finished) and the development of two PhD researches (besides a possible Masters research to begin maybe still this year or at the beginning of 2015 and a PhD research that is going to begin next September). Nevertheless, I can claim to be the first Brazilian Anglo-Saxonist to come to UK and that is now returning after having done research on this subject. I think that my experience here in Britain will be very useful for my own future researches and – I hope so – for other students and researchers interested in this subject that, for example, don’t know where to begin.


Wulfstan and his journey

In the late ninth century was communication routes in Europe not quite what they are today, ships were often the easiest way to get from a to b (provided a or b was somewhere near water). The sea was the highway throughout Europe, a way that transported people, goods, Gods, and stories. This was the case in the late ninth century when Alfred the Great of Wessex had two traders visiting his court, both telling stories about their journeys. The first and perhaps most famous was Othere, a Norwegian merchant who sailed from Northern Norway into the White Sea before returning to the Norwegian coast and sailing to the British Isles through Skiringsal and Hedeby. The second visitor who is perhaps not as famous, but who’s story is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon version of Orosius’s description of Europe.

The second traveller was Wulfstan, a presumably English or Flemish merchant who sailed into the Baltic sea from Hedeby and visited (if we are to believe his story) the Baltic region and told the story of the Ests that lived in the area that today lays between Gdansk and Kaliningrad. Yet the story from Wulfstan’s is not as easily understandable as that of Othere. Like Othere’s story does this text provide a geographical and ethnic account of the lands east of Hedeby. Wulfstand points out that there are many towns in this land, and each town has its own king, and between the different tribes and kings were there a great deal of warfare. Wulfstan notes that the land has plenty of honey and fish, and that mare milk is the drink of the rich, whereas the poor drink mead. He also notes that the people drink no Ale, this suggest a great difference from the lives of the Anglo-Saxons at Alfred’s court.

It has been suggested that these stories that was added into Orosius’s to increase the knowledge of the world surrounding the Anglo-Saxons, as a part of Alfred’s drive for the resurrection of knowledge. Although the food and the governmental system described by Wulfstan is a bit different from that found in Anglo-Saxon England, it is perhaps the burial and funeral costumes that are most different from those known in the Christian World. ‘When a man dies, he is put on display for a month or two [says Wulfstan] after that the dead man’s wealth is distributed in several piles some miles from the city, and the quickest riders in the land rise to take it. When all the wealth has been taken (distributed) the body is burned, until nothing is left. For if anyone finds a bone unburned then the finder would be fined a considerable amount.’ These observations suggest firstly that these practices were those that Wulfstan was not used to himself, for it is easier to point out the differences in a society than the similarities.

Furthermore does this suggest that the social, political and cultural system of the Ests were considerably different from that of the Danes and the Anglo-Saxons, but also that the Est society were a well-developed cultural unit that had its own religious and cultural ideas about how to deal with death and burials. In this context the society of the Ests is a frontier in the Anglo-Saxon world. Wulfstan’s journey also illustrates how the Anglo-Saxon court was linked to other European cultures through trade, and how different cultures in the 9th century could be. It also shows that the trade routes of the late middle ages, which was dominated by the Hanseatic league in the Baltic sea, already might existed in the Viking age, and that Denmark, with the city of Hedeby was the linking point between the Anglo-Saxon, Frankish, German, Norse, and Slavic areas of North Europe.

Wulfstan’s journey also gives, although not extensively, information about the lifestyle and livelihood of the Ests in the 9th century, a period from which the sources of this region are not extensive. So we need to work with what we got.

If you want to read more about the Journey of Wulstan then a recommended book is:

Trakadas, Athena: Englert Anton, Wulfstan’s voyage: the Baltic sea region in the early Viking age as seen from shipboard, (Oxford, 2008).

Winchester City Museum – Review

The City Museum, found at the heart of our very own Winchester, displays the city through the ages through the key archaeological and social findings from the local area, from a Roman skeleton complete with coffin nails, to a medieval toilet seat. As a volunteer at the museum, I might be quite biased, but only because I’ve loved the museum for years as an interesting, entertaining and inspiring collection.


The three galleries inside the museum depict the city at the height of the key periods in its development from the capital city of England to the cathedral city it remains. The Roman gallery on the top floor, entitled Venta Belgarum after the city’s name of the period, depicts the city through the Roman finds from the area, the most notable being the intact mosaic found in Sparsholt which dominates the gallery. An interactive light-up display depicts the developing landscape of the city due to the Roman alterations to the River Itchen, which used to flow straight down what is now known as Winchester High Street.


The key thing to remember as you walk through the galleries is that even if you don’t know the city too well, most of the displays are transferable and could well represent the circumstances and living standards in other areas of the country, but it’s also great to see the beautifully historic city around us adapting to social and economic change.

IMG_3196Keep an eye out for Gunni, the Anglo-Saxon whose burial can be found in the Wintanceaster gallery alongside the medieval Moot horn, which is said to have been heard from as far away as St Catherine’s Hill when it was blown at the Westgate. While the Anglo-Saxons and the Middle Ages have never been my strong point, this gallery along with every other displays the city’s development during the period in a straightforward manner that appeals to visitors no matter what age or interests. While you take a walk around the museum, you might wonder where the Tudor era fits in – it doesn’t, because Winchester Museums’ collections for this period are situated in the Westgate Museum, which is definitely worth a visit if you have an interest in the era and particularly, the dissolution of the monasteries which impacted Winchester.

IMG_3191The ground floor welcomes the more recent history of the city known as Winchester, beginning with the 1800s and closing at T Foster and Sons, the tobacconists. As a volunteer, I spend most of my time behind the counter and have learnt a great deal about the shop and its rich history. Established in 1871, Thomas Foster’s shop once showcased and distributed pipe tobacco and ready-rolled cigarettes to customers at 34 High Street. Just over a century later and the shop’s second owner, Stanley Cobb, passed away and the shop was rebuilt within the walls of the City Museum in 1980, preserving every detail down to the mahogany counter constructed from tobacco shipping crates. The displays of cigars and cigarettes ranging from the old favourites Players and Marlboro to the more obscure Abdullah and Perfectos make for an eye-opening cross-section of the history of smoking and the glamour before the health warnings.

While most museums cater to a more mature, intellectual audience, City Museum devotes itself to keeping children happy, with two different Lego play areas and numerous relevant activity stations on each floor. I have to admit, even I haven’t worked out how to complete some of them yet! The most appealing activity for children appears to be the dress-up stations, where visitors can try on outfits fitting for the period each gallery focuses on, from togas to Edwardian servant suits.

With free admission and amazing displays backed up with a friendly atmosphere, I couldn’t ask for more from a museum – even if I do say so myself.



To continue with the history of Winchester theme, this blog entry will briefly cover Anglo-Saxon Winchester or Wincanceaster.  I will begin with Winchester at the point of the departure of the Romans and then briefly cover the main areas that show the significance of the Anglo-Saxon capital.

Although many towns and cities became deserted, Winchester wasn’t completely abandoned following the end of the Roman period, though the population went into decline. According to archaeological settlement evidence, when the Saxons immigrated to Winchester in around the mid fifth century, they set up settlement outside the city walls instead of within them. The ceaster element of the city’s name indicates that in old English the Saxons arrived at Winchester that was surrounded by Roman walls. It became clear however that the population didn’t have the resources to attend to the upkeep of the city, since the old Romans drainage system fell into disrepair and the Roman south gate collapsed. The River Itchen also reclaimed large areas of the eastern part of the city meaning parts of the city had now become uninhabitable.

Politically the city continued to survive under Cerdic and his family when his son and grandson Cynric “succeeded to the kingdom” in 519 AD. The king of Wessex from 611 to 641, Cynegils (perhaps Cerdic’s great grandson) converted to Christianity in 635 along with the rest of the West Saxons thus making the city religiously important. Under the reign of Cynegils second son Cenwalh (642-73) a minster church was built that became known as the Old Minster. This made Winchester the very heart of the civilisation of Wessex and of England. Thus Winchester became the capital of Anglo-Saxon England. In 678 the Bishop of Wessex, Bishop Haeddi moved his throne to Winchester and the Old Minster became a Cathedral church. It also became the place where Kings and Bishops were buried.

Despite the advances that the Anglo-Saxons had made in Winchester, nothing could prepare them, and the rest of Britain, for the dangers ahead. The Vikings had swept over Britain, raiding and looting as they went and in the 850s and 860s they attacked Winchester. Under King Alfred the cities defence proved adequate with the defences being restored for the first time since the fourth century. Winchester also became part of the Burghal Hidage defence system from 886. This was a system of thirty towns in all that were fortified boroughs (Winchester being one of the two largest) with an estimated 2,400 men manning the cities defences. Under the reign of Alfred and his son Edward the Elder the Viking threat was faced and pushed back.

One of the most important features of Anglo-Saxon Winchester was the construction of the New Minster and Nun minster under King Alfred and his wife Ealhswith. They were both finished after 900 AD. The New Minster, completed under Edward the Elder, was run by secular clerks whilst the Nun Minster provided an area for worship for holy women within a cloister. The continued building at the Minsters would become the main focus in Winchester up to the Norman Conquest.  The three Minsters (including the Old Minster) thus greatly improved the significance of Winchester as an Anglo-Saxon city and also as England’s capital.

Here concludes the brief summary of Anglo-Saxon Winchester. I hope that this piece has highlighted the importance of the city both religiously and militarily to its own survival. Whilst the capital was moved to London following the Norman Conquest, Winchester will always have a place in the history of England with its past living on.


Barbara Carpenter Turner., Winchester (1980).

Tom Beaumont James., Winchester; From Prehistory to the Present (1997).