Posted by: vikingsinspace | July 19, 2010

Anglo-Saxon Buildings

I have found it interesting that since starting this blog, the single post to garner the most traffic is that on my trip to Hexham to visit the Anglo-Saxon crypt (See I. Visit Hexham and the Anglo-Saxon Crypt).  I have never advertised this site or sought to gain publicity and traffic for it, yet this one page is almost constantly being viewed.  If my tiny little blog gains so much traffic on the subject of anglo-saxon buildings, then there must be a dirth of information out there, so here is my attempt to fill that gap in my own way.  I will preface this by saying that I am not an archeologist – I am however a medieval historian, but my focus has been on the twelfth century, not Anglo-Saxon times.  Nonetheless, I find the anglo-saxons interesting and have visited several sites.  My father is also an architect, so I have been raised with an appreciation for buildings – particularly medieval ones.  I hope this post will be a starting point for people interested in the subject, but not to be used as concrete evidence or official knowledge – I’m not going too far out of my way here to make sure everything written is correct.  So here we go – what information I know on Anglo-Saxon Buildings from the places I have visited:

For the most part, the Anglo-Saxons did not build in stone.  Since most of their buildings were made from wood, few survive today.  The exceptions being some of the stone churches built in Northumbria by french stonemasons brought over by Benedict Biscop.


Burpham in West Sussex still has the remnants of the Anglo-Saxon Burh surrounding the town.  It is a huge earthenwork project which is striking when first seen.  unfortunately, I was unable to get a picture of it when I visited.  The parish church in Burpham has some saxon and norman overlapping features, but is mostly from a later time period.

Burpham Church


Escomb is perhaps the most fascinating of the Anglo-Saxon Buildings which still survive.  It is touted as being the oldest church in England, and this may very well be true.  The first reference to it comes from the tenth century when the Bishop of Durham mortgaged the site to a Viking Earl, but the architectural evidence dates it to much earlier – possibly the seventh century.  Unlike the other churches and buildings mentioned here, Escomb did not receive large amounts of expansion or updates throughout its history, and the church stands today largely as it did in Anglo-Saxon times.  The Diamond Broaching on some of the interior stones indicates roman stones were reused, and these are believed to have come from a nearby roman fort called Vinovium (now Binchester).  The exterior has a saxon sundial, and a curious inscripted stone, placed upside down with a protective ledge over it, which reads ‘LEG VI.’

Escomb Anglo-Saxon Church

Diamond Broaching

The 'LEG VI' Stone

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It is the crypt in Hexham which is from the Anglo-Saxon period.  The abbey was originally built in the seventh century, but only the crypt now survives and the rest dates from the eleventh century.  Many of the stones inside the crypt are reused roman materials.  There are a couple of coffin covers in the transept (if my memory is correct…) which have carvings on them which may be Anglo-Saxon.  I could be remembering this wrong – these could just be medieval.

Roman Carvings in the Anglo-Saxon Crypt

Stairs Leading out of the Crypt

Carved Coffin Covers

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Jarrow and Bede’s World:

Jarrow is the second monastery built by Benedict Biscop in the seventh century (the first being Monkwearmouth).  The chancel is the only portion from this time period which survives, but the distinctive anglo-saxon windows can be seen, and well as the original dedication stone which rests above the interior entrance to the chancel.  Unfortunately, lighting prevented me from getting a decent picture of this.

Jarrow Chancel

Saxon Window

Near Jarrow is the attraction called Bede’s World, which is a project to recreate an Anglo-Saxon monastic farm.  There are many recreated homes and farm buildings, based on archaeological evidence.  The project has even attempted to breed animals of the type found in saxon times by crossbreeding the oldest genetic examples available in the appropriate way (I confess that I have no idea how this works – I just take their word for it).  Bede’s World also contains and excellent museum on Anglo-Saxon life, particularly of those living in the Kingdom of Northumbria.

Reconstructed Anglo-Saxon Buildings at Bede's World

Anglo-Saxon Pit House Exterior

'Medieval' Cows...

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 Lyminster in West Sussex is a classic Anglo-Saxon church.  It was built mostly in the early eleventh century, but the large churchyard enclosure suggests that the site is from a much earlier time period. 


A Blocked Door - Possibly 12th Century Addition


The church in Poling, West Sussex, is of anglo-saxon origin, but has been updated throughout the middle ages.  One of the Saxon elements to survive is a double-splayed window with a portion of the shudder.


The Double Splayed Window


Ripon Cathedral, like Hexham, also has an Anglo-Saxon Crypt.  A stone church was built here is the seventh century, but was destroyed in the tenth century, leaving only the crypt.  The rest of the church is from the twelfth century.  unfortunately, I have no photographs of it.

Sutton Hoo:

Sutton Hoo is the site of the famous ship-burial which was excavated in the early twentieth century.  At the time I visited, they had only just opened a museum on site, but all the treasures from the burial mound were still in the British Museum.  I believe this is still the case today, but with replicas at the site in Suffolk.  There are of course no buildings to really speak of, but there are several burial mounds and a ‘reconstructed’ burial mound which shows what archaeologists believe the original height of the mounds to be.  At the time I visited, I only had a film camera and not a digital one, so at the moment I have no photos I can upload, but I hope to scan these photos in sometime in the future.

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West Stow:

Like at Sutton Hoo, when I visited West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village, I was working with a film camera, and so have no pictures.  West Stow is much like Bede’s World in that it is a recreation of an Anglo-Saxon Village based on the archaeological evidence found on the site.  West Stow does not venture into farm animals (much…), but does a better job of explaining the types of buildings and trial-and-error methods used by archaeologists to recreate the buildings (such as the ‘pit houses’ which seem to be common features in the archaeology but seem impractical when recreated).  West Stow also devoted more attention to recreating the interiors of buildings and showing just how people would live in this village.

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My thanks to Carol Davidson Cragoe for the information on the three West Sussex churches of Burpam, Lyminster and Poling.  Any mistakes in these entries (or any other entry for that matter) are entirely my fault due to my carelessness in taking notes during her lecture.



  1. […] Update [19 July 2009]: Because this page has garnered much interest, I have put added a new post concerning Anglo-Saxon buildings.  It can be viewed here. […]

  2. […] at Battle.  more of these phots and descriptions of the churches I have placed on a page covering Anglo-Saxon Buildings) was a fun day, and it was nice to be around other historians taking an interest in the same geeky […]

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