The last of our shield reconstructions from the 'productive site' of Bidford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, this project began in summer 2014 following completion of the first reconstruction; that of the princely shield grave-182, and after examining the array of finds from the early Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Bidford in the keeping of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-on-Avon.
While the reconstruction of the remarkable shield from Bidford grave 182 had been undertaken by Thegns members Aed and Dr Andrew Thompson, this project was led by member Matt Weaver, with a slightly different aim; to produce a high quality and highly focused reconstruction (using authentic materials and methods where possible) of lessatypical, more broadly representative of 6th century shield finds.
Planks for the board were laboriously thinned to within a few millimeters of the target thickness, glued together with hot hide-glue, then re-thinned and painstakingly sanded by hand, before being cut to shape and sanded further, with board thickness declining gradually towards the edge which was itself carved thin on the front-face, producing a subtly very slightly convex outer face (yet with flat reverse) corresponding to inferences from cases such as the shield from Sutton-Hoo mound 1. Unlike the previous reconstruction (Bidford-182) this shield was made larger but thinner, measuring approx 5mm thick at the centre - corresponding to the lower end of estimated shield thicknesses inferred from early Anglo-Saxon finds. Given the greater durability of ash compared to other potential shield woods, but also it's increased density, it is argued that shields made of this material may well have been carved thinner than otherwise to normalize weight without strength being compromised due to the excellent properties of the timber.
Leather was added to the front face with hide glue, with a leather edge stitched in place and hand-burnished. The leather face was treated with natural oils and finally, polished with a protective coating of beeswax. The grip - corresponding to the extant remains of the type 1b grip from the grave, was formed around an ash core and fixed in place by means of small clench-nails. The boss - produced by our associate smith closely corresponding to that of the original, was rivetted in place along with two disc fittings and a rare lozenge fitting, in an arrangement based upon the positions of these finds relative to the boss in a photograph of the grave in-situ during excavation in 1923 (see below). Larger, more elaborate lozenge fittings feature heavily on impressive shields from high status burials of the roughly contemporaneous related east-Swedish Vendel-culture, but all extant Anglo-Saxon examples are smaller, plain, and usually single. The fitting from Bidford grave 33, precisely reproduced here, was the largest found in England at the time of publication of Tania Dickinson's influential synthesis of early Anglo-Saxon shield finds in the 1990s, and is the 'type specimen' for such fittings in England. Although the purpose of such lozenge fittings is not known, and they may have been purely decorative, it is possible they were added to shields to reinforce observed weaknesses or points of damage. Here, the lozenge has been positioned bracing two of the planks.
The result - the final in this series, we hope provides a representative impression of what a more typical early Anglo-Saxon shield would have looked and felt like based where possible on evidence from the particular grave in question, and otherwise from understanding of early Anglo-Saxon shields more broadly. It is interesting to note that, despite being of considerably greater diameter than our previous reconstruction of the shield from grave 182 and constructed of precisely the same materials, the modest reduction in board thickness (through reduced thickness of both wood and leather) has led this larger shield to weigh slightly less than its brother. Members of the public are often surprised by the weight of combat shields, but this reconstruction might demonstrate that Anglo-Saxon shields were perhaps not quite so heavy after all !