You can still find archived versions of some older articles below, but our more recent work can be found in the main blog / category "Thegns Reconstructions" (click here).
We're currently in the process of moving our older 'Recent Reconstructions' articles (2013-2019) to our main blog here.
You can still find archived versions of some older articles below, but our more recent work can be found in the main blog / category "Thegns Reconstructions" (click here).
"Armed with the precedent set by the Sutton Hoo Mound 1 shield, pieces of possible shield-decoration from the Staffordshire Hoard, and current understanding of 7th century shield evolution, we embarked on a project to produce a shield that would not look out of place in the hands of Penda, Oswald, or one of their lieutenants. "
"Although textile remains from the early Anglo-Saxon period are quite rare, painstaking analysis by textile archaeologists reveal tantalising glimpses of the surprisingly colourful world of Anglo-Saxon and Viking Age textiles.
Having explored and experimented with plant-dyes for a number of years, we present here two projects to produce garments of the very brightest colours we could achieve with home grown plant dyes."
Read full article at our main blog.
In autumn 2017, member Æd Thompson was commissioned by fellow Thegns member Julia to produce a warrior lyre (hearpe) based on the uniquely well-preserved example from a 6th century chamber burial in Trossingen, South Germany.
This was Æd's first attempt at luthiery, and, we hope, captures the artistry of the the find on which it is based, and will serve to highlight the importance of music and performance in Migration-Age warrior culture, and the way in which our skilled ancestors applied wonderful craftmanship not just to their now much celebrated metalwork, but also to more rarely preserved organic items.
Full article on our main blog (click here).
Students of "Dark Age" clothing and textiles will surely be familiar with tabletweave - the tightly woven bands used as strong straps and to decorate clothing. Mineralised remains of textiles with tabletweave structure occasionally show up on the back of brooches, buckles and other metallic items from early Anglo-Saxon graves though it is rare for any fragment to be in sufficiently good condition for any pattern or colours to be inferred.
In the late 6th and early 7th centuries CE, a new variant of tabletweave arrived in Britain from the continent; first via Kent and the South coast before spreading north. This lavish new technique - brocading - involved working additional weft threads through a plain-coloured tabletweave as it was woven, to build up an embroidery-like pattern. This paved the way for the intricade brocades popular in the Viking Age, but brocading in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in Britain began with metallic brocades, where strips of fine metal - almost foil - were worked through the weave to produce shimmering patterns. It is thanks to these metal brocades that we can trace the arrival of the technique, for, unlike normal tabletweave, these metal strips (usually gold), with impressions of the threads impressed into their surfaces, survive our harsh soils.
The earliest and most abundant examples are narrow bands with simple patterns, from female graves in Kent and the Isle of Wight. These are almost always found near the head, and may have been used as glistening headbands for securing veils. More spectacular are the remains from the famous Taplow princely burial - the second most lavish burial found from the Anglo-Saxon period, which contained, alongside shields, feasting gear and sword, over 2.5m of exquisite, often very wide, finely woven metallic gold brocade.
Due to the shortcomings of the 19th century excavators of the burial, the position of the fine strands of gold found in the burial cannot be stated with any confidence, and as such, we cannot say for certain if the huge amount of gold brocade formed the decoration of a cloak or other garment, or perhaps a sword harness or belt. The famous gold Taplow buckle had adhesions of both leather and tablet-weave-structure textile on its back, so it may have been associated with the brocade.
To illustrate what such a belt may have looked like, and as part of ongoing efforts to recreate and "bring to life" princely treasures from the 7th century, in 2016 we embarked on a project to build a gold brocaded belt inspired by the Taplow burial. The project began with team member Aed learning the gold brocade technique, first experimenting with a narrow band based on one from Chessel Down, Isle of Wight (in blue, at the top) before moving on to the more complex band from Taplow. The pattern we chose to reproduce is known as the "narrow band" for it is the narrowest element identified from the burial, although it is still wider and more complex than any gold brocade from any other early Anglo-Saxon burial. The replica band took over 150 hours of high-concentration work.
Upon completion it was sewn, using the same threads, to a piece of prepared, stained and burnished veg-tan leather, and the buckle and retaining loops were installed, such that the belt could be clasped without the buckle being covered, or the delicate brocading needing to pass through the buckle or be strained.
Rather than the Taplow buckle (a replica of which we had used on a previous build) we chose to incorporate an exquisite replica of the contemporaneous and similarly styled buckle from Alton, Hampshire, produced by Ganderwick Creations.
The final result was more subtle than we expected; the gold foil woven through the belt is quite subtle until light hits it at just the right angle and flares, revealing the pattern vividly against the ground weave. It looks particularly good glistening in firelight, and it may have been this that attracted our ancestors to the technique. After all, while coloured tabletweave will appear dull in the dim light of the meadhall, gold brocade glistens and sparkles in light cast by dancing flames. What better assemblage to, along with replicas of finds such as the Staffordshire Hoard, illustrate that the 7th century really was the "Age of Gold"?
Beginning in 2014, we embarked on a project to envision what a complete, kingly-status, large broadseax from the late 7th century would have looked like, drawing on elements from the corpus of English broadseax burials, and taking inspiration from the later phase material from the Staffordshire Hoard.
Our associate specialist weapon-smith Paul Binns (of Paul Binns Swords) produced a blade of extraordinary beauty and breathtaking complexity. This has a slim band of ‘pattern-welding’ sitting below two deep parallel grooves, themselves bearing subtle ribbons of patternation, and a graceful wave-like pattern interface between the blade-core and the carbon-steel cutting edge.
The blade is 48cm long, 4cm wide and 8mm thick at the spine edge. Longer than is typical for a light broad-seax, and a little more slender than is typical for a heavy-broad-seax, this blade arguably falls into the category of “atypical broad-seaxes”; a more elegant form which arguably foreshadowed the advent of the more familiar and fearsome longseaxes of the 8th-10th centuries.
Paul, an artist of iron, relishes interesting projects and the opportunity to push his skills to new limits. I am sure he would not mind me saying that the blade he produced for us was, to a great extent, far more elaborate and impressive than we had really anticipated, and necessitated us re-thinking our original plans in order that the other elements; hilt and sheath, would live up to the magnificence of the blade. It is a nervous and sometimes agonising business, attempting to add to another craftsman's masterpiece, and we only hope we have done it justice.
Gilt bronze hilt collars, decorated with filigree work, were custom-made for the blade by our associate historic jeweller George Easton, taking inspiration from a number of items from the Staffordshire Hoard. The hilt was capped with a gilt bronze replica of the pommel-cap STH-K347 made for us specially by Mr Easton for this project.
Although some broad-seaxes, notably those from Northolt Manor and Purton have very long grips of at least 24cm in length, most vary between 10 and 20cm. Taking into account the proportions and balance of the blade we settled on a hilt length of 19cm, with the actual grip (excluding the jewelled elements) measuring 9.5cm, producing a grip comfortably wide enough for one hand. Because of the size of the grip collars, the hilt was made wasp-waisted to some degree with an offset central widening to promote a comfortable grip. The haft was carved in sections from walnut using spacers of black cow-horn.
The result is, expectedly for such a weapon, blade-heavy, but nevertheless comfortable in the hand. Such weapons, and their even more substantial brothers – heavy broadseaxes – seem to have been optimised for heavy chopping blows, and this is no exception.
The thick veg-tanned leather was tooled to a conservative and well evidenced design, featuring lines delineating the shape and fullers of the blade contained within, with other tooled elements having been designed in a manner informed by, and sympathetic to the metallic elements of the sheath. It was lined with fine animal hide to further protect the blade (-an approach more commonly associated with wood-cored sheaths, but nevertheless evidenced having augmented the core-free sheath of the seax from Buttermarket G2297). The sheath was closed using a myriad of tiny copper-alloy pins on the suspension-flap following the style of Buttermarket G1306, and likewise, an L-shaped copper-alloy fitting of U-cross-section was added to the suspension-flap at the mouth of the sheath. Further decoration came from 7 rivets interspersed with 5 larger decorative copper-ally buttons 16mm in diameter showing what at first sight looks to be an abstract chip-carved design but is actually a devolved Salin Style-II picture of what I take to be a raven. Such large decorative rivets are seen on the sheaths of continental large seaxes but are not unknown in England, being found in Buttermarket and the smith’s grave at Tattershall-Thorpe, which was dated to the late 7th century. The buttons and rivets used here, though not precise replicas of either find, mirror their styles and arrangement closely and together, we hope, are highly representative of these overtly Frankish-influenced, highly decorative and wealth-displaying sheaths.
The suspension system relies on two iron three-way strap-dividers and utilises two of the large brass studs to secure the vertical straps. Adjustment is via a small iron buckle on the anterior strap and a larger iron buckle on the breast strap of the baldric. This system produces very comfortable carriage of this big seax with no damaging torsion being placed on the straps.
This is a speculative weapon reconstruction but the sheath and suspension have been kept very disciplined and within what is well-evidenced.
The name we have given to this ‘atypischer Breitsax’ is ‘Átorþorn’, which means ‘poison-thorn’ in Old English. The Anglo-Saxon term ‘þorn’ actually means ‘a sharp point on a stem’ and has always had the associated idea of its causing pain. In Norse poetry the term was sometimes used to describe a jötun. Our blade has the classic seax twist-welded pattern now described as ‘herringbone’ or ‘Anna’ but which was known in Anglo-Saxon times as ‘átertánum fáh’. This meant ‘poison-twig pattern’ and was clearly a kenning for the venomous adder whose markings it resembles. We particularly like the wave-like appearance of the area of the blade which marks where the hard steel edge meets blade core. It is now known that good quality seax-blades did sometimes show this interface which some have likened to the hamon on a Japanese sword.
Having taken well over two years of planning and research, this project has, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, taken copious quantities of ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’. We hope the end result has been a replica seax and sheath worthy of a late c7th king of Mercia, and brought to life what such a weapon assemblage might have looked like at the time of its making.
Drawing on research for the previous reconstruction (see discussion here), work began with fashioning the board. Once again, 10-year seasoned ash planks sourced from trees felled less than 14 miles from Bidford were used. While ash sits among less commonly used timbers for Anglo-Saxon shield construction, evidence from the Tranmer House cemetery suggests that this timber was used preferentially (and even imported from neighboring regions) for high status shield boards, perhaps due to its outstanding toughness, split-resistance and durability compared to wood such as willow, poplar or maple more commonly used for shields. The toughness of ash surely posed a challenge for shield-makers, being highly resistant to carving, and it is this fact which most likely made other, weaker but more easily worked timbers more widely used.
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 !
The modern town of Cannock sits in an interesting position in the heart of the Anglo-Saxon territory of Mercia, on the important Roman road of Watling Street, and only a few miles from the find-site of the Staffordshire Hoard. Although the oldest part of the oldest building in the modern town (St Luke's Church) dates to 1100 AD, the parish and its surroundings are steeped in earlier history.
The Thegns have been proud to be involved, this year, in helping St Luke's Church to communicate and promote Cannock's rich history as part of their 900-year anniversary celebrations.
As part of this effort, the Thegns were commissioned to produce a special reconstruction to mark the 900 year anniversary.
In this charter, the parishes which were transferred were first listed, and then their boundaries were described in detail. One of these parishes; Hagethorndune (Hawthorn Hill, now Hatherton) almost certainly included the area of the modern town of Cannock.
This important piece of local history was chosen to be reproduced for St Luke's by the skilled hand of Thegns-of-Mercia and English Companions member Harry Ball; a specialist in Anglo-Saxon texts and their reproduction with authentic techniques.
Although the charter's authenticity has been questioned, it does refer to a real event, and the boundaries described are from a genuine pre-Conquest survey. However, as the form in which the text comes down to us is itself a copy-of-a-copy (produced by the 17th century antiquarian Dugdale) the original form of the charter is not known.
With reference to other, more provenanced charters (including, in particular, the contemporary charter S878 for nearby Abbots Bromley) Harry has reproduced the relevant parts of the charter (the overview, description of the bounds of the Hatherton parish, and the witness list) in insular minuscule script handwritten by quill on high-quality sheepskin parchment, producing a result close to how the original may have looked when it was first produced.
It is hoped that this reproduction will raise awareness of the detailed local history of the area dating back to the latter parts of the Anglo-Saxon period. While the introduction to the charter mentions nearby town names including Bilston, Willenhall, and, significantly, Ogley (Hay) where the famous Staffordshire Hoard was found, the more detailed parish-boundary description for Hatherton contains a wealth of detail about the landscape which local people may still be able to recognise. Finally, the detailed witness-list (including Æthelred, king of the English, and each archbishop and senior bishop in Anglo-Saxon England at the time) highlights that in the 10th century, this land transfer was sufficiently significant for the most important folk in the land to take an interest in the Cannock area.
It is fortuitous, to say the least, that our ancestors chose to write their records on a material which if properly prepared and treated well can last over a thousand years, and therefore that these important pieces of local history have not been lost. There is no reason why this reconstruction might not last equally long, and we hope that, in the keeping of Cannock's central church and oldest historic building, it might serve to help future Cannock residents feel connected with their area's rich heritage.
In Christ. This be the land boundary that Wulfrun has done into the minster of Hamton*, and the town names that this privilege about speaks. First from Arley and Ashwood and Bilston and Willenhall and Wednesfield and Pelsall and Ogley** and Hilton and Hatherton and Kinvaston and the other Hilton and Featherstone.
And many good men also with these both ecclesiastics and laymen. ****
*Hamton - Settlement which at some time after this land transfer became known as "Wulfrun's Hamton" and today known as Wolverhampton.
** Ogley - Now known as Ogley Hay -nearest known settlement from Anglo-Saxon times to the find-site of the 7th century Staffordshire Hoard.
*** Long Street - Phrase usually used in relation to old Roman roads, and in this case almost certainly referring to Watling Street, now the A5.
**** The copy of the charter from which this replica is based included a further 26 additional witness names, which are glossed here using this familiar phrase borrowed from charter S1459.