Anglo Saxons at Sewerby

A brief history of the Anglo-Saxons in the East Riding of Yorkshire. From colonisation through to conversion.

The Anglo Saxons at Sewerby

From around 410AD, Rome cut most of its ties with the province of Britain, as it struggled to survive against waves of Germanic tribes migrating from Northern Europe. Troops were withdrawn to the continent, administration collapsed and towns were abandoned or saw reduced activity. The Angles, Saxons and Jutes began colonising eastern England from the fifth century onwards before settling in the rest of the country.

Bridlington was settled by the Angles and was known as Beohrtal's ton - the farm belonging to Beohrtal. It is likely that there were settlements all over East Yorkshire evidenced by the finds of sword pommels and jewellery in the collections of the Museums Service. Archaeologically, Saxon settlements are hard to detect, as all the buildings were of timber at this period.

Excavated grave 41 appears to show the human remains of someone buried whilst still alive. These remains were found to be above the remains of another corpse, grave 49, in the same plot.
This is a brooch of a stylised figure, with a square head, gilded incised decoration on a body of copper alloy. The reverse has iron salt deposits and impressions of petrified textile. It was excavated from grave 19 during the digs of 1954 and 1974.
Excavated from the double grave 41/49, this is a copper alloy brooch in the form of a stylised figure. The surface is gilded and has incised ornament; the underside has the original pin fastener.
Excavated from grave 12, this is a copper alloy brooch, cruciform in shape and decorated with incised lines and rows of chevron motifs. As the copper has leached, the object has a pale green patina.
Excavated from grave 23, this is a copper alloy annular brooch with pin fastener intact. The decoration is a ribbed effect giving the appearance of closely strung beads.
This is a sword pommel, the decorative knop at the top of the handle. It is made of lead bronze alloy with a thin coating of gold. It dates from the 7th century; the materials and decoration indicate it belonged to someone important. The pommel was found further down the coast, on the beach at Aldbrough, East Yorkshire.
This is a necklace of beads of different materials and colours. There is a bead of clear crystal, green and red glass, red and blue laminated glass with the rest of amber. The techniques and materials suggest trade links with sources in the Baltic and Southern Europe.

Sewerby was occupied by an Anglo Saxon settlement and has one of the most significant burial sites. The people were pagans and the cemetery dates to the 6th-7th centuries, making it one of the earliest cemeteries of the Anglo Saxon period. Alongside the dead, objects owned and treasured in life were also buried in the ground. The site was discovered during the building of a modern farmhouse at Home Farm in the mid-1950s and the site was then excavated. Further work took place in the 1970s. Human remains were found with a significant array of brooches, clasp fasteners for cloaks, beads and weapons.

These grave goods are kept in the collection at Sewerby Hall. The Sewerby site represents an important archaeological resource for understanding early Anglo Saxon life, social structure and cultural practices. We believe, for instance, that sacrificial burials were practised: grave 49, that of a high-born woman also contained the remains of another person on top, suggesting this was the body of a servant. The second skeleton was discovered face down with limbs at awkward angles. There was also a heavy stone on the lower back indicating that this individual was still alive when buried. An alternative explanation is that the woman was a 'witch' or had committed a crime of some kind.

The Anglo Saxon kingdoms of Deira and Bernicia were united under the reign of King Aethelfrith in 604, eventually becoming the single kingdom of Northumbria under King Edwin. In 627 he was baptised a Christian by Paulinus at his capital city of Eoforwic - York and so began the slow process of England's conversion to Christianity.

As Christianity became widely adopted, the pagan burial practices became outmoded and sites like Sewerby's Anglo Saxon cemetery were abandoned. Nevertheless, its importance is recognised as it is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

Excavated at Sewerby, this is a pair of gilded copper alloy fabric clasps for fastening textile under the arms to form garment sleeves. This pair fasten at the wrist of the right arm.
This is a gold pendent decorated with gold wire forming stringing, annular motifs and gold beads. The design is an early example of zoomorphological (animal like) expression as the terminals are stylised heads of birds.
This is a pendent designed to be hung around the neck. It is an impressive semi-circular polished garnet gemstone, so admired by the Anglo Saxons, set in a semi-circular gold setting with loop and decorated with gold wire stringing.