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Anglo- Saxon Burials in the Seven Dials Area

History Notes by M Bance

I cannot claim to know anything about Anglo-Saxon Brighton, but I did find it really interesting to learn that evidence had been found of these early inhabitants of the town in roads and places I regularly drive along.

It appears that at some point during the ten-year period 1883 to 1893, when buildings and roads were being constructed off Dyke Road, workmen disturbed several graves. The graves were found to contain skeletons and iron objects dating from the Anglo-Saxon period. Over a century later, workmen building an extension to a house in Stafford Road dug up two early Anglo-Saxon brooches. The curator of Brighton Museum realised that these and the other artefacts were probably from a grave and called in archaeologists to carry out a rescue excavation. Their work revealed three graves with the remains of skeletons: two had been badly damaged by the trench digging done by the builders, but one was almost complete.

Grave one contained the remains of a man who had been about 30 years old when he died. An iron spearhead found in the grave was of the type fashionable in the 6th century AD and it was assumed that he probably died before 550AD. The really interesting evidence from this grave, however, was the skull, which showed signs of two terrible injuries probably, caused by sword or axe blows. One was at the back of the skull, where there was a hole the size of a ten pence piece. Amazingly, this injury had not killed him, in fact the bone had begun to grow at the edges of the wound and skin had presumably grown back over the hole. The man’s grisly end came from a second blow; probably received months after the first, which sliced off a large portion of his left forehead and brain. The slashing downward blow would probably have also removed his left eye and cheek and was without doubt the cause of his death.

In grave two the archaeologists found the almost complete skeleton of a man who had been between 35 and 40 years old at the time of his death. The man lay on his back clutching an iron knife. This knife, together with a buckle found on his right hip-bone, probably part of a belt, were dated from their design to the 7th century AD. Grave two had cut into grave one, indicating that it was dug later than grave one.

Although the workmen had destroyed most of the skeleon in grave three, the skull and some bones survived, together with two button brooches, a pair of tweezers and two bronze rings. These objects showed that this was the grave of a woman and examination of her skeleton suggested that she was between 40 and 45 years old when she died. The fact that this grave was dug on the same alignment as grave one suggests that it was a 6th century burial. The woman probably died between 520 and 550 AD.

This was some considerable time after the Anglo-Saxons first claimed Brighton, so I guess we can assume they were fairly settled, long-term residents! In fact, it was from the Anglo-Saxons that we get the town’s name. In 450 AD their leader was called Beorthelm, he owned a farm (called a “tun” in those days), therefore, the first name given to Brighton was actually Beorthelm’s tun.

Fairly useless snippets of history on their own, but they might help you win a local pub quiz, dazzle your slightly tipsy friends at your next drinks party or totally bemuse the drunk who insists on talking to you on the bus!

Posted in History on Mar 01, 2009