We are delighted to bring news to readers of this blog of a new paper published by Gabor Thomas that explores the function of Anglo-Saxon great hall complexes, drawing specifically on the wealth of information discovered at Lyminge and comparing this to other sites in Kent. Gabor sees the site on Tayne Field as exhibiting strong Romanised influence, highlighting in particular the use of a form of concrete (opus signinum) for flooring, and the regular alignment of the halls. He suggests that this was a conscious development in the early 7th Century under the influence of St Augustine’s mission to demonstrate alignment with continental Christian culture that was still heavily Romanised. At the same time these monumental structures were a form of theatre where the Kentish royal family could display and dispense their wealth through feasting and gift-giving. The halls provided a way to emphasise their power and their connectedness to the land. The proximity of the hall complex to a Bronze Age barrow, (that was recreated when the site was back-filled after the excavation in 2015), is probably no coincidence, nor the siting close to the springhead of the Nailbourne that was known as St Eadburg’s Well in the mediaeval period and may thus have been treated as a sacred spring for many centuries before that.
Gabor uses his paper to re-examine the excavation of Anglo-Saxon structures in Dover close to the Roman Painted House which have previously been interpreted as the Anglo-Saxon precursor to St Martin’s le Grand. The similarity of construction, the multiple phases of building on the same footprint, and the use of opus signinum lead him to the conclusion that the site is comparable to that at Lyminge and thus very probably another royal great hall complex and not a church at all.
The use of opus signinum in both Lyminge and Dover suggests the presence of Frankish or Italian master masons who were skilled in the use of building techniques that had long-since ceased to be used in Britain and may have become rare even in the last phase of the Roman occupation some 250-300 years before. It will be interesting to see what more can be learned about the import of continental building methods when we re-excavate what we believe is an early stone church in the churchyard. What we know of the form of this structure (you can read more here) leads scholars to consider this to be very early, perhaps dating to the mid 7th Century. Whether this means that continental masons were directing work on Tayne Field and in the churchyard at the same time or on separate occasions remains to be seen, but this is one of the questions that we hope may be answered if we can secure the funding for our project.
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(2018) Mead-Halls of the Oiscingas: A New Kentish Perspective on the Anglo-Saxon Great Hall Complex Phenomenon, Medieval Archaeology, 62:2, 262-303,