Judy Dewey, Curator of Wallingford Museum, came to talk to us about a remarkable community project undertaken in Wallingford. Funding of £250,000 was granted by the Arts and Humanities Research Council for research in this once large and important fortified town, dating back to the time of King Alfred. William the Conqueror came to Wallingford in 1066, and it belonged at one time to Richard Earl of Cornwall, brother of Henry III (who also owned a deer park in Marlow, possibly at the site currently being excavated by AIM at Warren Wood). Wallingford was not a successful town economically, due to poor navigation, unlike its flourishing neighbours, Oxford, Reading, Abingdon and Henley, and was badly affected by the Black Death. The priory was dissolved by Cardinal Wolsey and the castle was knocked down and removed stone by stone in 1646, after a 12 week siege by Cromwell’s Army.
With its royal castle by a strategic Thames crossing and important priory, as well as its Charter dating back to 1155 (even predating London’s Charter), Wallingford offers exceptional opportunity for research: because of its early Charter, many documents dating as far back as the 12th century still exist, and much of the land once occupied by the Saxon town and royal castle is now open space, giving unusually good access for archaeological investigations.
A number of earlier excavations had not been published and the community archaeological project organised by The Wallingford Historical and Archaeological Survey (TWHAS) and Wallingford Museum set about trawling through material from this earlier work, which included excavation of 5th to 7th century early Anglo Saxon pagan burials and of the castle site. Early documents, from the 1220s on, were researched. The excavations were led by Dr Neil Christie of the University of Leicester, Professor Oliver Crichton, a castle expert and Assistant Professor of Archaeology of Exeter University, and Professor Helena Hamerow, a medieval specialist from Oxford University. PhD students, 200 local school children and volunteers of all ages took part in surveys and excavations, vitally sustained by twice daily deliveries of tea and coffee by wheelbarrow! Sixty six small test pits were dug in gardens throughout the town, turning up bone, pottery, slag and metalwork, mostly from the 9th century on.
For further details, a report on Wallingford’s Burh to Borough Project is shortly to be published in the British Archaeological Report. Wallingford Museum contains many fascinating artefacts found and is certainly high on my list for a day out soon.