Early Anglo-Saxon Ipswich (5th to early 7th century AD)
Very little evidence has been found of early fifth century activity, following the collapse of Roman rule. Two brooches of this date, found on the excavations at School Street in 1983-5, probably represent items scavenged from a site of this date yet to be found in the Borough. However, there are a number of sites with occupation dating from the later fifth century onwards.
Activity of this date has been found in the ruins of the Castle Hill Roman villa and nearby but nothing as yet to indicate permanent occupation. Clearly the villa was the source of building materials for centuries after its abandonment.
A large cemetery of late 5th to early 7th century date was discovered in 1906, during ground levelling work at Hadleigh Road, 300m west of the River Gipping at Handford Bridge. A total of 159 inhumation graves and 13 cremations were recorded.
A settlement was partially excavated in 2003, 300m to the east of Handford Bridge and to the south of Handford Road, and overlooking what was the Town Marsh. At least ten buildings were excavated including both halls and sunken-featured buildings. This is most likely to be the settlement whose inhabitants were buried at the Hadleigh Road cemetery. If not, a cemetery awaits discovery for the Handford Road settlement and a settlement for the Hadleigh Road cemetery.
A second cemetery of 5th to early 7th century date has been partially excavated on the Boss Hall Industrial estate in 1990 and 2014. To date over 20 inhumation burials and 5 cremations have been found. Further burials are likely on adjacent land. Traces of contemporary occupation on the nearby Tannery site, on Bramford Road, probably indicate the associated settlement.
Another possible settlement of this date is suggested by a brooch and pottery found at Waller’s Grove on the Chantry Estate in 1950.
Early Middle Saxon Ipswich (Seventh century AD)
During the 7th century, the focus of activity moved to the site of the present town.
This comprises a settlement, north of the river crossing at Stoke Bridge, and associated cemeteries on the higher ground to the north and south of the river in Stoke.
The best evidence of the settlement came from the Greyfriars Road (Novotel) site where two sunken-featured buildings and many rubbish pits were associated with handmade pottery and imported Frankish wares. The distribution of handmade pottery suggests that occupation covered some 15hectares, north of the river, up to the line of Silent Street, Tacket Street and Lower Orwell Street.
North of this occupation, contemporary inhumation burials have been excavated at a number of sites: Foundation Street (2 graves), Bond Street (3 graves) and south of the Buttermarket (71 graves). An extensive radiocarbon dating programme of the Buttermarket graves provided a date range of c.610/635 to c.680/690 AD. The graves of men, women and children were commonly in coffins or containers and many of the graves were lined with wooden structures or linings, which is unusual in contemporary cemeteries in England. In two cases, the containers appeared to be small boats. Some of the burials were surrounded by penannular ditches, probably indicating that they were covered by mounds or small barrows. At least six individuals were buried with weapons or with dress jewellery and girdle assemblages. Three of the male burials had belt suites most closely paralleled in burials in northern France and Belgium.
The cemetery in Stoke, found on the Stoke Quay site, comprised 20 inhumation burials, including seven under barrows, dating from the late 6th to early eighth century.
The Middle Saxon Town (c.700-870 AD)
Around 720 AD, the town expanded to cover about 50 hectares. This involved an extension over the heathland burial ground to the north, along a newly laid-out grid-iron pattern of streets, and south of the river into Stoke. Extensive excavation has shown that the economy was based on craft production and international trade.
Craft production was dominated by the Ipswich Ware pottery industry. It was a large scale enterprise, concentrated in the north east corner of the town, along Carr Street, but outlying kilns have also been excavated at the Buttermarket and south of the river in Stoke. The importance of the Ipswich ware industry is shown by its distribution, which not only covers the entire Kingdom of East Anglia but as far as the West Country, Yorkshire, London and Kent. Most sites across the town also produce evidence of bone and antler working, spinning and weaving, and metalworking. Leatherworking too must have been common but evidence for it only survives in the waterlogged deposits of the waterfront.
All sites produced evidence of international trade. Imported goods include hone stones from Norway, lava querns from the Rhineland and pottery from the Rhineland, Belgium and Northern France. This imported pottery is found in much larger quantities than found on inland settlement sites of this period. Over 6000 sherds representing over 900 vessels have been found to date. Most of this pottery probably represents foreign traders in residence but the fancier vessels were most likely in transit to the tables of the East Anglian aristocracy. The trade also included perishable goods such as wool or woven textiles going out and wine coming in. Wine was imported in wooden barrels, some of which have been found preserved and re-used as the linings of shallow wells across the town. An example from Lower Brook Street matched the tree ring pattern of the Mainz area of Germany.
Evidence for the townscape of the Middle Saxon town comes from the two areas of large scale excavation, south of the Buttermarket (St Stephen’s Lane) and either side of Foundation Street.
At the Buttermarket, in the centre of the town, a continuous row of rectangular, surface-laid timber buildings was found hard up against the street edge. In their backyards, various crafts were in evidence including weaving, bone and antler working, metalworking (silver, copper alloy, iron) and potting in the form of a single Ipswich ware kiln
A different picture emerged either side of Foundation Street, on the eastern edge of the Middle Saxon town. Here, there were fewer buildings, set back from the street and within fenced enclosures. Environmental evidence indicates more emphasis on agricultural activities including livestock and cereal cleaning.
This implies that the concept of a town centre, with more commercial activity, and a periphery with a more agricultural function, may have existed from the start of urban life in England, but this needs testing by further excavation.
Christian burial grounds were also established at this period. Two are known to date: on the western margin of occupation, in the Elm Street area, and south of the river at Philip Road. Human remains, from both sites have been radiocarbon-dated to this period.
Some churches were no doubt founded at this period but there is no archaeological evidence to support this. St Peter’s has been suggested as the Minster church and St Mildred’s, on the Corn Hill, may have been a royal chapel (removed for the construction of the Town Hall in the 19th century).
At this period, there was also much activity along the north bank of the river Orwell. A sequence of timber waterfront revetments, dating from the seventh century onwards, was found in excavations at Bridge Street in 1981. The Middle Saxon waterfronts, of simple post and wattle hurdle construction, were little more than a bank protection, providing dry land on which to embark from the shallow draft boats of the period. More complex timber structures were found more recently during excavations at the Cranfields Mill site, south of Key Street.
In the wider Borough, evidence of Middle Saxon activity has been found at a number of locations. A small settlement was excavated on the Whitehouse Industrial Estate in 1995. It lay within a ditched, roughly circular enclosure 90m in diameter, containing two large buildings and a small cemetery
Other Middle Saxon settlements may be indicated by Ipswich ware pottery finds across the Borough but none of the sites have been investigated and they may have resulted from the manuring of arable fields with rubbish from the town.
The importance of the Middle Saxon town
Following the collapse of the Roman Empire in Western Europe, in the early 5th century, it is clear that town life disappeared. It was not until the early 7th century that it reappeared in the form of a series of emporia established around the North Sea coast. In what was later to become England, there was one such emporium in each of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
Hamwic (Southampton) served Wessex, Lundenwic (London) served various kingdoms before becoming the national capital, Eoforwic (York) served Northumbria and Gipeswic (Ipswich) served East Anglia and also Mercia, after it had established supremacy over the kingdom. Excavations in the emporia of both Hamwic and Lundenwic have shown almost identical settlements to that at Gipeswic. These are England’s earliest towns, with unbroken occupation up to the present day. Only Ipswich remains on exactly the same site
The emporia on the European mainland are also well-known. Ipswich was trading mainly with Dorestad, on the river Rhine, Hamwic was trading mainly with Quentovic, in the Pas de Calais, and York mainly with the Scandinavian emporia at Hedeby (now in Denmark) and Birka, in Sweden.
The Late Saxon Town (870-1066 AD)
The Scandinavian invasion of England in 865 culminated in permanent settlement in Eastern England. Guthrum, one of the principal Scandinavian leaders, settled East Anglia from 879-880 and Scandinavian rule lasted until 920 when the West Saxons regained the area.
This period (880-920 AD) is one of great cultural change in Ipswich which must reflect Scandinavian rule and settlement. The town was surrounded with defences for the first time, probably late in the period, as a response to the threat of conquest from the Kingdom of Wessex. This involved the closure and diversion of some streets, which probably restricted access to three gates on the west north and east sides of the town. Building types also changed. The sunken-featured building was re-introduced and there is a very marked increase in craft activity. Metalworking included both iron smelting and smithing and copper alloy working. Moulds indicate brooch manufacture. It was also during this period that the Thetford ware pottery industry replaced the Ipswich ware industry. The industry remained mainly in the north-east area of the town, and kilns have been found along the south side of Carr Street and one at the west end of St Helen’s Street. However, a kiln has also been found in Turret Lane, south of the Buttermarket. Thetford ware industries were also established in the new Anglo-Scandinavian towns of Thetford and Norwich.
From the conquest by Wessex, in 920, to the Norman Conquest, the town grew very little but it remained in the top ten of the most important Anglo-Saxon towns. The street pattern was that inherited from its Middle Saxon predecessor, modified only by the construction of the town defences. The townscape at this period was more uniform with buildings set back normally 10-15 metres from the street front. The buildings continue to be sunken-featured but they increase in size and become two-storied with the sunken feature acting a cellar or half cellar.
The economy continued to be based on craft activity and international trade. It acquired a mint by the reign of Edgar (959-975). Local and regional trade, westward to the east Midlands dominated the 10th century but international trade picks up again in the eleventh century.
The Norman Town (1066-1200 AD)
The Domesday Book account of 1086 provides the first description of the town. It shows a severe decline after 1066, with 328 of the burgess plots laying waste and only 110 burgesses left who could afford to pay their customary dues to the king. By the middle of the 12th century, the town had fallen to 21st in the national rankings partly as a result of competition from the network of towns which had been founded across East Anglia during the late Saxon period.
This decline is well represented in the archaeological record. On the major sites of Buttermarket/St Stephen’s Lane and Foundation Street, buildings go out of use in the late 11th/early 12th century and the sites are not redeveloped until the 13th century. Some of these buildings were burnt down, which preserved a wealth of construction detail and in some cases the contents of the buildings. The most likely cause of this sudden decline was the suppression by William the Conqueror of a rebellion against him by the earl of East Anglia in 1075.
The Domesday Book entry for the Half Hundred of Ipswich lists thirteen churches in 1086. Two were in the wider Borough: St Botolph, Thurleston and one in Stoke with no dedication mentioned, but probably St Mary’s. Eleven were in the urban core: St Peter’s (2), St Augustine, St Mary’s (2), St Stephen, St Lawrence, St Julian, St Michael, St George, and Holy Trinity.
The foundation date of these churches remains unknown and six of them are now gone. Only one, St Augustine’s in Stoke, has been excavated and found to be of eleventh century construction.
The town also had a castle, constructed and destroyed in the twelfth century. Its location is unknown and various sites have been suggested. The most likely of these is the area bounded by Civic Drive, Westgate Street and Elm Street but there is no archaeological evidence to date.
The Medieval Town (1200-1450 AD)
During this period, five new churches were built serving the suburbs: St Margarets, St Matthews, St Clements and St Helens, on the fringes of the urban core and St John’s in the hamlet of Cauldwell.
The excavated evidence for this period is limited and adds little to the evidence provided by surviving documents. In the urban core, two of the major excavations (Buttermarket/St Stephen’s Lane and Foundation Street/School Street) coincided with the precincts of medieval friaries and ground plans of both the Carmelite and Dominican friaries were recovered. Little is known about the other monastic establishments: the Greyfriars, largely destroyed by the development of that name, the Priory of SS Peter and Paul, east of St Peter’s Church, and the Holy Trinity priory, on the Christchurch Mansion site. Some wall fragments and burials have been excavated in all three.
Further burials have been excavated in the churchyards of St Mary Quay, St Margaret’s, St Nicholas, St Lawrence, St Clement’s and the chapels of Our Lady of Grace, in Lady Lane, and St Edmund de Pountney, in Lower Brook Street.
In addition, cemeteries of lost churches have been partially excavated in Fore Street (the cemetery of Osterbolt), Westgate Street (unknown) and Berners Street (St George’s Church) and the Leper hospital of St James, at the junction of Fore Street and Back Hamlet. A second Leper Hospital, St Leonards, is known to have been sited on the Wherstead Road but no traces have yet come to light.
Pottery kilns excavated in Fore Street show that pottery production continued during this period producing Ipswich Glazed ware from c.1270-1325 AD.
Few medieval houses have been excavated apart from some 13th-14th century clay and timber buildings along Key Street, and these were on sites which have not been properly analysed and reported as the developer-funders went bankrupt.
In the wider Borough, little has been found of the known hamlets of Wicks Ufford, Wicks Bishop, Brookes and Stoke. Excavation of the moated site in Holywells Park (Wicks Bishop) has demonstrated a medieval date and watching briefs in the Brookes Hall area have produced medieval pottery and building materials. Pottery found during test-pitting of the allotments at Maidenhall may also indicate a small medieval hamlet or farm in Stoke.
Burials and wall footings have also been found of the lost church of St Botolph at Thurleston.
Late Medieval/Early Post Medieval(1450-1600 AD)
Most excavated sites in the urban core have produced evidence of this period and merchant houses, constructed in masonry, have been excavated on the sites along College Street and Key Street. Little is known about Wolsey’s College which took over the medieval priory of SS Peter and Paul but substantial walls, including a brick turret have been excavated east of St Peter’s Church.
Keith Wade, 2014
The Growth of Ipswich from the 7th to the 15th centuries, (Image:SCCAS).
Ipswich Ware Pottery Kiln, at Stoke Quay, Excavated 2012