An occasional series covering Hampshire digs large and small; the pagan Saxon cemetery at Droxford.
Continuing the theme of archaeological sites disturbed by railway construction (although I’m not sure how much the navvies took note of Neatham) we take a look at Droxford – a celebrated discovery when it first came to light around 1900. A cutting was being dug for the Fareham to Alton railway and word spread that human bones and spearheads had been unearthed. William Dale, Secretary of the Hampshire Field Club, went to the spot and collected a number of items. They were soon identified as Anglo-Saxon, and Dale returned to the site and recovered a number of smaller objects. ‘Very little progress’ he reported in his paper to the Society of Antiquaries in May, 1902, ‘was made in 1900, owing to the scarcity of labour’ and when work did resume he bemoaned ‘the tenacious clayey earth, out of which it was very difficult to extract anything of any size whole…Moreover [he continued] the employment this winter of a steam navvy did not help matters and probably some few objects were lost.’
Despite the difficulties, Dale has to be applauded for rescuing what he did; ‘the place is 20 miles from my home and five from any railway station’ he groaned. As well as swords, spears and shield bosses, he collected brooches, toilet implements, spindle whorls, pottery and glass vessels and a composite bucket, most of which went to the British Museum. The wise heads at the Antiquaries agreed with his observation that the cemetery showed signs of comparative poverty, although swords, of which six were found, are generally considered to indicate high rank.
The site was rediscovered by Fred Aldsworth in 1973, three years after the railway line had been finally abandoned. Using the few topographical clues in Dale’s account he pinned down the location and inspection of a chalk cutting revealed three graves. Enlisting the help of the Department of the Environment and Hampshire County Museums Service he was able to mount an excavation in the summer of 1974, hoping to find sufficient evidence to throw light on the nature and date of the whole cemetery. The 41 graves he found, containing over 380 objects, surpassed all expectations.
The excavation is a classic example of a well-run project which is brilliantly recorded and reported and involved a good number of the local community, including members of SHARG; the necessary equipment being loaned by the Test Valley Archaeological Committee. Although the final report is short on specialist contributions ‘since the author felt that the provision of such material would unduly delay the publication’ it does have full catalogues, including the British Museum material and a few additional finds made in 1906 which went to Winchester City Museum. It also benefits from a discussion of the late 5th and 6th century cemetery, the settlement it served and the phenomenon of the ‘heathen burial place’.
It also benefited from a visit by keen photographer Gareth Thomas, who was clearly lured there by an ‘open day’ in 1974.
The archive from the 1970s excavations is in the care of the Hampshire Cultural Trust – A1974.309
Aldsworth, F, 1979, Droxford Anglo-Saxon Cemetery, Soberton, Hampshire, Proc Hants Field Club & Archaeol Soc 35, 93-182.
Dale, W, 1903, [Droxford, Hants] Proc Soc Antiq Lond 19, 125-9.
Series by: Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone