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Royal Blood transfused


Claire Woodhead (Hampshire Cultural Trust) and Ashvini Sivakumar (British Museum) prepare the condition reports on the Iron Age coins.

It seems like only yesterday that ‘Royal Blood – heads & tales’ was being installed at Andover, but since then versions of the show have visited Fareham and Aldershot and are still in situ at Alton, Christchurch and Eastleigh. Now the exhibition has gone up a notch and ‘Royal Blood – births, battles and beheadings’ has just opened at the Sainsbury Gallery, Willis Museum, Basingstoke.

The larger venue allows for a more expansive display but the time frame has been narrowed to cover, in six steps, the period from 100 BC to AD 1649. Star attraction of the Iron Age case, on loan from the British Museum, are items from the ‘Alton Hoard’, including coins of Tincomarus, an Atrebatic leader. Representing the Romans are objects from recent work at Silchester and a previously unseen enamelled belt buckle with military connections, from Kingsclere. The Saxons chip in with buckets and buckles, but of the most exquisite and rare variety, from Breamore and Monk Sherborne.


Eleanor of Pembroke stands beside Odiham Castle – on her one hand swords, spurs and armour piercing arrows – on the other three stone missiles. But her ‘household roll’ told of servants Gobithesti and Trubodi ad Slingaway, and her maid, Domicella Christiana.

The medieval period focuses on Odiham Castle, one of Hampshire’s hidden gems. As well as a fragment of the building raised for King John, there’s the county’s oldest example of the Great Seal, added to an Andover charter 10 years before the Magna Carta. This is rarely seen outside the Hampshire Record Office. Also on show is a beautiful heraldic horse harness pendant of the Despenser family.

For the Tudors the Tichborne Spoons, a remarkable example of Elizabethan craftsmanship, shine out, but the Stuart period focuses on the Civil War, with armour, a sword and a hoard of 122 silver coins capturing the strife and disruption so widespread at the time.


In addition, hunting – a popular pastime at all periods – and music are celebrated, both via the pages of Tudor volumes, on loan from Winchester College.

Reminding us, throughout, that history is about people not about things, are the costumed figures dressed, appropriately, in shades of red. These majestic personages, based on historical individuals, led far from genteel existences and questions of birth, battles and beheadings were ever present in their royal lives.

Royal Blood is at the Willis Museum until the end of October – Admission Free.


Buried in time – Royal Blood bits, unions, rings and pins


Bury Hill viewed from the west. The early fort touches the left hand side of the image, the later fort is dead centre. The ‘annexe’ occupies the harvested field to the right.

Bury Hill’s earthworks are quite prominent on the summit of a low rise at the confluence of the rivers Anna and Anton, near Andover. An Early Iron Age hillfort of 10 ha (24 acres) occupies the site but was superseded by a much stronger circular fort of half the size. The earlier enclosure, tested by geophysical survey and excavation, had no evidence of occupation, but it was a different picture in the later camp, which was densely packed with features.

What was striking about Barry Cunliffe’s work here in 1990 was the remarkable haul of horse harness and chariot fittings. The excavation produced six copper alloy terret rings, three strap unions, two small strap rings, a linchpin and an antler side piece capped with a copper alloy disc, as well as numerous iron horse bits and nave rings. Actual horse remains comprised 48% of the animal bones found, about ten times higher than at nearby Iron Age sites, suggesting highly specialised activity at Bury Hill.

Bury Hill horse gear

A selection of the Bury Hill harness and chariot fittings.

Calculations show an average height of eleven hands for a horse population aged between one and fourteen years. With less than 5% juvenile mortality it is likely that the animals were not kept for breeding and they may have been semi-feral, similar to New Forest ponies today. With peak mortality at age six or seven years it is also unlikely that they were exploited for meat. The probability is that the herd was carefully managed, with the emphasis on horses for riding and chariot use.

It seems clear that the community viewed the chariot as a symbol of prestige. It is likely that the vehicles were manufactured at the site and the necessary specialised metalwork made there by craftsmen working for the local elite. This was a group potentially more warrior-dominated than in previous Iron Age generations and ties in with Caesar’s descriptions from 54 BC, when the Late Iron Age forces ranged against him included up to 4,000 chariots!

Iron Age battle

Chariots in the heat of Late Iron Age battle – from a painting by Mike Codd.

The Wessex Hillforts Survey has identified an oval enclosure of approximately 1.6ha (4 acres) just outside the later camp at Bury Hill, with its largest entrance facing towards the fort.  Is this where the elite warriors – the royal house guard or comitates – strutted their stuff, leaving the artisans to their carpentry workshops and smithies inside the defences?


The archaeological evidence: horse bones, nave rings and linch pins from chariot axles, and a variety of horse bits, terret rings and strap unions from the harness; plus a cluster of sling stones. In the Royal Blood exhibit at Andover Museum until 10 July, 2016.

The allegiance of this Late Iron Age ‘arms factory’ is not clear.  The local Atrebates tribe were pro-Roman, but suffered incursions from the Trinovantes and Catuvellauni.  Whoever it was they followed, there’s no doubt that the later 1st century BC and the early 1st century AD were turbulent times, if the importance given to the production of weapons of war is anything to go by.

Royal Blood Postscript: In later times Polydore Vergil (16th century) and Sir Richard Colt Hoare imagined Edmund Ironside and the Danish King Canute occupying Bury Hill and Balksbury respectively, as they slogged it out for possession of England in the early 11th century, but there is no hard evidence for this episode from either site.


Cunliffe, B & Poole, C. 2000. The Danebury Environs Programme: The Prehistory of a Wessex Landscape Vol 2, part 2. Bury Hill, Upper Clatford, Hants, 1990. English Heritage and Oxford University Committee for Archaeology Monograph no. 49.

Series by:    Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Jane King, Lesley Johnson, Peter Stone



More Civil War


To launch Civil War in Wessex with a bit more aplomb (the early detonation last Friday was accidental – how easy it is to start a fight!) we’ve searched the archives and found unique footage of the ‘Battle of Andover’, 1644…or perhaps more correctly the 360th anniversary of the said battle, in October, 2004.


Up to the hilt…the 17th century sword from the River Anton, Andover

In the original incident, more a skirmish than a battle, Royalist forces, including King Charles, were advancing from the Salisbury direction and put Sir William Waller’s troops to flight.  The key action, in a lane leading to Andover, may have been near the river bridge and a sword found in the gravelly mud of the River Anton probably comes from this engagement.  The King spent the night in the ‘White Hart’ inn.

For the ‘re-enactment’ on Andover recreation ground no horses were allowed, as they would have cut up the turf, but a march-past of doughty drummers and pike men preceded a few booms from a field gun brought up from Taunton.

‘Don’t put your fingers in your ears’ says the gun-captain, but someone already has and can’t hear him! The first firing drew a great response and spontaneous applause and was followed by four or five more until the last one, when a double-charge was loaded. My favourite comment was from a friend, Tony Raper, who was at home eating his Sunday dinner, half a mile away. ‘That last blast’ he said ‘ nearly shook the windows out of their frames’.  Tony, you should have been where we were!

It was a brilliant event – and similar shows take place at Basing House during the season, although window rattling isn’t a regular feature. We really do appreciate the efforts of the Sealed Knot and English Civil War Society to mark this classic period of our past.

Civil War in Wessex, Alan Turton (2015), 32pp. Wessex Books, £6.99

ISBN 978-1-903035-46-7


Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone.

Hampshire Cultural Trust


Buried in time – the Titchfield baselard

A Deadly Weapon

A baselard is a type of long-bladed dagger with an H-shaped hilt, popular as a civilian weapon in the 14th and 15th centuries and even carried by priests. A register of 1395-1419 from Exeter recorded that only 13 of the beneficed clergy owned books although many of them possessed baselards. This is despite the fact that such weapons had been forbidden by church councils for centuries.

The Titchfield Baselard

The Titchfield Baselard

Their length – typically 300mm – meant that they could only be worn visibly, suspended from a man’s belt to provide a sense of security. A satirical song dating from the time of Henry V (early 15th century) described a man who ostentatiously carried a baselard but who probably lacked the courage to use it in self-defence:

There is no man worth a leek,

Be he sturdy, be he meek,

But he bear a baselard.

Baselards were generally owned by people of high status: from 1388 onwards, servants and labourers were forbidden to carry such arms.  In the mid-14th century the weapons were shown on tomb effigies as part of the dress of deceased knights; later they became popular with wealthy merchants, and were sometimes depicted on monumental brasses.  Although they were often carried merely for show, a baselard was the weapon wielded during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 by William Walworth, Mayor of London: he used it to strike Wat Tyler on the head before the rebel was run through with a sword.  In the 19th century the original weapon was “still preserved with peculiar veneration by the Company of Fishmongers” of which William Walworth had been a member.

The Titchfield Baselard was found while dredging the River Meon.  Typical features are its double edge and the two equal-length cross pieces which give the hilt an ‘H’ shape.  The grip has not survived; it could have been made of wood, horn or bone. There are many variants of spelling of Baselard, such as Basilard in the early 14th century; the word derives from the original place of origin of such knives, Basel in Switzerland.

The remains of Titchfield Abbey, which were transformed into a private house by Thomas Wriothesley.

The remains of Titchfield Abbey, transformed into a private house by Thomas Wriothesley.

The hundred of Titchfield lies in the Meon Valley, between Fareham and Southampton. Before the Reformation, there was an abbey at Titchfield, founded in 1222 for a colony of White Canons. Ten years later, Henry III granted the manor of Titchfield to Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester. The manor remained with the abbot until the Dissolution in 1537.  Henry VI was married to Margaret of Anjou in the abbey in 1445; in consideration of its services, he granted the abbey liberties and immunities, including the right to hold an annual fair lasting five days. In 1424 the abbot received permission to enclose a park consisting of 10 acres of pasture and 50 acres of wood.

We will never know how the Titchfield baselard came to be in the river. One could speculate that it had been disposed of there, having been used for criminal purposes; alternatively its owner got rid of it because its possession flouted clerical and secular law.

The baselard is on display at Westbury Manor Museum, Fareham.


Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone, with help from Stacie Elliot.