halesworth

A history of Halesworth, Suffolk, UK, through the ages.

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Volume 1



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Saxon Village Life

The Saxons liked to live in small communities, in villages which were collections of low small thatched huts, which were built using a stout timber frame. Inside the hut the floor was sunk into the ground to a depth of about 66cm and the smoke from the fire worked its way slowly into the thatch and kept the hut warm. Each village had its division of labour. Iron was smelted and tools, implements and weapons were made. There were primitive ploughs, spades made of wood with the edges shod with iron. Adzes were produced for smoothing the rough sides of wooden planks, made by splitting the tree trunks with wedges. The chief occupations were still linked to agriculture, as barley, oats and wheat were grown. Flax was produced for clothmaking and wood used for dyeing the cloth. Fruit and nuts were collected for food, animals were reared and kept for both food, leather and wool.

Spinning and weaving was a regular occupation for the women, as it was part of their household work. The thread was wound on to a spindle, weighted by a spindle whorl. Such a whorl made of lead was found in Halesworth dating back to the 13th century. Also made of lead in Halesworth were fishing weights which were probably cast in sand moulds, for these were found in a pit in the Angel site, which also dates back to the 13th century.

In other parts of the area, we know that the Saxon invasion in the early 5th century created a settlement at Bungay after they came down the Waveney river. There was an etensive cemetary of the 6th - 7th century AD in the Joyce Road area, and Saxon cremation urns of a similar date have been found at Stow Park.

The Saxons and Danes knew of the beer making qualities of the barley they grew, and souvenirs of their use are known. A Rhenish glass beaker of the 6th century was found on the site of a Danish camp at Castor St Edmunds, Norfolk, while the silver mounts of a drinking horn was part of the Sutton Hoo burial treasure. Hop brewed ale was also known in East Anglia in the Saxon period, for hops are mentioned in the sagas of the Vikings and after the Norman Conquest, the Assize of Ale ensured both the quality and price of this important drink.

Most villages had a 'Lord of the Manor', - one of the Thanes (a free man) to whom the villagers looked for protection. The Lord of the Manor had a large share of the land in the area, and the villagers farmed it for him. Besides giving him free labour they had to pay regular rent in the form of wheat, pigs, eggs or other things they grew, made or raised. Not all villagers farmed the land, some paid their dues in the craft they were employed in. Smiths, carpenters, shoemakers would make things for the family at the Manor House instead of actually working on the land. The more skilled craftsmen, such as goldsmiths, stone-masons or weapon-makers were often employed by the Barons or attached to the King's court.

As the idea of trade increased, so did the use of actual money in the form of coinage, instead of bartering with food or other items, to pay for goods being bought. King Offa began minting silver 'pennies' during his reign (757 – 796 AD) for this purpose, and the penny has been the basic English coin for more than a thousand years.

In the village, most free men were called 'churls' and were mainly peasant farmers who owned a portion of land, usually a 'hide' which was land large enough to support a household. A document of the period states :-

If a churl prospers, so that he had fully five hides of land ... and special duties in the Hall, then he was henceforth worthy of the rank of a Thane.

There were also 'thralls' or slaves, many of these had descended from the Britons who lost their land to the English invaders. Others were prisoners of war, or criminals. The children of the thralls were un-free and a thrall who could work to earn money might save up enough to buy his own freedom. But thralls who ran away from their master and were caught, could be put to death.


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