Anglian York: A Survey of the Evidence


list of authors
Dominic Tweddle
J. Moulden
E. Logan
Is Part Of
The Archaeology of York [Series]
Anglian York (AD 410-876) [Volume]
Council for British Archaeology for York Archaeological Trust
Date Copyrighted
Date Available
Digitally available on 8 December 2023
The importance of the city of York in the Anglian period is indicated by the historical documents which demonstrate that it was both a royal and an ecclesiastical centre, the seat first of a bishop and after 735 of an archbishop. Archaeological evidence for the period has been less conclusive, but published and unpublished sources have yielded some 85 sites which have produced evidence for Anglian activity in the city, catalogued with full references on pp.231-94, along with finds whose exact provenance within York is unknown.
The topographical framework for the Anglian city was essentially that of the Roman city and had three major physical elements: the fortress between the Rivers Foss and Ouse, the possible canabae, also between these rivers and outside the fortress south-west and south-east walls, and the colonia across the River Ouse to the south-west. The defences of the fortress and possibly of the colonia, together with their major routeways, survived into the Anglian period and are fossilised in the modern street plan of the city. New routeways also developed in the Anglian period, notably the diagonal street linking the south-west and north-west gates and that linking the south-east and north-east gates. The line of Aldwark is probably also of Anglian date, as are the first breaches in the south-west defences south of the south-west gate. These are possibly of 9th century date. Incontrovertibly Anglian are the cremation cemeteries just outside the city on The Mount and at Heworth, both probably first used in the late 5th century. Inhumations at Lamel Hill to the south, with meagre grave goods, are probably of the 7th century. Other cemeteries may have existed at Castle Yard, Severus Junction and Exhibition Square, but the evidence is either slight or ambiguous. Within the city a number of ecclesiastical sites can be identified. York Minster, St Leonard's Hospital, St Mary Bishophill Junior and St Mary Castlegate have all produced sculpture of the Anglian period. Sculpture from 16-22 Coppergate is probably derived from the nearby church of All Saints Pavement. A cross-head from The Mount may have come from a boundary cross rather than a churchyard. In addition to sites with physical evidence, the orientation of the church of St Michael-le-Belfrey on the Roman street plan, together with the fragmentary nature of its parish, may suggest an early date. There is historical evidence for a church of Alma Sophia, possibly on the site of Holy Trinity Priory, Micklegate, as well as unlocated churches dedicated to St Mary, St Michael and St Stephen.
Secular sites are much less well documented, but 22 locations have produced evidence of varying nature, from structures and roadways at 46-54 Fishergate, to single buildings at The Bedern and 1-9 Micklegate, and pits or groups of pits at 21-33 Aldwark. Particularly important is the Anglian Tower. If an Anglian date for it can be sustained it confirms that the Roman defences were kept in good repair into the Anglian period, a fact suggested by the different phases of refurbishment of the Roman bank.
In addition, 33 sites have produced casual finds apparently unassociated with structures. Their distribution emphasises the importance of the Earlsburgh area, and the area outside the south corner tower of the fortress where the first breaches in the defences may have taken place. To the south-west of the Ouse no clear foci of activity appear. Over 140 individual Anglian coins were found from York sites, as well as 10 certain coin hoards.
Using all these sources of evidence, it appears that the first Anglian activity around York is represented by the early cemeteries of the late 5th or early 6th century. There are few equivalent finds from the city. In the 7th and 8th centuries there appears to have been a royal and ecclesiastical centre in the fortress and perhaps other ecclesiastical foci around Holy Trinity Priory and St Mary Castlegate. To the south, at the confluence of the Rivers Foss and Ouse, there was a settlement of timber buildings which may have been a trading settlement or wic. In the 9th century activity seems to have increased everywhere within what was to become the medieval walled area. More churches may have come into existence, a new focus of settlement may have developed outside the south corner tower of the fortress defences, and there is at least one structure from Clementhorpe at this time. Activity continued, albeit on a reduced scale, at Fishergate. York then was a polyfocal settlement with a number of settlement nuclei scattered across the area of the old Roman city, perhaps with cultivated or waste areas between. In order to demonstrate the biases in the evidence for Anglian York, a summary of the building development of the city is provided, together with an account of the activities of antiquaries and archaeologists. A study of the evidence for the discovery of three gold thrymsas in the city demonstrates that these are genuine, not forgeries as has been suggested.
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York Archaeological Trust
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