Monument record MNL 084 - Holywell Row Cemetery

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Anglo-Saxon inhumation cemetery found at Holywell Row in 1851, and excavated then, in the 1930's and 1994. Over 100 inhumations were excavated in the 1930's, and the cemetery is of the late 5th-early 7th centuries. The 1994 evaluation established the cemetery limits and quantified the damage done since the 1980's by looting.


Grid reference Centred TL 7133 7661 (185m by 168m) (Centred on)
Map sheet TL77NW
Civil Parish Beck Row, Holywell Row and Kenny Hill, Forest Heath, Suffolk


Type and Period (3)

Full Description

Early Saxon inhumation cemetery with over 120 burials. First reference would appear to be by Sir Henry Bunbury - "One of the rusty javelin heads which accompany this memorandum was found perforating the collar bone of a skeleton buried in a chalk pit near the hamlet called Hollywell Row. In the same pit were found several other fragments of weapons and the bosses of shields" (S6). The [1931] Lethbridge plan shows 'Old chalk pit' on NE edge of excavations (R3). Also pre 1851 is the report of a discovery at "Hollywell Row of a string of clay beads and an 'Anglo-Saxon' brooch with a Roman coin and a portion of British (?) pottery" (S1, S2, S13, S3).

"A cemetery was later discovered by warreners and Wood and Cook found several Anglo-Saxon skeletons there " (S1, S14).

In 1929 T C Lethbridge excavated a hundred graves from, he believed, a larger cemetery. All except 13 of the graves contained grave goods, including brooches, bronze and silver articles, iron weapons and pottery (S1, S16).

Finds in Cambridge Museum include circa 356 objects plus circa 889 beads (S4).

For detailed report of excavations see (S15) and excavation archive (S8).

Now sited in area of managed coniferous woodland (S1). When last cleared, circa 1982, traces of possibly looting evident (S5).

Circa 1974: Fine gilt brooch possibly found on site.

Circa 1980: Proposed forestry clearance of mature conifers led to site appraisal - decision and correspondence stolen in parish file, however, no excavation or watching brief mounted. Resultant trenching & de-stumping led to discovery & destruction of further graves. Some were totally destroyed, others survived only partially disturbed. At same time 22 graves were excavated. These included one `horse burial with rider', with iron harness fittings on horse, shield boss, spearhead, 2 annular brooches and 2 wrist clasps on rider. All graves were very rich, all female burials had three brooches with strings of beads in between two opposing side brooches, underlying(?) a central larger brooch. One of these, with a central square headed brooch and a girdle hanger with `fine toilet set', had a (?hair) pin and 2 earrings, both with garnet set in bronze in situ on the skull. Other finds include Rom coin pendants, `thousands of beads, of amber, glass and large rock crystal' and `a few spears'. Extent of cemetery believed to have been located on one side only (S7).

For further discussion of the cemetery and comparison with the Westgarth Garden cemetery at Bury St Edmunds (BSE 030) see (S9).

1994: Archaeological evaluation of part cemetery (S1). Details in (S12).

From NHRE record:

(TL 714765) Anglo-Saxon Burial Ground (NR) (S19)

An Anglo-Saxon burial was indicated at Holywell Row by the discovery before 1851 of a string of clay beads and an Anglo-Saxon brooch with a Roman coin and a portion of ? British pottery. A cemetery was later discovered by Warreners at TL 714765 and Wood and Cook found several Anglo-Saxon skeletons there. Lethbridge excavated 100 graves but thought the cemetry still unexhausted. It was a typical graveyard of the "East Angles" in the pagan period and all but 13 of the graves contained 5th to 7th century grave-goods including brooches, bronze and silver articles, iron weapons and pottery. These are all in Cambridge Museum and some of the bones are in Duckworth Laboratory. (S1, S3, S20)

The site of the cemetery lies within a fir tree plantation.
Nothing significant was noted. (S21)

E.J Pader has re-examined the material from the Holywell Row excavation in an attempt to evaluate social organisation in mortuary deposits. (S22)

Sources/Archives (23)

  • --- Bibliographic reference: Geake, H.. 1997. The use of grave-goods in conversion-period England.
  • <S1> Article in serial: Lethbridge, T.C.. 1931. Title?. Lethbridge T C, PCAS quarto pubs NS, 3, 1931, 1-46 (ill).
  • <S2> Index: OS. OS Card. OS, card TL77NW19.
  • <S3> Bibliographic reference: 1911. Victoria County History, Suffolk (VCH). 344.
  • <S4> Source Unchecked: SAU (West S E),. 1987. Site Report?. SAU (West S E), 1987.
  • <S5> Source Unchecked: SAU (Plouviez J), 1987. 1987. Site Report?. SAU (Plouviez J), 1987.
  • <S6> Article in serial: Bunbury Sir H. 1834. Roman & British Antiquities discovered at Mildenhall in Suffolk. Bunbury Sir H, Roman & Brit Antiquities discovered at Mildenhall in Suff, Archaeologia, 25, 1834, 61.
  • <S7> Source Unchecked: SAU (Pendleton C),. 1988. Site Report?. SAU (Pendleton C), September 1988.
  • <S8> Excavation archive: Lethbridge, T.C.. Site notes, drawings & photos, Cambridge University Museum, card index & archive. Lethbridge T C, Site notes, drawings & photos, Cambridge University Museum, card index & archive.
  • <S9> Bibliographic reference: Pader E J. 1982. Symbolism, Social Relations & the Interpretation of Mortuary Remains. Pader E J, `Sybolism, Social Relations & the Interpretation of Mortuary Remains', BAR Int Series, 13.
  • <S11> Article in serial: Martin, E.A., Pendleton, C. & Plouviez, J.. 1995. Archaeology in Suffolk 1995. XXXVIII (4).
  • <S12> Unpublished document: Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service evaluation report. SAU, Caruth J, Mildenhall Relief Road Evaluation Report, 1994, ill.
  • <S13> Bibliographic reference: Suffolk Institute of Archaeology. Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology. PSIA, 1, 1852, (6), 305.
  • <S14> Source Unchecked: Meaney, A.. 1964. A Gazetteer of Early Anglo-Saxon Burial Sites. Meaney A, Gaz of Early AS burial sites, 1964, 228.
  • <S15> Index: Phillips C W. Dark Age Index. Phillips C W, Dark Age Index.
  • <S16> Photograph: SCCAS. AWG 07-09 12-14 16-18. Photographs: AWG 07-09 12-14 16-18.
  • <S17> Index: OS. OS Card. OS, card TL77NW9.
  • <S18> Unpublished document: Suffolk Archaeological Service. Parish file. Parish file: stolen Autumn 1981.
  • <S19> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1903. OS 6" 1903.
  • <S20> Article in serial: 1851. QUARTERLY MEETING, Icklingham and Mildenhall.
  • <S21> Source Unchecked: RCHME?. Various. Field Investigators Comments. F1 ASP 14-JAN-72.
  • <S22> Monograph: Rahtz, P. et al. 1980. Anglo-Saxon cemeteries 1979.
  • <S23> Digital archive: Historic England. National Record Of the Historic Environment.

Finds (24)

Protected Status/Designation

  • None recorded

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Events/Activities (1)

Record last edited

Oct 27 2021 10:32AM

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