Hampshire-based experimental centre Butser Ancient Farm has unveiled the latest addition to its collection of reconstructed buildings: an Anglo-Saxon hall house.
The structure (below) is based on archaeological remains discovered close by at Church Down, Chalton – so close by, in fact, that the hilltop where the footprints of c.61 late 6th- to 8th-century buildings were excavated in the 1970s can be seen from the doorway of their new neighbour.
Butser’s reconstruction is based on the outline of one structure from this site, known as ‘Chalton A1’, and measures 11.4m by 6.3m. Built between 2018 and 2022, its form follows the outline preserved in Downland chalk, with a large oak post placed wherever a post-hole was present in the excavated remains. As project archaeologist Trevor Creighton explained, though, all the above-ground elements represent informed speculation – for example, wooden treenails are used rather than metal fixings, based on timbers recovered from the Thames – but all the construction materials are based on resources that would have been available to the area’s Anglo-Saxon inhabitants. The various timbers are oak, sweet chestnut, and hazel – all sourced from within ten miles of Butser Ancient Farm – and the roof is thatched with water reeds.
‘It was a substantial structure for its day,’ Trevor said, ‘and would have been part of a comfortable, prosperous community. The settlement’s inhabitants kept pigs and sheep, and were hunting deer, and they were also trading with people for things like oysters. This part of Wessex was not an isolated place.’
The building process was led by treewright Darren Hammerton, working with Butser staff and a team of volunteers, and the completed building was officially opened in April by Wessex Archaeology’s Phil Harding, who participated in the excavation of its inspiration. The 1970s investigation was led in its early years by Peter Addyman, then of Southampton University, who was present at the launch, too.
‘At the time, Chalton was one of the first Anglo-Saxon villages to be excavated, and it is an absolute marvel to see one of its buildings reconstructed,’ Peter said. ‘It will be a very good stimulus to imagination, and every element of its design will be discussed for years to come.’
Butser Ancient Farm is currently open to the public at weekends and during school holidays, and the site marks its 50th birthday this year. Watch this space for a future feature marking this milestone, and see www.butserancientfarm.co.uk for more information about the centre, its work, and upcoming events.
TEXT: Carly Hilts.