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There is considerable evidence for Anglo-Saxon settlement in south-east England. Early Anglo-Saxon burials are well distributed north of the Weald on lower ground, especially around the major river valleys (such as the Darent, Medway and Stour), and along the Roman road between Eastry and Dover (Hawkes 1982, fig. 28). In Sussex, they are distributed along the coastal plain south of the Weald, either side of the South Downs (Bell 1978, fig. 33), although there are no cemeteries from the Weald itself (Lucy 2000, 141-2). In the eastern part of this region Anglo-Saxon settlements developed into medieval villages; to the west, there is little of the wealth displayed in Kentish graves, and in Hampshire settlement has remained more dispersed.

The largest concentration of known rural settlements in the south-east has been found along the gravel terraces of the Thames Valley above London (Drewett et al. 1988, 294). There were also Early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries here but there is no evidence of direct continuity to Middle Saxon times. The Middle Saxon settlement at Shepperton Green (Drewett et al. 1988, 294) seems to be a simple farm but has produced a coin of Offa and another of the 10th century. It probably has to be seen in the context of the estate centre or royal vill at Old Windsor, where the mill must have processed the agricultural surplus from its dependent farms, following a similar model to that well known from Carolingian France. The inhabitants of Old Windsor imported Tating ware from the Rhineland, and even at more modest farms, such as Yeoveney near Staines, Ipswich Ware from East Anglia indicates wider trade connections. Ipswich Ware is also found in Kent but, apart from Canterbury, all the findspots are at coastal locations, and many have ecclesiastical connections (Blinkhorn 1999, 8).

Middle Saxon estate centres often coincide with the sites of early minster churches. Brookes (2003, fig. 8.1) shows documented estate centres/minsters in Kent, mostly along the line of the Canterbury-Rochester Roman road and along the line of the North Downs Way, at the base of the southern slopes of the Downs. The church was active in continental trade, using its contacts to import luxury goods such as wine. Coastal churches at sites such as Dover, Lympne, Reculver and Richborough were well situated to engage in commerce. At Richborough coins have been found in the area of the chapel, and at Reculver they were discovered eroding from the cliff. In Surrey the churches of Bermondsey and Chertsey faced the River Thames (Blair 1992), while in Sussex a number of ecclesiastical estates were situated around the possible Anglo-Saxon port at Pagham. There is also an early series of minster churches around the Solent in Hampshire (Yorke 1995, 182-3). Ulmschneider (1999) has demonstrated the continued wealth and economic importance of the Isle of Wight in the Middle and Late Saxon periods, with a possible minster site at Carisbrooke.

Kent was particularly well placed to develop continental trade, and wics developed in London, and at Sandwich and Fordwich. In London trade was actually transacted on the waterfront, probably from boats pulled up on the shore. Initially there was no need for storage or warehouse facilities, and trading sites may have left few archaeological traces. The location of such markets along the Thames is indicated by wic place-names, such as Chiswick, Greenwich, Woolwich and Twickenham. However, the early Kingdom of Kent struggled to retain its control. Up to the 670s it appears to have controlled the wics at London and Southwark, but Mercia gained control of London in 670, extending its jurisdiction to Surrey and Essex within the next decade. The earliest, primary, series of sceattas was minted in east Kent from c. 680 and circulated mainly in the south-east. During the first quarter of the 8th century the secondary sceattas appear, and Sussex also starts producing coins although the distribution of coinage still attests to the importance of Kent.

Its monopoly was lost conclusively with the foundation of Hamwic, downstream of Roman Clausentum, probably by King Ine of Wessex. Coin finds suggest that trade started at a low level in the early 8th century, with the first coins minted in Hamwic around AD 720, but then rapidly expanded over the next 25 years. The large amount of local sceattas found in Hamwic has been taken as evidence that West Saxon kings were dong more buying than selling, although no doubt Hamwic was also a convenient place for exploiting agricultural and other surpluses from local estates (Yorke 1995, 305-7). However, Hamwic may not have been the only place that was performing this role in southern Hampshire at this time (Birbeck et al. 2005, 190-2). There is also strong evidence for a major mid-Saxon economic centre in the Newport area of the Isle of Wight (Ulmschneider 1999). Nonetheless, there is a notable gap in the string of ports between Kent and Hamwic, and it may be that the neighbouring powerful kingdoms prevented the establishment of rival ports along the Sussex coastline of the Kingdom of the South Saxons.

The south-east was also well endowed with natural resources exploited by Anglo-Saxon industry. The long coastline of Kent and Sussex provided possibilities for salt-working, and Domesday Book indicates marine salt production was undertaken in both counties. In Sussex saltworking was also undertaken around Pevensey Marsh, the Adur Valley and around Rye. Portchester Ware was produced in Hampshire but traded widely in Sussex where it has been associated with the salt trade. Nonetheless, despite many sources of clay, pottery production never developed on the industrial scale seen in East Anglia. The archaeological and written evidence for iron manufacture is sparse but the Weald has rich sources of iron ore and fuel was also readily available. A Middle Saxon iron-smelting site has been found in Ashdown Forest in the Weald, although this appears to have been a relatively small-scale operation (Drewett et al. 1988, 330). Domesday Book does record some quarries in the south-east but there are few areas of good-quality building stone, which was generally imported from further west.

From the late 8th century the long and vulnerable coastline of south-eastern England suffered particularly from Viking raiders, prompting the development of burhs to provide a defensive system. Stray finds of Viking metalwork have long been thought to represent the return of the Viking armies in the late 10th and early 11th centuries (Drewett et al. 1988, 327). By that time many of the burhs had developed into commercial and administrative centres. The region remained outside the Danelaw and was not fought across as part of the process of re-conquest. The population remained predominantly rural, although Southern England seems to have undergone the same process of settlement reorganisation and village nucleation as the rest of the country, in some cases during the Late Saxon period. However, there is no obvious historical context, such as the Wessex re-conquest of the Danelaw by the Kingdom of Wessex, or the Harrying of the North, to explain this large-scale reorganisation.


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