London and south-eastern England

In south-east England, where a number of urban excavations have taken place, we have substantial evidence to work with. Nonetheless, combs from London have been rather inconsistently published, and there is a pressing need for synthesis. The majority of published examples from excavations in the city seem to relate to the pre-Viking and medieval periods (see Blackmore 2003, 30; Cowie and Blackmore 2008, 13), though Late Roman Type 10 combs are also known (e.g. Riddler 1988). Type 1a combs have been recovered from 5th- and 6th-century settlement sites, while Types 3 and 12 are well known from Middle Saxon Lundenwic (see Blackmore 2003, 311; Malcolm et al. 2003; Riddler 1990a; 1998, 174). This material has been well reviewed by Blackmore and Riddler [2008], and is thus not considered in detail here. In contrast, Types 5, 6, and 7 are scarce (Pritchard 1991, 194-9). It is unclear whether this simply reflects a lack of excavation of 9th- and 10th-century sites, or if it relates to a genuine absence of the types in 'Late-Saxon' (Viking-Age) levels.

Pritchard (1991, 195) notes the contemporaneous use of single- and double-sided forms in 10th-century London, though secure contexts are few. A small fragment of Type 5 (Ambrosiani A2) comb was found at St Peter's Hill, where it was residual in a 12th-century deposit (Pritchard 1991, fig. 3.75), but this is an isolated example of the type. Pritchard mentions no examples of Types 3 or 6, but Riddler (1990a) has shown the former to be present in some numbers in 9th- to 11th-century London, while an unusual comb case component (Pritchard 1991, fig. 3.83) may relate to the latter. A Type 7 comb has been recovered from a pit at Pudding Lane securely dated to the 10th century, while there is a similar find from 19th-century investigations near the Mansion House (Pritchard 1991, 195-6), and a number of combs from late 11th and 12th-century waterfront deposits, including a substantially complete example of Type 8b from Seething Lane (I. Riddler pers. comm.).

Type 4 combs are also represented, most notably by an example from Milk Street that not only retains its horn component, but was found in a pit securely dated to the 10th century. This example thus provides the best evidence yet for Type 4 riveted mounts as representative of horn combs. Fragments of double-sided (probable Type 12) combs are known from 10th-century contexts at Milk Street (Pritchard 1991, 199), and from undated levels at Threadneedle Street (Smith 1909, 165). Combs from late medieval deposits include Type 14b, and the importance of boxwood combs from the 12th century is also clear. Composite combs are scarce in later levels, though occasional finds of Types 9 and 13 have been made (e.g. Smith 1909, 165; Egan and Pritchard 1991, 368).

South of London, little is published on Viking-Age combs from Sussex, though the situation in the preceding centuries appears familiar. Excavations of 5th- and 6th-century structures at Botolphs recovered two double-sided combs, including an ornate, and apparently little-used Type 10 comb; presumably an heirloom manufactured in the Late Roman or Late Antique period, before subsequently being curated (Riddler 1990b, 260). At the nearby Late Saxon site of Bishopstone, a Type 4 riveted mount is notable as a relatively rare rural example of the form (Ashby 2010a).

The situation in Viking-Age Essex is similarly hazy, though it is possible to say a little about the pre-Viking corpus. Though there is an important artefact collection from the Middle Saxon settlement site of Wicken Bonhunt, publications make no reference to combs (Wade 1980). In Colchester, eight Type 10 combs were found in association with late 3rd- to early 5th-century inhumation burials at Butt Road (Crummy 1983, 55-7), while Type 12 combs are known from both funerary contexts (a probable Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Mersea Road; Galloway 1981a) and settlement excavations (an endplate of probable Type 12 from a Grubenhaus; Galloway 1983, 55-6). There is also a Type 1a comb from a probable 5th-century context at Nunn's Road, Colchester (Galloway 1981b), a Type 10 end section (usefully closely associated with Roman pottery and a 100-strong coin hoard with a clear terminus post quem of AD 350-60), and more-or-less fragmentary examples of Type 12 from 6th- to 7th- century contexts at Lion Walk and Culver Street (Galloway 1983; Crummy 1988, 22-3). Later material is known from elsewhere in the county, such as at Waltham Abbey, where excavations of an 11th-century hall uncovered a comb of probable Type 7 from a 'pre-conquest' context; the excavators likened this to a Type 7 comb from York (Huggins 1976, 118-19).

A number of notable finds have been made in Kent. An Anglo-Saxon settlement at Darenth, in the west of the county, recovered a relatively late example of Type 10, a complete specimen, perhaps dating back only as far as the 6th century (Philp 1973a, 154-5). Across the River Medway in east Kent, a number of excavations in Canterbury are of note. Ian Riddler has published a Type 8b comb from a mid-11th-century context at Longmarket, Canterbury, and a Type 2c from the same site, for which he suggests a likely 9th-century date (Riddler 1991a). Riddler (pers. comm.) also notes small numbers of unpublished combs of Types 3 and 12 from Early and Middle Saxon sites including Christ Church College, St Martins, St Michaels, Cakebread Robey, St Johns Lane, Whitefriars and Mint Yard, as well as a fragment of Type 8b from the latter site.

Excavations in the car park of Canterbury's Marlowe Theatre recovered 31 double-sided combs, mostly of Type 12, including a number of examples of Type 11 (Barford 1995, 1155-62) Unfortunately, many of these combs seem to have been redeposited and the excavators attempt no close chronology. The site also produced three single-sided combs (Type 2b), including one that is a hybrid Type 1a-2b form, similar to the example from Wharram (Barford 1995, 1162-3; Dickinson 1992; MacGregor 1992), and an unusual example with decorative rivets (Barford 1995, 1164). In addition, there were three Type 3 handled combs, three Type 14b combs, and a number of production blanks. Other sites in Canterbury have produced Type 2b and 11/12 combs, and an unusual case (MacGregor and Stow 1995, fig. 516). At the type-level at least, the Canterbury corpus does seem to be different from the rest of the south-east, with both Type 11 and Type 2b being more frequent finds than at many other sites in the region.

Still further east, 19 combs are known from the excavation of an Anglo-Saxon settlement in Dover, on the Kentish coast (Keller 2003, 73-4). Thirteen of the combs are Type 12, the remaining combs are of Types 1a, 1b (including an extraordinarily ornate and complete example, Keller 2003, fig. 41, no. 31), and 2b. In all, the Kentish collection fits in well as part of a broader south-eastern milieu, though the Canterbury collection is unusual.

In all, the collections from London and the south-east have a little in common with those of the south-west, where there is a similar paucity of Types 5, 6 and 7.

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Archived Comments

I find this whole subject completely fascinating but is there a Ian Riddler comb book out there? I have read many articles by this man, which are well written and bring the subject to life but cannot find details of the book he must have written. Any help? Thanks Ted Bossom


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