Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tunics, Ponchos and Pigs

Everybody knows that back in the old days, long before William the Conqueror set his beady French eye on our green and boggy island, the Saxons had infiltrated our shores and had eventually, following the odd skirmish or two with our Celto/Norse aborigines, become the dominant race.
So we thought to ourselves that it might be a good idea to write an article about the appearance and lifestyle etc. of these people, just for the sake of it, you understand, in attempt to bring our local history a bit more to life. (God knows it probably needs a bit of resuscitation.)
So, where to begin? Well, when it came to their general appearance, Saxons weren’t an awful lot different from the Norse. Mainly they wore woollen or linen clothes, their favourite garment being a narrow-sleeved tunic fastened at the wrists with hooks or laces, often dyed in bright colours.
Men’s tunics were short affairs, whereas women’s were generally treated as underskirts and covered with sleeveless poncho-style dresses created by gathering the material up at the shoulders. (Laura Ashley eat your heart out.) These were then held in place by ornate brooches and decorated with braid or embroidery, sometimes even fine strands of gold being woven into the fabric.
In cold weather, such as you’d expect from typical Fylde and Wyre winters…and possibly summers as well…women also wore trousers beneath their dresses, which just goes to prove there’s nothing new in the fashion industry.


As can be seen in the illustration above, which shows a female Saxon recreationist busily filling a pot over an outside fire, they also covered their heads with silk or linen wraps, carried small bags and sometimes even wore girdles. (A number of people have suggested that I could benefit from a scarf wrapped around my head and a very strong girdle…but that’s another story.)
Men wore breeches, leggings and leather shoes fastened by cross garters up to the knees. Being a bit more macho, however, they required a number of additional accessories to their general costumes, such as helmets, battleaxes, wooden shields and spears.
Being it a hierarchal society only those members of the upper classes, such as earls and thanes, were allowed to carry swords, as demonstrated by another recreationist in our illustration below.


Incidentally, recreationists such as these are excellent for bringing local history to life. Putting on public displays over the summer, in which battle techniques and Saxon cookery are demonstrated, also keeps them out of mischief at the weekends.
With a similar leaning towards displaying their social status as the men-folk, aristocratic women often wore jewellery such as necklaces and bracelets made from gold, amber, crystal or coloured glass beads. The Saxons living around local haunts such as Marton, Layton, Thornton, Wood Plumpton, Pilling et al, appear to have been mainly of agricultural stock, so it’s hardly surprising that finds of trinkets from this period are few and far between.
There was one Saxon bead, however, dug up at Newers Wood chapel in Pilling. (Well…at least it was probably Saxon. The Norse wore remarkably similar beads, but whatever the case it stemmed from that particular period of history.) Want to see what it looked like? Fair enough, here you go.


Yes, you’re right. It is a small picture. Then again it was only a small bead, so what did you expect?
In a class of their own were the Saxon priests who wore long white tunics with short sleeves, cloaks with hoods, and mantles that hung from their left shoulders. (That’s mantles, not mantelpieces. Anybody attempting to recreate the Saxon style of dress at home should take note of this.)
As far as their domestic necessities went, Saxons turned cups, bowls and spoons on simple but effective pole lathes, whilst other household items made of pottery were baked around a fire.
More often than not pigs were given free range to wander around the village, eating the scraps discarded by residents, whilst hens were allowed to roost in the surrounding trees.
Some, although not all, of the Saxons around the Fylde and Wyre would have rented their land. The title of thanes, however, was granted to those who owned at least five hides (one hide being the amount of land required to provide a living…so the actual measurements are anybody’s guess).
Ceorls, on the other hand, were regarded as lower in status, but only because their land ownership was smaller.
In all other respects a ceorl could actually be richer than a thane. All of which brings us to Carleton, its name being a corruption of ‘The Township of the Ceorls’, indicating that some of our local Saxons had a great deal of wealth.
So, there you go…a brief snapshot of the Saxon way of life in the Fylde and Wyre (and everywhere else in Britain as well). So, if you didn’t already know this stuff beforehand, the next time we mention the Saxons you’ll have a better understanding of who and what we’re talking about.

20 comments:

RVB said...

Mainly they wore woollen or linen clothes, their favourite garment being a narrow-sleeved tunic fastened at the wrists with hooks or laces, often dyed in bright colours.

Just like the 80's.

Brian Hughes said...

Or if you're an old fart like me, you're still wearing 'em.

RVB said...

You're eighty?

Andrew said...

brings us to Carleton, its name being a corruption of ‘The Township of the Ceorls’,

This would apply to our suburb Carlton?

Jayne said...

Lordy Reuben, that's my whole wardrobe right there!
The hippies in the 60's did it much better, though.

Nope Andrew, just checked - our Carlton was named after the English residence of the Prince of Wales.

John said...

I hate to sound iggerant, but could you do a post that tells us a bit about HOW we, and recreationists, know how the Saxons dressed, acted, etc.

This was before the printing press, so I take it we go by archeology and stone carvings and period movies like Braveheart?

Seriously, I noticed that you don't tell us what these people looked like.. eye color, hair color, size of noses... although some of this stuff could be infered by genetic testing and extrapolation, I assume.

To recap, I would love a refresher course on just how we 'know' so much about peoples of long ago.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

PS I'm not daft, but simply feel this would be a very interesting discussion.

Brian Hughes said...

Reuben,

Only physically. Too much good living I'm afraid.

Andrew,

No...your Carlton was named after the English residence of the Prince of Wales.

Jayne,

There probably is a connection between the two. The Royal family are, after all, descended from us Lancastrians and the county itself is still a palatine held by the P of W...so who knows?

John,

Archaeologists know these things because, occasionally, where the soil conditions are just right, clothing and other accessories survive from the period. As for what they looked like physically, that's a bit like asking 'What does an American look like?'

They were a bit smaller than we are nowadays. Either that or they liked banging their heads on door lintels. After that, if you're still curious perhaps the best bet would be to Google Saxony, which is where they came from, and have a look at their modern counterparts.

John said...

Brian,
Appearances in general, of course. In history class we learned that the Vikings, the Saxons, the Romans and everyone else who invaded Britain brought with them their own particular physical traits that usually showed up in most of the village children in the generation following said invasion.

As for items of clothing being dug up, well, that's what I'm talking about! You can't learn much about people from a few rusty bits of metal and some glass beads.

Please tell us about any excavations in your area that revealed the daily life of Saxons, Vikings, etc. Somehow those don't make the news over here.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...

John,

I strongly suspect the Saxons (like most of the Germanic races) were fair haired and blue eyed.

No Saxon or Viking excavations in our area unfortunately (with the exception of the Norse barrows at Inskip and Claughton, of course, which I've written about before somewhere on this site...although don't ask me where). Then again, we're the only ones excavating our area at the moment. If we end up digging any dead Saxons up you can be sure I'll be posting the results here.

John said...

"If we end up digging any dead Saxons up you can be sure I'll be posting the results"

I'm laughing right now, so thanks for that. If you do dig up any Saxons, i would sure hope that they were dead. Unless they were... undead! or living dead!

Vampire Saxons of Garstang sounds like a terrific title for a halloween post.

I am very much looking forward to this years Halloween post, since I'm sure you will 'dig up' something great for us. :0)

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...

John,

I haven't prepared anything special for Halloween this year. I figured it's been a frightening enough twelve months as it is.

Jayne said...

Damn!
You mean we've all been carving up pumpkins and getting covered in pumpkin innards for nothing?!
I'll start posting the innards to you, one seed at a time !

John said...

Brian,
I'm sure if we vote on it, we'd all like to see you and some of the gang reporting live from that spooky haunted lane you spoke about last year. Or maybe Joolz can rustle up a haunted house to spend the night in?

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne and John,

Sorry, but my Halloweens are spent in the time honoured tradition of turning the living room light off, retiring upstairs with a good book and pretending I'm out so that those horrible little Trick-or-treaters don't annoy me by knocking on my front door.

Jayne said...

*sigh* Then I'll abandon the gutted vegies and get stuck into the floorboards again.
But if pumpkins suddenly sprout in your garden....!

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

If pumpkins suddenly sprout in my garden the slugs'll scoff 'em all before they achieve any height like they've done with most of the other plants.

Jayne said...

Off topic- Just been reading about the silver "Roman" cross found at Shepton Mallet in 1990 is now thought to be probably a fake.

Brian Hughes said...

19th Century apparently. By a strange coincidence, the 1910 jam jar we discovered the other day at Bodkin Hall was probably faked by the Romans.

Andrew said...

Brian, thanks for all your diligent research to find out about our Carlton.

Brian Hughes said...

Andrew,

No problem. I'm just waiting for the plane tickets now so I can check out the place for myself.