Anglo-Saxon Bead

Anglo-Saxon jewellery found in Forest Gate is over 1000 years old.

This 'bead' is made of gold, garnet and blue glass dating to the late sixth or early seventh century and was discovered in 1875 during sewer construction behind the Princess Alice public house in the Sprowston Road area.  The workmanship suggests it belonged to a woman of wealth or high status such as a 'princess' and dates from the 6th - 7th centuries (500 - 699 AD). At this time Essex was an independent kingdom with a territory extending over Essex, Middlesex and London and half of Hertfordshire.  Having been found as a single object, it is surmised that the bead was lost  casually whilst travelling along the ancient Roman Road (now the Romford Road) rather than as a burial object, but this is by no means certain as there is a lack of detail  about how it was recovered. 

 It measures 1⅜ inches long (3.5 cms). Unfortunately it has suffered structural damage and is distorted in several places. The object has been described as a 'bead' or the head of a pin, but it might be imagined more appropriately as having been threaded on a rigid rod and used as a pendant. It may have been the top part of a hair pin or perhaps a small dress pin, used to hold women's robes together.  Although this 'bead' is ambitious in design, its workmanship is less sophisticated than that found on other garnet-inlaid Anglo-Saxon ornaments. Stylistically, the piece is said to relate to similar jewellery produced in Kent, which influenced designs in Essex. It is known that King Sledd of Essex married Ricula, the sister of King Ethelbert of Kent in about 580 AD.

The piece was acquired by Sir John Evans and was presented to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford by Sir Arthur Evans in 1909.

Following the departure of the Romans, Anglo-Saxons came to Britain from parts of Germany around 400 AD, and were the pre-dominant people until the Norman invasion of 1066 (although Vikings had begun to invade from about 800 AD. Anglo-Saxons made objects in (among others) gold, enamel, silver and ivory. Many coins and other objects have been found, the most recent (2009) being the Staffordshire Hoard. They were a literate people, producing illuminated manuscripts, poetry, Bible translations and epic stories and chronicles. In the later centuries up to the Norman Conquest, Anglo-Saxon needlework was much sought after.

(Photograph Copyright: Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford. Museum accession number AN1909.517, used under licence; additional text from a typed article by an unknown author, held by Newham Heritage & Archives)

Anglo-Saxon Bead