Let’s broach the subject of…. Anglo Saxon brooches

Button up, zip up, lace up, buckle up!  And don’t forget, hooks and eyes, press studs and Velcro. So many ways to fasten your clothes.

For the sixth century Anglo- Saxons, brooches and pins did the job.

Today brooches are worn as decorative jewellery. Then a brooch was first and foremost an essential fastener of clothes. But the quality of the metal and the intricacy of the design would denote a person’s status in society.

When archaeologists have excavated Early Anglo-Saxon pagan burials, it is from the grave goods that so much has been learned about their way of life. The large number of brooches that have been found are a clear indication of the value attached to these particular items by the wearers.

In our collection we have over 70 Anglo Saxon brooches, coming from three main sites:

  • Two cemeteries revealed at Market Overton ironstone quarrying in 1908/09
  • A cemetery just north of the village of North Luffenham discovered in 1900
  • Graves at Glaston excavated in a sand-pit in 1950 by Barber.
Corroded iron fastenings from the back of brooches
Corroded iron fastenings OS50

They have stood the test of time with varying degrees of success. We have many broken brooches. The iron fastenings have often succumbed to corrosion. But the surviving brooches demonstrate the skills of the craftsmen who made them and that of the modern-day conservators who have saved them from further decay.

We have examples of eight different designs made from bronze or silver, often gilted with the back fastener usually made from iron. The examples below are all part of the Oakham School Collection.

Anglo-Saxon Annular brooch

Annular: a ring brooch with a pin set across it. One of four found at Market Overton. OS10

Anglo-Saxon Square Headed brooch

Square-headed: These can be dated from 500-575 AD.
This is bronze-gilt applied with some silver from Market Overton. OS43

Anglo-Saxon Disc Brooch

Disc : These can be dated from 450 -550 AD. This is bronze -gilt and silvered from the Market Overton cemetery. OS5

Anglo-Saxon Swastika

Swastika: Also known as the Fylfot cross is an angled cross which has been used as a symbol since Neolithic times. For pagan Anglo -Saxons it was associated with the god, Thor.
This bronze brooch came from the North Luffenham cemetery. OS95

Anglo-Saxon Cruciform OS83

Cruciform: cross shaped head with three terminals.
This is bronze-gilt and was found in Grave 9 at the Glaston site. OS84

Anglo-Saxon Radiate headed brooch

Radiate headed: a semi-circular head.
Made from silver-gilt, probably Frankish. There are five settings for gems in birds’ heads around the top. The foot of the brooch is a horse’s head and is finely worked. It is the only one of this design in our collection. From the Market Overton site. OS14

Anglo-Saxon Saucer brooch OS46

Saucer: a circular shape with an upturned rim.
This pair of bronze-gilt brooches were found at Market Overton. string of beads may have been suspended between them. OS46

Anglo-Saxon Small Long brooch OS115

Small-long: these have the greatest number of variations, including square, trefoil and cross shaped heads. The feet can be triangular, lobed or lozenge shaped. Made from bronze and from North Luffenham. OS115

Written by Marion Drake, Volunteer.