SETTLEMENTS IN ANGLO-SAXON WEST YORKSHIRE
Taken together these three sunken-floored buildings may provide a clue to the reason why Anglo-Saxon settlements have been so difficult to identify archaeologically in West Yorkshire. Perhaps the Anglo-Saxons settled in widespread communities rather than in compact villages around a central focus. A scattered settlement like this would be less easily identifiable through such techniques as aerial photography or field walking.
Parlington Hollins also provided some evidence for the kind of diet that the Anglo-Saxon settlers must have had. Amongst the animal bones recovered from the site were those of red deer, wild boar, sheep (or perhaps goat; their bone structure is very similar), cattle and pigs. The finds of red deer and wild boar are quite interesting because as well as giving us a clue to what the Anglo-Saxons ate, they also give us clues to what the environment was like at the time. Both species are woodland animals suggesting that the local environment had large areas of trees. This is in contrast to the rural landscape in Roman times, which from the evidence of aerial photographs seems to have been one of small farmsteads and fields enclosed by ditches. Presumably this farming economy collapsed with the gradual withdrawal of Roman control and the woodland took over what were previously cultivated areas.
Towns in Anglo-Saxon West Yorkshire
Edwin's villa regia in Leeds would not necessarily have been a grand affair, certainly not a palace in the modern sense of the word. Another palace belonging to King Edwin has been excavated at Yeavering (Northumberland). The largest building on the site was an aisled hall, constructed of timber, which was presumably the King's residence. Associated with this were a number of smaller halls, buildings used for religious purposes and burial grounds. The buildings would probably not be occupied by the king on a permanent basis. Probably he visited each site on an occasional basis to hold regional courts and to settle disputes which may have risen locally. Aerial photographs suggest that a similar aisled hall may also once have existed at Walton-in-Ainsty in West Yorkshire.
Another important settlement called Tanshelf existed in the area now occupied by modern Pontefract. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles first mentions it in the year 947 when King Eadred of England met the ruling council of Northumbria to accept their submission. He did not enjoy their support for long. A year later they voted Eric Bloodaxe King of York.
At the time of the Domesday survey compiled for William the Conqueror, Tanshelf was still a sizeable settlement for the period. It had a priest, 60 petty burgesses, 16 cottagers, 16 villagers and 8 smallholders. This gives a total of 101 people. However, the actual size of the population is possibly four or five times larger as the people listed are various types of landholders. Their wives and families have not been taken into account. Tanshelf also had a church, a fishery and three mils. It had been worth £20 in 1066. Archaeologists have found the remains of this church on the Booths in Pontefract together with parts of an extensive Anglo-Saxon cemetery.
For more about the history of Pontefract see