Introduction Sources of Evidence Late Roman Britain The British Kingdom of Elmet Anglo-Saxon West Yorkshire Religion in the Anglo Saxon and Viking period
Viking Rule in West Yorkshire The impact of the Norman conquest Timeline Photo Gallery


Until recently archaeologists could say little about the physical nature of Anglo-Saxon settlement in West Yorkshire. That such a settlement took place was obvious from the place name evidence and from the Anglo-Scandinavian stone sculpture, however, no site had turned up any extensive traces of Anglo-Saxon material. This changed with the excavation of two sites on the M1-A1 Link Road at Parlington Hollins and Brierlands Lane, Garforth. Both sites have given us valuable information about the daily life of the Anglo-Saxons in West Yorkshire.

Anglo-Saxon Houses
At Parlington Hollins archaeologists found the remains of two sunken featured buildings (SFB). Another one had been excavated about 500m away during the development of a housing estate. The Parlington Hollins examples were represented by large rectangular pits dug into the ground; hence the sunken featured part of the archaeological name for these buildings. One was 4.2m long, 4.0m wide and 0.2m deep. The other was 4.6m long, 3.0m wide and 0.2m deep. In other places SFBs have been rather deeper which has led archaeologists to speculate about how they were used as dwellings. Some people have suggested that the Anglo-Saxons lived on the floor level of the SFB. If the depth is significantly greater than at Parlington Hollins, it would produce a building with a much lower profile that would be better able to withstand extremes of winter weather. Other archaeologists have suggested that the sunken area was covered with timbers to create a cellar in which to store food and equipment. A normal timber-framed house was built above it. This is the way the Anglo-Saxon houses have been reconstructed at West Stow in Suffolk, where they seem to make viable dwelling places. A pig skeleton that had been thrown into the second SFB at Parlington Hollins when it was backfilled was dated to the period between the mid-5th and 7th centuries.

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
West Yorkshire possessed at least one royal residence. Bede says that King Edwin possessed a villa regia at a place called Campodonum. Many historians believe that this was somewhere in the region now occupied by modern Leeds. The town was burnt down by Penda of Mercia in 633, but may have been rebuilt, as a later Viking age cross shaft was found incorporated into the stone work of the medieval church when it was demolished in the 19th century. Leeds was certainly still an important place during the Viking era. The Life of St Cadro tells how the saint was escorted from the British Kingdom of Strathclyde to Leeds, a border town just inside the Viking kingdom controlled from York. It was also close to the border with the English kingdom to the south. As such it probably played a vital role in trading goods between the three kingdoms.

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.

Related topics
For more about the history of Leeds see

For more about the history of Pontefract see

Photo Gallery
Pontefract: An artist's impression of the Saxon church.

West Stow (Suffolk): A reconstructed Anglo-Saxon village

For more about Yeavering Click Here

Further reading
Roberts, I., Burgess A. and Berg, D., 2001, A New Link to the Past: The Archaeological Landscape of the M1-A1 Link Road