In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Archaeology of Southampton

  • Introduction
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • Prehistory and the Roman Period
  • The Post-Roman Centuries (c. 400–c. 700)

Medieval Studies Archaeology of Southampton
David A. Hinton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 December 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0081


Because of its location in the middle of the south coast of England, Southampton illustrates not only the development of a town in general but also of a port in particular. Some of its medieval buildings survive, and its medieval topography still affects the modern town. Excavations have produced a wide range of artifacts, many of them imported. Although it is not a rural site, Southampton opens the issue of relationships between an urban place and the hinterland that supplied it with food and other commodities and (usually) people. Town and country were subject to comparable pressures of population expansion and decline. Another aspect is Southampton’s relationship with other towns, notably the cathedral city of Winchester to the north. As a port, Southampton had to provide facilities that ships needed, which varied according to their size, their cargo, their loading and unloading methods, their crews, their provisioning, and their need for repairs. Southampton’s changing foci make it unusual and raise issues about responses to slightly differing needs at different times for defense, housing, landing places, and storage space. The wealth of some of its citizens raises the issue of their potential threat to established social structures, but they also created internal conflicts between different groups in the town. No single site or place can be used to examine all the issues and questions relating to the medieval period, but Southampton illustrates how archaeological and historical research has developed, influenced by social and economic pressures.

Primary Sources

A place’s archaeological database is built up from a range of different information, an observation made of a building site by a passerby, the collection of objects or human or animal bones from workers, or full-scale scientific investigation, ideally unhindered by pressures of time and money; in practice, most excavations are done in a short interlude before redevelopment starts and on a tight budget. Morton 1992 demonstrates the variety of ways information on the mid-Anglo-Saxon port, then called Hamwic, has been collected. Excavation reports are published either as monographs, such as Birbeck, et al. 2005, or in journals, such as Garner 2003. Similarly, work on objects may appear in monographs, such as Hunter and Heyworth 1998, or as parts of the reports on excavations during which these objects were found—this is also standard practice for animal-bone and other environmental work. Documentary evidence may include information on topography, or goods carried as cargoes or kept in people’s houses (Roberts and Parker 1992), or building costs that relate directly to the archaeological record. Other matters are not quite so obviously interrelated, such as property ownership, which ultimately affects the archaeology because in the past (just as in the early 21st century) investment may lead to rebuilding. Southampton is fortunate to have an excellent Records Society, which has among much else published a good guide to the sources (James 1983).

  • Birbeck, Vaughan, with Roland J. C. Smith, Phil Andrews, and Nick Stoodley. The Origins of Mid-Saxon Southampton: Excavations at the Friends Provident St. Mary’s Stadium, 1998–2000. Salisbury, UK: Wessex Archaeology, 2005.

    Report by a full-time archaeological “unit,” Wessex Archaeology, that was contracted to undertake the excavation of an important part of the mid-Anglo-Saxon town and subsequently set a good example by soon producing a full account of the work. There is also discussion of the dig’s implications. Graves, rubbish pits, and other features were discovered. Some of the graves contained weapons and gold ornaments.

  • Garner, Matt F. “Excavations at St. Mary’s Road, Southampton (SOU 379 and SOU 1112).” Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society 58 (2003): 106–129.

    Excavations in towns usually take place before a site is redeveloped and are often of quite small areas. Information may only make sense in relation to previous work nearby, slowly building up a pattern. This report is by a member of a professional archaeological team based within Southampton’s city but nevertheless not having a monopoly on the work carried out within the council’s jurisdiction.

  • Hunter, John R., and Michael P. Heyworth. The Hamwic Glass. Council for British Archaeology Research Report 116. York, UK: Council for British Archaeology, 1998.

    Mid-Anglo-Saxon Southampton was a trading place, but many of the imported goods leave no archaeological trace. Wine was presumably drunk from glass beakers and cups, as evidenced by many broken fragments. Their colors and decoration show that they were of high quality, but chemical analyses could not prove where they were manufactured. An issue about the nature of trade concerns who had access to such luxuries.

  • James, Thomas Beaumont. Southampton Sources 1086–1900. Southampton Records Series 26. Southampton, UK: University of Southampton Press, 1983.

    A list with brief explanations of the most relevant documents for Southampton’s history, from its Domesday Book entry onward. If Domesday is taken at face value, the port grew rapidly immediately after the Norman Conquest, as it records the arrival of a large number of French people. The record shows the various tenement owners in the town, including some leading aristocrats who owned houses but were mostly renting them out.

  • Morton, Alan D., ed. Excavations at Hamwic. Vol. 1, Excavations 1946–83, Excluding Six Dials and Melbourne Street. Council for British Archaeology Research Report 84. London: Council for British Archaeology, 1992.

    This monograph is interesting both for its account of mid-Anglo-Saxon Southampton’s development, activity, and decline and for showing the disparate ways information has been obtained. Observations and collecting—mainly of coins—took place during 19th-century development; after World War II very little money was available for archaeology; since the 1960s standards of excavation have steadily improved.

  • Roberts, Edward, and Karen Parker, eds. Southampton Probate Inventories 1447–1575. Vol. 1. Southampton Records Series 34. Southampton, UK: University of Southampton Press, 1992.

    Lists of people’s chattels were drawn up for taxation assessments during their lives and for probate after their deaths. Medieval Southampton has none of the former and few of the latter, but one drawn up in 1447 itemizes the goods of a rich merchant, what he had both in his house and in his warehouse. Little would ever survive, and clay vessels, which might be found as broken shards, were not usually valuable enough to list.

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