West Stow is a small parish in West Suffolk, England. The village lies north of Bury St. Edmunds, south of Mildenhall and Thetford and west of the villages of Culford and Ingham in the area known as the Breckland. This area is located near the Lark River Valley and was settled from around AD 420-650.
West Stow is home to the West Stow Anglo-Saxon village where visitors may see reconstructed Anglo-Saxon houses, and often living history re-enactments of Dark Ages life.
Its name may come from Anglo-Saxon wēste stōw = "deserted place", rather than "western place".
A major archaeological dig from 1965-1972 headed by Dr. Stanley West of West Suffolk Archaeology Unit revealed a well preserved Anglo-Saxon site saved beneath the sands of the Breckland. The findings of Dr. West contributed to much of the knowledge that is now known about this area. The layout of the area tells us much about the way of life in this time period. This area is set up with a large hall in the middle of the village and other houses and structures surrounding the area. This suggests that this was a very tight-knit community, with the inhabitants using the large hall for events such as feasts and story-telling. During the excavation 69 houses, 7 halls and 7 other structures were found. This community lived with their extended families in their houses, with each house usually containing around 10 family members. The people of this area still traded with their homeland, which is evidenced by the glass in the necklaces and other metals that were found at the site, but not produced locally. The Anglo-Saxon community that was found here was not the first to settle in the area. The remains of circular huts with ditched enclosures suggest occupation by Iron Age farmers. There were also tools found that suggest that Mesolithic warriors had hunted in this area, and burial grounds and cultivation which suggest settlement of a Neolithic group. A pagan Anglo-Saxon burial ground was also excavated. The archaeologists revealed that the village has moved the mile or so east to its current location following Christianisation.
On exhibit at West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village
Alongside the actual recreated village are the Archaeological collections formerly housed at Moyse's Hall Museum Bury St Edmunds. These are collections of archaeological findings that were made in the region between Devil's Dyke and the line between Littleport and Shippea Hill (i.e. along the borderline of East Cambridgeshire and Suffolk) from the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age Findings include the Isleham Hoard of more than 6500 pieces of bronze, in particular swords, spear-heads, arrows, axes, knives, daggers, armour, decorative equipment (in particular for horses) and many fragments of sheet bronze, all dating from the late Bronze Age. The swords show holes where rivets or studs held the wooden hilt in place (studs were usually made of bronze except for commanders who had silver-studded swords or for a commander-in-chief who had a gold-studded sword).
One of the more interesting findings with regards to what was found is that which deals with the farming aspect of this culture. This village, and others like it, replaced Roman farms after the imperial administration left Britain. The Anglo-Saxons settled in small villages that were generally self-sustaining. Within these self-sustaining communities there is evidence that these peoples were more likely to provide for themselves through a farming lifestyle than a foraging one. Within the archaeological remains there were more domesticated animal species found than wild animal species, which also suggests that this group were less dependent on hunting as a means of survival, and supports the idea that they were farmers. The settlers in this area were thought to be from a different area, with German descent being the most likely area, and as such it is interesting to see what farming techniques may be employed by this group. Since the landscapes are quite different, it would be interesting to see if the newly settled group would use a German style of farming in this new terrain. This area helps to provide some insight into these farming adaptations. Within animal husbandry, however, this group was more likely to use elements found within the native system of the country.
In popular culture
The fan-made short film Born of Hope, a prequel to the J.R.R. Tolkien-inspired movie trilogy The Lord of the Rings, was largely filmed in West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village.