A later Saxon and Norman cemetery at Priory Orchard, Station Road, Godalming

by Nigel Randall and Rob Poulton

The major discovery of the excavations at the Priory Orchard site in Godalming is undoubtedly the later Saxon and Norman cemetery, but prehistoric flintwork and later 13th and 14th century tanning pits are also of considerable interest.

Over 300 burials and large quantities of loose bones were recovered from a densely packed graveyard. It probably acted as the minster cemetery for the large territory of Godalming hundred between the early 9th century and the early 12th century, as demonstrated by 103 radiocarbon dates (scientific dating method). It lies around 30 metres distance from Godalming church with its known later Saxon origins.

All the skeletons were lying face upwards and aligned east to west, the majority with arms by their side and the remainder with one or both crossed low over the pelvis. It seems unlikely that coffined burial was practiced and probable that normally the naked body was wrapped in a shroud. Distinctive features included two female burials with loom weights, (weights used in weaving), and another with a linen smoother (a glass object used to smooth fabric, a little like an iron). More common was the presence of pillow stones, found in around 10% of the graves, while, unique to this cemetery was the phenomenon of 'ash halos' observed around the head in eleven burials. It is suggested that these, like the pillow stones, reflect a focus on ensuring that the head was properly arranged in preparation for the Resurrection.

Twelve burials include nails that were placed deliberately, though serving no identifiable practical function. It is argued that these objects were used to restrain the dead in a period when documents suggest a widespread fear that occasional sinister, or evil individuals might not lie quiet.

  • SpoilHeap Occasional no 15
  • ISBN 978-1-912331-34-5
  • 92 pages, 34 illustration
  • Price £12 + £3.50 p&p

To order this volume please go to Surrey Heritage Shop - Surrey Archives

For a copy of the digital supplement, please email archaeology.scau@surreycc.gov.uk

Subscribe to our newsletters for latest news and events.