A Great Step Forward

I received in the mail the other day the means by which this project can take a great step forward. I approached the Vicar of Burpham, the Rev. Roy Kilford a few weeks ago asking for permission to conduct a non-invasive geophysical survey surrounding the parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin of Burpham near Arundel, West Sussex.  He replied that not only was he keenly interested  and so were the churchwardens, but that I should organise through him a talk to the villagers considering the archaeological importance of their village. Having surveyed the Anglo-Saxon fort within which their village hall and cricket pitch lie, I am naturally very keen to communicate my results and gain their perspective on the heritage of the area in order to put those results into a local context.

The church site is important to me for a number of reasons: It is the subject of what seems to be an authentic land grant narrowly dated to 770-772AD. In this charter King Oswald of the South Saxons buys land at Piperinges from his follower (comes) Erra and grants it to a woman named Tidburh; presumably by the language to establish a Christian religous community there. Piperinges is interesting in that it survives to the modern day as Peppering Farm, not a kilometer from the modern village of Burpham. Place name Evidence itself suggests that when it enters history in the Burghal Hidage of King Alfred’s time, there was already a burh in existence, as it was referred in that document by this name. This could mean that there was some sort of defensive structure already in place and it simply means the “fort by the bend in the river”. Alternatively, OE burh can mean a walled monastic community. Perhaps, in fear of Viking raids that preyed upon minster sites which often had treasures undefended, the land was abandoned by the monks and as ownership then reverted to the Kings of Wessex, it was redistributed to a military follower and the still extant fortification was constructed.

There is a report from the 1930’s that state that while digging graves, there was encountered a “Roman pavement” on the East side of the North Transept of the church. Now this could mean there is a previously unknown Roman building on the site, but there is nothing to say that it is not a high status Anglo-Saxon building; perhaps a floor adorning a previous church or building in a minster complex.

Obviously, there are sensitivities to be acknowledged in dealing with this type of site. Firstly there is consideration of the existing burials and ensuring that no investigation will damage or offend. However, Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) is perfect as there is no need for anything to be inserted into the ground, nor any digging need be done. The nature of the method as well ensures that the burials and the burial monuments will not interfere with the survey. The GPR data can be presented as a series of “time slices” that reflect the travel of the radar signal into the ground. The resultant data shows a 2d plan of the results at varying depths, allowing interpretation of features to occur with quite a high level of confidence.

Needless to say, I am over the moon about the opportunity. I hope to update this site with more good news in the near future.

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