The Landscape of the Staffordshire Hoard

Della Hooke (University of Birmingham)

In the Anglo-Saxon period the area in which the hoard was found was a remote area of woodland and heath. The immediate locality remained unenclosed waste with no field-names recorded even in the middle of the 19th century. The Roman Watling Street was the most obvious man-made feature running through the area and was still in use in the Anglo-Saxon period (Champness 2008, 59). Here it was passing through a sparsely populated region. Indeed, travellers in the late 17th century were still afraid to pass this way and Knaves Castle, a kilometre or so west of the hoard spot and a site first recorded in the 14th century (Horovitz 2005), had a reputation, according to Plot (1686), of being a place where watch was kept to guard travellers crossing the heath (formerly wooded) - presumably from highwaymen and the like. Knaves Castle was a raised hillock beside the road but, in spite of being variously described as a possible tumulus or even a moated site, nothing unnatural was observed during road-widening in 1971 and it was then thought that the mound was probably natural (OS card: WM 2664: confirmed by Mike Shaw, West Midlands Archaeological Officer). Nevertheless, Plot's story indicates how little the nature of this area changed over hundreds of years.

South Staffordshire folk groups

The area of highland running north-south through southern Staffordshire from the Cannock Hills to the Birmingham Plateau separated the territories of two folk-groups (Fig. 1). This was an area of marginal land which was probably being used as seasonal pasture by estate centres established to the west and east. The meeting point of the Pencersæte and Tomsæte, as recorded in a north Worcestershire charter (Sawyer 1968, S 1272; Hooke 1990:135-42) lay on the Birmingham Plateau, almost due south of the find-spot.

Fig. 1. Domesday estate links in south Staffordshire (from Dean, Hooke & Jones 2010).

Fig. 1. Domesday estate links in south Staffordshire (from Dean, Hooke & Jones 2010).

The Pencersæte were established in the valley of the River Penk (but took their name from a hill or barrow near Penkridge - British *penno- 'head, end' and OBr. cruco 'hill, mound, tumulus') - and the Tomsæte in the valley of the River Tame (taking their name from the river - perhaps Br. 'dark river'). Between them lay the watershed formed by the Cannock Hills and highland to the south. This upland is an area of Triassic sandstones often overlain by glacial drift which, with the stony Pebble Beds that underlie Cannock Chase and the area east of Aldridge, give rise to particularly infertile soils (more fertile sandstones occur to the east in the Lichfield region and boulder clays to the west).

The known estate centres to the west include Wednesbury and Wolverhampton (the former a royal manor with dependencies at Bloxwich and Shelfield). According to Domesday Book, the minster that had been founded or re-founded at Wolverhampton by the lady Wulfrun, a Mercian noblewoman, in the 10th century held the vills of Ogley Hay and Hilton in this region, these estates almost interlocking with other vills held by Lichfield in 1086 - Wyrley and Norton Canes. (Tipton is a strange addition to the Lichfield Domesday estates but with no earlier or later linkage known). The Wolverhampton estates are also listed in a spurious foundation charter of the minster (Sawyer 1968: S1380; Hooke 1983: 64-85) claiming to date from AD 996 (for 994), which lists the estates allegedly acquired by the minster when it was re-established. The document is a forgery and it is Domesday Book that gives the most reliable information of the minster estates, but the charter included those apparently genuine Old English boundary clauses that the monks had in their possession.

This region was probably similar at this time to the Wealden dens of south-east England, with little permanent settlement at first. In that region the seasonal pastures seem initially to have been held in common by the people within the various early folk regions, only gradually being acquired by specific manors and acquiring fixed boundaries.

At some time in the Anglo-Saxon period the northern boundary of the Hwicce, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom established across Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and part of Warwickshire, was pushed northwards while land was also lost to the south and south-east (Hooke1985: 12-18). Bromsgrove in north Worcestershire was a royal manor which acquired dependencies in the south of this region.

Place-name and charter evidence (Fig. 2)

Fig. 2. Habitative place-names in south Staffordshire

Fig. 2. Habitative place-names in south Staffordshire

Habitative place-names show a concentration of tūn and topographical names in the riverine heartlands of the two folk-groups with other names being more indicative of less developed marginal regions - especially lēah meaning 'wood' or 'wood pasture' (see below). There are also a number of dependent wīc settlements. These were settlements with a specialised function but were not necessarily any more than clusters of charcoal workers or herdsmen perhaps living and working purely on a seasonal basis. The woods of this region would have provided charcoal to the smiths of Hammerwich and Smethwick, both dependencies of Lichfield. While the possibility that Hammerwich derived its name from the OE hamor for 'hammer' (rather than OE hamor 'hill'), signifying metal working, may be intriguing (see Mattias Jacobsson's paper and David Parsons's paper), it does not necessarily indicate a place of importance and there is little indication of a 'productive' site in the sense of a rural market. The 'two Hammerwiches' of Domesday Book may possibly have been just administrative divisions of the same vill. In medieval times (C13) Hammerwich was a straggling settlement with three recognisable foci: Overton, Netherton and Middleton (VCH Staffordshire XIV: 258-73). Other wīc settlements in the immediate area were Bloxwich, 1086 'Blocc's wic', a dependency of Wednesbury, and Aldridge 'alder wic'.

Even the tūn settlements here may not have been real village centres - Ogley was originally known as Ogintune/Hocintune, probably 'Hocca or Ocga's tūn' but was waste at the time of Domesday Book and was always referred to later as Ogley ('Ocga's lēah') (below). The site of the original settlement is not known. Other tūn settlements in the area (see Mattias Jacobsson's paper for more on tūns) included Hilton 'hill tūn' and Norton Canes 'north tūn' (C10) (with Canes possibly from Gains Brook on its southern boundary; this name probably referred to its location north of the Watling Street - cf Sutton to the south?). Topographical names here include Walsall C11 'Wahl's halh' - the personal name possibly indicating a Briton - which was probably an appendage of Wednesbury; Pelsall 'Peolh's halh' (lying between two streams) and Cannock Chenet 1086 from Welsh cnwc 'hill' or OE cnocc 'hill'. Shenstone, Seneste 1086, is unexplained - it may have been 'beautiful stone', or stone with a personal name.

To the east of the region one district name stands out. Located beside the Watling Street the Roman centre of Letocetum (later Wall) took its name from 'the grey wood' (PrW *Luitged or Letged). Lichfield, recorded as Liccidfeld, Anliccitfelda, Licidfelth in pre-Conquest contexts, is 'the open land at or called Lyccid' (Watts 2004: 372), the feld term indicating open land on the edge of a wooded area - presumably the 'grey (grey-brown) wood' indicated in the Roman name, a name that may have described a large area. The Battle of Caer Luitcoed recorded in Welsh literary sources (the Marwnad Cynddylan) cannot be accurately identified but obviously took place in this region (Rowland 1990: 132-5, 176-7); see Mattias Jacobsson's paper for more on the Marwnad Cynddylan.

Fig. 3. Woodland names in south Staffordshire

Fig. 3. Woodland names in south Staffordshire

The real nature of the area is more clearly indicated by the distribution of the OE lēah term, implying a kind of open woodland landscape mainly used as wood-pasture (Fig. 3). The term was readily applied to the settlements established and scattered across such a region and Oguntune became known as Oggeleye by the 12th century. Wyrley to the west was 'bog-myrtle lēah' (myrtle was used to flavour beer and also to repel moths and fleas). Throughout the region there are references to pigs in charters and place-names around the area, pigs being the main animals pastured in such regions, taken into the woods in late summer and autumn to forage on acorns. Swinfen, some 4 km to the south-east of Lichfield, Swinescho 1203, is 'swine wood' while earlier references to swine occur in the charter boundary clauses: swine folds on the boundaries of Ogley Hay and Wednesfield and a mast oak on the boundary of Hatherton (all in the Wolverhampton charter noted above). Hunting is also suggested in the area at an early date. To the north-west, another of the Wolverhampton boundary clauses describes an estate at Hatherton, on the west side of the forest, and refers to þam hagan heies 'the hedge of the enclosure', a haga being (outside towns) an enclosure for capturing or retaining deer (Hooke 1983: 78-81).

It is the boundary clauses attached to the forged so-called Wolverhampton foundation charter that tell us so much about the early medieval landscape. They indicate the routeways crossing south Staffordshire - Watling Street , the road from Wolverhampton to Ogley - beginning as a made-up 'street' but crossing Pelsall as a 'hunter's path', possibly, too, the road running south-east from the Watling Street towards the Roman Ryknield Street. The hoard site appears to have lain within a triangle of roads but these cannot all be dated (Fig. 4). It lay within the extra-parochial area of Ogley Hay, now part of the parish of Hammerwich.

Fig. 4. South Staffordshire charter routeways

Fig. 4. South Staffordshire charter routeways

Some of the charter boundary landmarks of Ogley Hay are shown on Fig. 4 (see also Appendix). The northern boundary followed the Watling Street and a further road, perhaps the old Chester road, formed part of the western boundary. Later sources suggest that another routeway crossed the Watling Street near the hoard find spot but the origins of this cannot be dated. The southern boundary seems to have passed through sparsely settled countryside, the boundary clause noting the 'great alders' and a fen in the south-eastern part where several streams including the Crane Brook run down towards the Black Brook. The swine fold lay near the fen. Further west after a hedgerow was the 'black lēah', an area of woodland or wood pasture.

The wooded nature of the area is further revealed by another boundary clause describing an estate a short distance away to the south-west. Not only did the road from Wolverhampton approaching the Watling Street in Ogley Hay diminish from being an 'old street' where it crossed the eastern boundary of Wednesfield to a 'hunter's track' where it crossed that of Pelsall but 'the wallowing-place of the hart' lay close by the latter.

After the Norman Conquest the whole of this region became royal forest - primarily a royal hunting ground but one that was also pastured by the tenants of the surrounding communities. This helped to keep the woods open and made hunting, whether on foot or horseback, easier. Most of the core of Cannock Forest was to be given to the Bishop of Lichfield becoming a private Chase (Cannock Chase) while Sutton Chase was given to the Earls of Warwick. The hays of the forest (Fig. 5), however, continued to be maintained by the royal officials throughout the middle ages.

Fig. 5. The remaining hays of Cannock Forest and later surviving commons

Fig. 5. The remaining hays of Cannock Forest and later surviving commons

The hays were the last remnants of the Forest. Detailed proceedings of the forest courts show how little the landscape was to change - Ogley Hay was noted for its oaks in the 13th century and there were the usual presentments for illegally felling trees here or the illegal poaching of venison, sometimes by the foresters themselves or by local manorial lords. Assarts for cultivation had been allowed in some parts of Cannock Forest but this does not seem to have been a prevalent practice in Ogley. A boundary of the hay of Ogley Hay survives from 1300 (Wrottesley 1884, V, part 1: 177) but the western boundary is as difficult to follow as that of the earlier charter. These bounds also note a lost Prestwode ('priest's wood') which 19th-century Shenstone field-names reveal as lying on the southern side of Watling Street at the eastern end of Ogley Hay (the name was evidently not uncommon: Horovitz 2005: 445) (Fig. 6). Bull Moor was another named area of marshy land near here and probably the place where a stag was killed by the forester in 1316 (Birrell 1999: 200). Boar's Dean was another field-name in the vicinity, probably referring to the hunting of this animal. A further Cleyhungermore 'Clayhanger marsh' is named on the 1300 western boundary. Apart from the tūn settlement of Wolverhampton's dependency of Hilton, the impression continues to be that of a lightly settled area throughout the middle ages.

Fig. 6. Ogley Hay and Hammerwich: minor names and C19 common

Fig. 6. Ogley Hay and Hammerwich: minor names and C19 common (hoard findspot in purple)

Rabbit warrens were established in the region by landowners in the 16th and 17th centuries, much to the dismay of tenants with grazing rights. One was the Old Warren near Catshill, perhaps the forerunner of that located on the heath in Ogley Hay as Warrenhouse Farm by 1838: this seems to have been the lodge shown as 'Hogley Lodge' on Yates's map of 1775. It is likely to have been a warrener's lodge, built for the occupier to manage the rabbit warren. Another rabbit warren was established in 1717 at Lamb's Lodge in Hammerwich, upon the common in the west of the parish, again shown on Yates's map. Destroyed by local people, it had been restocked in 1753. Full enclosure was only pushed through here in the 18th and 19th centuries. Fig. 5 shows the commons surviving at that time. In Ogley, it was in 1838 that most access roads onto the common were stopped up, the closures leading to local riots. Perhaps this continued land use as woodland and heath used mainly for pasture was what led to the survival of the hoard.

The archaeology and the location of the hoard

This was an area relatively empty of settlement, as far as is known, in the Roman period, apart from the centre at Wall and a few outlying villas and farms. There had been two Iron Age hillforts on the upland spine - Castle Ring to the north and Castle Hills to the south - but these may have been placed to control pastoral resources in a period when cattle, especially, were a sign of status and wealth. For the early medieval period one finds a scatter of find-spots in the vicinity of the Watling Street and Roman Wall - as might be expected - and now, also, earlier evidence of occupation at Lichfield before the establishment of Chad's see. The Mercian capital of Tamworth, if earlier Tomtun, was already described as a royal vicus in the late 7th century but lay away to the east. There was, however, little to provide any reason to suspect such a significant find as the Staffordshire Hoard. The boundary of the West Midlands which runs north-south close to the findspot did not exist until modern times when the new county was demarcated in 1974.

Fig. 7. Staffordshire HLR record of Anglo-Saxon sites in the vicinity of the hoard

Fig. 7. Staffordshire HER record of Anglo-Saxon sites in the vicinity of the hoard 1

The site lay towards the westernmost end of the Lichfield/Tamworth territory and this may have been a significant boundary in an earlier period. The hoard site lay upon a hillock beside the Watling Street - perhaps a place of hasty burial but one that may have been deliberately sited on an obvious spot in full view of the road. The material was heavy - perhaps those who placed it here had meant one day to return?

Or does the hoard represent the ritual burial of a trophy hoard, perhaps incorporating some pre-Christian belief? It is known that paganism survived in the region very late. This is evidenced by a number of place-names referring to Wōden on the South Staffordshire Plateau.

Wadnesberie 1086, Wednesbury, and Wodnesfeld 996, Wednesfield, refer to the name of this Anglo-Saxon Wōden, the first compounded with OE burh 'fortification' and the second with OE feld 'open land'. Although Christianity was gaining ground in the 7th century, it is known that Penda, king of Mercia in the 7th century, remained pagan until the time of his death. This took place at the battle of Winwæd in 655, an unidentified place in Yorkshire, perhaps in the vicinity of Leeds, but there is no record of his body having been found. No human remains accompanied the hoard and most items were mainly of gold. The possible significance of this has been discussed by others but echoes the ritual described in the poem Beowulf, buried on that occasion in a barrow with the remains of the hero (Swanton 1978).

It is not clear whether any barrow once marked the findspot but some feature appears to have caused a late 19th-century hedge and/or ditch boundary to swerve away from it (Dean, Hooke & Jones 2010). Certainly there were other tumuli in the area: to the east Muckley Corner on the Watling Street may be mycel hlaw 'great tumulus' or perhaps 'Mucca's tumulus' while Catshill in Ogley is Catteslowe C13 either 'Catta's' or 'cat's tumulus'. Even Knave's Castle has been interpreted as a tumulus despite this being doubtful.

Why, then, was the hoard buried in this location? The answer has not yet emerged. From a landscape point of view, possibilities for pollen analysis (see Ben Gearey's paper) may confirm the suggestions made here for the nature of the local environment at the time, but the medieval and later environmental character must surely have safeguarded the site from destruction until its recent discovery.

APPENDIX: The Ogley Hay Anglo-Saxon charter (Sawyer 1968, S 1380)

This document, noted above, allegedly confirming a grant by Wulfrun to the monastery at Wolverhampton, incorporates apparently reliable pre-Conquest boundary clauses. It is reproduced in Dugdale's Monasticon Anglicanum (1846) vi 1443-46 (no.1). One of these sets of bounds refers to 1 hide of land at Ocgintun/Ogintune:

This beoþ ða land ymere into Ogintune. erest on ða greata alres. efter ða more on Wassawillan. of ða ... on ðe dic. efter ðare dic on ðat fen. et hare suinsete þet on þone heig. efter þan heie þet forþ richte on blaca leige. on sa leie suþ forte eft on þe ... efter strete on þane ford. efter þa broce on-gea streame on þa dic. efter heredic ðet on þes ford on þone broc. efter broce ongea streame þat on ... on ge stret efter strete þat on þa dic. efter dice þat eft in þa greata alres.

OS map 1:25,000 SK 00

  1. 'First to the great alders;'
  2. 'following the marsh to the spring of the swamp'; the marsh is later known as Bull Moor, lying to the south of Bull Moor Lane in Shenstone;
  3. 'from the ... to the dyke'; an artificially straightened headwater stream of the Crane Brook;
  4. 'following the dyke to the fen at the swine-fold'; the fen lay along another small headwater stream of the Crane Brook, an area later known in Shenstone as 'Rushy Hay'
  5. 'then to the hedge';
  6. 'following the hedge then straight on to the black wood'; the black wood was probably that shown on Yates's map of 1775 which lay in Shenstone either side of Carter's Field Lane, a remnant of which survived as Sandhills Coppice;
  7. 'from the wood southwards again to the ...'; on is here a mistake for of and the missing landmark is probably 'the road' which follows; the boundary is actually running south-westwards;
  8. 'following the road to the ford'; the boundary here may meet and run along the Chester Road, the present A452, but drainage has been altered by canal construction. A later set of bounds for the forest hay of Ogley in 1300 appears to take the western boundary further to the west of its 19th-century line along the road through Brownhills (Pleas of the Forest: Wrottesley 1884: 177). In the opposite direction - southwards - this boundary ran from Watling Street along a stream called Russisiche 'rushy watercourse' (with a point Erchenebrug below Cleyhunger crossing the watercourse - perhaps OE brygc, ME brigge 'bridge') to Cleyhungermore ('Clayhanger marsh', which lay along a headwater stream of the Ford Brook and was probably more extensive then than in later periods) as far as Wirleyesty below Catteslowe (probably 'the path - OE stīg 'path, road' - to Wyrley below Catshill' - Catshill on the Chester Road, now part of Brownhills), as far as the Blakestret' (perhaps the Chester Road);
  9. 'following the brook against the stream to the dyke';
  10. 'following the dyke then to the ford'; could this be the Erchenebrugg of the 1300 survey?
  11. 'to the brook'; perhaps the 1300 Russisiche;
  12. 'following the brook against the stream then to road (street); this is the Watling Street, recorded as Wætlingestræt in AD 880 (Ekwall 1960: 501);
  13. 'following the road then to the dyke',
  14. 'following the dyke then again to the great alders'; the dyke appears to have run alongside an area of later common land south of Muckley Corner.


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