Location: Southend, Essex
Archaeological Unit: Museum of London Archaeological Services (MoLAS)
Status: Active Project
Objective: Display Improvement
Prittlewell Park in Southend-on-Sea is the burial site of the 7th century CE ‘Prittlewell Prince’, an East Saxon of the ruling elite. According to Ian Blair, a Senior Archaeologist from the Museum of London, this is a “discovery of international importance which stunningly illuminates the rich and complex world of the so-called Dark Ages”. The Museum of London describes the find as “extraordinary” and suggests that it is “the most important Anglo-Saxon burial found since…Sutton Hoo”.
1400 years ago the people of Prittlewell laid their leader to rest on a hill overlooking the Thames estuary within a 14m square wooden chamber in an undeniably high status burial. Although the identity of the ‘Prince’ is unknown, the range of grave goods, and the trade connections they indicate, point to an individual of some significance – arguably in importance paralleling that of Sutton Hoo. At a time when material wealth must have been far less plentiful than today, an exceptional quantity of items were given up. So far, we know of well over 100 items including those for domestic use – bowls, buckets, cauldrons and a Byzantine flagon; entertainment – 57 gaming pieces, dice and ornate drinking horns; ceremony – an iron standard; a folding stool and other items not previously seen in Britain along with gold crosses and a silver spoon that may indicate an early Christian connection.
The finds were uncovered as the result of archaeological investigation commissioned prior to the proposed widening of the A127/A1159 at Priory Crescent.
On Wednesday 20th June 2007 Southend Borough Council announced it is exploring new plans for the road scheme. Councillor Anna Waite, Executive Councillor for Transport and Planning stated: “We want to safeguard and enhance the site of the Saxon King’s commemorative site. Protecting our heritage is one of our key concerns.” It is reported that Southend Borough Council intend to erect a plaque and a memorial statue to the Prittlewell Prince at the burial site. As part of this latest proposal, it is reported that £10.8 million will still be spent redeveloping the road alongside the site by using an alternative route.
Protesters against the road remain and have established a visitor centre on the archaeological site situated between the railway line and the current road. The residents of Camp Bling are strongly opposed to the road going ahead both on ecological grounds and, for some, because of the spiritual and cultural significance of the site itself. The visitor centre is open to the public and Camp Bling regularly reaches out to the local community via tea parties held on the first Sunday of every month.
Since the excavation and the initial archaeological work in 2004-2005, although the story has stalled, there are now exciting moves in hand to present the artefacts in the manner they deserve and close to their home, in Southend.
In 2003 the Museum of London Archaeological Services (MoLAS) was contracted by Southend Borough Council to carry out the initial archaeology. This included the excavation phase which was followed by an assessment phase further supported by English Heritage. Together, these two phases ensured removal for storage and cataloguing/identification of the most obvious finds. However, MoLAS currently have yet to begin the bulk of the third, analysis phase pending further commission from Southend Borough Council. This, in turn, is pending a decision by the council on how to house and display the items.
Southend Borough Council representatives have recently stated that the council is keen to put the finds on permanent display somewhere in the town. Options on the table include everything from major permanent display in an existing museum through to a dedicated museum, possibly on the town’s cliffs. At this early stage no concrete plans have been submitted.
Completing the archaeology and returning these priceless Anglo Saxon finds to a first class local exhibition, fittingly presented and appropriately explained, would complete the cycle of commitment started by Southend’s ancestors and would give their descendents of today a world class heritage attraction.
On 15th January 2008, HAD met with representatives of Southend Borough Council and Southend Museums to engage with them at an early stage in discussions about ideas for displays in relation to the Saxon prince. At this meeting we found out that the council plans to apply for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of a bid to develop a new museum for the town. Initial estimates put the cost at around £35 million. The museum will not be dedicated to the Prittlewell finds, but these will feature as a prominent element in displays telling the town’s story.
A public opinion survey will be conducted from February to March/April 2008. HAD have been asked to provide input to this stage. This will be fed into the feasibility study. After this, if approved, an application for lottery funding may be made in the autumn of 2008, or thereafter. It will probably be four or five years before the museum is ready to open.
HAD will now be seeking to gather Pagan opinions and ideas for input to the consultation phase. If you have any suggestions, please get in touch via our contact page.
News Update – December 2008
Consultation took the form of a general public postal survey, which has now closed. HAD will be following up with the council early in 2009 and pressing for further involvement.
News Update – May 2009
Camp Bling – established in 2006 to oppose the widening of the road at Priory Park – is to be disbanded after the local council has abandoned plans to go ahead with the scheme. Instead, the site of the Saxon king’s burial will be preserved and a memorial erected. Before that, archaeological work will resume at the site this summer.
HAD will be working with local people to remain engaged with this project as it develops.
For the latest news story see the BBC article from 30 April 2009.
News Update – April 2010
Campaigners are calling for a purpose-built museum in Southend’s Priory Park to house the Saxon King remains.
Please write at the earliest convenience to show your opposition and to request cancellation of all funding for the road scheme to:
Rt Hon Rosie Winterton MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
London SW1A 2WH
Email: rosie.winterton [at] dft [dot] gsi [dot] gov [dot] uk
The campaigners provide the latest news: http://www.savepriorypark.org/
A Museum of London report on the find offers extensive background information: http://www.molas.org.uk/pages/siteReports.asp?siteid=pr03§ion=preface
The Sacred Sites project presents their view on the campaign: http://www.sacredsites.org.uk/news/campbling.html
A Guardian article questions how democratic is the road inquiry: http://society.guardian.co.uk/environment/story/0,,1521737,00.html
December 2008 – Mike Fletcher
Contact: HAD Office