Industry and Trade

With the exception of two key sites, evidence of industry and trade in Early Medieval Worcestershire is largely obscure.

Hindered by poor survival of material culture from the period – partly explained by a move away from more durable materials such as stone and ceramic (Hurst in Jackson and Dalwood, 2007) – assessment of industrial and commercial organisation and activities, trade and exchange patterns and consumption remains a challenge.  Hooke (2004) notes thatthe deliberate fostering of trade and markets is a feature sometimes overlooked’.

Primarily an agrarian economy, urban and ecclesiastical centres likely developed as economic hubs, with existing networks of roads and navigable rivers serving local rural and long distance markets. Most of the major Roman roads appear to have remained in use during the period (Hooke 1981a, 300-14, cited Hooke, 2004) and Worcester developed its river trade by the 10th century (Dalwood WMRRFA 4 cited in Hooke, 2004); the Deansway excavation revealing evidence of pottery from the Cotswolds, Stafford and Stamford, whetstones from Yorkshire and grindstones from Shropshire (Bryant and Dalwood 2004, 98-9). Production of salt from inland brine springs at Droitwich continued throughout the period, as evidenced in both documentary sources and archaeological excavation.

Other than salt, little is known about the character and volume of goods being traded; evidence of potential major industries of the period, for example cloth production, seemingly leaving little trace in the archaeological record. Archaeological evidence of iron and pottery production – both staples of the local Romano-British economy – is also largely absent. Production of charcoal in Wyre Forest would have been important for industry (specifically metal and salt working).

Mills likely played an important role in local economies with mill sites documented at the Church of Worcester’s manor of Caldinccotan in Bredon, in the later 10th century, and on the estates of Pershore Abbey (Hooke, 2004). Skilled craftsmanship of metalwork and jewellery, and importation of luxury goods from the Continent, is evident in early Anglo-Saxon burial assemblages found in county, as well as through metal detecting.

Identification of plant and animal fibres may increase knowledge of the textile industry as the remains of dye plants and flax are usually restricted to waterlogged soils. There is a small amount of evidence for the textile industry at Town Mill, Hanbury in the form of seeds of cultivated flax and dyers rocket (a yellow dye plant) in the base of a late Saxon (late Saxon/Saxo-Norman) water management channel (Pearson 2015).

Photograph of gold disc with filigree wire and stylized foliate ornament. Most likely from a brooch of late 10th or 11th century date.
Gold disc, most likely to have come from a brooch, with distinctive type of filigree wire and stylized foliate ornament. Found in Holberrow Green, filigree-enriched round brooches, sometimes set with gems and/or enamel, were produced in both Anglo-Saxon England and Ottonian Germany during the late 10th and first half of the 11th centuries (Portable Antiquities Scheme ref. -D5D967) Photograph ©The Trustees of the British Museum.

Key Sites

Salt Manufacture, Droitwich

Droitwich – as an Anglo-Saxon wic or wich town distinguished by its extensive industrial activity and trade – has a long history of salt production. Likely produced continuously since the early Iron Age, its significance to the regional economy, from the prehistoric period to the early 20th century, is reflected in the network of saltways radiating out from the town. Historical evidence indicates that Droitwich continued to be a major producer of salt throughout the Early Medieval period; in European terms Droitwich has the only major archaeological evidence for salt production in the Early Medieval period and is exceptional in preserving evidence for salt production from the Iron Age until the 19th century, the waterlogged conditions preserving stratified archaeological remains many metres deep.

Landscape evidence, for cultivated and settled land before the expansion and woodland clearance of the 12th and 13th centuries, together with Domesday, shows that there was a sizeable population around Droitwich in the 11th century, and presumably earlier, no doubt supplying food, fuel and other necessary commodities to the salt industry and its workers.

Archaeologist recording medieval brine well and Roman structures at Upwich, Droitwich.
Medieval brine well (top right) with Roman structures (to left) at Upwich, Droitwich. Photograph © Hereford and Worcester County Council

Excavation at the multi-period brine extraction and salt production site at Upwich revealed a series of industrial scale boiling hearths, dating from about the 5th century to early 7th century, built over the decayed remains of Roman structures. Constructed on stone blocks, set in narrow, elongated trenches, brine would have been heated in open lead pans set within the hearth. Wind breaks of wattle fencing were erected alongside, as boiling would have had to have been carefully controlled to prevent the lead from melting (Hurst, 1992, 14). 

Early Medieval/Anglo Saxon brine boiling hearth, excavated at Upwich, Droitwich.
Early Medieval/Anglo Saxon brine boiling hearth, excavated at Upwich, Droitwich. Photograph © Hereford and Worcester County Council

Much of the pottery unearthed was non-local, although in most cases the source and function, including any relationship to salt making and/or distribution, was unclear (Hurst, 1997, 23). In total 757 sherds (c. 7kg) of sub-Roman and Anglo Saxon pottery was retrieved, the first major collection of stratified pottery from this period in Worcestershire. Four fabrics, all handmade and probably coil built, were identified, ‘Grass’ tempered ware, Quartz sandstone tempered ware, Quartz sandstone and limestone tempered ware and Quartz tempered ware. More ‘domestic’ in character the surface of a high proportion of sherds was burnished, possibly for decoration or to improve its impermeability (Hurst, 1997, 75). Only a small amount of the pottery was decorated.

In the 7th or 8th century the Droitwich salt industry appears to have been significantly impacted when the brine springs at Upwich were contaminated by inundations of fresh water flooding, which also resulted in the deposition of alluvium across the site. Steps taken to salvage the industry included construction of a wicker revetment and brushwood trackway, on log foundations, along the north bank of the Salwarpe (Hurst, 1997, 27). Although no salt-making features have currently been dated to the period 7/8th – 12th centuries, documentary evidence, and the discovery of artefacts, including rakes and a paddle, indicates that the industry continued to prosper (Hurst, 1997, 27). Pottery recovered from 7/8th– 12th century deposits was predominately residual Roman, sub-Roman/early Anglo Saxon wares, although a single body sherd of Oxford Saxon shelly ware and occasional fragments of St-Neots type ware was unearthed (Hurst, 1997, 79).

By the 8th century Droitwich was referred to mainly as Saltwich, reflecting the significance of salt production and trade within the town. Upwich is likely to have been just one of a number of production sites along the river valley. A site for eight vats for salt making at Netherwich (Neodemestanwic) is mentioned in a charter of AD972 and north of Droitwich Wychbold appears to have been an important royal estate centre, likely due to its involvement in managing local salt manufacture (Hurst, 1997, 31). Salt vats and pits at Salwarpe are also referenced in a charter of AD817. By 1086 Wich (Droitwich) was a major industrial centre with Domesday demonstrating that fuel supply was carefully controlled. An Early Medieval saltway from Droitwich to the Cotswolds, crossing the River Avon at Perryford, is also recorded from Place Name evidence.

Working Men’s Club, Fladbury

In April of 1967 construction works at the Fladbury Working Men’s Club uncovered a well-preserved site with complex multi-period remains which included a series of pits, yielding flint flakes and fragments of Beaker pottery, a large middle Iron Age ditch and a small Romano-British cemetery. In terms of Anglo-Saxon archaeology, the site included a large sunken oven complex which yielded charcoal remains with a radiocarbon date of AD 851 +/- 81 (1967 analysis)/ AD 765 – 880 (last use of the oven complex as analysed in 2018) and the footprint of a broadly contemporary building, overlaying the backfilled Iron-Age ditch (Hinton and Peacock, 2020).

At the centre of the village, north of the church and on a low ridge of practically level ground some 10 metres above, and with a steep escarpment down to, the floodplain of the river Avon, the site lies on about 3m of well-draining sand and gravel, over Lias clay. The sunken oven showed at least three periods of activity with intermittent rebuilding and was situated in a specially prepared area cut into the surface of the large ditch. A series of post holes around the south-western end of the oven surround was interpreted as a windbreak to protect the oven from prevailing south-westerly winds (Hinton and Peacock, 2020, 17).

The building, of post hole construction and of c. 5.5m x 2m, was built on level ground. To the south was a gully, interpreted, in 1967, as an eaves drip to prevent rainwater reaching the building, although Hinton considers it less likely to have been associated with the building (Hinton and Peacock, 2020, 18 and 68).  Hinton (2020, 68) concludes that a use for storing grain and flour would seem likely if it were roofed, although an unroofed animal pen, or a stack for billets of wood for the oven, is also noted as a possibility.

Analysis of environmental material from the oven, in 1967-8 by Ian Strachan (University of Birmingham), showed that 50% of the charred grain comprised hulled barley (Hordeum distichum) with wheat (Triticum compactum and Triticum vulgare), small numbers of oat (Avena sativa) and wild oat (Avena fatua). A few wild seeds included fat hen (Chenopodium album), stinking chamomile (Anthemis cotula) and bedstraws/stitchwort (Galium sp.). Later analysis, using methods not developed in the 1960s, added some other cultigens – pea (Pisum sativum) and horse/Celtic bean (Vicia faba) and some spatial differentiation within the oven complex (Scaife in Hinton and Peacock, 2020, 35-36).

Charcoal samples were found to have derived from a limited number of tree/wood taxa, mostly large pieces of oak (Quercus sp.), with some hazel (Corylus avellana). The regularity of the diameters of the oak and hazel pieces strongly suggests that woodland management was being practised (Clapham in Hinton and Peacock, 2020, 37). The range of environmental remains have been assessed as being reflective of a mixed agrarian economy.

The high-status oven complex is likely to have been associated with the 7th – 9th century minster church and to have been utilised to dry grain for either the minister, or the household of Hwiccean rulers closely associated with the minister, or the residence for the bishops, when they took control of the estate (Fladbury passed into the hands of the Bishop of Worcester between 798 and 821). The vicinity of the medieval church and later residence of the bishops of Worcester demonstrates continuity in the siting of high-status structures (Dyer in Hinton and Peacock, 2020, 57). The precise location and scale of the 7th – 9th century minster church is uncertain although it’s possible it lies beneath the footprint of the present day, medieval Parish church.

If recognisable in the post Roman/Early Medieval period, the large, middle Iron Age, ditch – if part of an enclosure – may relate to the bury place name element in Fladbury, bury signifying a defensible or fortified place.

Land off Broadway Lane, Fladbury

Recent (2022) archaeological evaluation on the southern side of Fladbury, c. 360m west of the River Avon and seemingly outside of the core area of Early Medieval settlement, uncovered, among other things, a large number of pits, a midden-like feature and a large east-west aligned, v shaped, ditch. A significant amount of dateable material, predominantly animal bone alongside Early to Middle Saxon pottery, plus a small assemblage of Romano-British pottery, was recovered from the pit features and possible midden, with a smaller quantity recovered from ditches (Morgan, 2022 PCA Report Number: R15074).

A total of 192 sherds of post-Roman pottery was recovered, representing a minimum of 147 vessels. With the exception of a single sherd of 19th century flowerpot, the entire assemblage has been broadly dated to the Early to Middle Saxon period (?5th– 9th century). Fabrics encountered were in keeping with contemporary material found elsewhere in Worcestershire, although the range of types identified was more extensive than currently represented on the county type series. The handmade fabrics are dominated by quartz, quartzite, limestone and sandstone, although both grass and igneous rock inclusions also featured in smaller quantities. Most of the vessels recovered demonstrated some form of surface finishing, being either smoothed or burnished, and the majority were reduced grey or black, although a smaller number exhibited some surface oxidisation. The condition of the pottery suggested it was disposed of directly from contemporary occupation in the near vicinity, with the residues, sooting and wear patterns consistent with domestic food storage and preparation (Sudds in 2022 PCA Report Number: R15074).

As well as animal bone and ceramics, a number of other small finds, of probable Anglo-Saxon date, were uncovered including; an iron knife – of similar form to those recovered from the 5th -7th century settlement at West Stow, Suffolk -; two stone spindle whorls – one disc-shaped and the other plano-convex and more-or-less hemispherical, also commonly found at West Stow – ; a fired clay loomweight, of annular or donut-shaped form – typical of Early Saxon date – a bead, produced on a piece of amber – a near identical bead, with wedge-shaped profile, was recovered from a Late Roman burial at Colchester, other examples have been found in Early Saxon burials and fragments of two possible querns – rotary querns of this form occur in are found from the Roman to medieval periods. Several burnt stones, indicative of probable fires/hearths, a fossil shell and flint flake – possible waste from prehistoric flint working – was also recovered, as was several complete double-ended pinbeaters – similar examples have been found at Early Saxon settlement at Pennyland, Milton Keynes – a probable weaving tool and parts of three, or maybe four, combs, one profusely embellished with ring-and-dot markings – examples of comb fragments with ring and dot decoration have been found at West Stow (Taylor in 2022 PCA Report Number: R15074).

The quantity of bones and pottery recovered has been interpreted as indicative of a small Early to Middle Saxon community, which may have extended over a wider area than previously understood. The presence of spindle whorls, a loom weight and pin beaters are indicative of local textile production. The large, east-west aligned, v-shaped ditch typical of a profile for a Roman dated ditch could indicate a long-established boundary, possibly the southern boundary of the Early Medieval settlement itself (Morgan, 2022 PCA Report Number: R15074).

Photograph of probable weaving tool made of worked bone. Discovered in Fladbury in 2022.
Probable weaving tool from Fladbury, made of worked bone. Photograph © Pre Construct Archaeology Report No. 15074

Saxon Lode’s Farm, Ryall Quarry, Ripple

Archaeological investigation at Saxon Lode’s Farm, relating to the expansion of Ryall Quarry, identified multi-period remains dating from the Bronze Age to the Early Medieval/Early to Mid Anglo-Saxon period (Barber and Watts, 2008). Excavation revealed a high density of remains related to Bronze Age and Later Iron Age activity, an Early Romano-British farmstead and Early Medieval/ Early to Mid Anglo-Saxon settlement, consisting of six sunken-featured buildings, a post-built structure, ditches and other features, broadly dated to the 6th – 7th century. Analysis of the Early Medieval/ Early to Mid Anglo-Saxon artefactual and environmental remains revealed a small and short-lived rural settlement with small scale craft (weaving) and iron-smithing activity. See Settlement and Landscape, Key Sites.


Worcestershire could be classed as a minimally ceramic-using zone, throughout the Early Medieval period. As of 2022 only eight Saxon or Saxo-Norman fabrics have been recorded on the Worcestershire Ceramics database: Stamford type ware (glazed and unglazed), from Stamford, Lincolnshire dating from the mid-9th century to mid-13th century; Stafford-type ware, produced in Stafford from the 9th century to the 11th century; St Neots-type ware, probably from North Bedfordshire/South Northamptonshire in the mid-9th century to the 11th century; Grass-tempered ware, most usually assigned to the ?5th century to early 7th century; Quartz sandstone-tempered ware, Quartz sandstone and limestone tempered ware and Quartz-tempered ware, possibly produced in Worcestershire from the ?5th century to early 7th century. Droitwich has produced the widest range of wares of this period (i.e., all the above), perhaps not unsurprising, given its involvement in the extensive salt trade. The recent (2022) discovery of a substantial assemblage of pottery broadly dated to the Early to Middle Saxon period, at Land off Broadway Lane in Fladbury, has the potential to enhance our understanding of Early Medieval pottery in the county; its fabric, function, and provenance.

Some of this pottery may not have had production centres as such, but rather would have been produced in very small scales in the household. This is particularly the case for the early grass/chaff/organic-tempered wares which were handmade on open or clamp kilns. Excluding the Upwich and Fladbury deposits, only very small quantities of these early wares have been unearthed at Worcester, Droitwich, Grimley, Kemerton, Bretforton, Ryall and most recently Evesham. Similar to prehistoric pottery in fabric and finish, their friable, fragile nature would make them more vulnerable to decay, there is also potential for confusion with earlier ceramics.

Photograph of sherd of Grass Tempered Ware pottery. Fabric 50 on the Worcestershire Ceramics Database.
Fabric 50 on the Worcestershire Ceramics Database – Grass tempered ware. Photograph © Worcestershire County Council

Middle to Late Saxon pottery and sceatta has been recorded within the village of Sedgeberrow, indicating a level of settlement continuity and significance (Price and Watson, 1984). Small assemblages of the later, wheel thrown, Stamford type wares, Stafford ware and St Neots ware, the sources of which are all out of county, have also been found in both Droitwich and Worcester.

Crowland Abbey Ware

An archaeological programme of works along the route of a portable water transfer pipe, between Lickhill, Stourport-on-Severn and Frankley Reservoir, Birmingham, recovered an unusual sherd of Crowland Abbey-type ware, within a pit feature, south of the village of Belbroughton (Area G38). Crowland Abbey Ware typically has a distribution centred on the eastern half of the country, and in-particular from towns formerly under Danelaw.  

Dating to c. 1050-1150/1200, the sherd’s chemical components closely resembled those of sherds from the contemporary royal site of Sigtuna in Sweden, an important royal and commercial centre at the time Crowland Abbey ware was manufactured, as well as Stoke Quay, Ipswich.

Analysis of the wider medieval pottery assemblage recovered at the site indicated the relatively unusual presence (on a rural site) of pottery in pit and posthole features (rather than in midden or ploughsoil contexts), suggesting that activity in Area G38 may not represent a wholly mundane rural site and that this was potentially a zone of special activity (including metalworking), perhaps within an intentional forest clearing or assart dating predominantly to the centuries between the Conquest and 1300 AD.  It is likely that the bowl from which the sherd derived was traded beyond its usual distribution, via a western English port and up the River Severn, to an unidentified high-status individual, perhaps a resident of the medieval manor of Kidderminster (Duffy, A, Shaw, G and Roy, M, 2022, AOC Archaeology).

Sherd of Crowland Abbey-type ware from Pit south of Belbroughton.

Sherd of Crowland Abbey-type ware from pit south of Belbroughton. Photograph © AOC Archaeology Report No. 33275

Research Questions

WORCS_EM07: How can we develop and test methodologies to further study the inland, multi-period salt production sites along the Salwarpe valley?

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WORCS_EM08: How can we improve identification of Early Medieval pottery on excavation sites?

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WORCS_EM09: What can the study of more recently discovered assemblages of Early Medieval pottery e.g., that from Fladbury, teach us about Early Medieval technology, trade and economic systems and society?

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WORCS_EM10: To what extent can the use of established and emerging methods of scientific dating on undated features at late Romano-British and Medieval Sites enhance our knowledge and understanding of the Early Medieval period?

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WORCS_EM11: What can archaeology teach us about cultural and trading influence along the valleys of the Rivers Avon and Severn?

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WORCS_EM24: Could dating and sampling of burnt mounds in Wyre Forest help support pollen profiles for the Early Medieval?

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Barber, A and Watts, M (et al) 2008 ‘Excavations at Saxon’s Lode Farm, Ryall Quarry, Ripple, 2001-2: Iron Age, Romano-British and Anglo-Saxon rural settlement in the Severn Valley’, in Transactions of the Worcestershire Archaeological Society. 3 series. 21, 1-90

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Roberts, A 2019 The Old Mill, The Cross, Childswickham, Broadway, Worcestershire; Archaeological Evaluation, Cotswold Archaeology Report CR_0197_1

Watson B 1985 ‘Manuscript Report 1985, 4’. National Record of the Historic Environment Monument Database, Historic England, Worcestershire Historic Environment Recordref: SWR25489

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