Out of Darkness
An exhibition of the unique and irreplaceable group of
Anglo-Saxon Charters held by
This year the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service, in conjunction with the William Salt Library, is holding a three week exhibition of their unique and irreplaceable Anglo-Saxon Charters to coincide with the Staffordshire Hoard exhibition in Stafford.
The Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia was one of the most powerful kingdoms of the period. However, due to the conflict in the 10th century with Vikings to the north and the kingdom's eventual merger into a greater Wessex, the survival of written sources for Mercia is poor. Those records that do survive that mention the kingdom, such as the writings of Bede, are generally hostile in tone, as Mercia was often in conflict with its neighbours including Bede's Northumbria.
Therefore the survival of the charters that relate to Staffordshire is of huge importance to the early history of the county as well as Mercia. The survival of the will of Wulfric Spot is all the more remarkable. These documents form the basis for all we know about this period of history and offer us a unique opportunity to learn more about the kingdom of Mercia and Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire in particular.
The exhibition will be held at Staffordshire Record Office on the following dates:
Tuesday 5 July - Friday 8 July 2011
10.00 a.m. - 4.00 p.m.
Monday 11 July - Friday 15 July 2011
10.00 a.m. - 4.00 p.m.
Monday 18 July - Friday 22 July 2011
10.00 a.m. - 4.00 p.m.
The great importance of these Anglo-Saxon charters is recognised by historians:
Dr Chris Dyer, Leverhulme Emeritus Professor of Regional and Local History, University of Leicester :
"We were all excited when the Staffordshire hoard was discovered. It reminded us that south Staffordshire had once been the centre of a kingdom, and its rulers extended their authority over the rest of England. That kingdom's wealth and power was displayed before us in a heap of gold and jewels.
But the county record office has quietly been keeping a hoard of written treasures, which in their way tell us at least as much about the Anglo-Saxon past as the newly discovered hoard. Most of the Anglo-Saxon charters are known to us because scribes in the 12th and 13th centuries copied them, and it is their copies rather than the original parchments that have survived. Most of the documents of that period are kept in the British Library or the cathedral libraries, and Staffordshire is very unusual in having so many in its possession. These charters tell us about land and the people who held it. They give the place names that we still use in their original spellings, and sometimes they describe boundaries in great detail, even naming particular trees and stones that marked the edge of an estate.
The most exciting of all of these documents is Wulfric Spot's will, which was written just over a thousand years ago, which mentions dozens of places in Staffordshire and other counties. The Staffordshire treasure hoard displays the showy wealth of the a few well born warriors, but Spot's will and the other charters tell us where ordinary people lived, and the names that they chose to describe their homes."
Dr Della Hooke, Independent Researcher:
"Pre-Conquest documents, especially charter and wills, provide evidence that is essential for an understanding of early medieval Staffordshire, providing essential information about administrative arrangements and landownership. When charters also have associated boundary clauses these contain evidence about the landscape that is available in no other source as they list boundary features, either natural or man-made, which help to reconstruct the nature of the early medieval countryside.
It is particularly useful when such documents are available locally within the county, facilitating further research. Moreover charter boundary clauses cannot be understood without comparison with later historical sources such as county maps, enclosure and tithe awards. Even if the charters themselves may not be in these archives the maps and documents required for comparison are readily available within the Staffordshire Record Office or William Salt Library."
Dr Nigel Tringham, Keele University:
"As County Editor of the Victoria County History of Staffordshire, I am always pleased to be able to start an account of a parish history with an Anglo-Saxon charter rather than an entry in (the problematic) Domesday Book, and this was the case both with Rolleston in the most recent volume on the Needwood Forest area and with Madeley to be included in the next volume on the north-west part of the county.
It is even more of a pleasure to see an original charter in the same building as the VCH office, with several being part of the truly remarkable collection of Staffordshire manuscripts collected in the 19th century by William Salt. But perhaps the most important original is next door in the Staffordshire Record Office: namely, the royal grant of Æthelred II dating from just after the year 1000 and confirming Wulfric Spot’s endowment of Burton Abbey in the late 900s. Essential reading for the VCH volume published on Burton-upon-Trent a few years ago, the charter is important for an understanding of how Mercia became more firmly part of the newly-created kingdom of England and so ending the independence of what was once a separate kingdom, whose early years were so dramatically brought to public attention by the recent discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard."