Wednesday, November 4th, 2015...9:00 am

Classical Tradition V

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A group of four pen, ink and wash drawings by the English artist William Henry Brooke (1772-1860) was recently acquired from the English antiquarian bookseller, Christopher Edwards. Brooke is primarily known as a portrait painter, book illustrator and satirical draftsman. He was recording the results of an archaeological dig at Brome Hall, Eye, Suffolk, the country seat of Charles Cornwallis, 2nd Marquis Cornwallis. The discovery was first reported in The Gentleman’s Magazine in August 1818 (pp. 131-133) and aroused considerable interest. IMG_2405The drawings (call number MS Eng 1785) are dated 21 October 1818 and depict the burial urns unearthed and also the site of the excavation with work in progress. Three urns from this excavation are known to survive; one is in the British Museum. At that time this material was thought to document a Roman burial site.

In fact, the drawings document a mid to late fifth or sixth-century Anglo-Saxon cemetery and are of considerable documentary importance; they show that it was a mixed cemetery of inhumations and cremations and they record the exact location of the site. The drawings are reproduced in black and white from a copy of the drawings and described as unlocated in “A Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Material from Suffolk,” East Anglian Archaeology, Report No. 84, 1998 as Figs. 44a.1-5.


When these drawings first came up at auction in 2011, Dr. Steven Plunkett, Keeper of Archaeology at the Ipswich Borough Museum, wrote: “the site and its finds are still of great importance to the archaeological record, because the distribution of such century graveyards, and the distinct cultural character of each as represented by the particular types of grave-goods and cremation urns found in them, are one of the ways in which the settlements of the East Anglian Kingdom is most clearly understood: and these matters are studied scientifically in a total view, rather than piecemeal, so that new evidence about Eye is quite critical and gives new dimension to the record.”

Christopher Loveluck, Visiting Associate Professor of Medieval History at Harvard and Reader in Archaeology at the University of Nottingham, observes: “The cemetery is also of importance because of the context of its location. The famous Hoxne hoard, one of the largest collections of silver tableware and coins known, deposited in the early decades of the fifth century, was recovered in the parish immediately adjacent to Eye in Mid Suffolk. Both finds, together, provide a tantalizing insight into the end of Roman Britain and the creation of Anglo-Saxon society in this part of East Anglia.”

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This post was contributed by William P. Stoneman, Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts.

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