Her Royal Highness, the Countess of Wessex, formally opened a uniquely reconstructed Anglo-Saxon building in Long Wittenham, Oxfordshire, during a visit yesterday.
Named the ‘House of Wessex’, the replica 7th-century building has been painstakingly built over two years with the help of experts and hundreds of volunteer days.
In 2016, during preparations underway before planting a new community woodland, Sylva Foundation, an environmental charity, worked with archaeologists to reveal the remains of an important Anglo-Saxon building on its land in south Oxfordshire.
The building’s age, dimensions, and location all pointed to its importance for the Wessex Kingdom, perhaps even a royal residence. Archaeologists believe it will have formed part of a settlement associated with a leading family of the West Saxons in the seventh century.
Thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the charity was able to gather together experts and volunteers to design and then faithfully reconstruct the building using tools and techniques from the period.
After months of planning, and the donation of more than 80 trees from the Blenheim Estate, the raising of the timber frame took place this summer. The house was built on the same site, but just one metre removed to preserve any remaining archaeology.
The timber frame was constructed by Carpenter’s Fellowship volunteers using simple hand tools and took more than 500 labour days to complete. By the autumn, the thatching of the roof had been completed and the walls constructed with wattle. With the help of families, the walls were plastered with daub comprising clay, straw and cow dung.
During the reconstruction, the charity held several public open days with a living history society, the Wulfheodenas, who impressed visitors with their cooking, weapon making, and weaving skills. With local history groups, the charity has also created a heritage trail linking the site of the reconstruction to nearby historic features.
The legacy for the project is the House of Wessex itself which will function as an educational facility. The Wulfheodenas will play an active role in continuing to develop the house and will support the charity in delivering educational activities with the public.
Inviting the Countess of Wessex to unveil an interpretation panel next to the building to mark its opening, Dr Gabriel Hemery, Chief Executive of the Sylva Foundation, said: “On behalf of the Sylva Foundation, and all our incredible supporters, I am delighted to welcome Her Royal Highness, the Countess of Wessex, to formally open the House of Wessex.
This reconstruction celebrates the birth of the kingdom of Wessex thirteen hundred years ago on this very spot. Not only is the Countess of Wessex able to lend her title to the occasion, but knowing of her interest in the countryside, it’s been a privilege to introduce her to the charity’s work today.”
For more information, visit the House of Wessex website.