A Visit To West Stow
Your Questions Answered

About the village

These are the questions most commonly asked by children and adults who visit West Stow. There are two levels of answers: simple answers for children, more detailed information for adults

Question - Why do the houses have pits underneath?

Answer - The houses are reconstructed with pits because of the evidence that the archaeologists found. The pit may be there to stop the floorboards rotting, or for storage, or maybe for something else - we cannot be sure. There was a clear distinction between the pit filling and the surrounding sand. The fill did not seem to be disturbed, so it seems that people did not go into the pit. The presence of the pit improves air circulation in the house, and in winter may keep the house slightly warmer as the floor is not touching the ground. It is possible that the pit was used for storage, but unlikely as most were too shallow or too full of pests to be convenient and practical.

Question - Where did people go to the toilet?

Answer - The archaeologists didn't find any particular place - it was probably somewhere away from the houses. There was plenty of room in a farming village. "Human manure" may have been collected and used on the fields. Archaeologists found some very rich organic material in the pit of one house; it may have been used as a toilet when it was old and the family had left. People in towns (in later Anglo-Saxon times) were more closely packed and had set places - the cesspit at Jorvik is the best known example.

Question - How does smoke from the fire get out of the buildings?

Answer - Most of the smoke escapes through the thatch; a good hot fire makes lots of heat and light, but not much smoke. It is often though that buildings had a hole in the roof to let the smoke out. Our experience at West Stow suggests that this is unlikely. It is difficult to keep the rain out and may create too strong an updraught so that sparks ignite the thatch.

Question - How did archaeologists know where to look for the village?

Answer - The first clues came when the cemetery was found accidentally more than 100 years ago. Archaeologists found scattered pieces of pottery which helped them work out where the village might have been. The cemetery was discovered in 1849. There were several small-scale excavations this century, in which some buildings were found. Some were found when gravel pits were dug. The main excavation was held from 1965-1972.

Question - In Anglo-Saxon times did the land look like it does today?

Answer - The village would have been surrounded by fields, with meadows down by the river. There were more buildings than we have reconstructed.

Question - Why did people move away from Stow?

Answer - We don't really know. We think that families moved one by one to where the modern village of West Stow is. In the 7th century lots of small villages like Stow disappeared, as people moved to larger villages and the first towns, like Ipswich.

Question - How did people defend themselves from enemies?

Answer - There was no evidence of a fence or ditch around the village. Life was probably peaceful for most people. Most men had a spear and shield - these may have symbolised free men rather than simply being weapons. There were occasional battles and skirmishes between leaders and kings over territory. The men involved were probably a specially trained warrior class, unlike the West Stow farmers.

Question - How long does it take to build a house?

Answer - It depends on how many people are working on the house and how long they work each day. It takes a long time to shape the wood by hand using axes. The Anglo-Saxons were building a house for people to live in, and they probably had more people working, so it may have been a matter of months rather than years.

Question - What did the children do?

Answer - Children in Stow did not go to school. They worked to produce food and did their share of the work. They learned their skills from the adults in the village. All children like to play, and Anglo-Saxon children would too. They probably played games very similar to playground games today - hiding, chasing, pretend etc. - but their is no evidence at all. In later times there were some schools as part of monasteries, but most people did not read and write.

Question - How many people lived in the village of Stow?

Answer - About 100 people. There were 3 or 4 families of about 30 people (uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents all living together). The number is based on the size of the halls (big enough for about 30 people) and the number of hall and house groups at any one time (3 or 4).

Do you have a question about West Stow which has not been answered here?

Click to email us:weststow@stedsbc.gov.uk

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