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Old Windsor - Saxon Palace

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Eleventh century copper alloy sword guard

Between 1953 and 1958 Dr Brian Hope-Taylor carried out a series of excavations at Kingsbury, Old Windsor, with the aim of uncovering the location of the historically recorded royal palace of Edward the Confessor. The work revealed continuous Saxon occupation from the seventh century. Brian Hope Taylor’s unpublished synopsis, written in 1983, suggested that the Saxon landscape pattern revealed by his excavation could reflect that of a Romano-British villa estate, although the earliest firm date for the site is AD 690 given by the dendrochronology of the timbers from the 'great ditch' or leat for a watermill. This leat was three-quarters of a mile long and over 20 feet wide and had been dug across a meander of the River Thames. The whole site was destroyed by fire around AD 900, perhaps by Viking raiders, when debris was tipped into the leat. Evidence was found of timber buildings of the right date to be related to a royal palace complex for Edward in the eleventh century with a long succession of major buildings and rebuildings, though Hope-Taylor did not locate the main focus of the royal complex, which must have included a large timber hall or halls.

In 1069-70 William the Conqeror ordered the construction of castles at Oxford, Wallingford and Windsor to control the Thames Valley. The castle at Windsor was constructed on a strategic hilltop site two miles north-west of Old Windsor. The Norman kings continued to hold court regularly at the Old Windsor palace site. For example Henry I held court there in 1101, 1103, 1104, 1105, 1107 and 1108. However it was Henry I who transformed Windsor Castle from a fortress into a royal residence. In 1110 it was recorded that Henry held his Whitsun court at New Windsor which 'he himself had built'. Fine Romanesque stonework from Henry I's buildings in the Castle's upper ward survive in the Moat Garden and are very similar to stonework at Reading Abbey that Henry founded in 1121, indicating the same school of masons were employed at both sites.

Hope-Taylor's investigations were never fully written up or published. The finds from the excavation were given to Reading Museum which also holds specialist reports, drawings, some of Brian Hope-Taylor's notes and the negatives of the photographs taken during the excavation. We are currently working with Berkshire Archaeology, Historic England and local groups to better quantify and categorise the finds and documents to allow further research of this important site archive.

Museum object number Old Windsor