Initiated in 2021, this University of Reading research project is excavating the site of an Anglo-Saxon monastery in the vicinity of Holy Trinity church in village of Cookham, Berkshire. Cookham forms one of a network of Anglo-Saxon monasteries established along the route of the River Thames and its tributaries, from Cricklade (Gloucestershire) in the west to Minster-in-Sheppey (Kent) in the east. Known primarily from historical sources, archaeological understanding of these riverine establishments is very poor, particularly so for the Middle Thames.
This project seeks to maximise the archaeological potential of Cookham to generate a step-change in our understanding of Anglo-Saxon monasticism in the Thames corridor both on its own terms and as a prism for addressing research agendas of international significance. It is driven by the following research questions:
- When and in what politico-cultural context were minsters of the Middle Thames founded?
- What were the antecedents of Thames minster sites and how was the inherited cultural landscape appropriated?
- How were Thames minsters organised in respect of social composition, concepts of sacrality, and function (both religious and economic)?
- What was the built environment of Thames minsters and what architectural traditions did it draw upon?
- What was the economic basis of Thames minsters and how did this change over their lifetimes? How important was regional and international trade to the livelihood of these institutions? How central were riverine resources to the economy, diet and lifestyle of Thames minsters? What types of production and infrastructure occurred at these sites and what are the implications for understanding monasteries as innovators in estate management?
- How does the archaeological signature of Thames minsters compare to monastic excavations in other regions of early medieval England? How can such comparisons inform our understanding of diversity in Anglo-Saxon monastic culture and its local, regional and supra-regional interactions?
- What were the afterlives of Thames minsters and how is this reflected in their archaeological and landscape trajectories?
For a copy of the interim report on the inaugural (August 2021) excavation click here.
For a copy of the interim report on the 2022 excavation click here.
Watch a TimeTeam interview of the Cookham excavations here.