‘Welcome to Historic Old Windsor. Home of Saxon Kings’ proclaims the sign as you enter the village of Old Windsor on the south bank of the River Thames between Windsor Castle and Runnymede. This bold claim is based on the results of important excavations that took place in the village in the 1950s, south-west of the Parish Church of St Peter and St Andrew’s. Chance discoveries during the excavation of a sewer trench in 1951 led to five seasons of excavation here in the 1950s, directed by Brian Hope-Taylor, one of Britain’s foremost archaeologists at the time.
These excavations revealed an extraordinary sequence of buried remains dating from the 7th- to 11th-century, from the Middle Saxon period into the decades immediately following the Norman Conquest. These buried remains included a massive hand-dug Saxon mill leat, containing the waterlogged timber remains of water wheels, a sequence of large, palatial, Saxon halls, other settlement remains over a wide area, and a vast and rich assemblage of Saxon and early Norman pottery, metalwork and other materials. Such was the quality of the discoveries that Hope-Taylor interpreted the site as a late Saxon and early Norman royal complex.
Unfortunately, the results of Hope-Taylor’s excavations have never been studied in detail and so there is currently no comprehensive account of the archaeological evidence from the site. However, there is little doubt that the Saxon and early Norman remains at Old Windsor are of considerable significance and represent an elite settlement for a number of centuries up to, and immediately following, the foundation of Windsor Castle and New Windsor a few miles up the River Thames. The site’s significance is reflected in its designation as a nationally important Scheduled Monument by Historic England and it is one of the most important sites of its period in the Middle Thames Valley and central southern England.
In 2018, Berkshire Archaeology, with the support of Historic England, Reading Museum, Historic Environment Scotland, and local groups and volunteers, undertook a preliminary assessment of Hope-Taylor’s Old Windsor excavation archive.
A copy of the assessment report can be downloaded here (with kind permission of Historic England, Historic Scotland, Berkshire Archaeology Wessex Archaeology and Reading Museum).
A plan is currently under development to take forward the recommendations of the assessment project, including targeted analysis and interpretation of Hope-Taylor’s archive.