Saxon Brooch Mould, Ipswich

front, side and back of the brooch

A Saxon brooch mould (context 0512, SF 41/5003), excavated in the 1990s from Franciscan Way (Wolsey Street), Ipswich.

This site sits on the edge of the Saxon settlement and was used for industrial activity during the 9th-12th Centuries AD; in the 13th Century AD the site became the location of the Greyfriars Franciscan Friary and a medieval cemetery.

The mould would have been used to make a brooch. The delicate brooch design, measuring just 3.6cm in diameter, has been carved into the burr of an antler. Eighteen circles were drawn onto the surface of the antler as a guide to carve the pattern of concentric rings made of pellets. In the centre of the brooch a set of four ring-and-dot motifs arranged in a cross shape surrounding a central pellet.

Sadly, we do not have the original brooch that this mould would have created, however similar nummular brooches have been discovered in East Anglia. Brooches of this type are usually made from lead; this may be the case here as well, indicated by the presence of lead working debris from the Franciscan Way site.

drawing of brooch mould front and side view
Illustration of the brooch mould

Metalworking at Franciscan Way

The Saxon site at Franciscan Way lay on the outskirts of the main settlement towards the river. The land here is regarded to have been poorer marshy land in the past. This land type is often exploited during the Saxon period for activities such as pasture grazing, rubbish disposal and industrial activity – in this case metalworking. The evidence for metal working on this site dates to the 9th-12th centuries AD. In the 12th century the evidence for industrial activity disappears just before the establishment of the friary in the 13th century.

The predominant metal being worked here was iron; there is evidence to suggest that the iron was being both smelted from its raw material and being smithed. In addition to the iron working, a small amount of lead waste was discovered confirming that this metal was also worked here. We do not know what sort of objects were being made on the site, except for at least one brooch as indicated by the mould. However, it is likely that the iron was being used for a wide range of objects for the nearby settlement or trade, and the lead could have also been used to produce roof tiles or making glass.

For more information:
Bayley, Justine. 1992. Lead Metallurgy in Late Saxon and Viking England. Historical Metallurgy Society: Boles and Smeltmilla Seminar, 15-17 May 1992

Portable Antiquity Scheme www.finds.org.uk

Sommers, M. 2002. Wolsey Street/Franciscan Way, Ipswich: A Report on an Archaeological Excavation within Property on the corner of Wolsey Street and Franciscan Way, Ipswich. Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service. Excavation Report No. 2004/062

West, Stanley. 1998. A Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Material from Suffolk. East Anglian Archaeology. Report No. 84

The ‘From the Vaults’ series is written by the County Council’s Archaeological Archives Officer

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