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Why is the archaeology so significant?

We’re unearthing a royal monastery that’s been hidden beneath Cookham for over 1,000 years. It stood here in the eighth and ninth centuries. It’s very rare to find early medieval monastic archaeology in such a good state of preservation.

There will be further excavation seasons with the permission and goodwill of the Parochial Church Council, which owns Paddock Field. Friends of Cookham Abbey will continue to give financial and practical support to the project.

Cookham is a site of national importance.

The Archeology here is incredibly dense. It will take us several seasons to really unpick this…

Gabor Thomas, lead academic on the dig, gives us an overview on the astonishing findings the dig has revealed so far.

Cookham’s abbey settlement

Opening a window into the 8th century monastic world

The varied roles of Anglo-Saxon monasteries were reflected in complex layouts comprising different functional and social zones. We still have much to do to fully understand Cookham’s monastic landscape, but we have already identified a riverside zone engaged in trade and production, and a burial zone, potentially used by the wider community. We have found tools, dress accessories, and evidence of feasting.

About the surrounding area

The River Thames was the heart of a frontier zone between the kings of Mercia, who ruled the Midlands, and of Wessex, who ruled the south and west of the country. Controlling the Thames frontier zone gave control of the most important trade and communication artery in southeast England.

By the mid-eighth century, a network of around 30 monasteries had been set up along the Thames, from its upper reaches in Gloucestershire to its mouth in Kent. The kingdoms fought for control of the monasteries and their wealth.

Cookham’s monastic settlement

The Anglo-Saxon monastery at Cookham was more than just a centre of worship and religious learning. It was also an economic hub for production and trade. The religious community was supported by a huge estate. Peasant workers produced food and other resources for the monastery.

Industry and crafts helped the monastery increase its wealth by trading along the River
Thames. They would have traded goods such as metalwork, cloth and leather goods with markets on the English coast and continental Europe.

Monasteries were religious centres and economic powerhouses.

Cynethryth was the only Queen in this period to have her own coinage minted. This example was found in Oxfordshire. We’ve used the design from her coin for our logo.

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Queen Cynethryth

When the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms converted to Christianity in the seventh century, monasteries (‘abbeys’) were founded in significant numbers by royal families. The rulers of the abbeys were often the widows and daughters of royal families.

Cynethryth was the abbess of Cookham after the death of her husband Offa, King of Mercia, in 796 AD. She’d been his co-ruler – a queen in her own right.

She was an important figure in Northwestern Europe. She corresponded and exchanged gifts with Charlemagne and the Pope. Her nuns would have come from elite noble families. They were used to a high-status culture with expensive food and wine from the continent. When they moved to the monastery they maintained their aristocratic lifestyle.

Cynethryth was the only Queen in this period to have her own coinage minted. This example was found in Oxfordshire. We’ve used the design from her coin for our logo.