The scheduled ancient monument and Grade I listed 15th century Harmondsworth Barn above gives us some idea of what an Anglo-Saxon Great Hall might have looked like, though we need to imagine it being even larger, its painted and gilded interior flickering in the firelight; hung with cloth and battledress and ringing to the sound of poem-songs and merrymaking
Image © PA
There was one last celebration by the light of flickering flames at the site, 1,300 years after the hall was abandoned, as archaeologists marked the find by picking out the outline of the hall in candles, lighting up the end-of-excavation party. Heaps of animal bones buried in pits around the edge of the hall bore testimony to many epic parties of the past.
The unexpected find, by a team from the University of Reading funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and working with local archaeologists and villagers, is exceptionally rare. Digging under the curious gaze of drinkers in the garden of the Coach and Horses pub a few metres away, it is the first great hall from the period to be discovered in more than 30 years.
At 21 metres by 8.5 metres, it would have been the most imposing structure for miles, large enough to hold at least 60 people. Beowulf, the most famous of all surviving Anglo-Saxon poems, describes the hero coming to just such a hall, Heorot – “the timbered hall / splendid and ornamented with gold. / The building in which that powerful man held court / Was the foremost of halls under heaven; / Its radiance shone over many lands.”
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