Early medieval royal hall discovered in England

An archaeological excavation in eastern England this summer has discovered the remains of a 1,400-year-old royal hall which would have been used by the Kings of East Anglia.

The discovery was made in Rendlesham, a village near the eastern coast in the county of Suffolk. The foundations of the hall measure 23 metres long and 10 metres wide, while the royal compound covered an area of six hectares. For 150 years between AD 570 and AD 720 this site was an important centre for the East Anglian kingdom, and was even mentioned in the writings of Bede. The 8th-century historian identified Rendlesham as the place where the East Anglian King Aethelwold stood sponsor at the baptism of King Swithelm of the East Saxons between the years AD 655 and 663.

Children from Rendlesham Primary School excavating animal bone from the rubbish dump associated with the Hall – Image © Suffolk County Council; photo by Graham Allen

The site was first identified by aerial photography in 2015, and this summer’s excavations created two trenches (40m x 30m and 30m x 15m in size). Beyond discovering the remains of the royal hall, the archaeologists found dress jewellery, personal items, fragments of glass drinking vessels and pottery dating back to the Early Middle Ages. They also came across the remains of food preparation and feasting which show the consumption of vast quantities of meat, mainly beef and pork. Some of the finds also indicate traces of earlier settlement and activity on the site from the early Roman period (1st century AD) and the early Neolithic period (4th millennium BC).

“The results of this season’s excavation are of international importance. Rendlesham is the most extensive and materially wealthy settlement of its date known in England, and excavation of the Hall confirms that this is the royal residence recorded by Bede” says Professor Christopher Scull of Cardiff University, an academic advisor for the dig. “Only at Rendlesham do we have the wider settlement and landscape context of an early English royal centre together with an assemblage of metalwork that illuminates the lives and activities of its inhabitants across the social range. Together, these are radically re-writing our understanding of the sophistication, complexity and international connections of society at that time.


“It has been wonderful working with our terrific team of partners and volunteers, who should be proud of what they have achieved. Their work is a major advance in our understanding of the early East Anglian Kingdom and the wider North Sea world of which it was a part.”

The East Anglian kingdom, covering modern-day Suffolk and Norfolk, was made up of several such regions and its kings travelled between them to rule and to be seen. The excavated building would have been one of several such monumental halls in the royal compound at Rendlesham. Here, the first Kings of the East Angles, accompanied by their household and armed retinue, would have administered justice, received tribute and diplomatic envoys, feasted their followers, and distributed gifts and favours.

In earlier years, archaeological investigations have recovered precious metalwork and coinage indicative of the wealth and status of those who stayed here. The nearby burial mounds at Snape and Sutton Hoo are two of the known burials associated with this royal settlement.

Anglo-Saxon Iron knife excavated from the boundary ditch – Image © Suffolk County Council

The discoveries came during the second summer of excavations by the community archaeology project ‘Rendlesham Revealed: Anglo-Saxon Life in South-East Suffolk.’ It is run by the Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service, supported by Cotswold Archaeology and funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, who awarded a grant of £517,300 for the four-year project.


Councillor Melanie Vigo di Gallidoro, Suffolk County Council’s Deputy Cabinet Member for Protected Landscapes and Archaeology, commented, “the council’s Archaeological Service has had another hugely successful summer, overseeing work which tells us even more about our county’s and country’s history, and how people lived their lives more than a thousand years ago. It can’t be underestimated how important this part of Suffolk is to our understanding our local and national heritage.

Cattle skull excavated from the boundary ditch – photo © Suffolk County Council

“I’d like to thank the landowners for their support and enabling us to carry out the excavations on their private land. All the volunteers, local school children and charities are also key to making this happen. They tell us that they’ve gained so much from this unique experience, from making new friends, to being in touch with their history, to having space and activities to benefit their mental health.”

Top Image: Drone photograph of the excavations at Rendlesham, showing the excavated hall and boundary ditch (right-hand trench) and associated rubbish dump (left-hand trench). Imagre © Suffolk County Council; photo by Jim Pullen