The county’s status as a place where objects
exclusive to a single region could be found forms part of one of
several important themes which Hinton’s command of detail
enables him to pursue across the volume. The gradual development
of a national culture offers a context within which individual
items gain greater meaning: the widespread existence of similar
forms across different kingdoms suggests that ‘[b]y the middle
of the seventh century, if not by its beginning, the aristocracy
throughout England were as similar in their costume as they were
in their speech’. Everyday material culture follows this
pattern of standardisation around a century later, but by the
end of the book ‘a significant difference between regions can
be seen in portable material culture’ for the first time since
the Norman Conquest. The rise of Christianity and the
development of a money economy, literacy and the significance of
personified objects, also crop up repeatedly in the different
chapters. For example, the knife from Sittingbourne ‘with ‘Sigebereht
owns me’ on one side and ‘Biorhtelm made me’ in
conspicuously larger letters on the other’ hints at the
complex relationships between owners and makers, the literate
and the illiterate and the development of particular kinds of
individuality and identity.
But they are only hints. There is no room to linger
over the meaning of objects in a way which complements
their detailed description. It is also hard to trace the
chronology of social and political change. Brief paragraphs,
chiefly at the beginning and end of chapters, have to do the
considerable work of placing the objects in ‘historical’
terms: the assertion that ‘Townspeople made up somewhere
between seven and ten per cent of the total population in
England, leaving the peasantry in an overwhelming majority’,
for instance, helps enormously to situate the finds socially.
The breadth of archaeological reference is both the
strength and the limitation of this book then. But criticisms
are in many ways requests for more – enquiries which are
provoked by the variety of the material Hinton presents. There
is enough here to trigger and begin to answer interesting
questions on almost every aspect of the social, cultural and
political history of Medieval Britain.
Edward Cresy 1792-1858. Architect and Civil Engineer. By
Diana Burfield. xvii + 222 pp., 56 plates. Shaun Tyas, 2003.
Cased with dust jacket. £24 from the publisher, 1 High Street,
Donington, Lincolnshire PE11 4TA. ISBN 1 900289 65 2.
Biographies of locally memorable individuals are an important
way of cladding the bare bones of history with human liveliness.
This exceptionally thorough work is by a direct descendant of
the subject. Cresy was