Sarre Anglo-Saxon Cemetery
- Grave 26
Sarre Cemetery Introduction
GRAVE 26 - Eight feet long, three feet three
inches deep, two feet six inches wide.
Finds An umbo lay near the skull, and to its
left a spear-head, the ferule of which was at the feet.
On the breast a fine buckle brightly plated, and
what appears to be the mounting of a purse.
On the left side some iron keys and an iron lock,
with a bronze plate containing a hole for its bolt. The lock has a
bolt made to ascend diagonally into the bronze plate, which is rather
more than six inches long, and one and a quarter wide, and is very
like such a plate on our own door-posts. Part of the original woodwork
remained attached to the lock; but the whole is scarcely perfect
enough to solve the mystery of the curious hooked Anglo-Saxon keys,
and show how they performed their office.
Anglo-Saxon plane below
a small bronze balance and
scales, with nineteen
weights (Plate IV.), lay at the left foot.
The balance and scales are quite perfect, and beautiful
specimens. The beam is about five inches slightly chased; the end of
the thread or silk which suspended the scales still adheres to its
ends, and some more was at first adhering to the sca1es themselves ;
these are an inch and seven-eighths in diameter. Another such pair was
lately found at Ozingell, with weights and coins;1
and another, much mutilated, with eighteen weights, or coins adapted
as weights, was taken from a grave at Gilton by Bryan Faussett, more
than a century ago. It is possible, as a fragment like the mounting of
a purse was found near, that some of our nineteen weights may have
been money; most of them, however, are either dotted in various ways,
as if to indicate some multiple of weight, or are ground and squared;
and out of nine which are distinctly Roman coins five at least have
been thus adapted as weights. They vary in weight from 8 grains to
1063 grains. A weight of 248 grains
small bronze balance and scales, with nineteen
The grave contained, too, a knife or dirk, coupled
with a smaller knife in one double sheath of wood;
a circular iron
plate, a knife,
and a pair of shears.
a pair of shears
These are some of the most interesting and at the
same time of the most strangely assorted relics ever found in an
Plane from Sarre. By G.C. Dunning, F.S.A. and W.
Cantiana - Vol. 73 - 1959 pages 196 to 201
The plane was found in grave 26 of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Sarre
in 1863; it is briefly described and figured in the excavation
reports, 1 though its real nature was first recognized by
Baldwin Brown.2 The plane was on the left side of the body,
together with iron keys. A bronze balance and scale-pans and a set of
nineteen weights lay at the left foot, and elsewhere was a shield
boss, a spearhead, a bronze buckle and a purse mount. The grave-goods
indicate the burial of a man in the sixth century.
The plane consists of two parts of different materials.
The base-plate is of bronze, 6.05 in. long and 1.3
in. wide. Near each end is a vertical stop to hold the stock or
body-piece of the plane. The front stop is cast in one piece with the
base-plate, but the rear stop is folded back over the base-plate,
hammered tight against it, and then bent up at right-angles. One-third
back from the front edge is a rectangular slot, 0.8 by 0.4 in.,
bevelled along the rear side for the cutting iron.
The stock has a cellular structure longitudinally
and is denser in the lower part. It is, therefore, bony in nature, and
its size suggests that it is too large to be made from a limb bone but
was cut from the beam of a large red deer’s antler. The stock is
5.15 in. long, 1.2 in. wide and 1.2 in. high. The underneath surface
and the ends are carefully made flat and squared, so that the stock
fits tightly into the base-plate.
The slot for the cutting iron and its wedge, and for the
discharge of shavings in front of the iron, is cut to fit accurately
over the slot in the base-plate. It is 2.1 in. long at the top, 0.75
in. wide for the cutting iron, narrowing to 0.6 in. wide in front. The
difference in width is hardly sufficient to allow for a shoulder on
each side to engage the wedge holding the cutting iron in position.
Probably this was done by an iron bar fixed across the slot, but,
unfortunately, this part of the stock is broken away on both sides.
The back part of the stock is pierced from side to side
by an oval hole, 1.3 in. long and 0.35 in. high, for holding the plane
when in use. The hole comfortably takes the end of the thumb on one
side and two fingers on the other, enabling the plane to be lightly
but firmly held between the finger tips. The back end of the stock is
rounded to conform with the end of the hole.
1 Arch. Cant., VI,
162; VII, p1. XIII.
2 The Arts in
Early England, IV, 415, p1. XCVII, 2 (wrongly
The two parts of the plane are
fastened together by three iron rivets, one in front of the slot and
two behind it. The rivets pass through holes drilled in the stock and
are hammered over bronze plates on its top surface. The front plate is
square, and those behind the slot are triangular, with the points
The front right corner of the base-plate is rounded and
burred on the upper surface, showing that the plane had considerable
use before being buried in the grave.
This small and delicately-made plane is clearly a
craftsman’s tool, intended for squaring or bevelling the edges of
small pieces of wood rather than for planing surfaces. The width of
the cutting iron would allow for wood up to ¼ in. thick to be planed.
It is, therefore, suggested that the plane was used in finishing
strips of wood that were fitted accurately together, such as the sides
of work-boxes or caskets, 1 and the staves of buckets.
Examples of ancient planes are exceedingly rare, and
according to Flinders Petrie 2 the plane was a Roman
invention. Roman planes are known from Pompeii, Silchester, and the
Rhineland, but these are larger than the Sarre plane and were
joiner’s tools. In fact the Sarre plane appears to be unique for the
Anglo-Saxon period. In lightness of make a closer parallel is provided
by the wooden plane in the third-century hoard from Vimose, on the
island of Fyen, Denmark.3 This is 10 in. long
and canoe-shaped, with each end turned inwards in the shape of a
Planes closer in construction to the Sarre plane are
known from the terps of Friesland, and belong to the late Roman and to
the late Frankish periods.4 One from Finkum is 6.6 in.
long, with a bronze base-plate and a bone stock, and provides a
remarkably exact parallel to the Sarre plane. Another plane, from
Aalsum, is similar in shape but slightly larger, and is made entirely
of wood. These planes, have a hole through the stock as on the Sarre
plane. These parallels in Holland suggest that small and
delicately-made planes, based on Roman models, were developed in the
Teutonic lands at a time when the making of articles from composite
strips of wood was particularly in vogue.
The Sarre plane is in the collection of the Kent
Archaeological Society at Maidstone; grateful thanks are due to the
Curator, Mr. L. R. A. Grove, F.S.A., for permission to publish it
2 For the
reconstruction of a Frankish casket see Germania 31
Tools and Weapons (1917), 39.
4 C. Engelhardt, Vimose
Eundet (1869), p. 29, Fig. 31.
5 P J. A. Boeles, Friesland
tot de elfde eeuw (1951), pp. 202,
XXX, 20 and XXXIa, 1.
woodworkers’ tools from the Dark Ages are so rare that it was hardly
surprising that the small object found in Sarre grave No. 26, when
first published in Archaeologia Cantiana, VI, p. 161, was
described as an "iron lock, with bronze plate containing a hole
for its bolt", and later in George Payne’s Catalogue of the
Kent Archaeological Society’s Collections, p. 19, No. 775, as
"lock-plate, bronze, attached to wood". Closer examination
has since revealed that this is indeed a small plane, with features
relating it to roughly contemporary Frisian examples, and to their
similar, but somewhat larger, Roman predecessors. It may be dated to
about A.D. 600.
The body is of horn, 53/8 in. long, 1¼ in. wide and 1¼
in. high, with a bronze sole 1/8 in. thick projecting at both ends to
make the total length exactly 6 in. The turn-up at the front appears
to have been cast, while that at the back has clearly been folded to
shape, probably to accommodate it to the piece of horn used for the
stock. The sole is fixed with three iron rivets passing through the
stock and fastened at the top to small bronze plates, of which the
middle one, immediately behind the iron, has disappeared. The plate at
the back is roughly heart-shaped, while the front one is square with
rounded corners. A finger grip is hollowed out behind the iron, which
was probably about ¾ in. wide, with a slope of 43 degrees. With the
help of detailed drawings (Fig. 1) made by Mr. L. R. A. Grove,
Curator of the Maidstone Museum, the writer has made a suggested
reconstruction, in wood and brass, of the original tool (Plate 1).
The rivet across the mouth is the only conjectural feature, but is
well-vouched for by the Frisian and Roman examples previously referred
This little plane is remarkably easy to use, and although
the setting of the iron is rather tricky, it takes off quite a
respectable shaving. The nearest modern equivalent would be the
so-called "thumb planes" used by coachbuilders, or the small
"violin planes" still listed in the specialised catalogues.
This has prompted the suggestion that some such tool as this may have
formed part of the kit of the craftsman who made the famous Sutton Hoo
Most of the known Roman planes1 are about the size of a
modern jack plane, but with one exception built entirely of wood, they
all have a wooden stock with an iron sole attached to it by four
rivets. Usually the stock was hollowed out between the rivets to form
two handles, one at each end, but it is curious that the nearest both
in space and time to the Sarre plane, the well-known tool from
Silchester, dated to about
1 History of
Woodworking Tools, Practical Education,
drawing of Anglo-Saxon plane