Pause in this field and look south over the nearby dry stone wall. About 150 metres away, beyond the next field, is Benty Grange, an Anglo-Saxon barrow. The barrow itself is on private land and this is one of the closest public footpaths.
In the Anglo-Saxon period, the Peak District lay on the northern edge of the kingdom of Mercia. Its people are recorded in Anglo-Saxon documents as the Pecsaete. The high status burial found in the Benty Grange barrow shows the power and wealth of their leaders, so the finds from the site are all grave goods.
The barrow today still has its surrounding ditch and bank. The ditch runs around the whole mound. The outer bank has a steep inside edge and a gentler slope on the outside edge, but has unfortunately suffered from plough damage.
The Benty Grange Helmet
The most famous find at Benty Grange is the Benty Grange helmet, made of iron, silver, bronze, gold and gemstones.
It was excavated on 3rd May 1848 by Thomas Bateman, who left scarce notes. However, he observed that none of the body in the burial could be identified; there were also no weapons found with the helmet. Perhaps he was not the first to reach the burial.
There are references to boar crested helmets in Anglo-Saxon literature and sagas, such as Beowulf. The unusual combination of this pagan symbol, as well as the Christian cross over the nose, indicates a transition period of beliefs in Anglo-Saxon communities. Both symbols were probably considered useful protection against enemies.
A hundred years after its excavation, the helmet was examined and conserved at the British Museum. This provided details of the making of the helmet. These were used when making the replica for Weston Park Museum, Sheffield in 1986.
The result, the work of Martin Murphy, is a helmet which must have impressed the Anglo-Saxons as much as it impresses us. Though not as grand or expensive as other helmets, such as those from Sutton Hoo and York, it was certainly the prized possession of its owner – who was probably a king or important figure in society.
The remains of hanging bowls are sometimes found in rich Anglo-Saxon graves. These bowls are made of metal and were designed to be suspended by a chain. Escutcheons are fittings used on hanging bowls. Each bowl might have several, attached to the metal as decoration. They are usually round in shape and often decorated with enamel. The decoration is often of curvilinear animal designs, which the Anglo-Saxons were particularly fond of. Remains of several escutcheons were found in the Benty Grange burial.
Llewellynn Jewitt produced four watercolours of finds from the Benty Grange burial, more than for any other site. It is also very useful to modern archaeologists, because some of the objects have been lost. Jewitt’s illustrations provide the only record of the appearance of these lost items. For example, only the cup fittings and pieces of the escutcheons survive from this watercolour. The object at the very bottom may be the thin bone ornamented with lozenges referred to by archaeologist Thomas Bateman in his account of the excavation.
A wooden cup with silver fittings was found in the Benty Grange burial. The cup does not survive but some of the silver fittings do. However, they are not in good condition. The Christian cross is an important element of the design.
There are two types of fitting. One is a cross, similar to the one on the helmet noseguard. The other is a circular mount, in a similar style to the cross. It is a cross, but with an extra arm in each quarter. The ends of the arms touch or meet, making the complete mount circular.