‘It is quite a primal thing to do’ - the story behind 40 years of the Anglo Saxon Village at West Stow

Original members of the team who created the West Stow Anglo Saxon village returned 40 years on to see the progress
Original members of the team who created the West Stow Anglo Saxon village returned 40 years on to see the progress

Forty-years-ago they were a bunch of long haired, wide eyed Cambridge students with an idea on how to bring archaeology to life.

Over the summer of 73 they came to build an Anglo-Saxon house on the site of an archaeological dig in West Stow, staying in a nearby cottage with no running water or electricity.

Living history event at West Stow Anglo Saxon village.   Richard Stephens and Tom Dowling in battle.

Living history event at West Stow Anglo Saxon village. Richard Stephens and Tom Dowling in battle.

“It is quite a primal thing to do, It is very satisfying to think we did something our ancestors would have done hundreds of years ago,” said Ian Alister.

He was one of seven founder members who returned to the site on Saturday to mark its 40th anniversary.

“It is a home from home. It is beautiful. I live in Cambridge and return every couple of months.

“I think one of the things about the project is that we all had confidence in it. We committed a whole summer to something others were saying wouldn’t work.

Living history event at West Stow Anglo Saxon village.    Maria Legg and Lucinda Skinner doing some weaving.

Living history event at West Stow Anglo Saxon village. Maria Legg and Lucinda Skinner doing some weaving.

“We used to go down the village working men’s club. The village was very welcoming. They had already had the archaeological dig here for several year and now there was these long haired students on their doorstep.”

The original idea came from a group of four students studying Anglo-Saxon and Celtic history in February 1973.

The group of seven started in mid June and finished the first house in mid September.

Kimberley Rew who was part of the team said: “I can remember thinking ‘That’s me sorted for my summer holidays.’”

West Stow Anglo Saxon village hold a Hobbit themed 'Ring Quest' for half term.      Pictured are friends Francesca Sea-Borne and Naomi Ammon, with an Orc (Lance Alexander), an elf (Glynis Baxter) and ranger Alan Baxter.

West Stow Anglo Saxon village hold a Hobbit themed 'Ring Quest' for half term. Pictured are friends Francesca Sea-Borne and Naomi Ammon, with an Orc (Lance Alexander), an elf (Glynis Baxter) and ranger Alan Baxter.

He went on to help form Katrina and the Waves and wrote their 1997 Eurovision Song Contest winner Love Shine a Light.

Rosie Boughton was another member alongside Jess Davies and Liz Pieksma

“It was quite disciplined,” said Rosie. “We set ourselves work hours. Each day one of us would be slave for the day which meant we had to do all the food preparation so the others didn’t have to stop work.”

Joe Wilson, 14, was impressed as he saw for the first time, the wooden homes that his dad Andy helped build.

Andy was just five years older than his son when he got involved. While the others were all finishing at University, he was about to start.

“I was the baby of the group. My brother knew Ian and said all these people are going off on this crazy scheme. I thought it sounded like a productive use of my time.

“The first hut I thought would be down in a few years. It has lasted 40 years. None of us particularly had any building skills.”

In fact the group had to learn some of the Anglo Saxon crafts to make the building. They built their first structure on the site of former house unearthed during the dig.

“The idea was to get school children interested in archaeology,” said Simon Freeman, the final one of the founding members.

“I can remember my daughter coming home from school in Dorset one day when she was about 11, and she was talking about this Anglo Saxon village recreated in West Stow.

“She didn’t know I had been involved until about half a second later.

“She was really impressed and I brought the children up here later that year.

“She didn’t become an archaeologist, she is a doctor now.

“But I can remember she loved being able to experience it – and that is what we had set out to do all those years ago.”