Staverton – Wonderland of Kings:


Jeremy Taylor – For publication in March 2020

Staverton Park is ‘one of the most important surviving areas of wood pasture in England.’ ­[1] With its close proximity to Rendlesham, the implication is that it may have originated as an Anglo-Saxon hunting ground, placing it firmly within a much wider georitual landscape. Few places on earth touch the soul as deeply as the landscape around Staverton.

It also boasts some significant statistics, having the tallest Holly tree in the country, and one of the largest collections of ancient trees in the whole of Europe, with one species of fungi presently found in only three other locations in the whole of the UK. In addition, few places can lay claim to being held sacred, positively managed and potentially unspoilt for nearly two thousand years, or more.

As we will explore, the earliest reference to Staverton as a park occurred in 1275 A.D., though records may indicate imparking in 1178 A.D. Some of the trees date to at least the 1200s and according to the Domesday book 1086 A.D. we know that a woodland did exist in Staverton Manor, while the rest of the surrounding landscape was poorly wooded. That Staverton later became a deer park is fitting, given the importance of the symbol of the stag and hart as a cult-animal in Anglo-Saxon sacral kingship. The stag, as a guide, appears in Frankish and Germanic legends and in Norse mythology four Harts gnaw at the roots of the sacred tree Yggrdrasil, the World Tree. The symbol of the stag is preserved in Anglo-Saxon royalty, in both the Sutton Hoo sceptre and in the great hall of King Hrothgar, known as Heorot (Hart / Stag – Hall) in Beowulf. Stags are also mythical creatures associated with the sun, recorded at least since early medieval times.

It is possible that the origin of the name Staverton, stæfer tūn ‘post or stake farm’ might hint at an ancient and ritual landscape that was the site of a stapol – a sacred platform, tree, post or pillar. Trees in Anglo-Saxon England marked significant meeting places where important political decisions were made throughout the period, maintaining ideological ties with human and supernatural authority. The Anglo-Saxon population ‘had a synergic relationship with the natural world’ [2] and a cosmic tree was central to the beliefs of the cosmos for pre Christian Icelanders who represented a ‘mighty tree in the centre of a round disc surrounded by water’. [3] This world tree, or Yggdrasil, is analogous to that of the role of the Irminsul, and was described by Rudolf, a medieval writer, who recorded its role as being the centre of the nine worlds in Icelandic cosmology.

An ideal location for a possible stapol at Staverton would be close by the mysterious earthwork of Cumberland’s Mount. Believed to be Norman in origin, its exact roots are unclear – more exotic explanations include the remains of a timber castle, likened to a Ringwork, an early medieval castle originating in Germany in the 10th Century or a red hill, a by-product of salt production. An excavation in 1910 also discovered artifacts similar to that found among the early Iron Age burials of the Arras culture (100 B.C. – 70 A.D.) in East Yorkshire. On the edge of Cumberland’s Mount there is also a strong contender for the ‘nine yard oak’, a vast tree, which when recorded in 1832 A.D. was 8.23 metres round.

Some settlements, and this would include Rendlesham, became highly specialised and fluid, where the living and the dead were integrated in the wider landscape, serving to mediate functions ‘relating to the ritual or spiritual negotiation of the ancestral.’ [4] Territorial organisation in the 7th Century produced a spatial dislocation, reflecting a significant shift in conceptions of sacred geography between human and supernatural residents of the landscape. Specialist settlements became both territorial centres and cult sites, ‘places of emergent power where connections were being made with the supernatural or ancestral and where access to this powerful resource was managed’. [5]

Looking from the periphery of the cult centre on the edge of Raedwald’s royal palace, this targets a skyscape/landscape alignment, precisely towards the Winter Solstice sunrise at dawn 600 A.D. passing through Staverton Park at Cumberland’s Mount towards the single post, F13, to the North of the site of the pseudo-boat burial at Burrow Hill 780 A.D. where the solstice sun still rose**.

This is an exact ‘cross bearing’ in the landscape to the Winter Solstice sunset alignment discovered at Sutton Hoo, towards Rendlesham and beyond, see Project: A Ritual Landscape Considered.

There is evidence that these three locations listed above, all have links with three Royal Wuffinga Kings: St Edmund, Beonna and Raedwald. A ritual landscape, mirroring a heavenly inversion at the time of the solstices was the ultimate expression of an ordered landscape. Kings were expected to deliver straight and true judgments, so the land was reworked to suit both the theatricalities of royal power and funerary architecture, whilst fulfilling the duties of sacral kingship.

* The History of the Countryside: The Classic History of Britain’s landscape, flora and fauna.

**According to the Sohland Observatory and its Section on Archaeoastronomy (SOSA) in Germany they confirmed that the rising and setting points.

References: 1. Williamson, T (2005). 2, 4 & 5 Semple. S (2013). 3. Dunn. M (2009).

Staverton is a place of mystery and wonder; it has a peculiar effect on first-time visitors who have no foreknowledge that the world contains such places.

Maitland, S. (2012) Gossip From The Forest: the Tangled Roots of our Forests and Fairytales

An awesome place of Tolkienesque wonder and beauty. The mighty and bizarre shapes of oaks of unknown age rise out of a sea of tall bracken, or else are mysteriously surrounded by rings of yet mightier hollies.

Rackham, O (1986)*