- Museum number
The upper part of a sword-grip and pommel of composite construction with incised decoration in low relief; made of silver partly gilded and inlaid with niello on modern wood base. The pommel consists of an arched central element flanked by grooved shoulders and six smaller lobes with riveted heads, each defined by beaded wire. The central element is decorated with a formalised tendril pattern, on one side alternating with bird heads. The pommel bar is composed of three separate elements, joined by domed rivets with wire collars; its diagonally ribbed mouldings mirror the separate zigzag moulding at the waist of the grip. The upper half of the grip tapers from pommel bar to this moulding; it is decorated on both sides with a dense patterning of animal and plant ornament, consisting of, on one side, a spiral of four snakes separated by undulating leafy stems; on the other side, a spread-eagled beast with gaping jaws in profile encircles its body with its zoomorphic tail, against a background of leafy shoots.
- Production date
Length: 8.70 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Webster & Backhouse 1991
This extraordinary and prestigious object is a unique survival: it resembles other surviving eighth-century sword-pommels [one found in Windsor, Berks., now at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, inv. no. 1909.518 and another from the River Thames now held be the Museum of London, inv. no. 81.25] only in having a prominent central arched element with flanking grooves, and constructionally, its composite lightweight pommel bar is much closer to the wood and metal three-part fittings of late sixth- and seventh-century swords than to the new technology of iron hilts which seems to have entered England in the eighth century and become standard in the ninth. Its sophisticated and confident decoration is equally hard to parallel precisely, though Wilson has collected analogies for both the whirling snake motif and the spread-eagled creature which incline him to place it in the later eighth century (Wilson 1964, 20-1). This dating gains support from comparison of the snake-heads with the lentoid-eyed creatures on some Mercian sculpture, such as the Brixworth cross-fragment (Wilson 1964, pl. 11b), and of the yawning jaws and elaborate lentoid eye of the splayed beast with open-jawed animals of the sort seen on the inscribed St Ninian's Isle chape (National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh, inv. nos. FC 282 and FC 283). Likewise, the plant ornament, as Evison and Bakka have independently argued, is closely related to a late eight-century silver boss from Kaupang (Evison 1961, 157; Bakka 1963, 19).
The enmeshing of leafy plant and animal forms along with extensive use of niello and speckled detail on the animal bodies are all features which in time become signatures of the Trewhiddle style. In its archaic construction and forward-looking decoration, the Fetter Lane hilt is thus most convincingly placed in the later eighth century, and stands as an exceptional example of prestige weaponry of this period.
Select bibliography: Evison, V.I. 1961, The Palace of Westminster Sword, ‘Archaeologia’ 98, 157; Wilson, D.M. 1964, ‘Anglo-Saxon Ornamental Metalwork 700-1100 in the British Museum, Catalogue of Antiquities of the Later Saxon Period’, I, London, cat. 41; Bakka, E. 1963, Some English Decorated Metal Objects found in Norwegian Viking Graves, ‘Årbok för Universitetet i Bergen: Humanistik Serie’, no. 1, 19.
The pommel was found while excavating foundations for Smith's Printing Works (now Monotype House, Fetter Lane) and purchased by John Allen (son of the famous publisher) from a workman for half-a-crown (see letter from H. S. Gordon, 30.7.1927, in the Department of British and Medieval Antiquities).
Inlaid in the areas between the deeply carved leaves on this object was a substance which has been confirmed by x-ray diffraction as a mixture of calcium carbonate and iron carbonate. This may well be primary.
c. 800 AD.
See pp. 2, 10, 11, 20-22, 24-26, 30, 33, 64 and pl. XXIII.
Bibliography: 'Victoria History of the Counties of England: London', i, 154; 'Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London', 2 series, xxiii (1910), 302-3 and fig. 2; Brøndsted, J. (1924) 'Early English Ornament', London/Copenhagen, 144 and fig. 119; 'British Museum: A Guide to Anglo-Saxon . . . Antiquities . . .', London, 1923, 93 and fig. 112; Smith, R. A. (1925a): 'Examples of Anglian Art', Archaeologia, lxxiv, 249 and fig. 23; Weigall, A. (1927): Wanderings in Anglo-Saxon Britain, London, 210; Vulliamy, C. E. (1930): The Archaeology of Middlesex and London, London, 256; Kendrick, T. D. (1938a): Anglo-Saxon Art to A.D. 900, London, 189 and pl. lxxix, 1; Wilson, D. M. (1960a): The Anglo-Saxons, London, 109, 145, 216 and pl. 24; Dunning, G. C. and Evison, V. I. (1961): 'The Palace of Westminster Sword', Archaeologia, xcviii, 140-5, 156, 157 and pls. xli-xlii.
- On display (G41/dc3/sA)
- Exhibition history
1999-2000 08 Sep-09 Jan, London, Museum of London, 'Alfred the Great 849-899: London's forgotten King'
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number