This is a carefully researched, well written, superbly illustrated work packed with fascinating information about the various crafts practised by the Anglo-Saxons over a period of around 600 years. Most of the crafts with which we are familiar in the modern world are there with a few notable exceptions: electricians, water engineers and bricklayers. There were stone masons, but no bricklayers. Neither brick making nor brick building is mentioned in the book. Although there's a lot about how lead was mined and used, those working with it were not called plumbers. (Latin plumbum = lead) and it wasn't used to make lead pipes.
The book has an introduction, eleven chapters, a glossary, a further reading list and a helpful index. The subjects dealt with in each chapter are as follows: 1: Wood and Timber. 2: Timber Buildings. 3: Animal Skeletal Materials. 4: Textiles. 5: Leather . 6: Pottery. 7: Glass. 8: Iron Metalworking. 9: Non-ferrous Metalworking 10: Precious Metals. 11: The Place of the Craftsman in Anglo-Saxon Society. There are many helpful line drawings and an outstandingly good section of colour illustrations in the middle of the book. In fact, illustrations and text tie in with each other so beautifully that the reader cannot help being inspired when perusing this work.
The author, Kevin Leahy, is adept at explaining everything in a readily accessible writing style. There are a few fascinating surprises. Along with, I suspect, many people I've always thought that the Anglo-Saxons would have known all about making wheels. Apparently, however, very little is known about Anglo-Saxon wheelwrighting. The only mention of it in this work is in a section on page 40 under the title: 'The Wheelwright.' This section refers to a contemporary illustration on the previous page in which two male workers, both clad in what looks suspiciously like varieties of kilt, are axing a tree whose timbers they are loading into a two wheeled cart, a wheel of which has eight wooden spokes spiralling out from a wooden knave (hub) connected to a circle of eight fellies The spokes are nailed into the fellies and there is no evidence of an iron tyre. A yoke lies nearby, suggesting that the cart would have been pulled by oxen. It's amazing that we do not know whether or not the Anglo-Saxons shod their wheels with iron tyres. This is just one of the fascinating facts brought out in this very helpful book. The wheel in the illustration certainly does not appear to be shod with an iron tyre.
The Anglo-Saxons worked a lot with leather and made some very good shoes and boots, of which there are several colour illustrations. On page 67 there's an illustration of two women operating a warp-weigthed loom. The are clad in long dresses, one of them has keys hanging from a belt and both of them wear head covers closely resembling the hijab worn by some Muslim women in modern times. What we may sometimes fail to realise is that it wasn't until the Second World War that European women began to go out without head covers of one kind or another. Most of the Anglo-Saxon men in the book are pictured wearing kilt-like garments.
The book contains lots about how the Anglo-Saxons built their houses and other edifices. Axes and adzes were much used in wood working and their users were very good at building ships. Besides using wooden pegs, they had nails and used chisels as well as an early form of the saw. Some of their craft work in metal and other materials was particularly beautiful. They could make strong swords and they were good at working with stone. Some of the churches they built have survived to the present day. The book contains lots of illustrations of their pottery and glassware and they wove very durable textiles. This is the kind of book that the reader will never tire of dipping into whenever she/he needs to find out about any particular aspect of Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship. I've just given a few examples of the gems it contains. Buy it and read it and enjoy its jewels as they cascade around you. As I read it I felt as if I was there with the crafts people as they worked away making all kinds of both useful and beautiful items. Best of all, those Anglo-Saxon crafts people seem to have been so like my present day crafts person friends.
on 1 September 2008
This is a well documented, well researched book which will apeal to the Anglo-Saxon re-enactor as well as those intent on re-creating living history displays for members of the public. The list of crafts is not exhaustive, but it is comprehensive and useful. Crafts listed include woodworking, metallurgy, textile crafts, pottery, glass, precious stones and jewellery, as well as a section on the place of the craftsman in Anglo-Saxon society. Nicely illustrated with both drawings and photographs of finds. This is an academic offering, which is eminiently approachable for a wide variety of readers.