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Page last updated at 17:15 GMT, Friday, 15 January 2010
Hadleigh Road: 1500 years of Ipswich family life

A History of the World
By Jon Wright and Andrew Woodger
BBC Suffolk

Anglo-Saxon bead necklace at Ipswich Museum

"It was so precious to her, that when she died it was buried with her. She's taking it on into the afterlife."

Caroline McDonald from Ipswich Museum is talking about the artefact she's selected for the BBC's A History of the World (AHOW) project.

It's a bead necklace discovered at the Anglo-Saxon graveyard at Hadleigh Road. It's made of glass beads and lives in a 'practically bomb-proof' case at the museum on High Street.

The necklace is one of 10 items selected by museums in Suffolk for the start of AHOW, which is run in conjunction with the British Museum in London.

Caroline is curator of archaeology at Ipswich Museum:

"The woman who wore this necklace - we don't know her name, how old she was, whether she was someone's wife or someone's daughter.

"That's the great thing about archaeology - it opens up our imagination to get in touch with people who lived where we live and walked the same streets we walk.

"This would have been worn day-to-day. This woman had travelled here across the North Sea to start a new life. She's brought something with her that reminds her of home.

"People were coming over from northern Germany, Holland and Denmark - the Angles, the Saxons, the Franks and the Friesians amongst others.

Caroline McDonald and the Anglo-Saxon necklaces from Hadleigh Road in Ipswich
Caroline needs four keys to open the necklace's display case

"But the Angles who settled in our area probably came from southern Denmark.

"I think we'd be hard-pressed to reproduce the kind of skill and artistic quality that the Anglo-Saxons reproduced. The amber in the necklace has come from the Baltics, so there was a lot of trading in very precious objects to create this necklace.

"We've got some semi-precious stones in there and it's very attractive, very appealing and I think a lot of women would wear it today."

Ipswich Museum also has other women's jewellery from the burial site including gold-covered brooches, disc-shaped brooches and a silver necklace.

An alert antiquarian

In 1906, Ipswich's local authority was widening the roads and a skeleton was discovered.

People thought it might have been a recent murder victim, but local antiquarian Nina Layard knew it meant a burial site and she started digging ahead of the workmen.

The site is under what is now Allenby Road opposite the entrance to Sainsbury's.

Ms Layard funded the work herself and paid the workmen a small fee for any beads and jewellery they handed to her.

"These people were pagans," said Caroline McDonald. "They believed there was a life 'beyond' and they had to look their best when they got there.

"A lot of the objects we have come from graves and we often say the dead don't bury themselves.

"What we see go into a grave is really decided by other people. The person going into the ground may not have been very 'flashy', but their family might have wanted them to be presented in a particular way."

It's thought around 200 people were buried in the Hadleigh Road cemetery.

Family life in the 'triangle'

Continuing the Anglo-Saxon theme of immigration, the 'triangle' estate between Hadleigh Road and London Road now includes people with many differing backgrounds such as Polish, Bangladeshi and Afro-Caribbean.

One extended family that's lived there for decades includes great grandmother Irene Smith and her daughters Sandra Toy and Susan Marsh.

They didn't know they were living on a burial site.

Irene Smith and her daughters Sue Marsh and Sandra Toy from Ipswich
Irene, Sue and Sandra all chose rings to be their most precious objects

"It give me an eerie feeling. If I hear things in the house I'll think 'Oh my god!" said Susan.

"Before I move into a house I always ask if anyone's died there!"

Susan isn't taking her possessions to her grave: "I've already passed on a signet ring to my grand-daughter which I've had since I was 19. I said that rather than wait til I go, you might as well have it now.

Irene, who has nine grandchildren, said in her lifetime burial customs and life generally have changed: "You used to have babies at home and people who died you had at home, whereas now they go to the Chapel of Rest.

"We used to go up Chantry Park with a handcart, collect acorns and sell them to the farmers for their pigs.

"Even in the snow, we'd used to go and get wood for the coal fires. They were good days. Poor, but good."

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