The Montem

8 Jul 2017

Montem Mound is situated on the main A4 route through Slough, in a particularly busy spot overlooking a major junction. Many people stuck in their vehicles at the traffic lights must have wondered why this unremarkable heap of earth has remained undeveloped. The answer is that it is a scheduled monument - even though it has never been excavated (see https://historicengland.org.uk ). It is near the top of what was known as Salt Hill. This is where Eton College procured it's supplies of salt from traders coming down the A4 trunk road (as it was in previous centuries). Salt Hill overlooks Eton and Windsor, in the distance, the A4 running along a ridge of high ground overlooking the Thames flood plain. In the early Anglo Saxon period there is good reason to believe the flood plain was regularly flooded as Eton is so named as it sits on what was a former island surrounded by the Thames that formed a number of streams and meanders around it. Windsor sits on a high chalk bluff on the other side of the river, in a commanding position for a bastion. You can still catch a glimpse of what the landscape might have been like by taking a walk along the river bank between Windsor and Boveney Lock by way of Eton. You can hire a push bike in Windsor and do it much quicker - and if you travel as far as Dorney you will have reached the former point on the river where it was affected by the tide (tidal reach). At the moment that is miles downstream at Teddington, a suburb of London. Sea going vessels were able to beach themselves at Dorney (see Steve Mitchell's articles in SIS journals) in the early Anglo Saxon period. It seems that Montem Mound turns out to be the burial place of an Anglo Saxon man of importance dating from the 5th or 6th centuries AD. See https://roundmoundsproject.wordpress.com/2017/06/08/a-newly-discovered-a...

In the medieval period the salt trade from Droitwich was developed and continued all the way  down to the 19th century, when trade was transferred to railways. There is quite a bit of information on the salt trade and in particular on the role played by Salt Hill and Eton College. The internet provides a number of web sites to visit on the salt ways. Montem Mound was also involved in some boisterous activity by the boys from the school, possibly an initiation rite for new boys that developed into a more public ceremony or celebration - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eton_Montem for example. At one time Eton College owned most of the land between Salt Hill and Eton. The land was reclaimed by drainage. Salt Hill was easily visible from the college in those days as Slough was just a few houses and not a lot else until it was discovered that it sat on a rich bed of clay that was perfect for making bricks (in the 19th century). Slough bricks were used to build large parts of the suburbs of London - and other towns. The brick works were eventually re-used as a Trading Estate, a commercial hub (factories and foundries with their own power station) and Slough has been growing in size ever since. As a result of this Salt Hill has been swallowed up by that growth - yet the mound at Montem has remained intact right through all that change in the landscape. Right on a traffic hot spot.

Another Anglo Saxon round mound and burial is known from Taplow. This too is on a prominent hill overlooking the Thames flood plain (which has developed into the town of Maidenhead which the current Prime Minister represents as a member of parliament). This too was a tangle of streams and riverlets and the local council once had the dream of restoring at least one of the routes that had formerly been used by Thames bargemen (but this never happened even though some of the streams and drainage channels still exist between Maidenhead and Cookham. The latter was the site of an Anglo Saxon stronghold or fortification at Sashes Island (an island in the Thames) against the Danes, established by Alfred or one of his immediate successors. See for example www.berkshirehistory.com/villages/cookham.html or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sashes_Island or even https://ubp.buckscc.gov.uk/SingleResult.aspx?uid=MBC4296 ...The area has a strong Anglo Saxon interest as the Thames was an highway. It is thought the A4 roughly runs along the line of an old Roman road between London and Bath and this route has remained in use over the centuries. The round mound at Taplow is in the churchyard, and has also been preserved - and it has also been excavated. The ridge of high ground runs from Slough to Maidenhead by way of Taplow so the discovery that the Montem Mound had a similar history is not a surprise. The area remained important even after the Norman invasion as royalty chose to make their mark at Windsor. Richard of Cornwall had a palace at Cippenham with a deer park, a village situated in between Salt Hill and Taplow, not far from Dorney. These were swallowed up by Burnham Abbey who amassed large amounts of land, very often as a result of royal largesse and benevolence. Cippenham has become a suburb of Slough but Dorney still retains some of it's former status as a result of high end housing by London commuters etc.

Forbury Mound. This is a mound in the heart of the thriving town of Reading, a bigger version of Slough located where the Thames divides into two. It seems to have taken over the role of the former Roman town of Silchester, located several miles to the south, the major town of a large agricultural hinterland. Reading owes its modern importance to its situation on the Thames, a major trade artery in the medieval period. The A4 also runs through Reading. Forbury mound is also being investigated by the Round Mounds Project (see https://roundmoundsproject.wordpress.com/2017/06/02/forbury-mound/ and see also www.reading.gov.uk/article/7062/Forbury-Gardens ... At one time the Forbury was located in the grounds of Reading Abbey (going back to the 12C and founded by Henry I). Various theories of what the Forbury was have abounded over the years but one idea is that it was an Anglo Saxon moot or meeting point (where law was enacted). There is such a mound at Kingsbury in Middlesex. Another idea is that it was a castle motte - established by the Normans to control the locals, or possibly erected during the civil war between Stephen and Mathilda. Another idea is that it was a 17 century Civil War defensive earth bank - or was incorporated into the defences but had an older pedigree. Will this prove to be another Anglo Saxon princely burial?