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The ‘dendro-magnetic’ date of AD 845

The following text is a copy of a letter from Jack E Crawford Stringer to the Bishop of Chelmsford dated 31st August 1960 kindly made available by the Rev Tom Gardiner.

For the Furtherance of Archaeological Dating Studies.

North Shields 611

Preston Park,
North Shields,

My dear Lord Bishop,
Greensted Church.
          During the past two years I have been conducting a survey on a wide scale of very ancient timbers, both as trees, typical of which are the giant oaks of Sherwood Forest and Ampthill and also in the form of structural timbers typical of whichare those in old manor houses, Norman keeps, tithe barns, etc., and also in some churches. The first part of the research is to establish dates for the timber, later, examination of physical properties, including magnetic effects, is planned.
          The survey thus involves firstly a study of annual growth rings. I was very taken with the beautiful and excellent presentation of the end grain of the nave timbers of Greensted Church and by kind permission of the Caretaker, Mrs. Poole I took traces of some of the external wall timbers, in the manner of taking rubbings from old manorial brasses.
          Later examination at leisure of these grain rubbings showed tree-ring analysis was possible so I carried out dating research by linking up the sequences of narrow and wide rings with a detailed sequence of climatic events of the historical record, such as notable famines, plagues, crop-failures, great frosts, floods, etc.
          A revelation I had not dared to expect was the reward; the 17th Century date, when the belfry was added to the Church, appeared in a newish looking wall timber, – there must have been some church repairs effected at this time. Next an 11th Century date emerged from two older looking timbers, evidently associated with the church date commonly accepted. Lastly, three timbers of ancient appearance gave mutually confirming date of c.845 A.D. I take it this indicates what possibly may be the earliest (or, at least, a very early) building of the nave. There are two other timbers having the appearance of extreme age, but formed in a different manner of construction so that the end grain is not exposed. It might not be unreasonable to think we have here the evidence for the date of an even earlier building of the Church; but, this is only a supposition. In the literature available to me there is no mention of date earlier than 11th Century, it is possible this new dating evidence will prove of interest and value to the Ecclesiastical Authority?
          Before starting my field study at the Church, I enquired for the Rector but was informed he was convalescing in Devon from a shoulder injury and in the strictly limited time available (one day only) I could not contact him for permission in my usual manner of procedure; hence my approach to Mrs. Poole. I trust that in this occasion I shall be deemed, in Your Lordship’s opinion, to have acted quite properly.
          Archaeological colleagues are of the opinion that I should make a written Communication of these dating findings to a suitable scientific journal; my own choice would be “Antiquity”, if the Editor, Mr. Glyn Daniel, is agreeable, as this journal has in the past, carried articles on Churches, such as the plate of St. Ninian’s.
          May I ask permission, therefore, Sir, to make such a Communication, if Your Lordship is agreeable?

                                           I sign myself,
                                                      Your Lordship’s Servant
                                                                 Jack E. Crawford Stringer
          This research enjoys the support of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, in the form of a research fellowship very kindly granted; also supplementary financial assistance from Miss E. Burn, of West Oakland, Hexham, and Mr. Burn of North Shields {not related)