For the elites of 7th-century English society expensive jewellery, such as this gold and garnet brooch, was a powerful means of displaying their wealth and social status. Occasionally it also reveals everyday literacy.
The brooch was found in a grave at Harford Farm cemetery, near Norwich, Norfolk, where it had been buried with its wealthy female owner towards the end of the 7th century. This type of brooch is most commonly found in Kent, and the brooch found at Harford Farm may also have been made there in the earlier 7th century.
The front has an upright cross, formed by lines of gold cells, or ‘cloisons’, containing garnets. The brooch was also originally decorated with shell, now degraded. At the centre is a cut and polished cabochon garnet set within ivory; both are stained green by corrosion. A further cross is formed of gold filigree (wire), creating eight panels filled with snake-like interlace designs also of wire.
Two panels in the lower right corner were damaged at an early date and crudely repaired with an inserted sheet of gold. Despite the poor workmanship, the craftsman was proud enough to sign his handiwork. On the reverse, a runic inscription reads ‘Luda repaired the brooch’. Luda is a male Old English name preserved in the Norfolk place-name Ludham. The brooch illuminates the development of literacy, and shows it in use by craftsmen.