Daily Archives: October 27, 2014

The Site of Brunanburh


Townley Hall
Townley Hall


In my last blog I’d recorded a recent visit to my Burnley hometown. While there I was working on Shakespeare, utilising Burnley library’s excellent & comprehensive collection of volumes published by the Lancashire & Cheshire Antiquarian Society. I was basically trawling through every book, looking for stuff connected to Shakespeare’s stay in Lancashire, & while doing so came across the 1952-53 ‘transactions.’ These contained an account of excavations at Everage Clough by W Bennet, who in a footnote pointed me to an 18th century writer  – Thomas Dunham Whitaker – whose ‘History of the Original Parish of Whalley‘ was also to be found in Burnley library. Getting stuck in Kojak-style, I obtained the following passage;

The original site of townley appears to have been a tall & shapely knoll, southward from the present mansion, still denominated castle hill, & immediately adjoining to the farm called Old House, on the eastern & precipitous side of which are the obscure remains of trenches, which on the three more accessible quarters have been demolished by the plough. Here therefore, in every early times, and far beyond any written memorials, was the Villa de Tunlay, the residence, unquestionably, of one of those independent lords before the conquest who presided over every village & held immediately of the crown. When this elevated situation was abandoned it is impossible to ascertain from any written evidence or tradition; but the present house may in part lay claim to high antiquity.

Castle Hill - just south of Townley
Castle Hill – just south of Townley

In another post I showed how the burh of Brunanburh had to be somewhere in the Burnley area. I believe that we now can place Brunanburh beside the stately Townely Hall, on Castle Hill, whose fortifications were still to be seen in TD Whitaker’s day. I talked to my dad about the find, & despite living next to Townley itself all his life, he had never known there was a Castle Hill there. I guess this obscurity may have helped Brunanburh’s true site to be hidden from even the most hardiest of pro-Burnley enthusiasts.


Townley Park is the big blob of green, just to the east of Burnley & south of the River Brun
Townley Park is the big blob of green, just to the west of Burnley & south of the River Brun


A burh is a fortified Anglo-Saxon town of sorts, which formed the central administrative point of an Anglo-Saxon ‘Tun,’ from which we get the name Tunlay, & thus Townley. In the 12th century, Townley formed part of an ancient township called ‘Tunlay-with Brunshaw,’ the latter meaning ‘Brun’s wood.’ The clearing, or ‘lea’ in this wood, later on became Burnley, proving the greater antiquity of Brunshaw. This association of a Brun with a Tun tells us that the Saxon lord who ruled his ‘Tun’ from Castle Hill would have been called something like ‘Brun’ or ‘Bruna,’ thus giving us the etymylogical & historical foundations of the name Brunanburh.