Monthly Archives: February 2015

Brunanburh, 937 AD (part 16)

16 – Dingesmere

The trumpet sounds retreat; the day is ours
Come brother, let us to the highest of the field
To see what friends are living & who are dead
Shakespeare – I Henry IV


So that’s me firmly ensconced back in the National Library, Edinburgh – the office, I like to call it. Beside me are a few books on both Waterloo & Robin Hood, fodder for future workings, & ahead a few days of good old fashion’d rock n roll, broken up by a trip to the ballet with a bonnie blonde. Before all that carnage, I’d like to begin closing the Brunanburh case, beginning with the closing acts of the battle.

One can imagine the sun setting upon East Lancashire, its reddening rays blending with blood-stained earth & tunic. From Worsthorne to Nelson thousands of corpses covered the ground, at some places climbing on top of each other in grotesque piles of stycharine agony. The battle in the valleys, forests & moorland wastes ‘ymbe’ Brunanburh was the bloodiest single battle the island of Britain has ever seen, & the casualties were epic. Almost every chronicle reports this bloody side of the battle;

Never was there more slaughter
on this island, never yet as many
people killed before this
with sword’s edge: never according to those who tell us
from books, old wisemen,
since from the east Angles & Saxons came up
over the broad sea. ASC

In a battle lasting from morning til evening, they slew five kings & seven dukes, whom their adversaries had brought as auxillaries, & shed more blood as had been shed up to that time in any war in England Symeon of Durham

On this occasion there fell of the Pagans an unheard-of multitude Croyland Chronicle

There was a great slaughter of Normans & Danes, among which these ensueing captaines were slain. Viz. Sithfrey & Oisle the 2 sonnes of Sithfrick, Galey, Awley, ffroit, & Moylemorrey the sonne of Cossey Warce, Moyle Isa, Gebeachan king of the islands (isle of man), Ceallagh prince of Scotland with 30000 together with 800 captives about Awley Mcgodfrey, & abbot of Arrick Mcbrith, Iloa Deck, Imar the King of Denmark’s owen son with 4000 souldiers in his guard were all slain. Annals of Clonmacnoise



Just like the French at Waterloo, the Confederate army dissolved into a panicky rabble & fled for safety. Symeon of Durham tells us, ‘the enemy, suffering the greatest distress, on account of the loss of their army, returned to their own country with a few followers.’ The Anglo-Saxons were hard at their heels;

The West-Saxons pushed onward
all day; in troops they pursued the hostile people.
They hewed the fugitive grievously from behind ASC

While his men still pursued the fugitives, king Athelstan left the battle-field, and rode back to the town, nor stayed he for the night before he came thither. But Egil pursued the flying foe, and followed them far, slaying every man whom he overtook. Egil’s Saga

There the North-men’s chief was put
to flight, by need constrained
to the prow of a ship with little company:
he pressed the ship afloat, the king went out
on fealene flot, he saved his life. ASC

When the ASC tells us, ‘All the day the West Saxons pressed on the loathed bands,’ we can assume that the battle was fought within a day’s retreat of a sea or river estuary. Egil’s Saga gives extra information, saying the ships were ‘far’ from the field. It would be safe to say, then, that the field would be somewhere between 15 & perhaps as much as 40 miles away from a navigable site in which the Viking longships could wait (precluding Lanchester in the process). The actual translations (from Boswoth & Toller’s Anglo-Saxon Dictionary) are:

Feallan: dusky brown (like all ancient names of colours, indefinite); of shingle
Flot: n. Water deep enough for sustaining a ship

If one was to flee the Burnley battlefield, the first navigable, shingly place for ships to wait would have been at Walton-le-Dale, just south of Preston. This was the first ford of the Ribble, & Roman site from which a raod to London wound. I visited the site on my way to Scotland yesterday, buting a £6 day ticket which allowed me to hop on & off the bus. It was bitterly cold, but dry, & my first stop was a brief look at Hoghton Tower, a little private pilgrimage to a chief site in my first historical Winter blockbuster, composed earlier in the Winter – Shakespeare’s Grand Tour.

Blackburn town centre - needs a spruce
Blackburn town centre – needs a spruce
Gala Bingo, Blackburn, best in the North West
Gala Bingo, Blackburn, best in the North West



The ford/ big modern bridge is situated at a lovely bend of the Ribble, just after the confluence of the Darwen. I got off the bus there, & in the process of taking some photos found myself in the breeding ground of some Ribble Geese, who like a bunch of angry North End fans flew at me Luftwaffe style from the other side of the Ribble – it was only a couple of well-aimed stones & a quick dash upbank that procured me my safety.

Walton-le-Dale... the Cuerdale Hoard was found on the second bend going east
Walton-le-Dale… the Cuerdale Hoard was found on the second bend going east


Nazi Geese
Nazi Geese
Preston Harris Museum & Library
Preston Harris Museum & Library


Where Frank Coupe writes on the bank of the river, ‘stood a warehouse used expressly for the purpose of strong alum from the mines at Alum Scar near Salmesbury Mill, previous to it being transported down the river in barges during the high tides; this fact would immediately suggest the probability that, during the period when tha station at Walton-le-dale was occupied by the Romans, their necessary commodoties & military equipment would be conveyed by water along the Ribble, advantageous use being made of the tides,’ we gain confirmation of Walton’s use as a sea entry-point. Close by, at Cuerdale, a great hoard of Viking silver was found in the 19th century, dated to roundabout the time of the Battle of Brunanburh (937 AD). Intriguingly, a antique Lancashire custom said that anyone who stood on the south bank of the Ribble at Walton-le-Dale, and looked upriver to Ribchester, would be within sight of the richest treasure in England. Was the treasure hidden in the panic, & its location forgotten. Either way, reaching Walton-le-Dale brings us to the final bit of textual evidence, the ASC’s

Gewitan him þa Norþmen nægledcnearrum,
dreorig daraða laf, on Dingesmere
ofer deop wæter Difelin secan,
eft Ira land, æwiscmode.
Departed then the Northmen in nailed ships.
The dejected survivors of the battle,
On Dingesmere, sought Dublin over the deep water,
to return to Ireland, ashamed in spirit.

At first, the Irish Sea was associated to Dingesmere through suggestions the word meant ‘noisy sea.’   The Otho MS of the ASC gives us Dinnesmere, with Din meaning noise, while the related Dynge means; A noise, dashing, storm. Thus Dingesmere may mean ‘noisy/stormy sea,’ a plausible description of the Irish Sea. Paul Cavill says of the ‘mere’ element; ‘in verse, both as a simplex and as the first element of many compounds, it means ‘the sea, the ocean.‘  Alternatively, a 2004 paper entitiled ‘Revisiting Dingesmere’  put the case forward for Dingesmere being named after a Viking Ting – assembley place the þing-volr, – at Thingwall on the Wirral. Throughout my dig I have shown how Egil Skallagrimsson was the poet behind the Brunanburh poem in the ASC. He was an Icelandic Viking, which suggest that the otherwise unrecorded name, Dingesmere, was coined by himself. The Things were Viking meeting places, like the Anglo-Saxon ‘moot,’ where citizens could come together, air their grievances & network for trade. Cue near-hysterical claims by the ‘Wirral Set’ that they’d found Brunanburh, Still, it is an intersting & valid suggestion, for the name Dingwall in Scotland is also based on a Viking Ting. Yet as I have shown, Bromborough could never have been Brunanburh, & since its inception in 2005, the Bromborough theory has gradually faded from academic inquiry, with less biased scholars declaring

The thing about the ‘Thing,’ is that topographically it just does not fit the idea of a battle being fought on the Wirral.  There are no rivers, tumuli, eminent hills or anything that even suggest a battle. Kevin Halloran

If the 60,000 invaders had been hemmed into the peninsular of Wirral, with a neck only 7 miles across, they would have had no chance against Athelstan who held the fortresses of Chester, Runcorn & Edisbury. Bromborough is only 10 minutes walk to the Mersey. That is not a ‘long pursuit. John Henry Cockburn

Apparently the aged Stephen Harding and some friends went from Bromborough to Thingwall and the journey took them from 11 am until 4:30 pm. Therefore proving that a “day long pursuit” was possible. This was utterly unbelievable as the distance is approximately 5-7 miles and there is no way that the journey could have taken so long. They must have been crawling along and obviously forgot that Anlaf’s forces wererunning for their lives with the west Saxons in pursuit. Here’s the link, it should give you a giggle : ) Matthew Wall


Isle of Man's Tynvald
Isle of Man’s Tynvald


With the Battle of Brunanburh now firmly sited at Burnley, I mused upon the possibility that the Ting of Dingesemere could be be derived from a different place.
The IMP (Inherent Military Probability)of a battle being fought in the Wirral cul-de-sac, coupled with a complete lack of anything in the locality matching the evidence given by the sources, suggests that the Wirral ‘Thing’ was not intended when Egil wrote ‘Dingesmere.’ Then it suddenly struck me that there was also a Viking Ting on the Isle of Man, which still meets today as the Tynvald, founded in the early 10th century, & is one of the longest running parliaments in the world. Its position at the centre of the Irish Sea – the capital if you will – makes it a far likelier candidate of Dingesmere’s ‘Thing,’ & was an important Viking location, being both the capital of the Kingdom of Man & The Isles, & sitting neatly between the Viking kingdoms of Jorvik (York) & Ireland (Dublin). Analyzing the poetic techniques of the Anglo-Saxons, we should compare the line, ‘On Dingesmere, sought Dublin over the deep water,‘ With…

On the sea-flood over the cold water (Christ)

On the path of the whale, over the expanse of the seas (The Seafarer)

In this case, in the first half of the line the sea is represented in a poetic fashion, followed by a simpler, more direct definition of that same sea.


To conclude, the ASC’s ‘Dingesmere,’  would be the circular portion of the Irish Sea epicentred by the Isle of Man. This piece of evidence almost brings us to the end of the dig, but not quite. During my investigations I began to notice a few interesting seedlings surrounding the last name of the battle – one which we haven’t looked at yet – Symeon of Durham’s Wendune, the resulting work upon which has thrown up something absolutely fascinating…



Coupe, Frank – Walton-le-dale (1954)
Revisiting Dingesmere – by Paul Cavil, Judith Jesch & Stephen Harding (2004)

Cockburn, John Henry  – The Battle of Brunanburh & its period – (1931)

Halloran, Kevin  – The Identity of Etbrunnanwerc  – Scottish Historical Review Oct (2010)

Wall, Matthew –  private correspondanc


Brunanburh, 937 AD (part 15)



15 – Worsthorne

Burnley on the sunset I was leaving the dig
Burnley on the sunset I was leaving the dig – Vinheath in the centre-rear

I am now at Nicky’s house down Sycamore Avenue, bags packed and ready to head back to Scotland for a bit. My Brunanburh blogs have gone well, I think, & I’ll be finishing them up there from a distance. My return to Burnley has also gone wel- – Ive got a house & a job, well, if you call winning a Djing residency in a new motown venue in Burnley a job – I even ironed my shirt for the audition last Saturday!

Nicky & Shin Chan (Jack Russell / part terrier)
Nicky & Shin Chan (Jack Russell / part terrier)


Before I head west for Preston, I’d just like to add another tantalising piece of evidence into the Brunanburh-broth Ive been cooking up these past few weeks. It concerns a possible battlefield a mile or so due north of Townley, at a place called mereclough near the delightful village of Worsthorne. At Mereclough, an old map has the words, ‘battlefield’ & a ‘battlestone’ & also a ‘battle place’ attached to its pasture in the Civiger valuation of 1822. The stone was still there in 1974, mapped at reference point880306 but since then has been destroyed or removed to faciltate farming operations.



Of the local ‘remarkable tradition,‘ TT Wilkinson writes that it in the 19th century it was, ‘still prevalent in Worsthorne, to the effect – that the Danes constructed these defences – that a great battle was fought on the moor – & that five kings were buried under the mounds.’ Personally, I believe the battlefield is connected to an incident at Brunanburh that occurred before the main events on Vinheath & in the Plains of Othlyn. It reevolves around the short-lived arrival of an English bishop in the area, whose death announces the start of the battle proper.

When the bishop arrived at the war with his forces, he had no fear of an ambush on the grassy, level plain, & pitched camp on the exact spot from which the king had retreated. William Malmesbury – Deeds of Bishops.

This bishop was called Werstan & it should be that the name of Worsthorne could be derived from him. As he was arriving at the field Analf was leading his Vikings on a wide, wide march over the moors to the east of Vinheath. The skirmish on the heath would have been an excellent smokescreen for the maneuver which took him to the rear of Warcock hill, to the south of Worsthorne, aiming streaight for Castle Hill. The Croyland Chronicle picks up the story; ‘Accordingly, during the night, he made an attack upon the English, and slew a certain bishop, who the evening before had joined the army of king Athelstan.’

The Plains of Othlyn
The Plains of Othlyn


The battle woke the King, who was now close to Vinheath, just under two miles from Worsthorne. The Croyland Chronicle tells us; ‘Cries of the dying being heard at a considerable distance, that the king, who was encamped more than a mile from the place of attack, was, together with all his army, awoke from slumber while lying in their tents beneath the canopy of heaven; and on learning the particulars, they quickly aroused themselves.’ & so the Battle of Brunanburh truly begins. Malmesbury’s account is quite entertaining, so I shall give it here in full.

His last contest was with Anlaf, the son of Sihtric, who, with the before-named Constantine, again in a state of rebellion, had entered his territories under the hope of gaining the kingdom. Athelstan purposely retreating, that he might derive greater honour from vanquishing his furious assailants, this bold youth, meditating unlawful conquests, had now proceeded far into England, when he was opposed at Bruneford by the most experienced generals, and most valiant forces. Perceiving, at length, what danger hung over him, he assumed the character of a spy. Laying aside his royal ensigns, and taking a harp in his hand, he proceeded to our king’s tent : singing before the entrance, and at times touching the trembling strings in harmonious cadence, he was readily admitted, professing liimself a minstrel, who procured his daily sustenance by such employment. Here he entertained the king and his companions for some time with his musical performance, carefully examining everything while occupied in singing. When satiety of eating had put an end to their sensual enjoyments, and the business of war was resumed among the nobles, he was ordered to depart, and received the recompence of his song ; but disdaining to take it away, he hid it beneath him in the earth. This circumstance was remarked by a person, who had formerly served under him, and immediately related it to Athelstan. The king, blaming him extremely for not having detected his enemy as he stood before them, received this answer : ” The same oath, which I have lately sworn to you, O king, I formerly made to Anlaf ; and had you seen me violate it towards him, you might have expected similar perfidy towards yourself: but condescend to listen to the advice of your servant, which is, that you should remove your tent hence, and remaining in another place till the residue of the army come up, you will destroy your ferocious enemy by a moderate delay.” Approving this admonition, he removed to another place. Anlaf advancing, well prepared, at night, put to death, together with the whole of his followers, a certain bishop (werstan) who had joined the army only the evening before, and, ignorant of what had passed, had pitched his tent there on account of the level turf. Proceeding farther, he found the king himself equally unprepared ; who, little expecting his enemy capable of such an attack, had indulged in profound repose. But, when roused from his sleep by the excessive tumult, and urging his people, as much as the darkness of the night would permit, to the conflict, his sword fell by chance from the sheath ; upon which, while all things were filled with dread and blind confusion, he invoked the protection of God and of St. Aidhelm, who was distantly related to him ; and replacing his hand upon the scabbard, he there found a sword, which is kept to this day, on account of the miracle, in the treasury of the kings. Moreover, it is, as they say, chased in one part, but can never be inlaid either with gold or silver. Confiding in this divine present, and at the same time, as it began to dawn, attacking the Norwegian, he continued the battle unwearied through the day, and put him to flight with his whole army. There fell Constantine, king of the Scots, a man of treacherous energy and vigorous old age ; five other kings, twelve earls, and almost the whole assemblage of barbarians. The few who escaped were preserved to embrace the faith of Christ.

A House on the ground between Townley & Worsthorne
A House on the ground between Townley & Worsthorne


Looking at the evidence, it appears that Athelstan at first camped on the ‘level turf’ below Castle Hill, that are now the Townley Playing Fields, before heading off for Vinheath. The Vikings then made their strike against Brunanburh from an unexpected direction, resulting in the great battle. They were pushed back to Mereclough, I believe, & were slaughtered, resulting in the ‘battlestone,’ memorial, dedicated to Werstan. Or then again, Malmesbury may have been slightly confusing events, & the initial camp may have been near Worsthorne itself. A little foggy, yes, but another example of how the facts fit repeatedly & snugly into the Burnley hypothesis.




Brunanburh, 937 AD (part 14)

14 – Townley

I hasten to add that it does not fall apart in terms of romanticism, though, as the Burnley hypothesis probably remains the best one for a film, at least to my mind. 

Michael Livingston

Picture 960

The citizens of Burnley, that proud industrial northern town I am lucky to call home, have for a long time felt the battle of Brunanburh had been fought somewhere on the moors above their homesteads. Mr. Thomas Turner Wilkinson, a master of Burnley Grammar School, identified the Saxifields as a possible site back in 1856, while in 1869, a ceremonial vase was gen to General Scarlett, the glorious leader of the Charge of the Heavy Brigade in the Crimean War, upon which were painted two shields placed on either side of a figure of the goddess Fame. On one shield was depicted the famous charge he had taken part in, while the other sported an image of the Battle of Brunanburh.  By the Edwardian period. After further investigations, by the Edwardian period, JT Marquis was declaring, ” There is overwhelming testimony in favour of the site on the Lancashire Brun.”

General Scarlet - Townley Hall Bust
General Scarlet – Townley Hall Bust


The district is surrounded by lovely Pennine country which fits in pleasantly with Henry Of Huntingdon’s, ‘The hills resounded / There many men born in Denmark lay / Pierced by spears, stabbed under their shields.’  I have shown how etymology is consistent with the linguistory of Burnley, while the building of a fortified burh  in the district makes sound strategical sense. From Penmdle, the views are immense; to the west one’s gaze follows the river Ribble out past Fylde & to the Irish Sea. To the north can be observed the fells of Westmorland, quite miniscule in the distance, while south & east the eyes may penetrate many miles of moorland. It is a perfect vantage point, & from Pendle’s southern slopes we can see that Burnley sits at the confluence of three valleys; the plains of West Lancashire can be accessed to the west, through which the River Ribble serves the Irish Sea. To the east lies the rugged vale of Calderdale, & eventually Yorkshire & the Humber, while to the north lies Colne & its old Roman road rolling east & west. To the south there is no valley, but a road over the moors takes you to the vales of Bacup & Rawtenstall, then Manchester & the south of England. A fortress here would have been perfect, placed at a great crossroads of so many Dark Age thoroughfares.

View From Pendle
View From Pendle


So where is the ‘burh’ of Burnley. The true meaning of the word burh is a ‘fortified township,’ usually found on a hill. The word springs from the Latin Burgus – which signifies a fortification. In the ASC, the words geweorc or faesten are generally used for a fortress hastily thrown up, and burh is reserved for fortified towns.  This was confirmed by looking through illustrated Anglo-Saxon manuscripts at the British museum, where it became clear that a burh was a walled enclosure with towers of stone. Its chief role would be as a garrison for the Saxons, & as a military town the local economy would have been geared towards its catering. Soldiers are a notoriously hungry lot, & most burhs had a wide area adjoining them to rear great herds of cattle.

Almost all Saxon buildings were made of wood, as was the Burh’s palisade, a thelwall, perhaps with some earthworks. These would have barely left a trace after Aethalstan’s victory, for with the English border moving a hundred miles to the North, the need for a fort in Burnley had been removed, perhaps explaining why the fort of Brunanburh simply disappeared from history. In the Saxon context East Lancashire was remote enough anyway, & after William the Conqueror’s harrowing of the North in 1075, the area was made wholly waste, wiping out any local knowledge of the great victory.


The Burh wall at Wareham
The Burh wall at Wareham


This is how I found Burnley’s long-lost burh. Last Autumn, while utilising Burnley library’s excellent & comprehensive collection of volumes published by the Lancashire & Cheshire Antiquarian Society, I 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.


Picture 970

Townley Hall
Townley Hall



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 east of Burnley & south of the River Brun



I believe that we now can place Brunanburh beside the stately Townley 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.


An Anglo-Saxon burh 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.



This wonderful pictorial description of Towneley in the 18th century shows Castle Hill just behind it, that raised site upon which a typical Saxon burh was built. Once the military threat to the region had been removed, after the English conquest of Cumbria, it made sense for the local lord to resituate his abode in the level & pleasant clearings of Townley.  Essentially, Castle Hill is a mound like, pyramidical hill, with the east side being a sheer drop to a small river. To the north & west there are the remains of a trench system, while the south side has no trenches but quite a sheer slope. The top of the hill has a large area big enough for a Saxon settlement & the views are amazing; it would have made an excellent border-post against the Viking North. Anyway here’s a few photos;

Castle Hill from the south
Castle Hill from the south


The Western Trench
The Western Trench
Looking north from the summit – the trench is the line of dark vegetation
Looking north from the summit – the trench is the line of dark vegetation


The Northern Trench
The Northern Trench


So there we have it – a genuine, bona fide fortification in the very area that all evidence says the Battle of Brunanburh occurred. Its early days yet, but under the soil of Castle Hill lies the evidence, I believe, that will confirm forever the Burnley-Brunanburh connection. Before we leave Townley, however, I thought it’d be nice to take a few photos of the contents of the hall – it was sold to the Burnley corporation at the turn of the twentieth century by ‘the last of the Townleys’ Lady O’Hagan. Since then, the Burnleyite has been given free access to the wonderful grounds, & the museum which Townley has now become. There is also a wonderful collection of mostly 19th century art, paid for by the benevolent local brewer Edward Stocks Massey, whose trust continues to assist in the painting of  Burnley’s cultural landscape.


The Main Gallery
The Main Gallery


Up the Sogne Fjord - Normann Adelsteen (1848 - 1918)
Up the Sogne Fjord – Normann Adelsteen (1848 – 1918)


Edgar Bundy:Stradivarius in his Workshop at Cremona, 1913
Edgar Bundy:Stradivarius in his Workshop at Cremona, 1913
John Bagnold Burgess A Little Spanish Gypsy, c. 1868, oil on canvas,
John Bagnold Burgess A Little Spanish Gypsy, c. 1868, oil on canvas,



Charles Townley & Friends in Park Street Gallery by Johan Zoffany - Charles was a great antiquarian & I even saw this image myself at Ostia, near Rome - Charles was one of the first on the scene as the old port was excavated - some of the statues in the painting were found in the dig
Charles Townley & Friends in Park Street Gallery by Johan Zoffany – Charles was a great antiquarian & I even saw this image myself at Ostia, near Rome – Charles was one of the first on the scene as the old port was excavated – some of the statues in the painting were found in the dig


Picture 1003


Picture 991



Building the Tower of Babel by

Marten Van Balckenborch (1535-1612)


Picture 982

Picture 983

Main Hall
Main Hall
Clare - Wilfred G de Glehn (1870 - 1951)
Clare – Wilfred G de Glehn (1870 – 1951)


Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, 1897 (oil on canvas)  by Amato, G.S. (fl.1897-1914)
Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, 1897 (oil on canvas) by Amato, G.S. (fl.1897-1914)



The red Regency room - the Townley picture shown a few images up hangs above the fireplace
The red Regency room – the Townley picture shown a few images up hangs above the fireplace


Mountains of Vietri - Phillip Reinagle (1749-1833)
Mountains of Vietri – Phillip Reinagle (1749-1833)


Kettledrum by Harry Hall - a Townley horse, he won the 1861 Derby bringing great joy to the town in the days before football
Kettledrum by Harry Hall – a Townley horse, he won the 1861 Derby bringing great joy to the town in the days before football… talking of which, here’s Mourinho having a – not four-letter, but four-number rant after Burnley were only the second team this season (after champions City) to take anything from the Bridge



Biblio -

WilkinsonTT – On the battle of Brunanburh; and the probable locality of the conflict. Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire 1856-57.

Marquis (J. T.). Brunanburh. Trans. Lancs. and Ches. Antiq. Soc., xxvi. 35-52. 1909

Picture 958

Brunanburh, 937 AD (pt 13)

13 – Etheldreda’s Ash

Picture 927

 Last night, just before I went to bed, I had a wee subconscious glimmer-flicker concerning Egil’s Saga. In the middle of a litological dig, when you’re up to your knees in mud & source material, you sometimes miss a nugget or three in the scattering soil. Well, it suddenly dawned on me to read through the Saga again, & lo & behold I had missed something. Basically, early on in the dig, I went about, in a rather long-winded fashion, trying to show how Egil Skallagrimsson  was the possible poet of the Brunanburh poem.  What I’d missed was that immediately after the battle, Egil is writing militaristic, kenning-heavy praise poetry to Athelstan, as in;

‘Land-shielder, battle-quickener,

Low now this scion royal

Earls three hath laid. To Ella

Earth must obedient bow.

Lavish of gold, kin-glorious,

Great Athelstan victorious,

Surely, I swear, all humbled

To such high monarch yields.’


But this is the burden in the poem:

‘Reindeer-trod hills obey

Bold Athelstan’s high sway.’

Then gave Athelstan further to Egil as poet’s meed two gold rings, each weighing a mark, and therewith a costly cloak that the king himself had formerly worn.


This giving of rings even fits in with the ASC poem’s, ‘In this year King Aethelstan, Lord of warriors, ring-giver to men…’ Basically, historians miss a lot, or rather misintepret the information, but the truth is always there somewhere. Take Egil’s Saga for example – its an unusual text for an English mind, & instead of trying to understand it, our historians have tried to undermine it, deeming it worthless in any attempt to locate Brunanburh. Instead, I thought Id actually read the thing on two levels – one from the 13th century author, & one from the 10th century in which Egil performed his deeds & poetry. It is this method that gave me the insight into Egil’s hand in the Brunanburh poem.

I was up at the crack of dawn this morning, & out of the house about 6.50 AM, for a wee walk back in time, through dreichish weather, to one of the earliest strata of British Christianity. It begins in the oldest part of Burnley, the area about St Peter’s church known as the Top o’ th’ Town, whose clearing – lea – by the river Brun gives us the name of Brunlea / Burnley. Next to the old grammar school there is a wee fenced off area which houses 3 and a half monuments. We have the base of the old market cross, with the stocks underneath it; we have the 3m shaft of blackened gritsone, an old cross said to date from the time of Paulinus (7th century) & the stonework of the ancient Shorey’s well, which used to supply Burnley with its fresh water before the advent of pipes & stuff.  There is also the dedicated empty space where two cannons taken from Sevastapol during the Crimean War, brought to Burnley by General Scarlett – leader of the Heavy Brigade – who had married a Burnley bird. Their fate was ignomninous, taken to Portsmouth to be smelted down during the First World war, the iron was found to be unusable & the cannons were unceremonioulsy dumped in the Solent!



cannons 1


Shorey's Well in its original form
Shorey’s Well in its original form




Combining Burnley’s two oldest relics – the Paulinus Cross & Shorey’s Well – we are suddenly presented with a 7th century strata to the town. Paulinus was a missionary who converted much of the Anglo-Saxon north, while ‘Shorey’ is a devoluted form of Etheldreda. There are many versions of her name – Æthelthryth,Æþelðryþe, & the medieval Audrey. As Saint Audrey, the latter degenerated even further Shorey. Other local examples invlude Maudlin Well near Lathom House, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen, & Mattus Well at Sawley Abbey dedicated to Matthew’s Well.

Searching for clues, I have discovered that vestiges of both Etheldreda & the Paulinus crosses can be found a couple of miles from each other just to the west & North of Pendle hill. The Roman’s brought Jesus-worship to Britain post Constantine, but they only had a century or so left in the islands, ie not enough time for the Christian cult to embed itself in the pshyche of the long paganized natives. It would be two centuries after the Romans left Britain that they returned, well the Vatican versions did, under the auspices of St Augustine in the 590s AD. Now then, the abbey at Whalley, a ten mile walk around the flanks of Pendle from my house, claims to have been founded at the same time, making it one of the oldest Christian centres in Britain. GA Williams has found a document produced by the Monks of Whalley in the abbacy of John Lindley.

It must be remembered that in the time of Ethelbert, king of the English, who began to reign in 596, at that time that is, Blessed Augustine the Apostle of the English having been sent by Blessed Pope Gregory in the third year of his papacy, at the instance & request of said king, preached in England & taught the Christian faith, – a certain parish church was built at Whalley in Blackburnshire in honour of all saints, in the cemetery of which there are certain stone crosses there set up, & are called by the people the crosses of blessed Augustine. 

The claim could spurious, but the antiquity of worship is unquestionable – the physical reliques of which are the above mentioned very old stone crosses in the local churchyard.


Hargher Clough - I remember when this were all 'ouses
Hargher Clough – I remember when this were all ‘ouses



Picture 749








My journey there took me along Accrington Road (Im an Accy roader at heart), on to the canal at Gannow (where I learnt how to swim) along the canal to Rosegrove, passing  down into Lowerhouse & along the old railway line – now a greenway – into Padiham. Yo might not realise it – in fact no-now has actually – but that busy little paragraph contains the names of two 7th century Anglo-Saxon royals. Accrington (Akarinton in 1194) would be named after Acca – the mother of King Oswald, whose name can be found next door in Oswaldtwistle.  We can also place King Penda’s son, Peada, in the area – who may have lent his name to Padiham. Indeed, Henry Taylor writes that in Padiham, ‘Baines states that a cross, a strongly resembling those found in Whalley churchyard, was discovered here.’


Padiham High Street
Padiham High Street

Leaving Padiham I dropped down into the village of Altham, where we can place another Anglo-Saxon royal, Saint Etheldreda of East Anglia. In her ‘vita’ we are told how she married a northerner (Ecgfrith), wouldnt give out,  & fleeing the randy king, on her journey south founded a monastery in an ‘island’ in the fens at a certain Alftham.  Goscelin of Saint-Bertin places it, ‘on an island almost surrounded by fen called Alftham. She stayed there some days and then founded a monastery there.



Picture 782


altham church

Alftham is a direct match for Alvetham/Elvetham, the earliest recorded name for Altham, & its territory is indeed fenlike – a flat & marshy swathe of the Calder Valley. The monastery she founded, I believe,once lay at a place now called Martholme, a medieval house on the banks of the River Calder. It is the fact that there is an undated moat surrounding the place that connects it to the crucial ‘island’ clue – & also this entry in the ASC.

A.D. 656. This year was Peada slain; and Wulfhere, son of Penda, succeeded to the kingdom of the Mercians. In his time waxed the abbey of Medhamsted very rich, which his brother had begun. The king loved it much, for the love of his brother Peada, and for the love of his wed-brother Oswy, and for the love of Saxulf the abbot. He said, therefore, that he would dignify and honour it by the counsel of his brothers, Ethelred and Merwhal; and by the counsel of his sisters, Kyneburga and Kyneswitha; and by the counsel of the archbishop, who was called Deus-dedit; and by the counsel of all his peers, learned and lewd, that in his kingdom were.

No-one knows where the abbey of Medhamsted was founded, but the phonetically matching Martholme is close to Padiham & Oswaldtwistle, while Medhamsted was beloved of Wulfhere ‘for the love of his brother Peada.’ What is interesting that a major player in the monastery’s early life is Wulfhere’s brother, Merwhal – He said, therefore, that he would dignify and honour it by the counsel of his brothers, Ethelred and Merwalh – whose ‘walh’ element can be found at Whalley. Traces & echoes indeed, but all wonderfully connected – there is even a Walverden water at Nelson that may be named after Wulfhere!

martholme map

old marthol;me



google earth

I tried to find Martholme myself, but unfortunately I got threatened off the land by a farmer-bully on a quad (se picture below), being followed by about fifty sheep – quite a comical scene & the banter was great;

‘I’m a historian’ / ‘I’ll give you history!’

‘I’ve got right of way’ / ‘I’ll give you right of way’

& so on, in that deep half-breed, inbred accent that has lingered  for centuries in the shadowy valleys between Burnley & Blackburn.


angry guy

Picture 808


Read Cricket Club
Read Cricket Club


Picture 821

whalley nab


whalley map




Picture 838Picture 836

Picture 840


Picture 848



whalley abbey

So I hit the road again, passing through Simonstone & Read, & on to  Whalley. Its another piece of Boutique Lancashire – A Surreyesque gaggle of posh shops & stuff & some really historic Christian buildings. After pottering about a bit & taking a few photos of the crosses, I thought I’d head on up towards Clitheroe, soaking in the scenery .


Picture 928



A couple of miles outside Whalley I came to Barrow, a long, house-lined stretch of road in the Scottish style. As I passed through, I asked several locals about the Anglo-Saxon Barrow the village was named after, with none of them – including the three old guys in the pub – having the faintest idea of what I was talking about. Basically, where the ASC states;

A.D. 798. This year a severe battle was fought in the
Northumbrian territory, during Lent, on the fourth day before the
nones of April, at Whalley; wherein Alric, the son of Herbert,
was slain, and many others with him.

We have an 6-8th century Anglo-Saxon battle 1.5 miles from a place called Barrow, just like the battles of Barrowford & Winwaed. I don’t have the reference to hand, but I know Ive read in some obscure antiquarians magazine that a tumulus at Barrow was suspected of being Alric’s barrow. I’ll have to dig it out when I return to Scotland. The barrows location is probably connected to a place called Catlow, which seems a hybrid word of Cat (celtic/gaelic for battle) & hlaw (OE for burial chamber).

Picture 932

Picture 943



to padigham

Choosing not to enter Clitheroe, I decided to climb Pendle, but as soon as I crossed the bypass it began to hail it down. Swiftly hitching a lift I avoided the worst of the flash storm & had surmounted Pendle in a few minutes, dropping from the savage heath into the hidden idyll that is Sabden. I found myself at the heart of Witch Country – that secluded hidden valley where  semi-pagan, semi-catholic rituals were misconstrued by superstitious locals as sorcery, sending many inncocent women – & a couple of clearly insane old ladies – to their noose-neck deaths at Lancaster.

Dropping back into the Burnley vale, I returned to the task at hand – searching for Brunanburh. We must return to the vita of Etheldreda, who tells that  after leaving Altham she headed for Bradford in Yoprkshire, where, ‘another miracle shone out under her protection, for which it seems wrong to conceal under the cover of silence. For there is a village called Bradford, in which there was a young man who had seven years long for an unknown reason lacked the use of his tongue.‘ Nahthen – on the journey between Alftham & Bradford she performed another miracle : pausing on a plain, she struck her staff into the ground – which magically turned into an ash tree.

There came a time when she was walking in the burning heat of the Sun, and exceedingly weary as the result of her unaccustomed exertion, she could scarcely stand. She therefore sought intently a shady, pleasant place, so that they might cool their bosoms, drenched as they were with sweat, and reinvigorate their weary limbs with a new strength. And her prayer was not unavailing: no, its swift effectiveness yielded the desired result, and, as she continued on her way at a slow pace, it was arranged by God’s grace that she happened upon a place nearby, suitable as a stopping place for travellers, a remarkably flat meadow – you would have thought it had been levelled deliberately – sprinkled all about with flowers of various colours. She made for the longed-for place, saw it be agreeable, was delighted that it was possible to stop there, to breathe in wiith pleasure wondeful, flower-scented draughts of air. the saintly traveller, delighted by the pleasantness of the place, desired to stop there for a little while, refresh herself for a little while, so that, once the strength of her weary limbs was restored, she might complete the remainder of her journey. Then she setteled herself down and fell asleep. And there she slept for a while in the place where tiredness had compelled her to sleep.

When, after a little while, she woke up from her sleep & rose to her feet, she found that her travelling-staff, the end of which she had driven into the ground, dry & long-seasoned, was now clothed with green bark, and had sprouted and put forth leaves. Seeing this, she was stupefied with amazement and, along with her companions, she praised god and blessed him for this most extraordinary happening from her innermost heart.



I would now like to propose that this miracle is the philological root to a name found in the Irish chronicle known as the ‘Annals of Clonmacnoise’ which places the Brunanburh battle at the Plains of Othlyn. Most scholars when looking at the etymology of Othlyn, plump for something like the pool (gealic = lynn) of Otha. Nobody, I believe, has looked at another possibility; that of the ash tree (celtic = ynn) of Othl. The burnley area in the mid-7th century was brythonic – the Saxons had only just reached Chester in 616, so the  locals should have given the miracles location a celtic name. In addition, none of us were present when the Clonmacnoise scribe was writing down the word, & tho Irish scribes often changed ‘th’ sounds to ‘d,’ in the case of foreign fisrt names the ‘th’ would be kept, as in the Pictish name ‘Cathasaig’.

AD 749 Iugulatio Cathasaig maic Ailello ríg Cruithne, h-i Raith Betheach. (Annals of Tigernach)

The heart of Burnley rests very much in a valley, parts of which are indeed very plain-like; stretching from Towneley to the River Brun. By the way, overlooking that very plain are the long-forgotten, but very real remains of a fortification, that to all extents & purposes feels rather like an Anglo-saxon burh.



Ainsworth-Williams, Geoffrey – Locus Benedictus 1995

Goscelin of Saint-Bertin – Lives of female saints (tr. Rosalind C Love)

Taylor, Henry – Crosses & Holy wells of Lancashire (1906)

Brunanburh, 937 AD (part 12)

12 – Earl’s Ness

The 18th century map which started off the Wirral theory in the first place (see if you can find Brunburh)
The 18th century map which started off the Wirral theory in the first place (see if you can find Brunburgh)

Before we leave Vinheath in order to explore the rest of the Brunanburh battlefields (there are at least three), let us examine one last piece of Egil’s Saga related topographical evidence that reinforces the Burnley site. It concerns Athelstan’s ally, Earl Alfgeir, who slipped away from an early skirmish on the heath, a couple of days before the main event.

 Then he rode to the south country, and of his travel ’tis to be told that he rode a night and a day till he came westwards to Earls-ness. Then the earl got a ship to take him southwards over the sea

Let us now analyze the few clues found in the passage, to see if they fit in with the Burnley location;

(i) Then he rode to the south country

In 937, the Burnley area was a part of Northumbria, but only thirty or so miles to the north of the Mercian border which stretched between the Mersey & the Humber rivers. Just beyond lay the Anglo-Saxon people known as the Southumbrians or ‘Suðanhymbre.’  A record of them is found in the ASC, when in 702 King Kenred ‘assumed the government of the Southumbrians,’ two years before becoming the King of all Mercians.


(ii) Of his travel ’tis to be told that he rode a night and a day till he came westwards to Earls-ness

A full night & days riding (24 hours), through the thick Lancashire forests of a thousand years ago, would have equated to somewhere between 50 & a 100 miles. This means that we are looking for a sea-port called ‘Earls-ness to the south of the Mersey & somewhere to the west of Burnley. The only other record of an Earl’s Ness in this part of Britain is the ‘Jarlsness’ mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga. It describes how a 12th century Viking called Sveinn sailed from the Isle of Man, harried Wales, then attacked Earl’s Ness, as in;

Then Swein and Holdbodi went out on an expedition  with five ships. They plundered in Bretland (Wales), landing at a place called Jarlsness and committing great ravages. One  morning they went into a certain village, and met with a little resistance. The inhabitants fled from the village, and Swein and his men plundered everything, and burnt six homesteads before dinner. An Icelander, named Eirfk was with Swein, and sang the following :


Half-a-dozen homesteads burning.

Half-a-dozen households plundered :

This was Swein’s work of a mommg —

This his vengeance ; coals he lent them.




Between the Isle of Man & northern Wales, the only part of the Mercian ‘Suðanhymbre,’ is the Wirral peninsular, between the Dee & Mersey rivers. It should be no surprise, then, to discover that there once was a sea-port called Ness that sat on the south Wirral coast. Francis WT Tudsbery writes;

 In course of an expedition thence to Bretland, he anchors at Jarlsnes… I think it more likely that the Orkney Saga alludes to Wirral’s Nesses, where an Earl’s Ness is proved to have been


Alfgeir's possible route (if he'd have had a car)
Alfgeir’s possible route (if he’d have had a car)


Taking the M6 & M56, the journey between Burnley & Ness is about 80 miles -a healthy fit for the night & days ride of Aelfgir. Ness, & its sister settlement Neston, served a small pocket of Viking townships that had been permitted to settle on the Wirral by Queen Aethelflead in the early 900s. The coastline has changed over the past thousand years & the sea-ports have been silted into still silence. However, they were once important places of traffic & transit, echoed in the discovery at Ness of a silver Viking ingot, while at Neston were discovered fragments of a Viking cross.



 The Burnley Brunanburh fits in with Ness with a composite sweetness, & also helps us understand a little more about that wyrd Viking demense that sprung up on the Wirral. After being driven out of Ireland, the Norse fled to the Wirral, where they were ‘put up’ so to speak, by the Anglo-Saxon administration. Their leaderv was a certain Ingimund, who seemed to have charmed Queen Aethelflaed into letting him stay on the British mainland. But, just like in York, they would have needed an ‘Earl’ to look after them, & thus we can see how Ness – Earl’s Ness – would have been the principle port of the Wirral Vikings.

Before I whizz back to Burnley,  I’d just like to show the route between Nesston & other Brunanburh candidates.


Nesston to Bromborough is basically seven miles, & although Nesston is indeed to the west of Bromborough,  no border is crossed & one would imagine it would take a lot less time than 24 hours on horseback to get there.


Lanchester to Nesston does cross the border into Southumbria, & does travel west to the sea – but Alfgeir would have had to cover 175 miles in just 24 hours – thats more or less seven miles an hour , up & down the Pennines, over the most rugged roadless terrain, without ever stopping.



Orkneyinga saga

Francis WT Tudsbery – Brunanburh AD937 (1907)



Brunanburh, 937 AD (pt 11)

11 – The River Win
The most obvious place for the forces to assemble was somewhere in the North West of England, where an army copuld plunder & intimidate the local people without being a drain on the resources of the allies, & where there were eassy escape routes by land & sea
Paul Cavill
Picture 666
Picture 665
In yesterday’s post, I managed to place an Anglo-Saxon battlefield on a level heath between two antiquely remembered towns, Burnley to the south & Colne to the North, completely realising the topographical necessities of Egil’s Saga’s siting of the battle of Brunanburh. Coincidence it may be, but just as a credit-card transaction may place a murder suspect near the scene of the fatality, this ‘coincidence’ insists there should be further litological investigations into the Marsden Heights.
We begin with the village of Winewall, the penultimate village of the north-eastern arm of Pendle City, whose name seems to reflect the ‘Vin’ of Vinheath. In Anglo-saxon, according to the rules set down by Margaret gelling & Ann Cole, Winewall would translate something like ‘head-waters of the river Wine.’ Indeed, a number of streams roll off the moors just above Winewall & empty themselves into what is known as the ‘Colne Water.’ A couple of miles downstream it merges with the larger ‘Pendle Water’ & flows along the East Lancashire valley until it reaches the Calder, near Burnley.
Now then… a mile or so up the Pendle Water branch of the  Colne-Water/Pendle water confluence, one comes to the lovely village of Barrowford, one of the poshest parts of Pendle City. Last summer, a letter from the primary School’s headmistress, Rachel Tomilinson, to all her pupils, went viral, as in;
Barrowford letter
There is a local tradition in Barrowford that it is named after some ancient burial site – i.e a barrow, as in;
The name ” Barrowford ” suggests that such a barrow formerly existed near the stream crossing, but the site of the barrow remains in dispute, as all evidence of it has been lost by land cultivation. It has been suggested that the mound on the side of the road at Park Hill marks the spot. John Widdup
There is a large  mound, evidently artificial, close by the bridge at  Park Hill, which might mark the last resting place  of some chieftain, or person of importance. There  are many smaller mounds scattered all over the  country marking these burial places, and these are  called ” harrows.” It is sincerely hoped that when  the roadway here is widened — a process which  cannot long be delayed — and this mound has to be  cut into, that it will be carefully examined, as some  important articles of antiquarian interest might he  discoveredHenry Atkinson 
On the drive back from Gisburn the other day, I got Nicky to stop the car so I could take a few photos of the barrow, perched as it is by the old bridge where I presume the ford was in antiquity. Now then, barrows are in the main associated with the Bronze Age, but there was a period, the 7th-8th centuries, when the Anglo-Saxon kings used them, such as the famous ones down at Sutton Hoo.
The site of the old ford
The site of the old ford

Picture 551   Picture 554   Picture 553   Picture 552

Assembling the evidence, then, we are looking for something like…
(i) The death of an Anglo-Saxon King, 600-800 AD
(ii) By a River called Wine or perhaps Win
(iii) At a ford of said river.
In Anglo-Saxon, the word ford is waed (as in wade), & lo & behold there was a battle of Winwaed fought in 655 AD. A rather important affair, it halted the Welsh resurgance & ended the pagan worship of the English. Its location is unknown, but when we learn that an Anglo-Saxon king called Penda died at the battle, & Barrowford lies a couple of miles from Pendle Hill , then we’re definitely onto something. Most folk believe that the ‘d’ in pendle was a late entry into the name, for its first record was as Pen Hul, which actually means ‘hill hill.’ Yet, if we see that spelling merely a branch from the original Penda’s Hill, then everything fits together sweetly. We must remember that in the days before mass communication, names changed willy nilly, with only a handful of variants surviving posterity. It is up to the Chispologist to recognize this, by the way, & deal with the matter accordingly. In this case EVERYTHING points to Winwaed being fought near Barrowford.   The battle itself was a civil action, fought between two Anglo-Saxon kings; Penda of Mercia (the Midlands) & Oswiu of Northumbria. There is a little confusion as to the exact events – here are the accounts;
A.D. 655. This year Penda was slain at Winwidfelda, and thirty royal personages with him, some of whom were kings. One of them was Ethelhere, brother of Anna, king of the East-Angles. The Mercians after this became Christians. ASC
Oswy, son of Ethelfrid, reigned twenty-eight years and six months. During his reign, there was a dreadful mortality among his subjects, when Catgualart (Cadwallader) was king among the Britons, succeeding his father, and he himself died amongst the rest. He slew Penda in the field of Gai, and now took place the slaughter of Gai Campi, and the kings of the Britons, who went out with Penda on the expedition as far as the city of Judeu, were slain. Historia Brittonum
At this point we can assume that a battle was fought in which Penda died, known as both Gai Campi (field of Gai) & Winwidfelda. However, the Annales Cambraie seems to separate Penda’s death from the battle,  somewhat confusing the issue.
655 The slaughter of Campus Gaius (Strages Gai Campi)
656 Penda killed (Pantha occisio)
The solution, I believe, is the battle of Campus Gai was fought in the year before Winwidfelda. According to the Historia Brittonum, the Campus Gaius battle was fought near the  city of Judeu, which places it near the Firth of Forth (its a long story).  For me, this would be somewhere near the Kay Stone, at Fairmilehead, south of Edinburgh, where battlefield remains have indeed been found. With this in mind, let us now look at the venerable Bede, who gives us the fullest account of Winwidfelda;
At this period King Oswy was subjected to savage and intolerable attacks by Penda, the above-mentioned King of the Mercians who had slain his brother. At length dire need compelled him to offer Penda an incalculable quantity of regalia and presents as the price of peace, on condition that he returned home and ceased his ruinous devastation of the provinces of his kingdom. But the treacherous king refused to consider his offer, and declared his intention of wiping out the entire nation from the highest to the humblest in the land. Accordingly Oswy turned for help to the mercy of God, who alone could save the land from its barbarous and godless enemy; and he bound himself an oath, saying: ‘If the heathen refuses to accept our gifts, let us offer them to the Lord our God.’ So he vowed that, if he were victorious, he would offer his daughter to God as a consecrated virgin and give twelve estates to build monasteries. This done, he gave battle with an insignificant force to the pagan armies, which are said to have been thirty times greater than his own and comprised thirty battle-hardened legions under famous commanders. Oswy and his son Alchfrid, trusting in Christ as their leader, met them, as I have said, with very small forces. His other son Egfrid was at the time held hostage at the court of Queen Cynwise in the province of the Mercians. But Oswald’s son Ethelwald, who should have helped them, had gone over to the enemy and had acted as guide to Penda’s army against his own kin and country, although during the actual battle he withdrew and awaited the outcome in a place of safety. When battle had been joined, the pagans suffered defeat. Almost all the thirty commanders who had come to Penda’s aid were killed. Among them Ethelhere, brother and successor of King Anna of the East Angles, who had been responsible for the war, fell with all his men. This battle was fought close by the River Winwaed, which at the time was swollen by heavy rains and had flooded the surrounding country: as a result, many more were drowned while attempting to escape than perished by the sword…. This battle was won by King Oswy in the region of Loidis on the fifteenth of November in the thirteenth year of his reign, to the great benefit of both nations. For not only did he deliver his own people from the hostile attacks of the heathen, but after cutting off their infidel head he converted the Mercians and their neighbours to the Christian Faith.
Where Bede tells us the battle was fought, ‘near the river Uinued, which had broken its banks after heavy rain, so that far more were drowned as they tried to run away than died by sword in combat,’ this fits in perfectly well with Barrowford, which is prone to serious flooding. I mean just have a butchers at this, from the 1960s; ‘
Jesse Blakey adds,  ‘Perhaps one of the biggest floods within living  memory took place on the evening of July 6th, 1881.  It is believed that a cloud burst on Pendle, and the rushing torrent tore along carrying everything within reach away with it. The river overflowed its  banks at the tannery, and formed another river in Gisburn Road… The mill Holme formed one vast sheet of water with that in the river and Gisburn Road. Huge pieces of timber were deposited in the streets, and the Newbridge district was one vast turbulent sheet of water…. In the diary by William Corhridge there is the following entry :
” Greatest flood ever known. Fearful night. Six  hours of thunder and lightning. The flood was at  its height about 11 o’clock on Tuesday. Swept all  the bridges down from Barley to Barrowford.”
Barnard Faraday lived at Newbridge at this time.  He says:—” Great beams from the bridges further  up the stream rushed across Berry’s field and meadow below the present police-station, smashed down the wall, and stationed themselves about Lee Street. Fortunately no human lives were lost, but much damage was done to roads and property, and a lot of timber was carried along by the rolling tide.
There is one more nugget of information from Bede, who says the battle was fought in the ‘region of Loidis.’ For me, he isreferring to nearby Lothersdale & not Leeds, of which to the latter there is no real evidence, only a phonetic match. The matter needs further investigation, perhaps centred about the golden Merovingian coin (dated: 590-670) found at nearby Skipton, which could be the ‘ township in the country called Loidis,’ mentioned as being built by King Edwin. Or then again, it could be even closer….
Barrowford, however, is not the site of the actual battle of Winwaed, only it is there that many warriors drowned, & probably entombed in the barrow I showed earlier. Indeed, it is rather reminiscent of that of the Athenian warriors at Marathon.
There are two places near Barrowford that could be the site of Winwidfelda. The idea is that the Celtic ‘Win’ became translated by the Anglo-Saxons as white (which is possible).  Andrew Breeze writes, ‘What does philology tell us about Bede’s Uinued? There is no problem with the first element, which represents Brittonic ‘white’, as in Welsh Gwyn ‘white’.’ Thus Winwidfelda could have been either Whitefield, a couple of miles downstream, or more likey Whitemoor, a couple of miles to the north of Barrowford in the direction of Northumbria. It makes sense that after that the defeated Mercians would retreat south towards safety. In support, at Whitemoor one can find menhir known as the Lark Stone, which may have been a memento of the battle.
Lark Stone Location
Lark Stone Location
Whitemoor (bottome left) in relation to Lothersdale (Loidis Dale)
Whitemoor (bottome left) in relation to Lothersdale (Loidis Dale)
Some photos from todays’s walk – from Burnley to Nelson along the canal, then up along the back-roads to Padiham, looking at the general sweep of the battlefield, crossing the River Calder… until Nick’s house back in Burnley
Burnley Library
Burnley Library
Picture 642
Pendle from Nelson
Pendle from Nelson
In the field (February is still cold)
In the field (February is still cold) – notice the cadburys cream egg yolk in my beard

Picture 662   Picture 663   Picture 629

Burnley is the town in the background - the dip in the hills in the far middle right is the valley into Yorkshire - Calderdale
Burnley is the town in the background – the dip in the hills in the far middle right is the valley into Yorkshire – Calderdale



Breeze, Andrew – The Battle of the UINUED & the River Went, Yorkshire – Northern History (September 2004)
Gelling, Margaret / Cole, Ann – The landscape of placenames – 2000
Atkinson, Henry
Blakey, Jesse
Widdup, John-  Annals & Stories of Barrowford (1929)

Brunanburh, 937 (pt 10)

10 – Saxifields


In my last post I showed the high likelihood of Vinheath being the great raised heap of moorland that drops from Boulsworth Hill to the  valleys of Pendle Hill. According to Egil’s Saga, somewhere on Vinheath was a level bit of ground big enough for a battle, ‘with a river flowing on one side, on the other a large wood.’  The thing is, there is quite a lot of moorland in our prospective Vinheath, & not a few stretches of level ground… but… & this is a big but… we have been given a bit of assistance from TD Whitaker, our erstwhile 18th century historian who wrote over two hundred centuries ago;

At some distance to the east of the town is a place of the name of Saxifield, to which is attached an evanescent tradition of some great engagement, & the defeat of some great chieftan, in the turbulent & unrecorded era of the heptarchy … scenes of great slaughter, the most dreadful of all spectacles, make too deep an impression upon the mids of beholders not to be frequiently & diligently recited to posterity; & , when associated with names & local circumstances in succeeding times, though generally corrupted, are seldom lost

TD Whitaker
TD Whitaker

Basically, Mr Whitaker is stating that in the 18th century there was a strong local tradition of an Anglo-Saxon battle occurring at the Saxifields. Heading east out of Burnley, the road forks at the now-closed but once famous Duke Bar – the left road going onto Brierfield, & the right one heading up to Harle Syke.

Duke Bar
Duke Bar

Taking the latter road, a long terraced climb up to the hamlet of Haggate, we are soon walking over the anciently named Saxifields. These ‘fields’ are among the oldest parts of Burnley – a deed of 1240 (see the Victoria County  VI p.443) tells us;

Robert of Merclesden to Robert of Swillington : The 40 acres which Henry the Clerk formerly held between the rivulet flowing through the midst of Burnley, & a field called saxifield, saving John de Lacy, his lord, his rights of forest & venison 

Just after Lower Saxifield House, a ‘Saxifield Street’ leads past ‘Higher Saxifield’ to a level stretch of moorland/fields, flanked on one side by Nelson golf course. This area is known as Marsden, formerly Merclesden, & seems an excellent fit for Vinheath. Here’s some maps & photos….

Lower Saxifield House
Lower Saxifield House

Picture 557

Looking up Saxifield St
Looking up Saxifield St

Picture 590


The level heath
The level heath


Picture 600

The 'higher ground by the wood' as mentioned in Egil's Saga - the trees are obviosuly new, but the ground would have been the same 11 centuries ago
The ‘higher ground by the wood’ as mentioned in Egil’s Saga – the trees are obviosuly new, but the ground would have been the same 11 centuries ago
The field is about half a mile wide, with the water course on the left
The field is about half a mile wide, with the water course on the left

Picture 609

We must acknowledge that Mr Whitaker was not trying to associate the Battle of Brunanburh with Burnley – but it was his making a record of a local tradition that became an early piece of the Burnley-Brunanburh picture. A half century later, TT Wilkinson builds on Whitaker’s work with some findings of his own;

The frequent discovery of bones… still serves to keep alive the popular story, & passes it down to each succeeding generation. Such remains were lately met with in large quantities when digging the cellar at lower saxifield house; & not long ago a large number of small tumuli popularly termed ‘the graves’ were leveled by farmers for purposes of cultivation. Iron arrow-heads are sometimes found in the mosses...

The now-lost tumuli known as ‘the graves,’ mentioned by Wilkinson are a direct match to the burials mentioned by Egil which he conducted after the battle on Vinheath, as in; ‘With warriors slain round standard / The western field I burdened.’


As for me-in-Burnley , it looks like I’ve been blagged by the local Healey Wooders to sort out their community garden….

 Picture 607


Picture 608


Whitaker, TD – History of Whalley (v2) 1801

Wilkinson, TT –  On the battle of Brunanburh; and the probable locality of the conflict. Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire 1856-57



Picture 556

Picture 605


Picture 573Picture 581

I found this in the street the other day, by the way, a soldiers letter to his home, April 1944
I found this in the street the other day, by the way, a soldiers letter to his home, April 1944


Picture 574



Brunanburh, 937 AD (pt 9)

9 – Vinheath

One thing in Burnley’s favour, for me at least, is its position in relation to the southern border of Strathclyde (assuming this lay at Penrith in 937). If the Scots and Britons entered English territory from a point along this border, a couple of days’ march would easily bring them to the Ribble and the vicinity of the River Brun. The Scots pretty much trod this same route 200 years later, in 1138, when they came down from Carlisle to attack Clitheroe, in a campaign that preceded the Battle of the Standard.

Tim Clarkson


pendle from bpouslworth



On leaving York, I believe that the Confederation marched west, possibly burying the famous Viking ‘Harrogate Horde’ en route, for the latest coin in the horde was minted during the reign of Athelstan, one of the common ‘Rex Totius Britanniae.’ Either way, the Vikings, Scots & Welsh would soon arrive at Eamoton, the Emmot Estate near Colne, (known as Emot in 1295), in order to spiritually upturn the oaths of fealty they had given to Athelstan a decade previously.  To the south of Eamoton lies a great stretch of beautiful, barren moorland which leads to the forked valley-system of Burnley. There is a lovely account of the area made by the great 18th century historian, TD Whitaker, who writing in the imaginative times before photographs tells us;


Pendle Hill & Bouslworth form two of the highest points of the Pennine chain on the borders of Lancashire & Yorkshire. The former lies a few miles from the boundary line between the two counties; whilst the latter, resting its base in both, throws off its ‘becks’ & ‘brooks’ respectively west & east into the Irish Sea & the German Ocean. The border district of East Lancashire is remarkably wild & dreary. Its many hills, varying in height from about 1300 to at least 1800 feet above the level of the sea, are far beyond the limit of profitable cultivation, & hence have been little modified by the hand of man. Most of the moors are nominally parce’led out amongst the neighbouring landed proprietors; but in general they are little more than waste lands, plentifully stocked with game, & traversed only by a few sheep during the Summer season. In the Autumn, however, they mostly lose their dreary character, & may even be said to present a beautiful aspect. From the crest of the highest hills, the densely wooded ravines stretch far away between the lower ridges towards the more expanded valleys below. the gently undulating surfaces which seperates these are then clothed with a luxuriant crop of blooming heather, whose very-varying hues, as it is bent by the passing breeze, add an almost inexpressible charm to the surrounding landscape

Up to this point the great impending battle could have been fought anywhere in Britain – but it is upon the upland moors to the west & north of Boulsworth Hill that I believe the the battlefield of Brunanburh was truly born.


The Brunanburh campaign was evidently poitical. This meant a different type of warfare, where negotiations were paramount. Why lose sons & fathers on the bloody plains of battle, when treaty will save their lives. Thus the fight at Brunanburh was at first ruled by Dark Age codes of behaviour, resulting in a civilized stand-off known as ‘Hazelling the Field.’ Egil’s Saga tells us;

After this they sent messengers to king Olaf, giving out this as their errand, that king Athelstan would fain enhazel him a field and offer battle on Vin-heath by Vin-wood; meanwhile he would have them forbear to harry his land; but of the twain he should rule England who should conquer in the battle. He appointed a week hence for the conflict, and whichever first came on the ground  should wait a week for the other. Now this was then the custom, that so soon as a king had enhazelled a field, it was a shameful act to harry before the battle was ended. Accordingly king Olaf halted and harried not, but waited till the appointed day, when he moved his army to Vin-heath.

North of the heath stood a town. There in the town king Olaf quartered him, and there he had the greatest part of his force, because there was a wide district around which seemed to him convenient for the bringing in of such provisions as the army needed. But he sent men of his own up to the heath where the battlefield was appointed; these were to take camping-ground, and make all ready before the army came. But when the men came to the place where the field was enhazelled, there were all the hazel-poles set up to mark the ground where the battle should be.

The place ought to be chosen level, and whereon a large host might be set in array. And such was this; for in the place where the battle was to be the heath was level, with a river flowing on one side, on the other a large wood. But where the distance between the wood and the river was least (though this was a good long stretch), there king Athelstan’s men had pitched, and their tents quite filled the space between wood and river. They had so pitched that in every third tent there were no men at all, and in one of every three but few. Yet when king Olaf’s men came to them, they had then numbers swarming before all the tents, and the others could not get to go inside. Athelstan’s men said that their tents were all full, so full that their people had not nearly enough room. But the front line of tents stood so high that it could not be seen over them whether they stood many or few in depth. Olaf’s men imagined a vast host must be there. King Olaf’s men pitched north of the hazel-poles, toward which side the ground sloped a little.

From day to day Athelstan’s men said that the king would come, or was come, to the town that lay south of the heath. Meanwhile forces flocked to them both day and night.


Looking on Vinheath from the east - note how it drops down to Colne on the right of the picture
Looking on Vinheath from the east – note how it drops down to Colne on the right of the picture




The two towns mentioned by the saga are would be early prototypes of the two urban centres Burnley & Colne, both of which were granted in an 1122 charter to the monks of Pontefract Abbey. Colne’s military importance goes back right to the Iron Age.  There is the Roman camp at Castercliffe, which is directly on the road that crosses the heath. The site consists of three ramparts enclosing an oval interior. Perhaps it was still being used in 937, as something of a forward base. To the north of it would have stood Roman Colunio – at the heart of modern day Colne, towering over the local valley like a Tuscan hilltown. The name Colne is derived from the Roman Colonia, in the same way the -coln of Lincoln is made. The simiarities between the two settlements are striking. Both are placed on a hill with commanding views. It is a fine defensive position & Constantine would have deemed it a suitable position to defend as he entered the negotiations with Aethalstan. Colne is also right by the Roman road that linked Ribchester (Rigodunum) to Ilkley (Alicana) & beyond, along which large armies & their supplies would have passed with ease.


The beauty of the situation is that the Vin/Win element of Vinheath & Vinwood can be positively found to the north of our proposed ‘Vinheath,’ at the village of Winewall… I think its time to take a little walk….





TD Whittaker – History of the Original Parish of Whalley and Honour of Clitheroe, in the Counties of Lancaster and York, 1801



Brunanburh, 937 AD (pt 8)

8 – Northumbria



In my last post I showed how the main shaker among the Vikings, Analf Guthfrithsson, was positively placed at York in the year of Brunanburh, but before the battle. I also showed how this connected with the mention, by several early Northumbrian historians, that Analf appeared off the Humber estuary with a massive invasion fleet. So… before we continue our pursuit of the battlefield’s location, let us look at that particular portion of the campaign in more detail.

The first blows of the epic struggle landed in Northumbria. We must remember here that Egil’s saga seems to merge the confederate kings  into the single figure of Olaf King of Scots, who…

…drew together a mighty host, and marched upon England. When he came to Northumberland, he advanced with shield of war. On learning this, the Earls who ruled there mustered their force and went against the king. And when they met there was a great battle, whereof the issue was that king Olaf won the victory, but earl Gudrek fell, and Alfgeir fled away, as did the greater part of the force that had followed them and escaped from the field. And now king Olaf found no further resistance, but subdued all Northumberland. 

This victory is remembered in the Viking sagas. It reminds me a little of Ligny, Napoleon’s last victory fought against the Prussians on the 16th June 1815, two days before Waterloo.  According to both Ragnar Lothbrok’s saga & the Jomsvikinga Saga, a battle was fought north of in Cleveland in the year of Brunanburh, which may be a match to the one mentioned in Egil’s Saga. The Jomsvikinga  also adds;

 At that time King Aethelstan was ruling England. He was a good King and old. Towards the end of his time a Danish army came to England, led by sons of King Gorm, Knut and Harald. They harried all over Northumberland, subjected a large dominion and counted it as there legitimate family inheritance, as it had belonged to the sons of Earl Lothbrok and other ancestors of theirs. 

Another source for the same events is a Latin poem discovered by William of Malmesbury & inserted into his ‘Chronicle’

His subjects governing with justest sway,
Tyrants o’erawed, twelve years had pass’d away,
When Europe’s noxious pestilence stalk’d forth.
And pour’d the barbarous legions from the North.
Then pirate Anlaf the briny surge
Forsakes, while deeds of desperation urge.
Her king consenting, Scotia’s land receives
The frantic madman and his horde of thieves:
Now flush’d with insolence, they shout and boast,
And drive the harmless natives from the coast.
Thus while the king, secure in youthful pride,
Bade the soft hours in gentle pleasure glide,
Though erst he stemm’d the battle’s furious tide,
With ceaseless plunder sped the daring horde,
And wasted districts with their fire and sword.
The verdant crops lay withering on the fields,
The glebe no promise to the rustic yields.


map 2


The road to York was firmly open, the region abandoned by its Athelstan-appointed Earls. Ragnar Lothbrok had taken the great Roman-hewn city of York  for the Vikings in 876, but it had been seized by Athelstan in 927.  We do not possess any other detail than Analf being in York, but one presumes that his fleet sailed up the umber’s great estuary, the longboats having entered the navigable waters of the River Ouse, & rowed all the way to the capital of Jorvik itself. In 937 it was a melting-pot of a metropolis, surrounded by Roman walls, housing 30,000 souls in its squallid streets.

The 615-ship-strong Viking fleet would have numbered about 30,000 men, doubling the population of York. A typical viking longboat has room for 30-40 oarsmen, plus a little extra space for cargo & passengers. Some longboats were much bigger, however, with up to 64 oarsmen. An average of 50 men per boats is a fine figure, which multiplied by 615 gives us 30,750. These warriors would have been added to the combined armies of Constantine & Owen of Strathclyde, which according to Malmesbury’s Latin poem would have been 70,000 strong (100,000 minus 30,000), as in;

Immense the numbers of barbarian force,
Countless the squadrons both of foot and horse.
His hardy force, a hundred thousand strong
Whom standards hasten to the fight along.

For the British Isles, that was a massive army; 50,000 met at Towton in the Civil War, at Flodden there were 40,000 Scots & Boudicca assembled an army of 80,000 to face Suetonius. But the Confederation had got six figures on the board, with York being retaken in the process.  For Athelstan & his fledgling English empire, the pressure was well & truly on. Analf has assembled a massive army, including warriors drawn from all across the Viking world, from Ireland to Denmark, but as we now know, it was destined for defeat : any general will tell you they would prefer to command a small, unified army with a central command, than a larger army led by several parties.


The bones of Analf - unearthed last year in east Lothian
The bones of Analf – unearthed last year in east Lothian


Anyhows, after the Confederation had combined at York, it was time to take on Athelstan, a long-awaited showdown which – as history tells us – would be fought ipon English soil somewhere near a fortification called Brunanburh.


Jomsvikinga Saga – (Ed – N F Blake 1962)

William of Malmesbury – Chronicle of the kings of Britain


& here’s a few photos Ive been taking recently… pictorial momentos of my litological dig, so to speak


Picture 518




Unused outdoor swimming pool, Gisburn Park (a hospital where Nicky is getting his back sorted)
Unused outdoor swimming pool, Gisburn Park (a hospital where Nicky is getting his back sorted)


Picture 638


Gisburn Park
Gisburn Park
Dead Winter
Dead Winter


Picture 640


Getting out the Tithe Parish map of Brierfcliffe, 1845 (Burnley library)
Getting out the Tithe Parish map of Brierfcliffe, 1845 (Burnley library)


The A team
The A team



Brunanburh, 937 AD (pt 7)


Part 7 – Geopolitics

If however that famous city has ever existed, and I might swear to it that it has existed, then the mount in which I am digging must necessarily have been its acropolis. Albert Schliemann

(On mount Hissarlik in the Plain of Troy – 26th April 1872)


sunset 2


Its been a pleasant enough weekend in Burnley,  a last minute, reflex goal-line save from Tom Heaton helped the Clarets to stem their recent frustrating capitulations. Against Spurs in the cup & Palace at home, they’d raced into an early 2-0 lead, only to lose 2-5 & -23 respectively, the latter to a  bitter rival in the relegation dog-fight. Going into Sundays lunch time kick off we were level on points with West Brom, & we still are now, & one point clear of the drop-zone… its gonna be an exciting end to the season, that’s for sure.


Ive also been moving into my own wee ‘weavers cottage’ in Burnley. Ive been floating about since December, & came to the conclusion that with me being able to run the Mumble from anywhere in the world really, I can spend a bit of time with my family & my football team. Its also a great chance to unscatter my library & get it all in the same place.  I’ve chosen the district of Healey Wood, a Neptune’s trident like sequence of terraced streets with wonderful moorland behind & the town sprawled like a painting below.  here’s some photos, with mi best pal Nicky helping me clean up the kitchen!

healey wood


view from h wood


The famous 'Mist Over Pendle' - trust me, the hills under that cloud
The famous ‘Mist Over Pendle’ – trust me, the hills under that cloud




The moors behind my house - great musing territory
The moors behind my house – great musing territory

So where were we? Well, Brunanburh-wise we were last at Emmot estate in 927, witnessing the kings of Britain swear fealty to Athelstan as the supreme capo di capo, the top maharajaja of the island. A decade later, Constantine et al returned to Emmot with a massive army hoping to turn the tables on Athelstan, but what happened inbetween? Firstly, Athelstan grew stronger, conquering Cornwall & clearing up the British ghetto at Exeter, replacing their hovels with a great cathedral. Next came the Welsh, who despite being relatively independent, were still held at Athelstan’s beck & call. William of Malmesbury tells us;

He compelled the rulers of the northern Welsh, that is, of the North Britons, to meet him at the city of Hereford, and after some opposition to surrender to his power. So that he actually brought to pass what no king before him had even presumed to think of : which was, that they should pay annually by way of tribute, twenty pounds of gold, three hundred of silver, twenty-five thousand oxen, besides as many dogs as he might choose



In 934, the seeds of the Brunanburh battle really began to push their vernal shoots into the soil of reality, for Athelstan invaded Scotland. His reasons for doing so are obscure, but according to the Chronicle of Melrose, ‘Constantine broke the bond of the treaty,’ they made at Eamotun. What triggered off the events of this cataclysmic year was the death of the Viking King of Dublin, which was clearly not very nice at all.

Gothfrith, king of the foreigners, died of a most painful disease (Chronica Scotorum)

Godfrey, king of Danes, died a filthy & ill-favoured Death (Annals of Ulster)

On Guthfrith’s death, Analf crowned king of the Dublin Vikings. His new-found status was sealed by a rapid marriage to Constantine’s daughter – the beginnings of an alliance between the Vikings & the Scots that would manifest itself later at Brunanburh. This act of defiance would have infuriated a probably arrogant Aethalstan. Giving an overlord your fealty contains a sub-clause which promises not to marry off your children to your master’s enemies. It was time Athelstan taught his erring subject a lesson.

Aethelstan, the brave king of the English, went to Scotland with a powerful fleet and a large army of cavalry (Florence of Worcester)

Athelstan’s force was something of a Cromwellian New Model Army, an unstoppable military machine, that marched into Scotland & swept all before it. We have an idea of the make-up this force, for on 28th May 934, at Winchester, & the 7th June at Nottingham, there was a great gathering of bishops, earls & ealdormen, signatory witnesses to land-grant charters granted by Aethalstan. These were;

The Archbishop of Canterbury,
The Archbishop of York,
Hywel, Idwal, Morgan
The latter three were all sub-kings of Wales, with Hywel Dda being the most important. This shows that the Welsh were probably marching north with Aethalstan. That Aethalstan could command such a grand coalition was made clear by the Nottingham Charter mentioned above, where he was styled as the, ‘King of the English, elevated by the right hand of the Almighty, which is Christ, to the throne of the whole kingdom of Britain.’

On his journey north, Symeon of Durham tells us Athelstan, ‘came to the tomb of St.Cuthbert [Chester-le-Street], commended himself and his expedition to the protection of the saint, bestowed on him many and divers gifts becoming a king, and lands; delivering to the torments of eternal fire whoever should take away any of these from him.’ He had the tomb opened & took a bone relic from it to hang around his neck. Here we must enter the mind-set of Kings. Aethalstan would have known that Ecgrith of Nortumbria had gone against Cuthbert’s advice in the Nechtansmere campaign, with murderous consequences. The saint had even had a holy vision of that king’s death. In order to appease the saint it appears that Aethalstan was willing to lavish all the resources & power he had on the tangible reliquary of that divine soul. After spending a night by the saints tomb, he had it opened, where he took a bone relic & put it in a – around his neck. In fact, he loved the memory of Cuthbert so much that he told his younger brother that if he died on the expedition, he was to be buried at Chester-le-Street.


St Cuthbert's Tomb
St Cuthbert’s Tomb

The next port of call was Dunbar, East Lothian, where Walter Bower’s records, ‘in fighting against the Scots he asked god through the prayer of saint John that he would show some clear sign by which present & future generations could realise that the Scots were justly subject to the English. So the king struck as certain craggy rock near Dunbar castle with his sword by whose stroke the cliff was hallowed out to the depth of an ell & this can be seen to the present day.’

Dunbar is perched by the Firth of Forth, & after sending his navy further north to harry Caithness, Athelstan went on the rampage through Scotland. The annals give us details of his campaign;

 Aethelstan, the brave king of the English, went to Scotland with a powerful fleet and a large army of cavalry, and laid waste the greater part thereof (Florence of Worcester)

Adalstan preyed & spoiled the kingdom of Scotland to Edenburrogh (Annals of Clonmacnoise)

He then subdued his enemies, laid waste to Scotland as far as Dunfoeder & wertermorum with a land force, & ravaged with a naval force as far as Caithness & in a great measure depopulated it (Symeon of Durham)

Despite the Annals of Clonmacnoise implying, ‘the Scottishmen compelled him to return without any great victory,‘ the result of the expedition was still a great humbling for Constantine, who was forced to make terms, & according to Roger de Hoveden, ‘being compelled so to do, gave up his son to him as a hostage, together with suitable presents; and the peace being thus renewed, the king returned to Wessex.’ The next year (935) saw a deepening of Constantine’s shame. The Scottish King was a witness to a diploma made at Cirencester, where another signatory was Owen of Strathclyde. This was the last time these three men would be in the same ‘room’ until Brunanburh, now only two years away.

 The tension would have been palable, to which was now added the volatile ambitions of Analf. By the winter of 936-937, a flurry of messengers were sailing the seas & riding the hills all over the northern Europe.  A great confederation of nations was being formed in order to strike a fat blow against the English. the Where the Croyland Chronicle tells us, ‘Constantine, king of the Scots, and Eugenius, king of the Cumbrians, and an infinite multitude of other barbarian kings and earls entered into a strict confederacy with the said Anlaf.’ Egil’s Saga states, ‘now they thought was the easiest time to claim back their own, when a young king ruled the realm. These were Britons, Scots, and Irish.

Their opponent, Athelstan, was no fool, & began to react to these martial stirrings in the north. It seems he was on the look out for mercenaries, one of which was Egil Skallagrimsson, star of the great saga by Snorri Sturlsson, which states;

 King Athelstan therefore gathered him an army, and gave pay to all such as wished to enrich themselves, both foreigners and natives. The brothers Thorolf and Egil were standing southwards along Saxony and Flanders, when they heard that the king of England wanted men, and that there was in his service hope of much gain. So they resolved to take their force thither. And they went on that autumn till they came to king Athelstan. He received them well; he saw plainly that such followers would be a great help. Full soon did the English king decide to ask them to join him, to take pay there, and become defenders of his land. They so agreed between them that they became king Athelstan’s men. They had three hundred men with them who took the king’s pay.




The King also began to prepare his northern border, dismantling the defences of York in order to prevent the recently conquered Viking community there from breaking out into open rebellion. To defend the city, Athelstan placed in command two loyal Viking earls, of whom the saga states;

…the one named Alfgeir, the other Gudrek. They were set there as defenders of the land against the inroads of Scots, Danes, and Norsemen, who harried the land much, and though they had a strong claim on the land there, because in Northumberland nearly all the inhabitants were Danish by the father’s or mother’s side, and many by both. 


The scene is set for the greatest battle ever to have been fought on British soil. In Scotland the knives were sharpening, warriors are in training, horses are being reared. Constantine & & his kinsman, king Owen of the Northern Welsh, were preparing for their date with destiny. They would have been confident, energized by the vigour & confidence of this young Viking king from Dublin. His spirit was spreading all across the Viking Nation, from Denmark to Greenland, awakening the primal warrior in the Viking soul. A battle was coming & at stake was the island of Britain. Athelstan knew this, & was doing all he could to raise a big enough army to handle the imminent onslaught of the Confederacy. Forget the Spanish Amarda. Forget Napoleon at Bolounge in 1805. Forget, even, the Battle of Britain. This was the big one.

Thus, inevitably arrived that fateful year of 937. The British Isles, so perfectly in synch with the seasons, had yielded its snowdrops & daffodils of late winter, the wild flowers of May, & the Roses of Summer. Athelstan watched them bloom & go, & still there had been no invasion. Perhaps all the rumours he had been hearing of the Confederacy were ill-founded, & so he began to relax, determined to enjoy what was left of the summer. Little did he realise that over in Ireland Analf, ‘this bold youth, meditating unlawful conquests (William of Malmesbury), was beginning his campaign. Analf was the Bonnie Prince Charlie of the dark ages. He was young & with that comes the reckless impetuoisty of youth. He felt that the Viking kingdom of Jorvik was his by birthright. We can imagine him growing up in Dublin, his father growing increasingly bitter at the loss of Northumbria. & it is likely that as his father lay dying he would have sworn to restore the kingdom. Now, three years later, he was ready on his date with destiny.

So, with the Irish Vikings instigating Brunanburh, it would be best to look at their ‘native’ records first. The wonderful inter-related family of historical documents known as the Irish Chronicles give a few more details as to the events of 937. In chronological order, those seminal events proceeded as;

The Danes of Loghrie, arrived at Dublin. Awley with all the Danes of Dublin and north part of Ireland departed and went over seas. (Annals of Clonmacnoise)

The foreigners deserted Ath-cliath (Dublin)by the help of God and Mactail (Annals of the Four Masters)

The Danes that departed from Dublin arrived in England (Annals of Clonmacnoise)

Amhlaeibh Cuaran went to Cair-Abroc; and Blacaire, son of Godfrey, came to Ath-cliath (Annals of the Four Masters)

By the help of the Danes of that kingdom, they gave battle to the Saxons on the plaines of othlyn, where there was a great slaughter of Normans and Danes (Annals of Clonmacnoise)

A great, lamentable and horrible battle was cruelly fought between the Saxons and the Norsemen, in which several thousands of Norsemen, who are uncounted, fell, but their king, Amlaíb, escaped with a few followers. A large number of Saxons fell on the other side, but Athelstan, king of the Saxons, enjoyed a great victory. (Annals of Ulster)

A victory was gained by the King of the Saxons over Constantine, son of Aedh; Anlaf, or Amhlaeibh, son of Sitric; and the Britons (Annals of the Four Masters)

These ensueing captaines were slaine, viz. Sithfrey and Oisle, 2 sones of Sithrick, Galey, Awley ffroit, and Moylemorrey the sonn of Cosse “Warce, Moyle Isa, Gebeachan king of the Islands, Ceallagh prince of Scottland with 30000 together with 800 captives about Awley m’Godfrey, and abbot of Arick m’Brith, Iloa Deck, Imar, the king of Denmarks owen son with 4000 souldiers in his guard were all slaine. Conyng m’cNealle Glunduffe Died (Annals of Clonmacnoise)




That’s quite a lot of info, really, amidst which is a real game-changer. Where the Annals of the Four Masters state that, ‘Amhlaeibh Cuaran went to Cair-Abroc,’ we gain clear evidence that Analf was in York, for that city was known as Ebraucum to the Romans & Caer Ebrauc to the Britons. Now then, this little nugget has been missed by everyone – a vital piece of evidence that places the Viking leadership at Brunanburh in York. With them being the attacking force, Burnswark & Lanchester should be immediately precluded, for they both lie many mles to the North. It also sounds the death-knell for the Bromborough theory, which is really based on the Irish landing on the Wirral. That they were in York is anathaemic to the theory, but I’m afraid Wirral-folks, this & other sources have the main body of the Vikings enter in the east, such as Florence (John) of Worcester, who penned;

 Anlaf, the Pagan king of Ireland and many other isles, at the instigation of his father-in-law Constantine, king of the Scots, entered the mouth of the Humber with a powerful fleet.

 Anlaf, the pagan king of Ireland and of many of the islands, being encouraged by his father-in-law, Constantine, king of the Scots, entered the mouth of the Humber with a vast fleet, amounting to six hundred and fifteen sail (Roger de Hovedon)


This is what Michael Livingston, editor of the Brunanburh Casebook, had to say  about the Humber entry;

Despite the fact that John, writing some two hundred years after the battle, is alone in this eastern theory — the few other sources we have reporting this are clearly copying John’s account — the majority of the folks who have been writing me with alternative theories are arguing for a location off the Humber. Don’t get me wrong: I truly love to hear from folks. And I’m thrilled that there’s such interest in this oft-forgotten battle. At the same time, though, we need to be clear about the reliability of the evidence. Paul Cavill, in his patient appraisal of the facts, summarizes John’s account and its Humber possibility: “John misunderstands the Old English poem, confuses personnel, and regards the Humber as the point of entry typically used by northern forces. All these factors make it reasonable to doubt that John has the only accurate tradition about Brunanburh and that all the others omitted such a useful detail” (Casebook, p. 339). I think quite highly of Paul, whose work is careful and exceedingly well-considered. Still, I don’t think he’s gone quite far enough here. If I can call anything a fact after such a long remove of time, I’m willing to stake a claim for this one: John of Worcester is wrong. Plain and simple. And, by extension, any hypothesis for Brunanburh that relies on his “eastern entry” for the invading force is similarly wrong.  All this to say that Brunanburh didn’t happen in the east, and a pox on that darn John of Worcester for giving anyone reason to think it so!


Of the Wirral Set’s stance, the very erudite Michael Wood writes, “…to take one key example, John of Worcester (c1122) says the Viking fleet landed in the Humber: his very circumstantial account appears verbatim in six northern annals of the 12th century and clearly derives from pre-conquest Northumbria. That this is good evidence has been accepted by most leading authorities over the last 200 years. To reject it therefore needs good reason.’ It was watching Michael Wood’s early eighties ‘In Search of Troy’ DVD box-set I got from East Linton library back in 2007 that got me into literary archeology in the first place, by the way.


Eight years later, I’ve validated my interest in the field by uncovering the hitherto un-noticed fact that Analf was at York. This completely devalues the  Casebook, which should now be considered as a book in two halves – an excellent collection of Brunanurh records (albeit without the Annals of the Four Masters) & a completely misguided set of essays placing the battle on the Wirral. They should have really looked at all the evidence, & futurity should see the Casebook as a case of the most sloppiest erudition.




Walter Bower - Scotichronicon


Symeon of durham – Historia regum Anglorum et Dacorum

Florence of Worcester – chronicon ex chronicis

Roger de Hovedon – Chronica