The Site of Brunanburh


Townley Hall
Townley Hall


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

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

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

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


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


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


3 thoughts on “The Site of Brunanburh

  1. Damo,
    I too am from Burnley and I have seen castle hill on local maps but never pursued further…there used to be a petrol station up the new rd, at rose hill, that used to be called castle hill filling station (shell garage)..which is only half a mile or so from castle hill… Have you seen the publication by local historian Steve Chappells regarding Brunanburh …it pursues the Rowley/worsthorne theory, which does sound very plausible.. Considering the similarity of local place names to “saga” events.
    I live in the Harle Syke area ( Jarl Syke ?)..there is a street called Saxifield next to a Camp st, the terrain itself supporting overlooking positions right down through netherwood and onto heasandford, with Rowley, pronounced Rue lea( “field of sorrow”) and Brunshaw/ brown side rd , nearby…leading up to Worsethorne ( Worston?)
    I have walked over this area innumerable times right up to Warcock Hill , beyond Gorple rd and right around Thursden valley and beyond over to Walton Spire and Caster liffe..all these places are ancient trackways and also territorially advantageous because of their heights and all round views, especially Walton Spire where it is virtually a 360 degree view.i digress.
    Personally, I think there should be more of an effort by local historians , archeologists to pursue..but we all know this requires funding
    Any thoughts

  2. Hi Darryl

    Ive walked the same terrain, mate, a few weeks back I was wandering about near Harle Syke & the view of Extwistle Hill from Hag-gate really does invoke a perfect defensive position – before I found Castle Hill I thought that might be the Brunanburh site, but I am now inclined to believe this would be Wendune, for Swinden Water flows right past it

    The ASC says the battle was fought ‘ymbe brunanburh’ – around Brunanburh – & Egil’s Saga indicates at least two seperate battlefields, so the fight could well have been at Saxifields

    1. Damo,
      I think a good degree of historical data/ knowledge could be overlooked by not understanding local slang, accents, colloquialisms and dialects.
      In your reply, you refer to haggate..which is spelled as pronounced. I have seen an old map of the area, not sure on date but possibly mid 1700’s , where it was spelled High Gate. If you think about the word and say it with the local flat vowel dialect it could very well be taken as High Gate, but this all depends on who was drawing up the map… Probably well educated and not of the area.
      My point is, history in the dark ages most probably started off as mouth to mouth and then written down by local scholars/monks more than likely embellished, bastardised and glorified as the norm.
      The job of historical detectives , professional and amateur alike is to rummage through all kinds of info as it is written and maybe not as it sounds
      Maybe I’m going on a bit, but I think the etymology of place names probably holds the key to finding the evasive Brunanburh battle site .. Which I believe to be in burnley and the surrounding area

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