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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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;
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.
Building the Tower of Babel by
Marten Van Balckenborch (1535-1612)
Wilkinson, TT – 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