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.




2 thoughts on “Brunanburh, 937 AD (part 15)

  1. Hi fellow Brunanbhite,

    I live at Briercliffe and have followed the Brunanburh story for many years now and find your views very interesting indeed.
    Along with a couple of fellow local historians, I have been busy trying to build a broader historical and archaeological picture of our local area for some time now, so this whets the appetite no end.
    I look forward to following your next blog with eager anticipation. Regards Dave

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>