Brunanburh, 937 AD (part 17)

17 – Wendune

How do we find out the truth about an event that happened 1200 years ago? Well in strict terms it is impossible, the comparative objectivity which the modern journalist is afforded by photographs, film video tape… even newspapers, is a far cry from the inferential work of the medieval historian. There, sometimes, even the simple framework of events is lacking. Michael Wood


In my twenties, on each of the first three occasions I visited Amsterdam, I got in such a nick I swore id never go back. In the same fashion, my recent returns to Edinburgh have left me – by the Monday – in a similar state. However, muddling through after a massive session / hangover, I’m gonna get on with completing my search for Brunanburh. One of the main features of my quest has been using the Brunanburh materielle to open up new vistas in historical research. With that in mind, I would like to propose something , in which the coincidences are too many to ignore.  So far I’ve dealt in the main with hard facts – how many historical mysteries have been waylaid by the wild speculations of fanciful scholars, so many cul-de-sacs, so many wrong turnings. Yet, I would like to now propose something of my own in that field, for I think I have enough of the teeth & bones of a beast to conject a complete dinosaur frame.

Symeon of Durham tells us that Battle of Brunanburh was also known as ‘Wendune’ & ‘Weodune.’ It is very possible that this word is the same as the Vinheath of Egil’s Saga, for in OE the word ‘dune’ can indeed be translated as ‘heath.’ Looking through the vasty annals of history, there is a place where ‘wen,’ ‘weon’ & ‘vin’ all appear together. The entity in question is the teutonic tribal group known as the Wends, who gives us our first solid link to Weondune, for according to  Wulfstan, they heralded from a place called  Weonodland,’ as in; ‘Weonodland was on his starboard side and to portside, he had Langeland, Lolland, Falster and Scania. These countries all belong to Denmark.’ Other names for the Wends include;

Old English: Winedas
Old Norse: Vindr
German: Wenden, Winden
Danish: Vendere

These names are all matches to disparate elements of my Brunanburh case, such as Winedas=Winewall, near Colne, upon which name’s coat-peg I have hung several parts of my Brunanburh mission. Let us imagine for a moment that at some point in the distant past, a group of Wends had settled in the area between Burnley & Colne. But how did they got there, & just who are the Wends? Their traditional homelands were in today’s northern Poland, against the shores of the Baltic Sea, in the lands to west of the River Oder. From there they spread all across Europe, such as to Windic March in Bavaria  Vindeboder at Roskilde, & some, I now believe, came to Burnley. Its quite ironic, really, for my home town is now seeing the return of the Poles in some numbers, the citizenry coming full circle, so to speak.

Their arrival in Britain is most likely connected to their defeat in Europe by the Romans, in 277 AD, after which they were given lands in Britain. Zosimus writes of the campaigns of Probus that, ‘his second battle was with the Franks, whom he completely conquered with the help of his generals. Then he fought the Burgundians & Vends, but seeing that his own forces were outnumbered, he decided to detach part of the enemy & engage it by itself. Fortune favoured the emperor’s plan. As the armies lay on opposite sides of the river, the Romans challenged the barbarians on the others side to fight, & gaurded by this taunt as many as possible crossed over. When the armies engaged each other, some of the barbarians were slain, others were taken prisoner by the Romans, & the rest sued for peace, accepting the condition that they surrender their booty & prisoners, but since, although their request was granted, they did not hand over everything, the emperor angrily punished them by attacking them on their retreat. Many were killed & their leader, Igillus, taken prisoner, & all the captives were sent across to Britain where they proved very useful to the emperor in subsequent revolts.

The last sentence is key, for it places the Wends in Britain at a place well-sited for handling a rebellion, suggesting a northern location. If this place was in Lancashire, we can imagine the proper origins of a number of Probus coins found in the area, such as at Worden, on the outskirts of Leyland, & at Burnley itself, where WT Watkin describes 126 copper coins known as radiates of the the late third century AD. Similarily dated Roman coins have been found near Colne at Castercliffe, which could well have been their main military base. It lies on the moors just to south of Colne, & we should notice here that in the list of Northern Roman camps, a certain Calunio was not in existence in the the time of Ptolemy (2nd century AD) but is there in the 6th century, when it appears in the Ravenna Cosmography.  That it is listed comes after ‘Camulodono’   i.e. Slack in West Yorkshire – suggests that bonnie Colne is an excellent candidate for Calunio.




What springs to mind now is that the Wends arrived in the Colne area after 277 AD, whose ‘colony’ eventually became Colne. TD Whitaker, writing in the year 1800, states, ‘it seems probable that the exact spot occupied by this station was in some of the low grounds beneath the present town (of Colne)  and on the banks of the river where all remains of it have been effaced by cultivation. Perhaps the real site is now irretrievable , but there are two lingulae of land betwixt Colne and Barrowford on the north side of Colne Water and formed by the influx of two inconsiderable brooks, which have equal pretensions. The modern town of Colne has certainly none. It is much too elevated and too far from the water… the environs of Colne appear to have been populous in Roman times, as great numbers of their coins have been discovered in the neighbourhood, particularly at Wheatley Lane and near Emmet where a large silver cup filled with them was turned up by the plough in the latter end of the 17th century.’ Speculating further, Roman forts were generally attended on by the local population, who lived next to or near the fort in a settlement described as a vici – the semantics of which can be observed in the name, Wycoller, a village just to east of Colne.


Place-names in the area, such as Trawden & Marsden, are clearly Teutonic. Jane Sterling writes of the English entry into Lancashire; ‘towards the end of the sixth century Angle tribes penetrated into Lancashire, & successive waves of them made extensive settlement in the river valleys and on the coastal plain. The extent of this penetration into Lancashire cab be assessed by the number of Lancashire place names which have their origins in early Angle settlements which have survive din such names as Pilling, Melling, Staining & Billinge. Ingas means tribe or family, & it is usually associated with a chieftan’s name. Melling, for example, means the sons, or the tribe of, Moll or Malla. These ‘ingas’ settlements in Lancashire represented the oldest of the places where the ‘English’ built their villages of thatch’d timber frame huts & surrounded them with a ditch or stockade… The second wave of Angle settlement is represented by places whose names originally ended in ‘ingaham.’ This has in many cases been contracted to ‘ingham’ or simply ‘ham.”


Their are other faint traces of the Wends in the area.  An early 4th century Christian level can be discerned from Saint Helen’s Well at Waterside, Colne, & also in Henry Taylor’s, ‘an ancient map, in the possession of Colonel Parker, shows that, in 1747, a Roman cross was standing on the far common, near Alkincoats.’ The Pendle village of Sabden (Sapedene 1296) means ‘long, narrow valley of the Sabs,’ the ‘Sab’ phonetic of this name being quite rare in Britain, & of unknown origin. The Wends, however, called themselves the ‘Sorbs,’ which means the original could well have been ‘Sorbden.’ Of their habitation on continental Europe, Gerald Stone writes, ‘the present-day sorbs may be regarded as descendants of the Slavs who moved into Lusatia in the 6th & 7th centuries… it seems likely that the ethnic name srbi was then in use among them & was later retained both by the the Sorbs & by those other Slavs (the Serbs) who moved southwards to the Danube.’ The Wends were known for building circular encampments, similar to those found east & north of Burnley, of which TT Wilkinson writes’

After crossing Float Bridge Beck and Catlow Brook, we next arrive at Broad Bank… on the summit of which are the remains of a circular intrenchment, measuring about 150 feet in diameter. There is no appearance of walls, but both the vallum and foss are perfect through-out the whole circumference.

Passing through Thursden Valley, to a corresponding crest on the opposite ridge called Bonfire Hill, at the distance of about a mile, we find another circular intrenchment, 130 feet in diameter, and very similar… This encampment is surrounded by an earthwork rampart, which is still comparatively perfect on three of its sides, and easily traceable on the fourth. The rampart measures 700 feet in length by 450 in average breadth

In the mid-19th century, James Stonehouse gave us; ‘as we pursue our ramble along the road towards Roggerham, we arrive at a farm house on the right hand called “Rotten”; and a short way beyond it find a gate on the same side. Opening this gate we discover a narrow road, having in the centre a pavement of large boulder stones, the footway on one side being skirted by a stone wall which enclose portions of the moor; on the other a thick hedge. An unobservant person even would notice something unusual in the appearance of this bye-road. The mystery of it-if there be such a thing as a mystery-is soon made manifest. The road is found to lead upon the open moor land, and where the enclosure walls end it gradually becomes lost in the moorland and herbage, although its track can be really discovered rising over the hill before us. But before it becomes so hidden in the heather and the thick grass it passes an enclosure of some 200 feet by 160 feet, that the antiquary and the archaeologist would not fail to gaze upon with deep and absorbing interest. The road is Roman. As the Romans left it, there it is. The enclosure is Roman. As the Romans constructed it, there it is; at least what remains of their handywork. The enclosure is the remains of a fort erected by this great nation, when occupying this part of Britain. The fort is known by the people of the vicinity as “Ring Stones Camp.” The walls, at least as much as is left of them, are about a foot high from the interior surface. Outside the Vallum is a foss or ditch. It is deep in some portions, and filled up in others. It seems to be of the true V shape by the inclinator of the sides. The walls appear as strong as when the soldier mason laid stone upon stone and spread the strong concrete that has hardened till it rivals the stone in durability. At one of the sides, there is an opening where stood the Decuman gate. On the side facing it is another opening. This is the Proetorian gate, so called as being near where the Praetor fixed his quarters. In the centre of the enclosure are great inequalities of ground which, if carefully examined, will perhaps exhibit some of the arrangements of the encampment or fort.




A stone’s throw away from Ring-Stones lies the hamlet of Roggerham, which can now be connected to the Rugians, who were considered to be among the Wendish peoples.  In the 8th century, the very venerable Bede stated that they formed part of the composite Anglo-Saxon layer to the English gene-pool, as in;

The Angles or Saxons, who now inhabit Britain… are still corruptly called ‘Garmans’ by the neighbouring nation of the Britons. Such are the Frisians, the Rugini, the Danes, the Huns, the Old Saxons, and the Boructuari

According to TD Whittaker, the earthworks at Ring Stones are highly similar to ones found near Barnoldswick, Skipton & at Middop, Gisburn, the latter having an identical gateway to that Ringstones. For me, the same culture would have built all four of these fortifications in order to defend their territory. It’s north-eastern limits could well have been at the River Dunsop, in the Forest of Bowland, which may be connected to the ‘Sorbs.’  Indeed, the Dunsop flows into the Hodder, which reminds us of the River Oder of the Polish Wends. A possible ‘market’ for the Wends can be placed close to Roggerham. That it was important in ages long gone is given in the name of two fields on Extwistle Hill – Chipping Meadow & Chipping Pasture – with Chipping meaning in OE ‘market fair.

The whole concept of a Wendish realm based on & around Pendle is beginning to taking shape – its early days, & I will leave it to a future dig to ascertain the true measures of that long-lost demense. For now, let us be satisfied in finding the root etymology of both Vinheath & Wendune, & also be content with the realisation that even that smallest & most innocuous of ancient place-names can can be the eternal storehouses of so much history.


Jane Sterling – Dark age and Norman Lancashire 1974

T. T. Wilkinson – ON THE BATTLE OF BRUNANBURH ;— AND THE PROBABLE LOCALITY OF THE CONFLICT. Transaction of Lancahire & Cheshire, 1856

James Stonehouse – Roman Remains Near Burnley – The Preston Guardian Saturday August 15 1863

Gerald Stone – The smallest Slavonic nation (1972)

John Clayton – ‘ADMERGILL’ 2009 & ‘VALLEY OF THE DRAWN SWORD’ 2006

TG Powell- EXCAVATION OF A CIRCULAR ENCLOSURE AT BROADBANK, BRIERCLIFFE, LANCASHIRE – Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire 1953

Michael Wood – In search of Offa, BBC, 1981

Zosimus – tr. RT Ridley 1984

Henry Taylor – the ancient crosses & gholy wells of lancashire (1906)

Alfred the Great – translation of Orosius’ Histories

WT Watkin – Roman Lancashire 1883


Here’s a few photos of my time in Edinburgh & East Lothian…

Rehearsals with the Victor Pope Band
Rehearsals with the Victor Pope Band


Kenny's new dog, Bailey
Kenny’s new dog, Bailey




I went to Garvald to pick up a couple more dogs
I went to Garvald to pick up a couple more dogs




The classic attack-pack - two spaniels to flush out the game & a retriever to fetch the bodies
The classic attack-pack – two spaniels to flush out the game & a retriever to fetch the bodies


Monkey Puzzle trees, Nunraw
Monkey Puzzle trees, Nunraw





The Safari Lounge
The Safari Lounge


Kenny on Congas
Kenny on Congas






Tinky Disco - reforming for Jock Stock
Tinky Disco – reforming for Jock Stock


3 thoughts on “Brunanburh, 937 AD (part 17)

  1. Hi Damo, I`ve just had a quick read through your Brunanburh story and was wondering if you were familiar with the fact that Athelstan was actually catalogued as being at Dunsop bridge 3 years before Brunanburh, whilst giving lands and setting out his boundaries to his `Bishop`of York.
    This would surely give credence to the possibility that would be an ideal opportunity for him to scout out the Brunanburh area, presuming that he would already have preparations in mind for his future advancement/ invasion?

    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>