Continuing the serialization of
Damian Beeson Bullen’s
In which a few more of the world’s greatest mysteries… are finally solved
Available to buy in book form
Its time to go home; well, for me & one or two of my readers anyway. I am lucky enough to have been born at the geographical heart of my native islands, the fine, old Lancashire town of Burnley. It is by being from that place of high salubrity that this chapter, & indeed the entirety of this book, commenced one autumn day in 2010, when fresh from the composition of a rather large & technical sonnet sequence called the Ediniad, I found myself reading about the Battle of Brunanburh, fought in 937 AD. The whereabouts of the field is one of the most contentious debates in the entire contextus of British history. On coming to the problem for the first time, I was agate, ‘there’s a River Brun in Burnley, innit!’ Discovering others had proposed the theory that Brunanburh could have been fought at my home town is the catalystic occasion which kicked off my Chispological studies in the first place. In respect to the Brunanburh sections, these have been performed over the entireity of my investigations, & perhaps have been the most thorough. I put my findings in a book called the Burnliad, which you may also buy here. I am also going to provide at the end of this chapter a proper bibliography for the first time in my Chispological studies online, just to show I can do it & to impress my mates in Burnley!
Brunanburh! Brunanburh! Brunanburh! This antique name was once attached to an Anglo-Saxon fortification, in whose locality was fought one of the most important battles in British history (937 AD). A massive showdown, it saw King Athelstan of England face off against a grand alliance of Scots, Vikings & the ‘Northern Welsh’ of Cumbria & Galloway. This confederacy had been galvanized into action by a young Viking prince called Analf Guthfrithson. Normally based in Dublin, Analf had momentarily managed to unite the entire Viking world behind him in an attempt to wrestle back their former control over England which had been lost to Athelstan’s grandfather, Alfred the Great. Despite such powerful forces arrayed against them, the Battle of Brunanburh was a comprehensive victory for the Anglo-Saxons, since which day the borders of Britain’s three nations have been more or less constant. One could fairly admit that the Battle of Brunanburh was the moment when the British Isles as we know them were truly born.
The first mention of Brunanburh in the annals comes within the pages of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, that wonderful storehouse of early English history without which the Dark Ages would have been much, much darker. The entry for 937 is actually one of the most famous pieces of Anglo-Saxon poetry, the first & best of a series composed throughout the 10th century. Most entries in the ASC are written in rather mundane prose, but the rendering of certain events in poetry would naturally amplify their cultural importance. It is only through the Pegasus-flight of the poetic voice that humanity may truly record the incredible passions felt in the most turbulent of times.
In this year King Aethelstan, Lord of warriors,
Ring-giver to men, and his brother also,
Prince Eadmund, won eternal glory
In battle with sword edges
Around Brunanburh. They split the shield-wall,
They hewed battle shields with the remnants of hammers.
The sons of Eadweard,
It was only befitting their noble descent
From their ancestors that they should often
Defend their land in battle against each hostile people,
Horde and home. The enemy perished,
Scots men and seamen,
Fated they fell. The field flowed
With blood of warriors, from sun up
In the morning, when the glorious star
Glided over the earth, God’s bright candle,
Eternal lord, till that noble creation
Sank to its seat. There lay many a warrior
By spears destroyed; Northern men
Shot over shield, likewise Scottish as well,
Weary, war sated.
The West-Saxons pushed onward
All day; in troops they pursued the hostile people.
They hewed the fugitive grievously from behind
With swords sharp from the grinding.
The Mercians did not refuse hard hand-play
To any warrior
Who came with Anlaf over the sea-surge
In the bosom of a ship, those who sought land,
Fated to fight. Five lay dead
On the battle-field, young kings,
Put to sleep by swords, likewise also seven
Of Anlaf’s earls, countless of the army,
Sailors and Scots. 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 the dusky flood-tide, he saved his life.
Likewise, there also the old campaigner
Through flight came
To his own region in the north–Constantine–
Hoary warrior. He had no reason to exult
The great meeting; he was of his kinsmen bereft,
Friends fell on the battle-field,
Killed at strife: even his son, young in battle, he left
In the place of slaughter, ground to pieces with wounds.
That grizzle-haired warrior had no
Reason to boast of sword-slaughter,
Old deceitful one, no more did Anlaf;
With their remnant of an army they had no reason to
Laugh that they were better in deed of war
In battle-field–collision of banners,
Encounter of spears, encounter of men,
Trading of blows–when they played against
The sons of Eadweard on the battle field.
Departed then the Northmen in nailed ships.
The dejected survivors of the battle,
Sought Dublin over the deep water,
Over Dinges mere
To return to Ireland, ashamed in spirit.
Likewise the brothers, both together,
King and Prince, sought their home,
West-Saxon land, exultant from battle.
They left behind them, to enjoy the corpses,
The dark coated one, the dark horny-beaked raven
And the dusky-coated one,
The eagle white from behind, to partake of carrion,
Greedy war-hawk, and that gray animal
The wolf in the forest.
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. Britain they sought,
Proud war-smiths who overcame the Welsh,
Glorious warriors they took hold of the land.
The citizens of Burnley have thought, for a long time, that the battle of Brunanburh was fought somewhere on the moors above their homesteads. In 1869, a ceremonial vase was given to local hero General Scarlett (he’d married a Burnley girl), the glorious leader of the Charge of the Heavy Brigade in the Crimean War, upon which were painted two shields on either side of a figure of the goddess, Fame. One shield depicted his famous charge, while the other sported an image of the Battle of Brunanburh.
It has taken a few years to collate my own researches into the matter, with my early forays into the battle being undertaken in 2011. That year, I took a walk with my dad toward the space where I initially thought the battle to have been fought, on account of the tumuli scattered across the hills above Swinden reservoir. It was all rather amusing as we walked through Worsthorne on that glorious afternoon toward the beautiful moors over Burnley. A passing car-bound buddy of my dad’s enquired as to our activity.
“We’re looking fer an Anglo-Saxon battlefield,” said my dad, smiling.
“Good luck lads!” giggled my dad’s mate, shaking his head faintly with disbelief, before driving on & leaving us to our investigations. Eventually we came to the rugged Swinden Reservoir area where my dad looked a bit bemused. I watched him look about a bit with his old soldier’s eye.
“It just dunt feel reyt son,” he said, adding that the fields near Worsthorne were a far better prospect. Trusting his paternal instinct I gave the matter more thought & research, & as we shall see what he mused turned out to be at least half right in the end.
In the year of 2015, I returned home to that special corner of Lancashire in order to commence my inquiries into the battle. Burnley is set in one of the most handsomest parts of the country, the chief civic section of a long & ribboning Pennine-straddling conurbation. Along with Padiham, Brierfield, Nelson & Colne, Burnley is the ‘capital’ of what I call Pendle City. There are about 130,000 citizens going about their business in my home ‘city;’ connected by their own stretches of motorway, canal & railway. For entertainment they have five theaters, a Premier League football Club, a number of live music venues, several sports centers, loads of golf courses, buzzin’ bars full of bouncin’ partygoers & some fantastic eateries which reflect the influx of Asia into the region. For the historian, there are ‘between the towns of Burnley and Colne,’ as local historian James Stonehouse tells us, ‘more objects of antiquarian interest scattered about than may be found in any other part of England.’ Some of these, I believe, are connected to the Brunanburh case.
As a base for my studies I took up residence in my own wee ‘weavers cottage’ at 70 Laithe Street. This traditional terraced house lies in the heart of the Healey Wood district, a Neptune’s trident like sequence of streets possessing commanding views over the area, a multi-purpose corner shop, mellow locals & only a stone’s throw from both the town centre & the meditative moors, it was a perfect place for base camp. Back in Burnley once more, I began to see old friends, walk familiar paths & to study hard in the local history sections of the area’s libraries. My field notes I turned into a blog from which the following extracts are taken in order to support the Burnley siting of Brunanburh.
That Athelstan & his men were defending ‘their land in battle’ means the battle of Brunanburh must have been fought in English territory. In the following charter of 934, Athelstan grants the lands of Amounderness to Wulfstan, the Archbishop of York.
I, Aethalstan, king of the English, elevated by the hand of the almighty, which is Christ, to the throne of the whole kingdom of Britain, assign willingly in fear of god, to almighty god & the blessed apostle Peter, in his church at the city of York, at the time I constituted Wulfstan its archbishop, a certain portion of land of no small size, in the place which the inhabitants call Amounderness
With Amounderness, stretching from the River Ribble to its northern border at Lancaster, this proves that by 937 Burnley could be placed in England; only by a few miles, but definitely in England.
Analf Attacks York
In 937 a record of the Irish Vikings fighting in the Brunanburh campaign can be found in the medieval documents known collectively as the ‘Irish Chronicles.’
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 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
The Annals of the Four Masters clearly state that Analf, also known as Awley & Amhlaeibh, ‘went to Cair-Abroc.’ This means that before he fought at Brunanburh, Analf had recaptured York for the Vikings, a city known as Ebraucum to the Romans & Caer Ebrauc to the Britons. Analf would met have the Scandinavian Danes in the choppy waters off Northumberland beforehand, where Florence of Worcester places the main body of the Viking armies entering Britain via the east coast;
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
These pieces of evidence in combination completely undermines the theory that Brunanburh was fought on the Wirral after the Vikings crossed from Ireland, as proposed by a number of modern scholars. Interestingly, or perhaps conveniently, the two Irish annals above were left out of the rather large list of sources replicated in the Brunanburh Casebook, which argues quite fanatically the Wirral case. It’s editor, Michael Livingstone, responding to another medieval historian who put the Viking entry at the Humber, shrieked;
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
The thing is, you cant just do that. A modern police detective would laugh at such naivety. The copper would, of course, keep digging & finally discover the supporting evidence in something like the Annals of the Four Masters.
It is clear that the original ‘Brunan’ element of Brunanburh would devolve into ‘Bruna,’ as in the ‘Bellum Brune’ of the Annals Cambrae & William of Malmesbury’s ‘Bruneford’.’ From here we take the simple step of dropping a single vowel to leave us with the snappier ‘ battle of Brun’ of the Brut y Tywysogion (Chronicle of the Princes), as verified by John of Fordun’s ‘Brunford.’ This leaves us looking for a site near the ford of a river called Brune or Brun. There is only one waterway by that name in the whole of Britain, rising on moorland a few miles to the west of Burnley – formerly Brunlea – by the hill known as Black Hameldon. The Brun is the shortest river in the country, making a swift passage from its vernal streams, through the pretty villages of Worsthorne & Hurstwood, then entering Burnley it conjoins with the River Calder. A few miles downstream, the Calder enters the Ribble, which then flows into the Irish Sea at Preston, 30 miles from the Brun’s headwaters.
Another historian to place the battle by a river-ford was Ranulf Higden (c.1280-1364), who gave the variant spelling of Brumford. Coincidence or not, he was writing at the very period in history when Burnley’s name was given as Brumleye in a 1294 market charter. Similarily, a 1258 version of Burnley – Bronley – is echoed in the work of the English historian Peter Langtoft, who in that same period named Brunanburh as Bronneburgh. It is evident that these differing pronunciations of the name ‘Burnley’ contain a metasonic reflection of the lingual evolutions of the early English language. A similar process to the Brunanburh devolution occurred when the ‘Ottanlege’ of 972 became Otelai in the Doomsday Book of 1086. Likewise, Ottanmere, as found in an unprinted Beckley charter of 1005-11, would later deriviate into Otmoor.
937 – Brunanburh
972 – Ottanlege
1010 – Ottanmere
1066 – Battle of Hastings
1086 – Otelai
1130 – Bruneford
1154 – Brunley
c.1200 – Otley / Otmoor
Before the Battle of Hastings, we can see that the –an element of words was prevelant. That the ‘n’ was dropped by 1130 should be no coincidence, for the Norman invasion of England catalyzed the evolution of Anglo-Saxon speech into a French-inspired Middle English. By 1154, names such as Brune were trimmed even more, dropping the superfluous vowel & creating the snappier Brun.
The true meaning of the word ‘burh’ is ‘fortified township,’ settlements which were usually found on a low, but defendable hill. Almost all Saxon buildings were made of wood, as was a burh’s palisade – the thelwall. These would have barely left a trace, yet there remains a very real remnant of such a fortification on the outskirts of Burnley. I picked up the first clue to its presence while utilising Burnley Library’s excellent & comprehensive collection of volumes published by the Lancashire & Cheshire Antiquarian Society. In their 1952-53 ‘transactions’ there is an excellent account of excavations made at Everage Clough. In a small footnote, I was pointed further back in antiquarian lore 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 Towneley 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.
An Anglo-Saxon burh formed the central administrative point of the administrative ‘Tun,’ from which we get the name Tunlay, & thus, Towneley. In the 12th century, Towneley formed part of an ancient township called ‘Tunlay-with Brunshaw,’ the latter meaning ‘Brun’s Wood.’ The clearing, or ‘lea,’ in this wood would eventually become Brunlea, & subsequently Burnley. That Towneley is associated with a Saxonesque fortification & topographical feature containing the ‘Brun ‘element easily leads us to the rather inviting possibility that Brunanburh once stood at Castle Hill. I talked to my dad about the find, & despite living next to Towneley all his life, he had never heard of Castle Hill. It is this obscurity that may have hid Brunanburh’s true site from even the hardiest of pro-Burnley enthusiasts. Here lies Brunanburh’s Hisalrik Hill.
Hazelling the Field
But where was the battlefield? Before the slaughter of Brunanburh, the campaign had taken a more political slant, a show of strength by the Confederation meant to humble Athelstan into submission. A different type of warfare was being played out in which negotiation was paramount; why lose sons & fathers on the bloody plains of battle, when treaties save so many lives. In such an atmosphere, 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.’ According to a Scandinavian account of the battle, found in the 13th century Egil’s Saga by Snorri Sturluson, such a quasi-political event happened before the Battle of Brunanburh. While running through the extract, the reader should be aware that the two towns mentioned are the early prototypes of Burnley & Colne, both of which were granted to the monks of Pontefract Abbey in an 1122 charter.
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.
Today’s blogpost begins with a look at Egil’s Saga by Snorri Sturlsson, of whose authenticity LM Hollander writes, ‘the saga agrees well with other Icelandic sagas, & may be reckoned as one of the most truthful; but when it is considered that it was kept in men’s memory for a very long time… naturally not every syllable will be true. Neither in this, however, nor in any of the best Icelandic sagas do the writers thereof deliberately assert untruth or mean to exaggerate.’ The saga tosses two new battlefield names into the mix; Vinheath & Vinwood, which are remarkably reminiscent of Symeon of Durham’s statement that the Battle of Brunanburh was fought at ‘Wendune’ & ‘Weodune.’ In Old English, the word ‘dune’ can indeed be translated as ‘heath,’ & with two very different sources concurring on a single name, we may pursue its identification with confidence.
The Vin/Wen element can be positively found near Colne in the phonetics of the wee hamlet of Winewall. Just off from Winewall commences a cute rivulet known as the ‘Colne Water, which may have something to do with the Vina as given in Christine Fell’s accurate translation of Egil’s Saga;
Flame-hearted Thorolf, fear’s
Foe, Earl-killer, who so
Dared danger in Odin’s
Dark wars is dead at last.
Here, by Vina’s bank,
My brother lies under earth
Crucially, Winewall’s earliest record (1324) calls it Wynwell – ‘spring of the river Wyn.’ After leaving Winewall, Colne Water soon merges with the larger ‘Pendle Water.’ This confluence then flows into the lovely, large village of Barrowford, one of the prettiest & poshest parts of Pendle City. Local tradition holds that Barrowford is named after some ancient burial site – i.e. a barrow – as in John Widdup’s;
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
On the drive back from Gisburn the other day, I got my mate Nicky to stop the car so I could take a few photos of the barrow, perched as it is by the old bridge where the ford would have been in antiquity. Barrows are in the main associated with the Bronze Age; but there was a period, the 7th-8th centuries, where they were used by the Anglo-Saxon kings, such as the famous ones down at Sutton Hoo. All evidence is pointing to this barrow at the ford of the river ‘Wine’ being the same place where was fought a battle mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Its name was Winwidfelda, or Winwaed, a name which translates as ‘ford of the Win.’
A.D. 655 This year Penda was slain at Winwidfelda, and thirty royal personages with him, some of whom were kings.
This battle was a civil action, fought between two Anglo-Saxon kings; Penda of Mercia (the Midlands) & Oswiu of Northumbria. Like Brunanburh, its location had been forgotten, but Bede does place the battle in a region called Loidis, a name which resonates in ‘Lothersdale,’ a philochisp of ‘Loidisdale.’ This charming village is situated only a handful of miles to the north of Barrowford, a place to which we can attach a significant topographical clue. Bede tells us that the 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. Where Bede describes a heavy flood, this fits in perfectly well with Barrowford, which is prone to serious flooding. Local historian Jesse Blakey records, ‘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 Corbridge 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.
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 North umbria. In support, at Whitemoor one can find menhir known as the Lark Stone, which may have been a memento of the battle.
It is by digging in the Brunanburh dirt that we have flushed out the names of Vinheath, Wendune & Weodune. When looking through the vasty annals of history, there is actually a place where vin, wen, & weon all appear together. The entity in question is an ancient Teutonic tribal group known as the Wends, who according to Wulfstan 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. Let us imagine now that at some point in the distant past a group of Wends had settled in the area between Burnley & Colne; but how did they get there, & just who are the Wends? Their traditional homelands were situated in today’s northern Poland, against the shores of the Baltic Sea, in the lands to the west of the River Oder. From here they fanned out all across Europa, settling in places such as the Windic March in Bavaria, to Vindeboder at Roskilde… while some, I believe, came to Burnley. It is quite ironic, really, for my home town is now seeing the return of the Poles in some numbers, its citizenry coming full circle, so to speak.
The arrival of the Wends seems connected to their defeat in Europe by the Romans (277 AD), after which they were given lands in Britain. Zosimus writing of a Roman general called Probus, states, ‘his second battle was with the Franks, whom he completely conquered with the help of his generals. Then he fought the Burgundians & Vends… 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 was in Lancashire, we can understand the proper origins of a number of Probus coins found in the county; such as at Worden, on the outskirts of Leyland, whose name also seems a variation of ‘weodune’ Similar coins were also discovered at Burnley itself, where WT Watkin describes 126 copper coins known as ‘radiates’ of the late third century AD. Similar dated coins have also been found at the Roman camp at Castercliffe, a Roman camp on the moors just to the south of Colne. When analyzing its history, we should first notice that in the lists of Northern Roman camps, Calunio was not in existence in the time of Ptolemy (2nd century AD), but exists in the 6th century, when it appears in the Ravenna Cosmography. Combining archeology with recorded history suggests that when the Wends arrived in the Burnley area, their ‘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.
There 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. More significantly, the Pendle village of Sabden (Sapedene 1296) translates as ‘long, narrow valley of the Sabs.’ The ‘Sab’ phonetic is quite rare in Britain, & of unknown origin, but the Wends called themselves ‘Sorbs,’ suggesting Sabden’s original could have been ‘Sorbden.’ The Wends are also distinguishable by the circular encampments they built, whose continental versions are extremely similar to those found to the east & north of Burnley. Of these there is a certain ‘Ring Stones’ camp, near Swinden Resevoir & the house-cluster of Roggerham. The phonetics of the hamlet can be connected to the Rugians, a Teutonic tribe considered, unsurprisingly, as one of the Wendish peoples. In the 8th century, Bede stated that they formed part of the composite Anglo-Saxon layer to the English gene-pool;
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
We should also look at this mid-19th century piece of writing by James Stonehouse, who gives 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.’ According to TD Whittaker, the earthworks at Ring Stones are highly similar to ones found near Barnoldswick, Skipton, Middop & Gisburn, with the latter even having an identical gateway to that Ringstones. It seems apparent that the same culture could have built all four of these fortifications in order to defend their territory. Their north-eastern limits would have been at the River Dunsop, in the Forest of Bowland, whose ‘sop’ element again invokes the ‘Sorbs.’ The Dunsop also flows into the river Hodder, which reminds us of the River Oder of the Polish Wends. The whole concept of a Wendish realm based on & around Pendle is beginning to taking shape, especially when we see the Rugian phonetic at Pendleside’s Roughlee – which was originally known as Rugelea.
The Rugii name element also leads us quite neatly to Rheged, a famous Brythonic kingdom with an unclear territorial extent. Roughly stretching between Strathclyde & Manchester, it reached its highest glory in the 6th century, the kingdom was ruled by a certain Urien, a great mover & shaker in the politics of northern Britain in that time. Rheged seems to have been the kingdom carved out by the Wends/Rugi, which renders an excellent explanation for the etymology of Windemere – the lake of the Wends – which sits only a few miles from the River Llwyvenydd in southern Cumbria. Modern academical leanings have suggested that Rheged stretched as far north as Dunragit, in Galloway, & as far south as Rochdale, where the River Roch was recorded in the 13th century as Rached or Rachet. With Rochdale being only a few miles from Roggerham & Roughlee, we gain some sort of sense that the Wends of Burnley were part of a wider tribal area which would evolve into Rheged. But, I am digressing too far; for now, let us be satisfied in finding the root etymology of Vinheath & Wendune, & also be content with the realisation that even that smallest & most innocuous of place-names can become eternal storehouses of so much history.
I very much believe that the Vinheath is crowned by the hill between Briercliffe & Nelson upon which Nelson Golf Course can be found. Its eastern slopes lead down to the Pendle Water, which would be the river as described in Egil’s Saga. The wood – Vinwood – is a more transient feature, especially following the passage of a thousand years. It is between wood & river, perhaps on flat lands of the Prairie playing fields & Belvedere rugby ground, that the action of Egil’s Saga chiefly takes place. During the battle, we are told that Thorulf made his way with some warriors onto the ‘higher gound’ of the heath, which leads us to certain battlefield relics dug up in the 18th century, as recorded by TD Whitaker;
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 minds of beholders not to be frequently & diligently recited to posterity; & , when associated with names & local circumstances in succeeding times, though generally corrupted, are seldom lost
When one heads east out of Burnley, the road forks at the now-closed, but once famous Duke Bar; the left road going on towards Brierfield, while the right one heads up to Harle Syke. Taking the latter road, a long terraced climb up through Briercliffe to the hamlet of Haggate, we are soon walking over the anciently named Saxifields. 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. In the 19th century, it remained evident that a battle had been fought on the hill, when local historian, the exotically dressed, fez-wearing Tattersal Wilkinson wrote;
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
It makes sense that these weapons are remnants of the skirmish on the heath as described in Egil’s Saga, in which ‘Thorolf’s division moved on the higher ground beside the wood.’
The skirmish on the Vinheath was a subsidiary operation to the main battle of Brunanburh. The annals also describe another precursory skirmish, which seems to have taken place at Mereclough, near the delightful village of Worsthorne on the hilly outskirts of Burnley. At Mereclough, an old map has recorded a ‘battlefield’ & a ‘battlestone,’ while a ‘battle place’ was attached to its pasture in the Cliviger valuation of 1822. The stone was still there in 1974, but has since been removed to faciltate farming operations. Of a local ‘remarkable tradition,’ TT Wilkinson recorded that 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.’ I believe the Worsthorne connection comes from an incident at Brunanburh which took place before the main battle. The action revolves around the 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 has been derived from him. As the bishop 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 Vinheath was turning out to be an excellent smokescreen for the maneuver which took him to the rear of Warcock hill, to the south of Worsthorne, aiming straight 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 sounds of battle woke the King, who was 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,’ & it is at this moment that the Battle of Brunanburh truly begins.
I was up at the crack of dawn this morning, & out of the house about 6.50 AM; plodding on 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. Next to the old grammar school there is a fenced off area in which are housed three & a half ancient monuments. We have the base of the old market cross, with the stocks underneath it; we have an old cross said to date from the 7th century; & we have the stonework of the ancient Shorey’s well, which used to supply Burnley with fresh water before the advent of pipes & stuff. There is also the dedicated empty space where once sat two cannons taken from Sevastapol during the Crimean War, which had been brought to Burnley by General Scarlett. The guns had been taken to Portsmouth to be smelted down during the First World War, but the iron was found to be unusable & the cannons were unceremoniously dumped in the Solent!
The holy cross is said to have been erected in Burnley by Paulinus, a seventh century Bishop of York who died in 644. This timeframe also fits in with Saint Etheldreda, from which the devoluted ‘Shorey’ may be extracted. The process runs as follows; from an original of Æthelthryth or Æþelðryþe, by medieval times the name had become ‘Audrey.’ As Saint Audrey, the latter degenerated even further into the ‘Shorey’ of Shorey’s Well. In the search for more evidence, I have discovered that vestiges of both Saint Etheldreda & the Paulinus crosses can be found only a couple of miles from each other, just to the west & north of Pendle’s heathy mass.
The abbey at Whalley, a ten mile walk around the flanks of Pendle from my house, claims to have been founded at the Augustinian advent (596), making it one of the oldest Christian centers in Britain. My journey there took me along Accrington Road (I’m an Accy roader at heart), along to the canal at Gannow (where I learnt how to swim) & on to Rosegrove. From here I pass’d down into sleepy Lowerhouse along the old railway line – now a greenway – into Padiham. You might not realise it – in fact nobody has actually – but that busy little paragraph contains the names of two members of the 7th century Anglo-Saxon aristocracy. Accrington, known as Akarinton in 1194, would be named after Acca – the mother of King Oswald. This fellow’s name can even be found right next door to Accrington, in the village of Oswaldtwistle.
Leaving Padiham, I dropped down into the village of Altham, where we can definitely place Saint Etheldreda. In her vita we are told how she married a northerner (Ecgfrith), but would not consummate the marriage & fled the lecherous clutches of that randy king. On her journey south to the family home in East Anglia, she founded a monastery on an ‘island’ which Goscelin of Saint-Bertin says was, ‘surrounded by fen called Alftham.’ This gives us a direct match for Alvetham/Elvetham, the earliest recorded name for Altham, whose territory is indeed fenlike – a flat & marshy swathe of the Calder Valley. On my walk to Whalley I made an attempt at investigating the river at Altham, but was unceremoniously threatened off the land by a farmer-bully on a quad, who was 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 it continued, in that deep, rustic accent that has lingered for centuries in the shadowy valleys between Burnley & Blackburn.
All this brings us to another of the other names for the Brunanburh; for the Annals of Clonmacnoise state the battle being fought on the ‘Plains of Othlyn.’ The core phonetic of this name is to be found in the person of Saint Etheldreda, whose vita tells us that after leaving Altham she headed for Bradford in Yorkshire, where en route, ‘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 travelers, 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 with pleasure wonderful, flower-scented draughts of air. The saintly traveler, 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 settled 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.
This miracle provides us with the philological root to Othlyn. Most modern scholars, when analyzing the etymology of Othlyn, plump for something like the pool (Gealic=lynn) of Otha. Nobody, I believe, has looked at another possibility; that Othlyn means the ash tree (Celtic=ynn) of Othl. A Celtic name is totally viable for the miracle of Etheldreda, for in the first half of the 7th century the Burnley area would have remained overwhelmingly Brythonic. The heart of Burnley rests in a valley, parts of which are indeed plain-like, the ‘remarkably flat meadow’ of Etheldreda’s vita which stretch from Towneley to the River Brun. By standing on the canal viaduct above the town centre, one reaches the perfect vistapoint to understand just how flat the Burnley plain really is, the ‘Brunefeld‘ of William of Malmesbury’s The town centre itself would have been the main battlefield fought about an ancient ford of the River Brun as remembered by John of Fordun’s ‘Brunford.’ This explains why the battle site has not been properly identified by the discovery of artefacts, for they would be hiding under the thousands of tons of concrete which make up Burnley Town Centre. This notionsalso connects with the name of the battle as given by Hector Boece – Broningfeld, which translates as the ‘open field/plain’ (feld) of the ‘people’ (ing) of either the Bron, or a person called Bron.
I am currently investigating something remarkable that has grown out of my recent investigations into the site of Brunanburh. I recently received an email from a keen-minded, but much-maligned New Zealand online historian called Sean Bambrough. On scanning its contents I came across the following sentence;
Could ‘this place called Brune,’ in chapter 10 of Geoffrey of Monmouth be your Burnley?
Could it indeed? I’d never seen the reference before, thinking the Annales Cambrae use of the word Brune was the only example of that variant name. It was time to get my hands dirty again, & finding the relevant passage in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s ‘History of the Kings of Britain’, I found that the name ‘Brune’ was attached to a 7th century battlefield where was slain a Northumbrian king called Oswald. On discovering that variant editions of Monmouth’s history, such as the Harlech, had the name Burne, I’m like, this really does feel like I’m seeing Brunley/Burnley. Oswald died in about the year 642, slain by King Penda of Mercia at a place also called Maserfelth;
Oswald was killed in a great battle, by the same Pagan nation and Pagan king of the Mercians who had slain his predecessor, Edwin, at a place called in the English tongue, Maserfelth, in the thirty-eighth year of his age, on the fifth day of the month of August. Bede
During my Brunanburh dig, I’d shown how the Burnley area was some kind of border zone prone to Dark Age warfare, such as the battle of Winfeld at Barrowford. Was it possible that Maserfield was also fought in this area? I was aware of the name Marsden from the Nelson area, the town just to the north of Burnley into whose streets the terraces of Pendle City seamlessly blend. I also knew that where ‘den’ means ‘narrow valley,’ felth means ‘open space,’ rendering it possible that there once was a Maserfield, or ‘Marsfield’ connected to Maserden, or ‘Marsden.’
It is now time for a spot of name-juggling, through which we can ascertain how Maserfield was indeed fought in a field next to Marsden. Looking into ‘A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 6 (1911)’ we find the following early names for Marsden:
Merclesden, Merkelstene (1242);
These can be easily matched to variant names given to the battle of Maserfield, such as John of Brompton’s Maxelfeld (15th C), or better still the Marcelde’s Field found inscribed on an ancient well that had been dedicated to Saint Oswald. The well is situated in SW Lancashire, of whose inscription Mr. Baines says;
Little more than half a mile to the north, on the road to Golborne and Wigan, is an ancient well, which has been known from time immemorial by the name of ‘St. Oswald’s Well.’” This well is still in existence, and a certain veneration at the present time hovers about it in the minds of others than the superstitious peasantry. On the upper portion of the south wall of the church is an inscription in Latin… Mr. Beamont gives the translation of the inscription as follows: This place of yore did Oswald greatly love, Northumbria’s King, but now a saint above, Who in Marcelde’s field did fighting fall, Hear us, oh blest one, when here to thee we call… The inscription does not, as some have assumed, state the church is built in, on, or near Marcelde. It merely asserts that Oswald died at a place so named.
The actual site of Maserfield is to be found at Whitefield in Nelson, a place whose name connects to an account of the battle given by Henry of Huntingdon, who relates; “it is said the plain of Maserfeld was white with the bones of the Saints.” We can also connect the area with the Welsh name for the battle, as in the Canu Heledd’s ‘on the ground of Maes Cogwy, I saw armies, battle affliction,’ & the Historia Brittonum’s, ‘Battle of Cocboy.’ About a mile from Marsden, in the direction of Burnley, one comes to a valley called ‘Cockden,’ whose first semantic element matches superbly both ‘Cog’ & ‘Coc.’ More evidence comes from Oswaldtwistle, a pleasant Lancashire village only a few miles to the east of Nelson, near Accrington. According to Halliwell’s dictionary, the word ‘twistle’ means, ‘that part of a tree where branches divide.’ This invokes he grisly demise of Oswald, who according to Bede had his limbs & head torn from his torso, & placed on stakes – i.e. those ‘branches’ which were brutally divided from his body.
With the name Brune being attached to 7th century Anglo-Saxon doings, the possibility is raised that the area contains the ‘Urbs Broninis’ mentioned in the vita of Saint Wilfrid as his place of imprisonment by a ‘praefectum‘ called Osfrith. The vita places Broninis & its prison in a royal borough, which of course means that Broninis & its Burh becomes Broninisburgh, & then by the 10th century, Brunanburh! We have already seen how Acca & Oswald, two seventh century members of the Angle aristrocracy, are remembered in the area. To these we may add Penda – Pendle Hill – & his two sons, one of whom, Wulfhere, is remembered via the Walverden Water that flows thro Nelson & by the north of Burnley. Penda’s other son, Peada, would have then given his name to Padiham. Indeed, Henry Taylor writes that in Padiham, ‘Baines states that a cross, strongly resembling those found in Whalley churchyard, was discovered here.’ That the area was a royal estate is reflected by the ‘Forest of Pendle’ one of the several royal forests of the area which was, by the Middle Ages, under the control of Clitheroe Castle, or Honour of Clitheroe. These forests – Trawden, Pendle & Rossendale, were described as one entity in the Domesday Book of 1986, & the fact that there is anciently a Wolfenden Booth in the Rossendale section again suggests an origin driven by the 7th century Angle monarchy.
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.”
More evidence for the Burnley Brunanburh can be found in Egil’s Saga, where a cowardly flight from the field of Athelstan’s ally, Earl Alfgeir, gives us a vital geographical clue; ‘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.’ In 937, the Burnley area was part of Northumbria, but lay only thirty or so miles north of the Mercian border, which stretched between the Mersey & the Humber estuaries. Just beyond that demarcation line lay an Anglo-Saxon people known as the Southumbrians, a record of whom is found in the Chronicle, when in 702 King Kenred ‘assumed the government of the Southumbrians.’ Thus, when Alfgeir crossed the Mersey he would have entered Southumbria, the ‘South Country’ through which he would travel westwards to a certain ‘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 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 these parts of Britain is a ‘Jarlsness’ mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga. This epic & romantic tale of Viking adventure describes how a 12th century seafarer called Sveinn sailed from the Isle of Man so he could harry Wales. After this he launched a deadly Viking attack upon the unsuspecting settlement of Jarlsness;
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
Between the Isle of Man & northern Wales lies the Wirral, a narrow peninsular of land which divides the rivers Dee & Mersey. It should be no surprise to discover that there once was a Viking sea-port called Ness on the south Wirral coast. Today, if we were to drive along the M65, M6 & M56, the journey between Burnley & Ness would be about 80 miles – a healthy fit for the night & day ride of Alfgeir. The coastline has changed over the past thousand years & the sea-ports have been silted into still silence, but the port of Ness once served a small pocket of Viking townships permitted to settle on the Wirral by Queen Aethelflead in the early 900s. Surely this is the Earls’ Ness we are looking for!
My investigations into the Brunanburh battle are slowly coming to a close, & I am preparing to leave my house in Healey Wood. In my last post I showed how the Confederate army dissolved into a panicky rabble & fled the battlefield.
The West-Saxons pushed onward
All day; in troops they pursued the hostile people.
They hewed the fugitive grievously from behind ASC
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
Where the ASC says ‘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 seacoast or river estuary. Egil’s Saga provides a little extra gloss, saying the ships were ‘far’ from the field. It would be safe to say that the battlefield would be somewhere between 15 & perhaps as many as 40 miles away from a navigable site in which Viking longships could wait. A location may be divined by analyzing the actual words used in the ASC – ‘feallan’ & ‘flot’ – which according to Boswoth & Toller’s Anglo-Saxon Dictionary translate as:
Feallan: Of shingle
Flot: 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, at an ancient ford of the River Ribble. I visited the site on my way to Scotland from Burnley the other day, buying a £6 day ticket which allowed me to hop on & off the bus. It was bitterly cold, but dry, & my first stop was for a brief look at Houghton Tower, a little private pilgrimage to one of the chief sites regarding my Shakespearean studies. Next up was the ford at Walton-le-Dale, situated at a lovely bend of the Ribble, just after the confluence of the River Darwen. The ford is long gone, having been superseded by a massive bridge, but I got off the bus anyway, where in the process of taking some photos found myself in the breeding ground of some Ribble Geese. Noticing my presence, like a bunch of angry North End they 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 up bank that procured me my safety.
Close to the old ford, at Cuerdale, a great hoard of Viking silver was found in the 19th century. Dated to roundabout the time of the Battle of Brunanburh, was the Cuerdale hoard deposited by Analf during his flight from Brunanburh? Placing him at the mouth of the River Ribble means his main fleet would have been on the other side of the country, at the Humber estuary. Did Analf, or one his men, in the mad rush for safety, bury treasure while searching for a boat? Let us for a moment imagine Analf burying the hoard in the fading twilight; but returning to the locality at some point in the future, was unable to find the spot where he had deposited his riches. This would lead to an antique local tradition, which long before the Curedale was ever found, that if one were to stand upon the hill at Walton-le-Dale, looking up river the towards Ribchester, one’s gaze would pass over the greatest treasure in the whole of Christendom.
After ascertaining that the Ribble was the likely launching point for Analf’s flight from the British mainland, it helped me to understand better a passage in the ASC, whose contents have caused a great deal of academic debate in recent years;
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.
Paul Cavill confirms that the ‘mere’ element in Dingesmere means ‘sea’ when he writes, ‘in verse, both as a simplex and as the first element of many compounds, it means ‘the sea, the ocean.’ As for the ‘Dinges’ part, a 2004 paper entitled ‘Revisiting Dingesmere’ puts the case forward for it stemming from the Viking ‘Ting’ at Thingwall on the Wirral. Tings were meeting places where citizens could come together, air their grievances & network for trade. Cue near-hysterical claims by the Wirral Set that they had found Dingesmere – connecting it to the marshes of south Wirral. Their only real supporting evidence was found on a map of 1611, which called Bromborough, ‘Brunburh.’ It is a valid suggestion, for the name Dingwall in Scotland is also based on a Viking Ting, yet Bromborough could never have been Brunanburh, it is only a stone’s throw from Earl’s Ness for starters, & since its inception in 2005, the Wirral theory has faded from academic inquiry;
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… is only 10 minutes’ walk to the Mersey. That is not a ‘long pursuit John Henry Cockburn
Apparently a bunch of Bromborough enthusiasts traveled from there 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 were running for their lives with the west Saxons in pursuit. Matthew Wall
The Wirral is a fairly flat place, not reminiscent at all to Henry Of Huntingdon’s, ‘The hills resounded / There many men born in Denmark lay / Pierced by spears, stabbed under their shields.’ We must also consider 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 evidence as given by the sources, suggests that the Wirral ‘Ting’ was not intended when Egil wrote ‘Dingesmere.’ There was, however, another Ting on the Isle of Man, which still meets today as the Tynvald. Founded in the early 10th century – i.e. the Brunanburh period – its position at the centre of the Irish Sea makes it a far likelier candidate for Dingesmere’s ‘Thing.’ The Isle of Man was an important Viking capital, & sits neatly between the sister kingdoms of Jorvik (York) & Ireland (Dublin). The name ‘Dingesmere’ should then really be attached to the circular portion of the Irish Sea epicentred by the Isle of Man.
The return of Analf to Dublin brings us to the end of my survey into the battle of Brunanburh. It really does feel like a case of fitting square pegs into square holes, there seems no flaws in the theory anywhere, which was been built up by combining the large number of place-names as provided by the Brunanburh sources. It really was quite startling just how much of the Burnley landscape had been imprinted into the Brunanburh battle. I believe the battle should be considered a fundamental part of the town’s folklore alongside the legends of Pendle Witches & the ongoing saga of Burnley Football Club, poems of which you may buy in my book, The Burnliad
It is during the writing of my Brunanburh essay in particular, I have been often startled by the latent powers of words, when even the smallest & most innocuous of place-names can be an eternal storehouses of so much history. To the residents of Burnley & the rest of Pendle City I say; take a walk in the countryside, note the names of the cloughs & the hills, & let us weave a secret history, drawn from the phonetical landscape. While studying the case, I came across a similar sentiment in SW Partington’s ‘Danes in Lancashire.’
An eloquent modern writer has declared, with a good reason, that even if all other records had perished, “anyone with skill to analyse the language, might re-create for himself the history of the people speaking that language, and might come to appreciate the divers elements out of which that people was composed, in what proportion they were mingled, and in what succession they followed one upon the other.” From a careful analysis of the names of the more prominent features of the land; of its divisions, its towns and villages, and even its streets, as well as the nomenclature of its legal, civil, and political institutions, its implements of agriculture, its weapons of war, and its articles of food and clothing, — all these will yield a vast fund of history.’
Arkell, WJ : Place-Names and Topography in the Upper Thames Country (1942)
Bamburgh, Sean: private correspondence (2015)
Bede : Ecclisiastical History of the English People (731 AD)
Bennet, William : Excavations at Everage Clough – Transactions of the Lancashire & Cheshire Antiquarians (1952-53)
Campbell, Alistair : Brunanburh (1938)
Cavill, P : The Place-Name Debate, The Battle of Brunanburh, a Casebook (2011)
Clayton, John : Admergill (2009)
Cockburn, John Henry : The Battle of Brunanburh & its period (1931)De Gray Birch, Walter (Cartularium Saxonicum) 1893
Foot, Sarah : Athelstan, the First King of England (2012)
Gelling, Margaret / Cole, Ann : The landscape of placenames (2000)
Graham-Campbell, James : Viking treasure from the North West – The Cuerdale horde in its context (1992)
Halloran, Kevin : The Identity of Etbrunnanwerc, Scottish Historical Review Oct (2010)
Hollander, LM : The Battle on the Vin-Heath and the Battle of the Huns, Journal of English and Germanic Philology 32 (1933)
Marquis, JT : Brunanburh. Transactions of the LCAS v.26, (1909)
Niles, JD – Skaldic Technique in Brunanburh, Scandinavian Studies, Vol. 59, No. 3, Anglo-Scandínavían England (SUMMER 1987)
Partington, SW : Danes in Lancashire (1909)
Rauer, Christine: Beowulf and the Dragon: Parallels and Analogues (2000)
Reginald of Durham : The Life of St Oswald (1165)
Jorgensen, PA : Grendel, Grettir & Two Skaldic Stanzas: Scripta Islandica 24 (1973)
Scudder, Bernard : Egils saga, tr. (1977)
Sterling, Jane : Dark age and Norman Lancashire (1974)
Stonehouse, James : Roman Remains Near Burnley (a letter to The Preston Guardian, August 15th 1863)
Sturluson, Snori : Egil’s Saga, tr. Christine Fell (1975)
Taylor, Henry : The Ancient Crosses & Holy Wells of Lancashire (1906)
Tudsbery, FWT : Brunanburh AD937 (1907)
Wall, Matthew – Private correspondence
Watkin, WT : Roman Lancashire (1883)
Whitelock, Dorothy : English Historical Documents, (1955)
Whittaker, TD : History of the Original Parish of Whalley and Honour of Clitheroe, in the Counties of Lancaster and York, v2 (1801)
Widdup, John : Annals & Stories of Barrowford (1929)
Wilkinson, TT : On the battle of Brunanburh; and the probable locality of the conflict. Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire (1856-57)
Wilson, DM – The Viking Age in the Isle of Man (1974)
Next Wednesday, 07/03/18
Chapter 7: The Young Shakespeare
Chapter 1: The Exodus
Chapter 2: The Aryan Invasion
Chapter 3: The Mahabharata
Chapter 4: Agastya
Chapter 5: The Picts
Chapter 6: Brunanburh
Chapter 7: The Young Shakespeare
Chapter 8: Shakespeare’s Blossom
Chapter 9: The Badon Babel Tree
Chapter 10: The Saxon Advent
THE CHISPER EFFECT
Chapter 1: Chispology
Chapter 2: Princess Scota
Chapter 3: The Ithica Frage
Chapter 4: The Jesus Jigsaw
Chapter 5: Asvaghosha
Chapter 6: Dux Bellorum
Chapter 7: Dux Pictorum
Chapter 8: The Holy Grail
Chapter 9: The Mandylion
Chapter 10: Shakespeare’s Grand Tour
Chapter 11: The Dark Lady
Chapter 12: The Ripper Gang