Home » Lancashire » Brunanburh and Blackburn by the Rev. T.C. Porteus
It has already been stated that the names given to the battle of Brunanburh in old records may be divided into two classes: some have the root Brun, which is equivalent to Burn; others have the root Win or Wen. Let us glance briefly at the two groups of names. The Parker MS. of the Saxon Chronicle says that the battle was "ymbe (i.e., near) Brunnan burh" other MSS. give "byrig" or "byri" as the second element; these forms mean much the same, namely, fort, or fortified town. The first element is in the genitive case, like that in Petersburg; so that Henry of Huntingdon gives Brunesburh as the equivalent.
Ethelwerd, a chronicler who claimed to belong to the royal house of Wessex, and who died about 998, places the battle at Brunandune. The Pictish Chronicle has Duinbrunde. Symeon of Durham, writing in the twelfth century, but with special sources of information for northern affairs, gives alternative forms which include Brunnanwerc. This reminds us of the name given by Gaimar, Bruneswerce. The battle of "Brune" is mentioned in the Annals of Cambria, and in another Welsh chronicle, confirming our impression that the name was used absolutely, and that the fort, ford, field, or hill, added to it in so many other records, are enclitic. In the group of names with a Win or Wen root, Symeon of Durham is the most important witness. In his History of Durham Church, written about 1198, he says that Athelstan fought at Weondune, and gives the other name of the place, already cited. Many years afterwards, before 1130, he wrote a History of the Kings, and used a source specially well informed about Northumbrian affairs. About Athelstan's raid against the Scots in 934 he gives valuable and original information. Then immediately, under the date 937, he says, "King Athelstan fought at Wendune, and put to flight King Onlaf with 615 ships, and Constantine, King of Scots also, and the King of the Cumbrians with all their host."
Symeon's place-names, Weondune and Wendune, may now be compared with those given in Egil's Saga. The usual text gives three names in the Icelandic. They occur in oblique cases, of which the nominatives are here set out. The battle site was a place called Vinheidr, which we may render, as Plummer does, Winheath. It was said to be near Vinuskogr, which is equivalent to Winswood. The third name, which occurs in the lament sung by Egil over the grave of his brother on the battlefield, would yield a nominative Vina. Some editors regard this as a poetical abbreviation of Vinheidr; but this is unnecessary, and Jónsson, who put forth this interpretation in his first edition, returned in his 1894 edition of the Saga to the opinion of the older editor, Thorkelin. He now renders it in German, "an der Wina." The English equivalent would place the battle site "near Win," or "near the Win." We will refer more fully to this name a little later, and consider whether it denotes a river.
Winheath, Winswood and Win, then, are names associated with the battlefield in Egil's Saga. But there are a great many MSS. of the Saga; and several interesting variant readings of the first of these three names have been found.
Vinhaed is one of these other readings, and is quoted by Mr. R. L. Bremner; this would be Winhead in English. It is supported by a variant passage quoted by Thorkelin, which says that Athelstan's men pitched their tents on a mickle hill (haed mikill). Another form, quoted by Thorkelin, would yield a nominative Vinnu-heidr; this would be Winsheath in English. In all these forms we have changed the Icelandic V into the English W; for, generally speaking, there was no W in the Old Norse alphabet, while the Icelandic V had the sound of our W, e.g., "vel" was sounded like our "well."
As to Winsheath and Winheath, it is a common thing to find a possessive "s" appearing and disappearing at the end of the first element in a name. This may be illustrated from Darwen locality, where Hollinshead and Hollinhead are both used, and also Hollingrove and Hollinsgrove. Hitherto, no site has been proposed which satisfactorily explains these two sets of place-names. The Win or Wen forms especially are not seriously faced by the advocates of the Burnswork case. Where shall we find a field for the conflict which was the battle of Brun or Burn, and also the battle of Win or Wen?
As long ago as 1899, Rev. C. Plummer, in his notes to the Saxon Chronicle, wrote these words, "Local research might discover a Winheath, which would definitely fix the spot." The present writer claims to have done this. The site put forward as the actual spot where the battle began is Winshead or Wenshead, a spacious hill and heath at Darwen. Both forms just cited are found, but Wenshead is the more usual. The place lies on the western boundary of Darwen Moor, south of Sunnyhurst. There is evidence that originally Wenshead covered a larger tract of country than the name is applied to at present; indeed, it is probably an alternative name for Darwen Head, as we shall see later.
The Wenshead site has the advantage of accounting for both sets of names. It explains those in Wen, especially if our contention is sound that Wen or Win is a short form of Darwen. At any rate, the Winheath or Winhead of the Saga is discovered, we believe, in Winshead or Wenshead on Darwen Moor. Either head or heath was the original second element in Old English. If heath, then the English name has undergone a change, similar to that in Hedley, Northumberland, which was originally heath-lea; or similar to "hedder," a dialect form of heather. It seems to us more probable that the original name of the battle-site was Winhead, which more closely approximates to Symenon's Wendune, and to the present name of the site.
Old Icelandic texts had only one letter for "th" and "dh"; moreover, the word for height ("haed") was unusual in compounds; therefore a transliteration from the English Winhead would be likely to become in course of time, Vinheidr or Winheath. Both in Old English and in Icelandic the words for heath and for head (in the sense of hill) were similar, and apt to be confused; especially as a heath was often a hill as well. We find Billington called Billingahoth and Billingduna in the twelfth century; this may help us to see how Winheath and Wendune may be the same.
But if Wenshead on Darwen Moor corresponds to the Wen names, can it account for the other set, the Brun or Burn names? Assuredly, for our view is that Brun is Blackburn, and this name, we most recollect, represents not only a town but a parish and a hundred. Wenshead is in Blackburn ancient parish, hence the double set of names is accounted for. Moreover, Blackburn town is not far away. The battlefield is located in the contemporary Song as "near Brunnanburh"; and Blackburn town is about four miles from Wenshead. The Saga of Egil states that a fortified place lay north of the battle-site; and a town at the head of the hundred would be likely to have some defences. Bruneswerc, and Brunfort (in the Book of Hyde), other forms given in the chronicles, also seem to denote a fortified place. Brunford (in William of Malmesbury) may be a variant for "fort," or it may relate to a ford over the Darwen or Ribble, and there were several such fords in the hundred of Blackburn. According to the Saga, the fortified place to the north of the heath was the headquarters of Anlaf. Some fighting, perhaps, took place there after the battle. Both the Song in the Saxon Chronicle and the account in Egil's Saga speak of a long battle and a long pursuit. The whole contest might include fighting at town and fort and ford, as well as a set battle on the heath and hill.
Other battles have, for various reasons, had two or more names. The battle of Hastings was seven miles from the field of that name; hence Freeman insisted in calling it Senlac. Cromwell's victory over Duke Hamilton, in 1648, is known as the Battle of Preston, but also as Ribble Bridge; moreover, there was fierce fighting during the retreat at Chorley and Newton. So, Athelstan's pitched battle began at Wenshead, but if Anlaf was at Blackburn he would be driven out and pursued at least as far as the Ribble. Hence the double set of names is quite explicable.
If we look closely we shall recognise our modern town in the old form. The body of the word remains the same, though it has gained a new head and lost its tail. For the body is brun, and the Welsh Chronicles shew that the simple form was in use, but by a familiar process of transposition Brun has become Burn, exactly as with the dialect word meaning to destroy by fire, or as "brid" becomes "bird." Brindle was once Burnhull, so Brun is now Burn. As for the lost ending, there was an enclitic use of the word burh, as there still is in the case of town, e.g., "How many miles to Dublin-town?" Rome was called Romana burh, London was Lunden burh. In the case of one Lancashire township, Euxton, the residents still say Euxton-burgh for the higher end of the village.
Before Domesday Book, 1086, Blackburn had gained a distinguishing epithet - Black, no doubt to differentiate it from other Burns, of which there was a great number. Local tradition connects the name with the stream called the Blakewater, which is not quite convincing. The application of the epithet black to stream, moor, castle, and even to families in this hundred deserves careful consideration. This is by the way. The Welsh records say that the town or district was called Brun or Brune in 937. Burnley itself may contain a reference to the old name of the hundred, if the name of its river may be, as some scholars think, a back formation.
If Brun was used absolutely in 937 so was Win. Egil sang, "Green grows the earth over my noble brother near to Win." Thorkelin explains that this is the name of a stream, or the heath, or a town near the heath. There is some indication that it was the name of a river, and, if so, of course, a local name for the Darwen. The same name (Vina) is given in a a former chapter of the Saga to the Russian river Dwina. An old list of British rivers in the Snorra Edda also includes the Vin and Vina; and Vigfusson notes that this river occurs twice in an old lay, and was also in Egil's Saga.
The river Dwina in Russia becomes Vina in Egil's Saga, and similarly Darwen becomes Vin or Win. Symeon's form, Wendune, shows that the Win was not a mistake made by a stranger, but that a short name was in use. We may call it an abrasion, or perhaps more correctly a local, unofficial name. The local pronunciation is now "Darren," but that does not prove that the hard word may not be simplified in another way. Some of our Christian names, such as Margaret, may be shortened in more than one way. A common instance is Bert for Albert, or Belle for Isabel. Onund for Bergonund occurs in Egil's Saga. Place-names are similarly shortened: Burh and Chester stood for different places, with longer, official names, in the Chronicles. Country Down people say "Ards" for Newtonards; the Dutch say "Dam" for Amsterdam. So the Darwen was called Wen or Win.
The short form Wen for Darwen fell into disuse. After the references in the Saga and in Symeon of Durham it cannot be traced in an absolute form, the full name, Darwen, prevails over it. It was preserved, however, in three compounds, Wenshead, Wensyde, and (with less certainty) Wensley Fold. The name Wenshead occurs in suits of the 16th century. There are two estates of this name, one associated with the Baron family, and Baron Pastures adjoin Higher Wenshead; a Walsh or Welsh family was also connected with one estate called Wenshead. It should be noted that lands of this name are sometimes described as in Tockholes; this may arise because the estates extended across the stream which divided Darwen from Tockholes; the Baron family are also sometimes said to be domiciled in Tockholes.
In February, 1584-5, there was a charge against several people of concealing and withholding lands from the Crown, which had been forfeited by John Paslew, abbot of Whalley, or had belonged to Bolton School. One charge, against Ellen Baron, concerned a messuage called Weneshead, otherwise Wenshead, and 140 acres of land and pasture adjoining. Part of the concealed land was said to be in Tockholes. In 1588 an ancient messuage in Tockholes, called Wensyde, in the tenure of John Baron and Alexander Waddington, both of Tockholes, was claimed as chantry land belonging to the chantry of St. Nicholas in Leyland Parish Church. Again, there is a place named Wensley Fold on the western side of Blackburn. This is probably to be connected with the old short form of Darwen found in Wenshead and Wensyde; just as Schevynlegh lies near to Shevington. We should be interested to hear of old forms or instances of Wensley; for there is just a chance that it may arise from a surname or be an import from Yorkshire. The Anderton family had a cotton mill at Wensley Fold in 1770 or a little later. If this is a genuine ancient place-name, it fortifies our identification of Win and Wen with Darwen; for Wensley Fold is not far away from the River Darwen and its tributary stream, the Blakewater.
The uncertainty or fluctuation in the vowel sound of Wen is another point of similarity with the last syllable of Darwen. The entries in Blackburn Church Register illustrate this irregularity; we find Wenshead in 1619 abd 1621, Baron family; Wensehead, 1621, Walsh f.; Wenshead, 1626, both families; Wenshead in Tockholes, 1627, Baron f.; Wenshead, 1629, Walsh f.; Wainesheade, 1638, Walsh f. The list of wills at Chester for this period, both families, shew also that one Wenshead at least was sometimes described as in Tockholes.
Variants in spelling continue almost to the present day. The largest estate in the manor of Over Darwen, when the sale took place in 1799, was Higher Wenshead, containing over 81 acres. It was in the occupation of James Brindle (rent £35), which no doubt accounts for the name Brindle Brow applied to the western slope of the hill at this place, a name which has found its way on to the maps. Lower Wanshead (sic) was over 63 acres; the tenant was John Duckworth, who paid £18 rent.
This form, Wanshead, reminds us of Wainesheade in 1638. The more usual spellings ring the changes on "i" and "e," just as in the case of Darwen. For instance, Mr. J. G. Shaw, writing in 1889, quotes in his History of Darwen an old letter which says, "James Worsley's farm, you may remember, is called Winshead." Mr. Shaw goes on to give some suggestions as to the meaning of this name which he calls "Wenshead or Winshead." We need not follow the history of the place-name in its restricted sense any further; but it may be added that both Higher and Lower Wenshead have been acquired by Darwen Corporation. Reasons have already been adduced for believing that the "Vin" of the Saga is Darwen. This carries with it the conclusion that Wins Heath is Darwen Heath or Moor; and that Winshead, or Wenshead, though now apparently limited to the west slope of the great headland, yet preserves an older form of wider application. The name might very credibly become more restricted as assarts were made and other names were given to separate farms; and as Darwen ousted Win or Wen.
That the whole extent of the hill bore the name Darwen Head is evident from a record of boundaries in a suit of the year 1699, when that name is found at the south-west extremity of the moor near to Hollinshead Hall. Darwen Moor was then declared to be divided from Bromley Pastures in Sharples by "the syke of Darwen Head or Darwen Shield." Thus the site of Wenshead satisfactorily accounts for both classes of place-names; and many matters, some of small import, some of greater weight, point to the conclusion that Win or Wen is Darwen, and that Burnanburh is Blackburn.
To a casual reader it might seem that the features of the battlefield depicted in the Saga are so common - a stream here, a wood there - that many places might be found to fit the scene. There are many allusions in Egil's Saga, however, which the careful observer will note, not easily duplicated when taken all together. The battlestead must have been a picturesque and striking situation; as Dr. Neilson puts it, a rendezvous marked out by nature. Moreover, it was closely observed by a trained eye, and it is vividly portrayed; possibly the details are taken from one of the lost poems of Egil.
We shall speak, in turn of the following topographical features: the heath itself; the stream or streams; the great wood; the mickle how or great tomb; the south "borg" or fortified place. The north "borg" we reserve for another chapter. The whole story of the heath or head where the battle took place implies that it was a great hill. Anlaf's men approaching from the north were sent up to the heath. One variant reading says, "Near to the stream there was a mickle hill (haed mikill) on which hill the soldiers of Athelstan pitched." It is uncertain whether this was the great hill itself on which the battle was fought, for this hill stands by a stream, or whether some neighbouring hill, or a mound on the moorland height itself, is signified. Two other features are stressed. On the top of the battle height there was a plateau of level land; and this was very extensive. All these requirements are met by Darwen Moor.
As to the actual battlefield where the heath was level, and hazel rods, as described in Egil's Saga, were placed to mark the site, we incline to the opinion that it was the great plain south of the Jubilee Tower, for this is adjacent to the spot where the name Wenshead is still retained, and the stream runs by (on a lower level) on the west. The wood is still seen in the place-names on the east. In this case Anlaf's tents would be on the slope of the hill plateau adjacent to Sunnyhurst; Athelstan's men would probably be encamped in the vicinity of Stepback. If the hill where his tents were really differed from Darwen Hill, as a variant reading suggests, then possibly his men occupied Cartridge Hill; for a front row of tents on the top of that eminence might be arranged so as to hide the number of tents from those looking southward.
It would appear that the tents were placed on the slopes of the heath, and, in the case of the English, perhaps, on adjoining hills, so as to leave the level plain free for the fighting.
It seems strange to us that armies should climb to such an eminence as Darwen Moor to fight it out. Possibly the wood and bogs and flooded valleys of the locality left them little choice. They had to climb to get a fairly dry plain. It is not very dry now; but mining and turf-getting have no doubt altered the watercourses, so that what it is now may be very different from what it was in 937 A.D.
If Winheath or Wenshead was Darwen Moor, as we believe, then we have a site for the battle described in Egil's Saga, which is much more spacious than the site at Burnswork. We cannot tell how much of the ground now open was, in 937 A.D., taken up by woodland; but Darwen Moor, according to Shaw consisted of 1889 of a common of 296 acres, intersected by a network of footpaths about 30 miles in length, and of course Turton Moor and other moorlands adjoin.
The stream, which ran by the place where the battle was to be, was on one side of the plateau, and there was a wood on the other side. In the space between wood and water where it was least, yet it was pretty big, Althelstan's men pitched and all that space between wood and water was filled by their tents. The water mentioned is probably the western tributary of the Darwen, Stepback brook; for the eastern feeder of the Darwen rising at White Hill was on the same side of the hill plateau as the wood.
The expression in the Saga, "between wood and water," and the assignment of that part of the plateau "near to the stream" to Athelstan's army, do not, we believe, imply that the hill-top plateau is on the same level as the stream. We take the description of the side of the plain "near to the water" to mean the western half of the hill, adjacent to the valley through which the stream runs. When the Saga says that the English tents quite filled the space between wood and water where the space was narrowest, it says so in conjunction with the statement that the slope party hid the camp of Athelstan. This suits quite well the gate of the moors at Stepback, where the tents could not have reached to the water without being pitched on the slope.
The advocates of the Burnswork theory have hard work to account for the wood named in the Saga, and this also goes against their view. Dr. Neilson omits the wood from the eight criteria which he gives to test the validity of any suggested site. He hardly expects to find surviving signs of it at Burnswork; yet believes there are traces in the form of Hazelberry, on the north of Burnswork, and in Shawhill beside it. The wood, however, plays a prominent part in the battle; it adjoins the heath; and an ambush in the wood is the cause of the fall of Thorolf, brother of Egil. Our site at Darwen still reveals traces of a great wood, both in place-names and tradition. Wood Head, Wood Side, Lower Trees, Higher Trees, are on the east side of the moorland height, and marked on the ordnance. Farms with these names were offered for sale with the manor in 1799, except that Wood Side is then called merely Wood. Sunnyhurst on the north of the moor had evidently been replanted at that time, for "Soonerst, Trees and Darwen," had "lately been fenced out and planted with several sorts of timber trees." Jeremy Hunt, an old inhabitant (1806-1887) with a great knowledge of local matters, has handed down a tradition that once upon a time a great wood extended from Woodhead in Darwen to Woodhead in Pickup Bank; and old men used to tell of the immense trees found in the locality. Bury Fold Lane was once a thickly-wooded lane. The tenant of Lower Trees used to find hazel trees with the nuts upon them buried four and five feet in the ground. There was a great row of beeches extending from Lower Trees to High Lumb. These tales and traditions gain in force when we remember that they were not collected to prove a case, but the present writer found them ready to hand.
But he has something to add to the testimonies of the "oldest inhabitant"; and that is the reminder that the forest of Rossendale extended to Darwen; its western limit included Pickup Bank and Yate Bank which were comprised in Hoddlesden Chace. Now Hoddlesden Moss adjoins Darwen Moor on the south-east. The evidence above suggests that anciently the forest extended right along the eastern side of Darwen hill, covering the site of the present town and up the slope of the moor as far as Woodhead. This western reach of Rossendale forest was no doubt known as Darwen Wood, and we suggest that it was the Winswood, of the Saga. One apparent difficulty meets us in fitting the topography of the Saga to Darwen Moor. In drawing up the battle line, Athelstan is said to have placed his own division on the level plateau, towards, or on the same side as, the stream (til arinnar), while Thorolf's division was on the higher ground near the wood. Now the east side of Darwen Hill south of the Jubilee Tower, i.e., the wood side, is not markedly higher than the west side next to the vale through which the stream runs. There is, however, some high ground south of an old quarry and west of Green Lowe Farm, and this may have been Thorolf's starting-place. Moreover, the word (efra) usually translated higher, may equally well be rendered further inland, which in this case would be east, away from the stream. Thus no real difficulty remains.
The grave of Thorolf, brother of Egil, who was killed at Brunanburh, and buried on the battlefield, has played an important part in the case for the Burnswork site; and Dr. Neilson includes the presence of a howe on the hill as one of the necessary criteria in his list of the marks of the genuine site. He points in triumph to the tumulus on Burnswork, 70 feet in diameter and 10 feet high. It has been excavated, in 1899, but nothing valuable found. Some writers feel that the size and site of the tumulus are "victoriously clamant" for the Burnswork case. But on Darwen Moor an even greater mound, 90 feet wide and 10 to 12 feet high, was opened in 1864. Nothing certainly related to Viking times was found; but a number of burial urns belonging to the Bronze Age, which are now in Darwen Library. A bronze spearhead was also found, which Mr. C. Hardwick thought resembled an Anglo-Saxon weapon. If so, it would represent a secondary internment in later times. There is scarcely sufficient evidence for disassociating it from the urns with which it was found.
But we wish to call special attention to the number of cairns in Turton, adjoining Darwen Moor. Hanging Stone, Big Grey Stones, Andrew's Buttery, the Three Lowes, the Druidical Circle, and Old Man hill which probably implies the existence of a cairn. One howe in Turton in the year 1410, according to a document copied by Christopher Towneley bore the name of Torhawe. Professor Ekwall thinks that Turton itself comes from the Scandinavian name Thor. We wonder whether Torhawe can be traced, and whether it had any connection with the mickle howe of Thorolf, brother of Egil? Windbarrow is also mentioned (?Win barrow). One very interesting discovery is recorded. The copper head of a British standard was found at Turton. Was this carried into the great fight in front of the earls of Bretland?
Bolton-le-Moors is the place that we suggest for the borg where Athelstan sat.
The antiquity of Bolton is beyond question. At the church there a cross is extant which Professor Collingwood pronounces to be of pre-Viking date. Bolton after the Norman conquest was the head of an important fee. Before the Conquest we have not found evidence that it was a fortified place. The absence of records does not prove that it was not. Moreover, places change their names, and some of the forts built by Aethelflaed, Lady of Mercia, have not been with certainty identified. If tradition counts for anything, there is a persistent tradition that Smithhills Hall was the residence of a Saxon King, and more than one Saxon King. The place-name, Bolton, itself, as Professor Ekwall suggests, may mean the town of some very special dwelling such as a palace.
The town does lie "under the heath," in this sense that it is lower than Darwen Moor, and stands at the foot of a great stretch of moorland reaching from Darwen to the valley of the River Croal. Dr. Neilson lays too much stress, as it seems to us, on the fact that the English pitched their tents on a steep (Icelandic - hatt) place, which he takes as a criterion that the hill of the battlefield had a sharper fall on the south than on the north. There is a fairly steep slope to Darwen Moor on the south. At Sharples especially, as perhaps the name implies, the moorland does descend sharply towards Bolton. As we have shown, however, the English tents may have been on a mound on Darwen Moor itself, or on Cartridge Hill; and the usual text of the Saga implies that they were, as we think, on the western slope of the hill reaching down to Stepback stream.
Once again, Bolton suits very well the allusions to the south borg in the negotiations before the battle. The distance from Blackburn to Bolton, about 14 miles, is just the distance that would make a request for a three days' truce to go, consider, and return; a reasonable one, and also make a night journey from one to the other a read effort. Manchester had been fortified by Edward the Elder, but Manchester was too far away. Perhaps Anlaf was at Preston and Athelstan at Bolton, when the challenge was first given to wage a battle at Winshead; then the field would lie roughly midway between the two Kings. Anlaf moved northwards (til) Winshead, some time before the actual conflict. This was a strategic move, as the Saga says, for the purpose of obtaining provisions, and accords very well with our theory, inasmuch as he would have the forest and booths of Blackburnshire to draw upon for the purchase of supplies. Some variant readings make him move before the battle to "Winsheath town" (borg). This error, for so the editors regard it, arises from absence of punctuation marks, and is easily explicable by the context. Was there already a town at Darwen? Probably not a borg or fortified town, at any rate, for if in close proximity to the heath, we should have expected it to be mentioned in the Saga. Moreover, the wood on the east of the battlestead probably extended over part at least of the site of the present town. There may have been a village or settlement in the wood. The discovery of urn-burials proves that, at a very much earlier period, the district was peopled. Psychology, if not history, may justify us in closing this chapter with a purple patch. Is Darwen Moor such a place as would make a deep and abiding impression on the mind of Egil, soldier and poet, hero of the Saga?. Dr. Neilson has spoken eloquently of Burnswork, but not more eloquently than Mr. W. T. Ashton wrote of Darwen. If Burnswork be a "kenspeckle" rendezvous marked out by nature, a fine, bold, rounded hill in the heart of Annandale, standing out against the skyline in extensive prospects, and commanding a wide panoramic view, what of Darwen Hill, bigger and broader far? Mr. Ashton speaks of those who have gone from its slopes to the ends of the earth, and have carried in their hearts to Queensland and Sydney the imperishable picture of its massiveness and grandeur.
The northern earthworks on Burnswork Hill, as already stated, does not well suit the description of the north borg in Egil's Saga. It is too small to have held Anlaf's army; it is too close to the battlestead, and also to the south borg. Blackburn better agrees with the borg north of the heath. It lies four miles north of Darwen, where we believe the battle was fought, and, as head of a forest, with booths and vaccaries, suits the purpose of Anlaf's removal to the north borg, that is, the provisioning of his army. The 14 miles between Blackburn and Bolton furnish the required distance for the three days truce, twice granted, and the forced journey on the second occasion. The borg is actually on the heath (or head) at Burnswork; but Egil's Saga shews that they lay apart. When Adils suggested the night attack, Anlaf remained behind, explaining, "We will here (in the north borg) make ready our army, when it is light we will come to your aid." Adils moved southward for the heath - this implies apartness. The march thither took some time - this implies a fair distance. For when Adils and his brother arrived day had dawned, and the sentinels of Thorolf the Viking sighted the advancing foe. Blackburn and Darwen better suit the story; they are not in the awkward proximity of borg and heath at Burnswork.
But why Blackburn, rather than Preston, for instance? Because, as already discussed, Blackburn appears in the chronicles, in old fashioned guise, and gave a name to the fight, as Hastings gave a name to the conflict at Senlac.
One discovery, if well substantiated, leads to another. If Brunan burh is Blackburn, then it would seem to follow that the town itself, and possibly the church there, were built by Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of Alfred the Great, about the year 910.
We have mentioned that the Icelandic word borg may be misunderstood; a similar danger attends the old English word burh. It may mean a fort, but afterwards meant a fortified town, and later still a town without fortifications. The Saxon fort was generally a timber stockade at the top of a mound. The line of burhs made by Edward the Elder and his sister Aethelflaed were, however, more than this, they were fortified towns. Their purpose throws light on the nature and size. We may trust William of Malmesbury when he says that they were ancient towns (urbes) restored or new ones freshly built, in places selected for the special purpose of protecting the inhabitants and driving off the Danes.
Consider now the evidence for believing that the first burh or fortified town which Aethelflaed is recorded to have built was identical with Brunanburh (Blackburn).
Chroniclers vary in their references to the burh and the battlefield, and we may group them in three classes. These are those who given somewhat different names to the burh and battle: so that the name of the town contains the letter "m," the name of the battle the letter "n." Foremost of these is the Saxon Chronicle, the Parker MS. of which does not mention the burh, but the MS. called C, incorporating a short Mercian record, says that in 910, after the fight against the Danes at Teotanhaele, Aethelflaed built the burh at Bremesburig.
Secondly, there are chroniclers who give to Aethelflaed's town and Athelstan's battle practically the same name. It may be objected that some of the chroniclers in this group, and in the next about to be mentioned, are of late date, and not very dependable. In answer to this we reply that the greatest weight must be attached to contemporary records, and those adjudged to have copied contemporary sources. Nevertheless, we cannot neglect the later writers. There is always a chance that they used some early source, and even that they know personally some place which they mention, as when Florence of Worcester locates the battle of Teotenhale (Tottenhall) in Staffordshire.
Archdeacon Henry of Huntingdon says that after this fight against the Danes, Aethelflaed built, in the same year, the burh of Brunesburih. Now he gives practically the same spelling to the great battle against Anlaf, he calls it Brunesburith. We quote the Arundel MS.; and although other copies of Henry of Huntingdon's chronicle give to the burh of Aethelflaed such names as Brimesbirih and Brimesbirith, resembling those in the Saxon Chronicles. Mr. Grant Allen, in his account of Aethelflaed, believes that the Brunesburith form preserves an original reading.
Similarly, the chronicle of Ailred, abbot of Rievaulx, transcribed by Twysden, gives the name Brunesburch to the burh built by Aethelflaed. Further, the chronicle of Jervaulx, abstracted by Leland, calls Aethelflaed's burh Brunnesburg and Athelstan's battle Brunneburgh. Another text (?) transcribed by Twysden has Brimesburge for the former name; but Leland transcribed his extract twice, with the same spelling.
It is true that the Jervaulx Chronicle, sometimes called the chronicle of John Brompton, is an uncritical work, and compiled after the middle of the 14th century, but it contains some matter from early sources. The form of the statement which it makes about Aethelflaed's burh introduces a new item, which is interesting in itself, and which incidentally shews that the chronicle is not here merely dependent on Henry of Huntingdon. For the Jervaulx Chronicle mentions also a "monasterium," and Henry does not. In the same year, as her husband, Ethelred's death, she built a monasterium and a burh at Brunnesburg. Monasterium does not only mean a monastery, but it may mean a parish church, as Ducange shews. The word is often used of a church specially large and splendid, a minster.
Thirdly, a number of chronicles, mostly of late date, give to the great battle of 937 a name which includes the letter "m"; speaking somewhat roughly they give to the battlefield a name similar to that given to the burh of Athelflaed in the Saxon Chronicle. According to Roger of Hoveden, who died about 1201, the fight was at Brumanburgh. Three texts of the so-called chronicle of Robert of Gloucester speak of the battle at Brymesbury, Bremesbury, and Brunesburie. Two MSS. of Higden's Polychronicon have Brumford and Brimanburgh.
If Bremesburh and Brunanburh are the same palce, the "m" forms may have arisen from mistakes in copying; or alternatively they may both represent a common archetype. Bromnis is a place mentioned in the Life of Wilfrid; and such a Latinised form might give rise to a variety of spellings. It is strange also that the first part of the Roman name for Ribchester seems to contain a similar root.
Either the burh of 910 and the battlefield of 937 are the same place, or they have been confused. If error has arisen, the confusion is twofold; some have given the name of the burh to the battle, and some the name of the fight to the town.
We believe that they are the same place, on the following grounds. According to Egil's saga, a fortified place lay to the north of the battlestead, and in that borg Anlaf had great part of his forces. According to the Saxon Chronicle, the battle was near a burh, this is implied in the name Brunanburh; and some of the names in other records imply a fortified place.
Again, no satisfactory site for Aethelflaed's first burh has been found. Bramebury, near Torksey, was suggested by Mr. Arnold, but rejected by Dr. Plummer as on the wrong side of the country entirely. He agrees with C. S. Taylor's identification, Conigree Hill, a great mound entrenched at the summit, at Bromesberrow, near Ledbury. But Florence of Worcester calls Aethelflaed's burh a town (urbs); and we think a mound, however great, does not meet the case, especially if we admit the statement of the Jervaulx Chronicle about the minster at Brunnesburg.
It seems to us that there are sound reasons why a burh should be built at Blackburn, as a refuge for Mercian settlers, and a barrier in the path of raiders from Scotland and Ireland, making their way into Yorkshire.
Was there a Mercian colony in the land between Ribble and Mersey before 937? The Ribble appears to have been the ancient boundary between Northumbria and Mercia at the peace made between Alfred and Guthrum; though there is no complete agreement among scholars as this. An interesting contribution to the problem of the nationality of the Angles in the future South Lancashire has recently been made by Professor Ekwall. Judging from language as revealed in place-names, he concludes that while both Mercians and Northumbrians took part in the colonisation of the district, yet before 923 it had a Mercian population. In Domesday Book, as is well-known, the land south of Ribble was surveyed with Mercia. From Athelstan's time, also, if not before, it was included in the Mercian diocese of Lichfield. The locality may have been called Northumbria. Chronicle E describes Whalley in 798 as in Northumbria. Perhaps too much stress may be laid upon this. Speaking of another site so described, "Any place in the north of England," says Professor Collingwood, "was in Northumbria"; this of course in a general sense. Manchester was said to be in Northumbria in 923 when Edward the Elder occupied it. This event is often taken to denote the northern limit of Mercian expansion at that date; and this was a dozen years after Aethelflaed's burh was built. Can she, at so early a date, have founded a burh at Blackburn?
Is there anything in the Chronicle to prove that Manchester was the limit of the Mercian advance in 923? Does not the fact that the Mercian force was sent to repair and man it, suggest that the place had been ruined in a Danish raid, and, if so, that the Mercians had an interest there before this date? Whether South Lancashire was in the strict sense Northumbria or not, there were Mercian settlers, and, if it lay in her power, Aethelflaed would wish to protect them against Pagan invaders. As the Danes had towns in Mercia, it is reasonable to think that the Mercians may have had outposts in the debateable land between Ribble and Mersey, colonies constituting a sort of "Mercia irredenta."
There was another reason for a fortified place at Blackburn. Many roads met there, and a garrison at that point would intercept invaders arriving by the Ribble, bound for Yorkshire. Mercia was menaced at this time from Ireland, both by Danes and Norse. Igmund, a Norse chief, from Dublin, settled in Wirral about 900; and a dozen years afterwards we read in The Three Fragments of Irish History (edited by O'Donovan) of the great hosts of Black Gaills and White Gaills who came into Saxonland. These made war against Aethelflaed. One object of her fortified places undoubtedly was to put barriers between the Irish Danes and the Five Danish Boroughs. The burh at Runcorn was intended to prevent raiders entering by the Mersey; but the Irish invaders could not be shut out while the way from the Ribble estuary to Manchester and over Blackstone Edge remained unguarded.
Was Blackburn beyond her influence? We think not. Ethelwerd calls her husband King, and says that he ruled Northumbria as well as Mercia. The Saxon Chronicle states that the people of York submitted to her command. The Three Fragments mentions her alliance with the men of Alba (Scotland) and with the Britons of Strathclyde. Several chronicles connect the building of her first burh with a victory over the Danes in which many leaders were slain. Among these was a certain Agmund the Hold. Professor Bugge and others have suggested that he was chief of Amounderness, and that this district was called after him. There is evidence, of a doubtful charter, that even after this, Amounderness was in the hands of "the pirates." Nevertheless the victory led to the building of a fortified town: perhaps it revealed the need of protection at this place; perhaps it opened the way for Aethelflaed to extend her boundaries by right of conquest.
In 1066 Blackburn was a royal manor, and head of a hundred. It was an administrative centre for a wide area; this accords well with our view of its origin. If Blackburn was the Brunesburh of the battle, as Henry of Huntingdon spells the name, then we are led to the conclusion that it was also the Brunesburh founded in 910 by Lady Aethelflaed.
On May 15, 1840, in a field near Cuerdale Hall, some workmen were employed for William Assheton, Esq., of Downham. They were busy making a new slope on the south bank of the river Ribble, when, at a place about 40 yards from the water and adjacant to an ancient ford across the stream, they came upon hidden treasure. One of the labourers struck his spade into a lead-covered box, which had been buried about two feet and a half below the surface, and was coated with alluvial deposit.
"Oyster shells!" he exclaimed, examining the contents of the box. His companions came to look, and one of them pronounced them to be buttons. "Silver buttons, too!"
At the magic word "silver," the workmen within earshot threw down their tools and scrambled for possession of the round, pearly-grey objects which tumbled out of the earth in profusion at their feet. Somebody else was at hand, however. The estate bailiff arrived and claimed possession of the treasure on behalf of Mr. Assheton, lord of the manor. Finding is not keeping, except by stealth; and so the more honest workmen disgorged their gains. Some of another kidney slipped silver pieces into their shoes and socks, and it is alleged that thousands of coins were stolen.
Ultimately the booty was claimed for the nation as treasure trove, but the authorities dealt most generously with the contents of the chest. The lord of the manor, Mr. Assheton, received a gift of some of the coins and certain of the ornaments and ingots, enclosed in a rosewood cabinet. A complete set of all types of coin in the hoard was reserved for the British Museum; and then specimens were sent to universities and museums throughout the world. "Mirabilia fecit" (He hath done wonders) was the legend on hundreds of the coins. It was certainly one of the "mirabilia," that for nine centuries the leaden box had held its secret not far from a busy road and river.
The box contained about a thousand ounces of silver in ingots and ornaments; and, apart from those lost, about 7,000 silver coins were recovered. Armlets or bracelets were found in several stages of preparation. There were large ingots, three and a quarter inches long, cast in moulds of metal and baked clay, some of the moulds being marked with a cross. In addition there were cut pieces and lumps of metal, as if ornaments had been melted up, or a silversmith's stock had been seized. There can be little doubt that some part of the hoard was the takings of an army of raiders. A Thor's hammer amulet, and chisels, were found among the items, but no implements for coining.
The analysis of the coins is as follows :-- 24 coins of Athelstan of East Anglia; 2, Ceowulf II. of Mercia; 3, Athelred of Wessex; 919, Alfred; 51, Edward the Elder; 1, Archbishop Ceolnoth; 1, Archbishop Ethered; 59, Archbishop Plegmund; 1,815, memorial coins of St. Edmund; 2, Halfdene; 2, Earl Sihtric; 2,534, Cnut; 238, Siefred; 205, other ecclesiastical coins; 1, Alvaldus. There are also over a thousand Continental coins, 31 Oriental, and about 65 that are illegible.
To Mr. C. Hardwick appears to be due the credit of first suggesting that the Cuerdale treasure had some connection with the battle of Brunanburh. Those who contended that the battle took place at Burnley eagerly seized upon this to fortify their theory. Mr. T. Wilkinson regarded the chest as part of Anlaf's treasure buried during the hasty retreat of his men to their ships in the estuaries of the Ribble, Mersey and Wyre. Mr. J. T. Marquis adopted a similar view.
A new line was taken by Mr. W. J. Andrew, F.S.A., in 1905. He ignores the attribution of the hoard to the Brunanburh campaign, and argues that it must be referred to a Danish defeat at this ford in Cuerdale in the year 911. Writing as an authority on coins, he contends that only an army or a government could possess so much money in those days. Various chroniclers tell of a victory about this time over the Danes at Tettenhall in Staffordshire. Mr. Andrew thinks there was a second great battle in the locality of Cuerdale, and that the kings slain in the latter are, by confusion, sometimes enumerated as killed in the Staffordshire fight. Several records say that the English overtook the Northumbrian army as it was "returning home" from a raid into Mercia. Mr. Andrew believes that this description could not apply to a conflict at Tettenhall. The great difficulty about Mr. Andrew's theory is that he puts several chroniclers in the wrong in order that he may be in the right. A battle in which the Cuerdale treasure was lost would be a great struggle. It would hardly be left without a name by the earliest authorities, however much it might be confused with other campaigns by later authorities. Mr. Andrew's view that the Cuerdale hoard is to be attributed to a Cuerdale battle in 911 was adopted in the Victory County History by Mr. John Garstang, F.S.A., who contended that by his discovery Mr. Andrew had recovered a page of English history.
It must be frankly admitted that the connection between the treasure and Brunanburh would have been more clear if there had been a large number of coins of Athelstan in the hoard, or coins of Olaf of Ireland; as for Constantine, he is not known to have had any coinage. The presence of a large number of Alfred's coins, and fewer of Edward the Elder, has led the British Museum authorities to assign the treasure to a date about 905, or early in the reign of Edward, while the money of Alfred was still plentiful. Against this we must set the fact that many coins from the chest were secretly retained by the workmen who found it, and sold and scattered. The real extent of the hoard will never be known; but Mr. Hardwick and other contemporaries thought that no less than 3,000 coins were lost in this way. Then is it certain that coins were "withdrawn from circulation" in the tenth century, according to modern methods? The materials for judging such a question are limited, and the Cuerdale hoard, according to Mr. Andrew, is the most valuable numismatic treasure ever found on English soil. The hoard itself supplies the evidence that coins continued to circulate for a long time. The British Museum list ascribes it to 905 A.D., for it includes, as stated, coins of Edward the Elder; but there are contained here also coins minted before 870, and possibly as early as 830. If they circulated until 905 A.D., it is surely possible that they circulate for 30 years or so longer, i.e., until 937, the date of Brunanburh.
Moreover, close examination reveals that a large number of the coins, especially the Alfred coins, represent forgeries or imitations. If the pseudo-Alfred penny was not really an Alfred coin, are we certain that it was minted during his reign? There can be no certainty. For note the considered opinion of students on some of the coins. Hawkins says of 650 specimens of Alfred (type 10, Oxford) pennies found at Cuerdale, that some others were found with them resembling them in all respects save that the name on the obverse is so apparently blundered as to be quite illegible. These, he says, were possibly struck by Danes in East Anglia or Northumbria in imitation of Alfred's coins. He makes a similar remark about the 110 coins of type 11, Canterbury; and about a coin of type 13, struck at Lincoln, a place not in Alfred's dominion, although this penny bears his name; and of a coin of "Alfred's" but struck by the Danes, which was washed up by the Ribble in 1845; and of coins of the types enumerated, 6, 7, 13, and 14. If we deduct those not authoritative, the number of Alfred coins is distinctly reduced. Hawkins says the imitations were made during Alfred's reign; but this is, of course, an inference. Another curious feature is the Cnut and St. Edmund coins, some of which bear also the name of Alfred. Is it possible that Alfred's name appears on some of these coins in a commemorative sense, as St. Edmund's does?
Again, about 1,800 coins of St. Edmund were found at Cuerdale; Hawkins ascribes them to the reign of Eohric, who succeeded Edmund as King of East Anglia in 890. The wider rule of the Danish Athelstan had intervened. Noticing that some of these bear the name of York City (Eriace Civ.), he says that though struck for Eohric, they must have been minted outside his dominions. Is this very satisfactory? Do not the three matters implied, the connection of Christianity and East Anglia and York, suggest a time much later, for instance, a date following after Edward the Elder's capture of the Danish fort at Tempsford, when he slew Guthrum II. in 918? The uniting of the two kingdoms under a Christian ruler would perhaps suit even better the reign of the Saxon Athelstan, after the death of Sihtric of Northumbria in 926.
One outstanding problem connected with the Cuerdale hoard is the presence of a number of coins apparently bearing the regal name Cnut. These form the largest group in the hoard; there are 2,534 of these compared with the 919 of Alfred. The legend on these coins seems to be Acren or Crtena, but Mr. Haigh, an authority on the coins of Northumbria, suggested that the legend should be read "cruciformly." This method gives Crnut; and taking the "r" to represent rex or king, and leaving it for the second time round, you can make Cnut. It is generally inferred that Cnut was another name for the Guthred, son of Hardacnut, who restored at Chester-le-Street the order of St. Cuthbert, formerly at Lindisfarne. There was also a king of Denmark in the tenth century called Cnut, but probably not a Christian; whereas on these Northumbrian coins there are Christian legends. We say Northumbrian because the name of York appears on some. The name of King Alfred is also found on some of them. We suggest again that this may be commemorative; for it seems strange that the name of two kings (if Cnut is a regal name) should appear on the same coin. Then the Latin motto "Mirabilia fecit" (He hath done wonders, probably from Psalm 18, or 17 in Vulgate) is on others. Two names of towns appear on these Cnut coins, neither of which has been satisfactorily explained. Quentovici, Hawkins thinks must be the French town of that name near Etaples, and suggests that Cnut struck the coin when on a raid in France. This does not sound convincing.
Cunnetti, variously spelt on the coins, is the other place-name. Mr. Rashleigh suggested that it might be Chester-le-street, which was known by a similar name Cunecacestre. If this is correct, we suggest that the coins may be ecclesiastical rather than regal. What is taken to be Cnut, if read backwards instead of cruciformly, is strangely like the first part of the place-name; and the other places might be towns where "St. Cuthbert" had land.
There is no certainty in these speculations, but our purpose is to show that the Cuerdale hoard calls for much more research, and that it is rash to conclude that the date of deposit could not be later than 905 or 910.
Two names of great interest appear on certain coins. Several numismatologists can trace an Olaf on some obverses. The spelling Eoloev, which Worsaae gives, resembles that on the known coins of Olaf or Anlaf, King of Dublin. Thorburn gives Oel Dfo for Olaf of Dublin, on the obverse of an early Irish coin.
One very interesting coin in the Cuerdale hoard, from our point of view, is an Alfred penny of the type numbered 10 by Mr. Hawkins. It will be remembered that there are at least 650 specimens of this type in the hoard and some others partly illegible. On the obverse of this one specimen there is a cross with a pellet in each angle followed by four pairs of letters, EL FR ED RE; on the reverse is the legend EDELS R. GELDA. It is unquestioned that the name on the obverse refers to King Alfred. Rev. D. H. Haigh says that the reverse legend is remarkable, and that the hyphen over the S, and the dot after the R, seem to be marks of abbreviation of the name and title of Athelstan. Gelda, he adds, may be the name of a mint, Geldstone in Norfolk, or the Latinised for of the Englished word geld, meaning payment. Can this, says Mr. Haigh, be part of the treasure bestowed upon him at his baptism?
There were two Athelstans; Guthorm, who took the name at his baptism, and the Saxon Athelstan. We could more confidently ascribe this coin to the latter, if "gelda" means tribute. The name Alfred on the obverse creates a difficulty. But if the Cnut coins are regal, those marked Siefred bear names of successive kings. May not Alfred here be commemorative? All the Athelstan coins might well be examined again. Mr. Hawkins long ago spoke doubtfully in scribing them all to Guthorm. The name appears on others in the hoard in the moneyer's place, as in the case of this "gelda" coin.
Neither Mr. Haigh nor Mr. Hawkins, in their respective discussions, makes it quite clear that this coin was found at Cuerdale; we are deeply grateful to Mr. G. C. Brooke, of the British Museum Coins and Medals Department, for clearing up all doubt that it was certainly found in the Cuerdale hoard.
To sum up, we cannot think Mr. Andrew's case proved, when he assigns the treasure to an un-named battle at Cuerdale in 911; nor can we credit Mr. Hawkins when he limits the date of deposit, on numismatic grounds, first to the year 910 or thereabouts, and then after further consideration, to 905 or thereabouts. We have sought to show that there are too many doubtful factors in the case to justify dogmatism as to the ultimate year of deposit. It still seems to us that the Brunanburh campaign was the most likely time for the accumulation and the loss of so great a treasure.
The probability of the treasure being lost after Brunanburh does not prove that the site was at Darwen; but it does strengthen the case for a site somewhere south of the Ribble. The composition of the league between Constantine and Anlaf of Dublin against the English King would have rendered a site west of the Pennines a certainty, but for a statement made by Florence of Worcester. He is believed to have had access to a Saxon Chronicle now lost, and that, in the eyes of some, has added weight to his account of Brunanburh. He says that Anlaf, King of the Irish, with a strong fleet entered the mouth of the river Humber (ostium Humbrae fluminis) and that after the battle Anlaf and Constantine were forced to flee to the ships. Florence's statement is the chief support of the suggested sites of the battle on the east side of England. Some have opined that part of Anlaf's forces entered the Humber to create a diversion; but that is not what Florence says. Now Humbra and its derivatives are occasionally found as equivalents for Northumbria. We suggest that the source used by Florence said that Anlaf entered the mouth of a river of Humbra, and that the error arose in this way. Whatever its origin, Florence's statement as generally understood must be erroneous. The composition of the league is against it; the difficulties of navigation at that time are against it; the story of the battle in Egil's Saga is against it (especially the flight of Alfgeir who rode south and then west to find a port to take him overseas to France); and, not least the discovery of the Cuerdale hoard is against it, and in favour of a site south of the Ribble.
Popular tradition is an uncertain and often a muddled witness, nevertheless it deserves some notice. Though by itself it would prove nothing, yet folk-lore may fortify an argument based on other grounds. Three tales of an ancient battle may be cited. We begin with one furthest removed from our suggested site, for it concerns the manor of Elston in the parish of Preston, which adjoins the river Ribble on the north opposite to Cuerdale on the south bank. Elston was formerly Etheliston (in 1212) or Ethelston (in 1246).
William Elston of Brockholes, who died in 1636, the author of "Mundana Mutabilia or Ethelestophylax," was told by a relative that King Athelstan, lying in camp in this country upon occasion of wars, gave the land of Ethelston unto one whom himself was belsyre (godfather). His relative added that there was a charter to this effect in the Saxon character. This story is straightforwardly told; there seems no reason to doubt it. Brunanburh is not mentioned; but it agrees with our contention that Athelstan came into the district on a military expedition; while the old forms of the name Elston support the derivation given or suggested.
Hardwick mentions the tradition of a battle in the olden time, somewhere in the neighbourhood of Tockholes, in the Roddlesworth valley. It will be remembered that this is the boundary between Withnell and Tockholes; but at one point it comes near to Darwen Moor. Several different writers speak of a discovery of 38 heads of horses in a pit, within a quarter of a mile of Tockholes Church. One account states that the pit was in "Kill Field," the supposed site of a battle, and that clubs and cannon balls were found in the same field. We are not told whether these latter were of stone or metal. If metal, it is a strange thing to find clubs associated with cannon; if of stone, they might be missiles of an earlier period. Different writers associate the missiles found at Tockholes with the defeat of Colonel Shuttleworth by Prince Rupert in 1644, while the Prince was on his way from Bolton to York. Is there any mention of fighting at Tockholes in contemporary records of the Civil War? We cannot find the place referred to in the Civil War Tracts, nor in the standard account of the War in Lancashire.
The records of the discovery of human remains and horses' skeletons at Tockholes are far from careful; and we cannot learn whether the relics were found in close proximity to the weapons named above. The discoveries point to a local battle, but leave the period doubtful.
The third tradition is found on the site where we would place the great conflict between Anlaf and Athelstan. Mention of a battle on Darwen Moor excites no surprise among the natives. They know all about it, and tell you that Oliver Cromwell was the leader of one side. Moreover, they are able to assure you that the name of the place is a standing proof of the battle; for did not the great general halt his men there with the command, "Step Back!" and the name endures to this day. This derivation is, of course, doubtful, to say the least of it. Mr. J. G. Shaw, in his history of Darwen, suggests that the explanation of the name is that it comes from "steep-beck," beck being the stream. "The gorge of Stepback," says he, "is a veritable gate of the hills. Its western side is very steep, and well planted with trees, and, from the high moor above, the brook dashes down in a rapid succession of tiny cascades." Whatever the origin of the name, it is noteworthy that a vague memory of a local battle, perhaps post-dated for a later war becomes confused with an earlier war, is found on the actual site for which we contend.
These local tales are extremely slight, and are cited here only to show that they fit in with a conclusion more firmly based on other grounds. Is there any topographical evidence to be deduced from the song embodied in the Saxon Chronicle? It agrees with Egil's Saga in suggesting a pitched fight in which the enemy formed a shield-wall; and the battle described is not a fight in a town; there is no mention of buildings or streets, though it is near Brunanburh. It is not very close to the coast, as Dr. C. Plummer pointed out, for there is a long pursuit; and yet the fugitives sought the ships, so the coast was not out of reach. Some of the references to beast and bird of prey were no doubt part of the stock-in-trade of bards in that age; but they would not have suited the storming of a town, and do suit in a very remarkable way a conflict on Darwen Moor. The erne, or eagle, mentioned in the song, did actually make its home on these lofty, lonely, fells; this seems to be proven by the place-name Earnsdale, which is found both to the north and south of Wenshead, and quite close to the great plateau. "That grey beast, the wolf of the wold," also mentioned in the Song of Brunanburh, would be certain to infest these barren moorlands. When we read the song from the Chronicle with the Darwen site in mind, both the place and the poem gain a new significance.
To recapitulate. We claim to have carried out Dr. C. Plummer's suggestion that local research might discover a Winheath, and so settle the actual site of the battle of Brunanburh. Before we took up the quest, the Solway site held the field. But we have shewn it to be based chiefly upon a miracle-story, which actually does not mention the Solway; and upon Egil's Saga, with which it does not agree. South Lancashire provides a good rendezvous for the forces arrayed against Athelstan; Scots, Cumbrians, Welsh and a great fleet from Ireland. Wenshead (the actual site) in Darwen, near to Blackburn, the town which gave a name to the battle, fully accounts for the two sets of place-names, those in "win" and those in "brun" relating to the fight. Wenshead also suits the topography of Egil's Saga. The contention that Blackburn, a royal manor in 1066, was one of the burhs made by Aethelflaed, explains the form of the name Brunanburh in 937, and agrees with the statement in the Saga concerning the fortified place north of the heath.
The suggestion that Win, which stands alone in a poem in the Saga, may be the River Darwen may be more doubtful, owing to the existence of later spellings ending in a dental, e.g., Derwente in 1227.
These spellings may have been due to a Latinised for which remained "official"; while a Celtic form re-asserted itself in local pronunciation. The dental ending is not found in the Blackburn Register. The forces which eventually changed Dervent into Darwen must have been already at work in the tenth century. Whether or no, Win was Darwen, we contend that Wenshead was the Winsheath or Winhaed of Egil's Saga, and also the Wendune where Symeon of Durham places the battle. It follows that Blackburn is the Brunanburh of the Chronicle and of the famous song.
We cannot do better than close this new study of an old question with a free rendering of the verses from the Chronicle, the Song of Brunanburh, which we believe to be the Song of Blackburn.