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,’ which is only a gentle phonetic corruption 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;
This 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.’
Where an Anglo-Saxon king called Penda died at Winwaed, Barrowford lies only a couple of miles from the foot of Pendle Hill. Most folk believe that the d in Pendle was a late entry into the name, for its first official record was ‘Pen Hul,’ which actually means ‘Hill.’ Instead, if we see this spelling as a devolution from the original ‘Penda’s Hill,’ then everything fits together sweetly. We must remember that in the dark days before mass communication, names would change willy-nilly, with only a handful of variants surviving to posterity, all of which were laid bare to possible corruption by the scribes of every age.
Returning to Vinheath, I believe its location 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 climb up through Briercliffe to the hamlet of Haggate, we are soon walking over the anciently named Saxifields. Situated on the southern upper slopes of our ‘Vinheath,’ these ‘fields’ are among the oldest parts of Burnley – a deed of 1240 (Victoria County VI) tells us; ‘Robert of Merclesden to Robert of Swillington: The 40 acres which Henry the Clerk formerly held between the rivulet flowing through the midst of Burnley, & a field called saxifield, saving John de Lacy, his lord, his rights of forest & venison.’ 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 TT 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.’ This, however, was only a relative side-show in the main battle of Brunanburh, but before we continue our investigations, I would just like to make a minor digression into a layer of British history that has been hitherto unnoticed by scholars. It turns out that the original Burnley folk are actually Polish, well, sort of, & there is a long-hidden strata to Burnley’s development as a civic center hitherto unidentified.
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, & weo 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.
This is the perfect moment to digress a moment upon the location of another named antique settlement in the area. East Lancashire was once under the control of the native Brigantes tribe, who were given nine poleis by Ptolemy. Of these, between Rigodunum (Near Oldham) & Ebaracum (York) we learn of a certain Olikana. This then leads us to a district of Colne, the old estate known as Alkincotes. Its antiquity is beyond question – a Roman cross was discovered there (as recorded on Colonel Parker’s map of 1747) with strong connections to the Whalley Crosses. Then a little spot of Chispology reveals the site as an original Brigantes settlement. It must be noted that the name Alcancotes, as given in 1296, differs from the earlier Altencote (1242) – but as we have already seen with the Brunanburh case, all names in that period were malleable.
The name cotes comes from the Old English cote – small house – which led to cottage.It could also mean a small structure built to contain domesticated animals such as sheep, pigs or pigeons. A possible & full translation could then be ‘the cottages of Olikana,’ & given the geography of the locale, we could easily place Olikana now at the impressive Castercliffe above Colne, with a sub-settlement establishing itself in the valley at Alkincotes.
Returning to our study, a combination of archeology & recorded history suggests that when the Wends arrived in the Burnley area, their ‘colony’ eventually became Colne. TD Whitaker, writing in the year 1800, stated;
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… the environs of Colne appear to have been populous in Roman times, as great numbers of their coins have been discovered in the neighborhood, 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 in a settlement next to or near the fort. Described as a ‘vici,’ the semantics of one such settlement can be observed in the name Wycoller, a village to the east of Colne. There are other faint traces of the Wends in the area; 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, as in;
The Angles or Saxons, who now inhabit Britain… are still corruptly called ‘Garmans’ by the neighbouring nation of the Britons. Such are the Frisians, the Rugini, the Danes, the Huns, the Old Saxons, and the Boructuari
According to TD Whittaker, the earthworks at Ring Stones are highly similar to ones found near Barnoldswick, Skipton, 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. Of his Dark Age demense, the only place for certain we can connect to Rheged is the River Lyvennet, near Penrith, as seen in the stunning poetry of Taliesin.
To me has been extended.
The lofty Llwyvenydd
A Song for Urien Rheged
Urien will not refuse me
The lands of Llwyvenydd
The Satisfaction of Urien
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.
That 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 it in the 19th century it was, ‘still prevalent in Worsthorne, to the effect – that the Danes constructed these defences – that a great battle was fought on the moor – & that five kings were buried under the mounds.’ 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.