The Battle of Brunanburh

In this short excursus, I aim to assess the various points of the hypothesis laid down by Rev. T.C. Porteus in his 1927 series of essays appearing in the Blackburn Times. In his series, Rev. Porteus aims to locate the famed battle of Brunanburh on Darwen Moor1, some four miles to the south of Blackburn and overlooking the town of Darwen in the valley to the east. Rev. Porteus adduces an impressive array of evidence in support of his contention, though many of his conclusions are, in the opinion of this writer, inaccurate.

The site of Brunanburh remains enigmatic, with the hypotheses enjoying the most current scholarly support being those which locate it in the region of the Wirral at Bromborough2. Burnswark, near Lockerbie in Dumfriesshire, first put forth by Neilson and argued against cogently by Rev. Porteus, maintains a number of notable exponents3. More recently, the historian & broadcaster Michael Wood suggested a location near Rotherham in South Yorkshire4.

Closer to "home," the conviction that the battle took place above Burnley in East Lancashire, first developed by Whitaker & later Marquis, and judged most likely by Arthur Weigall, still has a number of supporters5. Brindle, some way south west of Blackburn, has also been identified as the focal point of the battle by Hardwick6, and the region Inter Ripam et Mersam, though its history during the Early Medieval period is perfectly obscure, remains a strong candidate: during the earlier parts of the 10th century, the Ribble likely represented the most viable route for "Vikings" travelling between Dublin, from which they were expelled in AD 902, to the heartlands of the Kingdom of York. Stephen M. Lewis suggests that the Ribble estuary came under the sway of Ragnald, an important figure in the dynasty of the Uí Ímair, rulers of the Irish Northmen, and suspects the presence of a longphort at Penwortham or, less likely Preston (Cuerdale, site of the famous hoard discussed in Rev. Porteus' opus, is discounted: Lewis suspects that this and other hoards represent collections of coinage with the aim of raising forces to recapture Dublin)7.

However, by the time of the Domesday survey in 1086, almost the entire region between Ribble & Mersey fell under the lordship of St. Edward the Confessor during the terminal pre-Conquest period. How & why this circumstance came to be is likely explained by a strong West Saxon interest in curbing Danish & Norse activities in the area during the struggle for supremacy in the former domains of the kingdom of Northumbria during the later 10th & early 11th centuries.

Brunanburh represents a likely culmination of the initial phase of this design, the initial thrusts of which occurred during the reign of Æþelstan's father Eadweard, the victor at Tettenhall in AD 910, and the Mercian rulers Æþelred & his wife, Eadweard's sister Æðelflǣd (Rev. Porteus' founder of Blackburn). By AD 927, Eadweard was confident enough to attend a summit at Eamont Bridge in Cumbria, where he received the submission of Constantine of Scotland & Owain of the Cumbrians, two men later associated with Brunanburh.

During the 930s, Æþelstan was in a position to grant lands in Amounderness north of the Ribble to Wulfstan of St. Peter's in York, having acquired the region, presumably from its Irish-Norse overlords, at no little personal expense8. In addition, the alliance between Constantine, Owain & Óláfr of Dublin suggests that one of the primary concerns behind the early 10th century use of the Ribble to gain access to York via southeastern Northumbria, namely the probability of attack by the forces of these entities were a more northerly route made use of, no longer applied, though the Ribble remained a likely point of entry from ships coming from the west, probably making rendez-vous with the Scots & Cumbrians coming over land down the roman road system from Carlisle9.


Rev. Porteus' association of the battle site Vínheiðr in Egil's Saga with the toponym Wenshead, which occurrs in the ancient parishes of Over Darwen & Tockholes, is striking, and forms a valid basis for a theory which suggests that the battle of Brunanburh took place on Darwen Moor.

However, against this theory lie a number of facts: firstly, the Moor yields no definitive evidence of ever having been the site of such a major conflict; indeed, the only solid evidence that Rev. Porteus, following Charles Hardwick, can produce for a battle in the vicinity is the presence of an archaeological discovery made in 1826 at Kill (a.k.a. Kiln or Pit) Field to the north west of Tockholes. This site is generally associated with the Civil War (and, indeed, the larger-than-life figure of Oliver Cromwell is associated with the region, at Stepback, as Rev. Porteus notes, and Higher Whitehalgh, an ancient house much closer to the Kill Field)10: the erudite local historian Jessica Lofthouse, for example, notes that: "a large quantity of horses' skulls and sundry other types of bone were unearthed, together with cannon balls, fragments of weapons [...] pikes and clubs" Abram dates the remains to the Civil War around 1642, noting that musket shot was found nearby in a similar context to the burials in "Pit Field." Nightingale, in his historical sketch of Tockholes, notes these & other remains in the locality, and dismisses Hardwick's case, stating that "the character of the remains found will not permit of any such distant date [i.e. AD 937]." It is also difficult to see how stone "cannonballs" would come to be used in an Early Medieval battle of the Brunanburh type11.

Similarly, the lack of archaeological reports of large-scale findings of human remains on Darwen Moor - not to mention weapons such as those found at Tockholes - also mitigates against Rev. Porteus' hypothesis. There are, perhaps, a number of burials in the region. For example, the Northern Antiquarian site, in addition to the Ashleigh barrow discussed in the article, locates a number of other possible burial mounds on the moor: Brown Lowe; Green Lowe (of which there are two toponyms); Turn Lowe; and, over in the Roddlesworth valley to the west, Slipper Lowe12. In addition to these, a document of 1699 (see below) also makes mention of a "Warcockelowe," most likely close to the "sacred hill" of Old Man's Hill in Longworth. Nonetheless, there is no record that I have seen which suggests that there were tumuli left to excavate at these names: instead, the term "lowe" could equally well describe the shape of these features. Also, given the likelihood of their dating to the Bronze Age, it is highly unlikely that they have any association with Brunanburh13.

However, Wenshead - which, as Rev. Porteus notes, gave its name to two farms, one of which (Higher Wenshead) survives - does appear to match the description of the site in Egil's Saga [52] in some particulars, having a body of water (now known as Stepback Brook) on one side and a wood (attested by toponyms - see below) on the other, which Rev. Porteus interprets as being further inland, i.e. to the east. Rev. Porteus' contention that, in previous times, Wenshead denoted an area larger by far than the region of the two farms, on the eastern slopes above the brook, seems sound: as stated above, it is variously applied to parts of Over Darwen and alternatively to Tockholes (the boundary between these two is marked by Stepback Brook), and it is on the western side of the brook, further upstream than Higher & Lower Wenshead that the 1840s Ordnance Survey map locates Baron's Pasture, named for the Baron family who held Wenshead14. An Elizabethan document, not cited by Rev. Porteus, makes mention "of a decayed coal mine and the 'ston delfe' in Tokelles in Lyvesaye, commonly called Wenshead" which had formerly been in the possession of "John Barram, deceased, late of the chantry in the church of Leeland15." A sandstone quarry and numerous coalmining enterprises (some denoted as Stepback Coal Pits) appear on the 1840s OS on the western side of Stepback Brook, with others on the opposite bank around the farmhouse of Lyon's Den16.

Rev. Porteus' suggestion that Wenshead was a hypochoristicon of "Darwen Head," however, is almost certainly an error, and it is this supposition of alternation between Darwen & Wen as forms of the name which hamstrings much of his theory. This matter will be discussed at greater length below, but, suffice to say, I regard this idea as being unworkable.

The name Darwen Head (or Darwen Shield) occurs in a document of 1699, which outlines the boundaries between lands held by John Warren, who held manorial rights in Over Darwen, and the neighbouring manors of Turton, Longworth & Sharples (emphasis mine)17: -

The boundary of Over Darwen was thus described. At 'top of boundary' between Over Darwen and Turton was a place called Redmeris, further westward another ancient mere called the Turne Law or Little Law, where the manors of Turton, Longworth and Over Darwen all met; westward again was a mere called Oakenclough Head, and again westward a syke or current of water falling under another mere called Warcockelowe; thence the boundary ran northward by the said syke or current, called Darwen Head or Darwen Shield, dividing Over Darwen from Bromeley pasture in Sharples [...]

In this survey, 'top of boundary' is perhaps represented by the present-day toponym Top o'th' Brow in Green Lowe Clough along Cadshaw Brook, which delineates the boundary between Darwen & Turton. Turn Law (Little Law is perhaps Little Hill) sees the present boundary turn north west rather than west, to the headwaters of a stream (Oakenclough Head) which it then follows south westward (Warcockelowe). This stream is actually Eagley Brook, which, at this juncture, begins to flow to the south. Thus, if Darwen Head is understood as flowing northward, this "syke or current" must be the infant River Roddlesworth, which in turn separates the manor of Tockholes from Bromiley Pasture (which extended to the northern edge of Sharples according to the 1840s OS). Thus, Darwen Head is likely a red herring, with little to do with Wenshead, which would seem to have been located around Stepback Brook to the north east of this point.


Rev. Porteus is on firmer ground in his contention that, anciently, the eastern slopes of Darwen Moor represented the western end of the significant forest tracts of the Forest of Rossendale. In addition to those places with arboreal associations mentioned in the article - Wood Head, Wood Side (perhaps the "Lower Woodhead" of the OS map), Lower Trees & Sunnyhurst; additionally High Lumb & Bury Fold Lane - can be added a number of other testimonies from toponyms: Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council's History Notes of Sunnyhurst Wood adds a number of other -hurst, -shaw & -den[e] names: Hoddlesden, Oakenhurst, Cadshaw, Langshaw & Hawkshaw; as well as Earnsdale, Birch Hall, Hollins Grove, Heys Lane & Heys Fold18. A number of fallen trees were also discovered during the excavation of the Sunnyhurst Hey Reservoir, in close proximity to the site of Lower Wenshead (though it cannot be discounted that these trees are prehistoric)19. This evidence strongly implies that much of the eastern flank of the moor down to the River Darwen through the present town - especially the valleys of the various east-flowing tributaries of that river - were heavily forested. Even the name of the river, which, following Ekwall, is believed to derive from a Brythonic *derwa, signifying "oak tree[s]20," betrays the forested nature of the valley prior to the development of the settlement of Darwen.


On one major point, as alluded to previously, Rev. Porteus' contention is hamstrung, namely his proposal to derive the "Wen-names" appearing in Egil's Saga & Simeon of Durham from a putative hypochoristicon of the name of the River Darwen.

Whilst the derivation of the name Darwen proposed in Abram's History of Blackburn, from a Brythonic dwr-gwyn (which still prevails in some publications)21, may have been more widely amenable in the 1920s, it is now almost certain that the name is cognate with the many rivers called Derwent, and that its origins lie with the Welsh derwenydd22.

Though the Darwen is unique as far as I can tell in its dropping of the dental ending, later Medieval sources are consistent in their use of this termination, which begins to be dropped during the 16th century. Thereafter, citations both with and without the dental ending appear, and even as late as Yates' map of 1786, the river is referred to as the "Derwent" in its lower course through Cuerdale23. For the dental ending to be dropped twice, first during the 10th century and then again in the 16th, having reigned supreme during the intervening years, as Rev. Porteus proposes, strains credulity. Occam's razor surely suggests that Rev. Porteus is in error on this score.

However, if the Vína is not the River Darwen, it could be one of the other watercourses on Rev. Porteus' suggested battlefield. Given the location of the Wenshead names, the likeliest candidate is Stepback Brook. The earliest attestation of this stream comes from the early 14th century, which renders the name Ernesdene Brook (Stepback Brook is, further downstream, progressively known as Earnsdale Brook & Sunnyhurst Brook). It forms the eastern bounds of lands called Hulkar, which is demarcated on the west by "Ryhil ditch," presumably associated with Ryal Fold, and enjoys right of way to Cartelache (perhaps Cartridge Hill). Stepback Brook rises at White Hill, which may suggest that the Brythonic name *Vindo preceded the name of this hill. Additionally, Stepback Brook, falling, as Rev. Porteus notes, in a series of cascades, may have gained an earlier Wen-name from froth forming as a result of these falls24.

White Hill is also the source of the eastward-flowing Duckshaw Brook, which is another possible candidate for the Vína: the Ashleigh barrow which Rev. Porteus suggests as Þórólf's final resting place is located on a strip of land between Old Briggs' Brook (the lower course of Duckshaw Brook) & another watercourse running through Dole Delf Clough to the south. Rev. Porteus' other suggestions for Þórólf's burial mound in Turton, namely the lost place names Torhawe & the oxgang Windbarrow, would put too much distance between this & the site of the battle25.


Rev. Porteus' suggestion that Æðelflǣd's foundation of Bremesburig represents the creation of a burh at Blackburn would explain the odd circumstance by which the name of the hundred was taken from that of Blackburn (either the town or the otherwise-little-known river), despite the ecclesiastical primacy of Whalley & the temporal (certainly from the Conquest) of Clitheroe. Nevertheless, counting against this theory, is the fact that there is no local tradition which recalls Æðelflǣd or a foundation of the town at this point. The traditional foundation of the church at Blackburn, derived from De Statu de Blagborneshire, puts this foundation in the last few years of the 6th century (a date which I believe is derived from the proselytising efforts of St. Augustine of Canterbury at around this point and, shortly afterwards, St. Paulinus in the north)26.

It has been suggested that, at some point during the Saxon period, the site of the church was moved westward to the Medieval location just to the north west of the present-day cathedral from a site across the Blakewater, where an early Saxon, or even late Romano-British, church replaced a pagan temple27: in 1654, according to Peter Whittle, cited by George Miller: "the Falkners of Blackburn had possession of the Roman stone 'found in the Church Croft, All Hallows Well.'" Miller remains sceptical about the discovery, but notes that it commemorated the erection of a temple of Serapis by Claudius Hieronymus (sic), legate of the Legio VI Victrix at the turn of the 3rd century AD28.

If genuine, this dedication would mirror a similar artefact discovered at Toft Green in York in August 1770, commemorating the foundation of a temple to the same god by Claudius Hieronymianus29. In addition to York, the Legio VI Victrix are also associated with Bremetennacum Veteranorum, Roman Ribchester, where a group of Iazyges from Sarmatia were settled by Marcus Aurelius and from where they rode out into the pages of Linda Malcor's interesting take on the Arthurian legend30. Certainly, Rev. Porteus is correct to note the similarity between the name of this Roman fort and the Bremesburig of the Mercian Register of the ASC.

The All Hallows Spring is just to the east of the old Roman Road between Manchester & Ribchester, which passed through the town roughly along the line of the present-day Railway Road to Salford, where it crossed the Blakewater, and thence northwards. Field names before the urbanisation of the town in this region include Higher & Lower Stony Butts31. In addition to the All Hallows Spring, where the Serapeum was allegedly located, Blackburn also features two Folly Wells, to the north of the ancient centre, as well as a Cicely Well close to the All Hallows Spring32.

Counting against the proposition that Blackburn was the site of a burh is the lack of any testimonies supporting extensive fortification of the site. There is a road called Northgate, but this is likely derived from the Old Norse term for a road, as Northgate heads northward from the ancient market cross in the town centre. Astley Gate likely shares a similar origin. However, to the north west of the centre stood the Great & Little Peel, which Abram suggests represent the Norman manor house33. It may be that, in origin, these edifices were places of refuge in times of strife. Rev. Porteus also notes the frequency of suffixes such as -town or -burgh, which occur in Blackburn: at the southern end of Darwen Street, across the River Blakewater, a muster field mentioned in a document of 1618 is named as Blackburn Town End34. There were also three fields named Town (or Townah) Field and the region to the immediate south is today known as Town's Moor35.

Bolton, identified by Rev. Porteus as the southern borg used as a base by Æþelstan, lends its name to two ancient parishes. The core of the modern town was in Great Bolton, and its initial phase was centred upon four (or perhaps five) streets radiating out roughly in the directions of the compass points, with the River Croal running around to the north & east of the settlement, separating Great Bolton from Little Bolton to the north & Halgh to the east. Bizarrely, Little Bolton is the larger of the two parishes and from an early date was divided into three exclaves, including lands jumbled up with those of Sharples parish. Smithills Hall, allegedly dating back to AD 680, is in Halliwell parish36.

The validity of the possibility of Bolton representing Rev. Porteus' southern borg is largely dependent on the status of the Roman Road between Manchester & Ribchester during the later Saxon period: if this had fallen into disrepair, a more westerly route is likely. If the valley of the site of Darwen was, as Rev. Porteus suggests, heavily wooded, the old road through it was likely strategically difficult as a means to gain access to a battlefield. However, the Roman Road passes to the east of this valley, through Eccleshill, and, were this still in use (as parts of it remain to this day), then a more likely candidate for the southern borg would be Bury to the east of Bolton, and a more likely battle site the hills around Blacksnape & Hoddlesden37.

Evidence suggests, however, that these would have been, at least in part, also heavily wooded, thus rendering Darwen Moor the more likely candidate for the battlefield. However, it must also be said that one should remain mindful of Óláfr's probable strategic aim of regaining York; as such, the Roman Road between Ribchester & Elslack in Yorkshire makes a more amenable route if indeed his forces landed in the Ribble38.

The Plaines of Othlyn

One record of the battle which is largely neglected by Rev. Porteus is the Irish Annals of Clonmacnoise, which names the site as the "plaines of othlyn." It is likely that the Othlyn of this account represents Lothlynn or Lochlann, names later associated with Norway. There is, however, some debate about its application during the earlier part of the tenth century, with some scholars suggesting that it denoted Norse-held territories in Scotland39. If this is the case then, surely, the name can similarly apply to those lands under Norse overlordship on the north west coast of England. It is a stretch to extend them further inland, as Blackburnshire in general does not appear to have had a particularly prominent Norse-Irish population during the era in question, at least in comparison to Amounderness & West Derby hundreds. The moorland immediately to the west & north west of Darwen Moor, however, in the hundred of Leyland, did bear a possibly-Norse name in later years, up until the Tudor period: Gunolfesmores. The eastern boundary between this entity, formed of Withnell, Wheelton & Heapey parishes along with parts of Hoghton, was the River Roddlesworth, separating it from Livesey-cum-Tockholes40. The name of this river seems to be derived from "Hroðulf's worth," this particular name being that of a Danish prince in both the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf and, as Hrólfr Kraki, in Norse material, especially Hrólfs saga kraka41.

The Annals of Clonmacnoise are also notable in that they bestow a great number of names of the fallen participants of the battle. A brief survey of the names from the various sources for Brunanburh follows.

In addition to the usual combatants, namely Æþelstan & his brother Eadmund, with their West Saxons & Mercian English, ranged against Anlaf or Óláfr the Dano-Irish leader & his allies Constantine, King of Scots & the Cumbrians, said in a number of late sources to have been led by Eugenius (Owain), certain sources name a number of other participants at Brunanburh42.

With regards to Óláfr, the sources are ambiguous as to which figure by this name is intended. There were two significant figures by this name who were active at the time in question: Óláfr son of Guðrøðr or Gofraid ua Ímair, regarded by most modern scholars as the major opponent of the English; and Óláfr son of Sigtryggr or Sitric Cáech, better known as Amlaíb Cuarán. Both men find support in the "Primary Sources": the former in the Annals of Clonmacnoise; and the latter in William of Malmesbury & pseudo-Ingulf. Both leaders would also go on to prominence in the Uí Ímair ruling both in Dublin & York43.

As well as the Uí Ímair, Scots & Cumbrians, the Welsh (if Bretland in chapter 51 is thus to be understood) are also mentioned among Æþelstan's opponents, having previously served as subreguli bound to his authority. Egils Saga, as noted by Rev. Porteus, names the Welsh leaders as "Hringr ok Aðils," with the latter tentatively identified with Idwal Foel of Gwynedd. This is, however unlikely. Both of these rulers of Bretland bear perfectly-acceptable Scandinavian names: indeed, in Saxo's Gesta Danorum the names appear several times, with Ring Adilsson occurring as a warrior during a battle in Sweden. Magnús Fjalldal summarises previous scholarship on these two rulers: "[t]he existence of the two Welsh earls [...] might be supported. Per Wieselgren had pointed to a military campaign in England led by a person called Hiring, according to Adam of Bremen, and Aðils, as Charles Whistler had suggested, could be the same person as Owen/Eugenius, if the Norse name was taken as a contaminated form of the Old English æþeling44."

Rev. Porteus also mentions the two Saxon ealdormen Álfgeirr & Goðrekr, the first of whom participates in two battles against the Viking coalition without success and eventually retires to Normandy. The story of his flight, whilst perhaps genuine, is not attested elsewhere. The template for his initial fleeing in the face of the enemy might be influenced to some extent by that of Ælfred son of Brihtwulf & Abbot Tilred of Heversham in Westmorland, though the particulars are vastly different, particularly with regards to the respective places of refuge. The only real connection is the notice that Ælfred fled from the pirates during the reign of Æþelstan's predecessor Eadweard. Fjalldal notes a theory connecting them to Ealdred & Uhtred, lords of English Northumbria (Bernicia)45.

The ASC, followed by the majority of later sources, states that five kings and seven earls were slain during the battle (William has 12 earls, though this is likely an error due to computing the number of slain in the ASC). The Annals of Clonmacnoise duly produces a list of twelve notable men who fell at "Othlynn," namely: "Sithfrey and Oísle ye 2 sones of Sithrick, Galey, Awley ffroit, and Moylmorrey the sonn of Cosse Warce, Moyle Isa, Gebeachan king of the Islands, Ceallagh prince of Scottland [...] and abbot of Arick mcBrith, Iloa Deck, Imar, the king of Denmarks owen son with 4000 souldiers in his guard were all slaine." The Danes also figure in Henry of Huntingdon's report, which includes a translation of the ASC's poem. Therein, Frodi, a Northman, is mentioned along with a Dane by the name of Gude. Whilst the latter may be correlated with the contemporary petty king Gyrd, son of a Swedish adventurer and brother of the better-known Gnupa, the more likely explanation is that Henry is here mistaking the words froda [line 37] & guðe [line 39]46. Finally, the Croyland Chronicle names the leader of the Mercian forces & the men of London as Turketul (a name which is most likely Norse), and mentions Singin of the Wiccii in dispatches for his heroic deeds. Perhaps Singin is a memory of Egil's exploits at the battle47.

Finally, two other Sagas, the Jómsvíkinga Saga [5] & Ragnars saga Loðbrókar, place a battle norðan Kliflǫnd ("north of Cleveland"), and pit Æþelstan against Knut & Harald, sons of the Danish king Gormr gamli48. Interestingly, these two occur again in the Irish annals, fighting against the Dublin forces of Óláfr, during which Knut is slain in a night ambush49.


Due to the then-prevalent penchant for translating the term, Rev. Porteus does not investigate further the interesting toponym Dingesmere, generally translated as "noisy sea," or somewhat along those lines. More recently, Paul Cavill suggests that the Ding of the name represents a Norse þing or civic meeting place (a notion about which Wood is scathing), identifying such a site at modern-day Thingwall on the Wirral50. The closest thing to a cognate in the east Lancashire theatre is found at Dinckley, on the Ribble east of Ribchester, though Dinckley is far too far inland to present a viable option for anchoring seagoing ships51.

However, the coasts around the Ribble & Wyre estuaries also boasted a preponderance of meres, shallow lakes, pools, and inlets capable of housing a fleet. The two "meres" which survived the longest, even into the 18th century and beyond, were Martin Mere, formerly the largest inland body of water by surface area in England, south of the Ribble estuary east of Southport, and Marton Mere, just to the east of Blackpool52. Alongside these were a plethora of other meres between the Mersey & Lune, some of significant scale: ancient records appertaining to the parish of Lytham, on the north side of the Ribble estuary, bear witness to the existence of the ominously-named Cursed Mere (otherwise Curridmere); by the 16th century, there appear to have been extensive drainage efforts on Lytham Moss, resulting in there being two sinister namesakes53. Also, covering a large part of what would become the extensive Pilling Moss, between the Wyre & Lune, was a Blacklache ("Black Lake"), mentioned in various documents of Late Medieval date.54.

There was also a Portus Setantiorum in Ptolemy's gazetteer, between Moricambe Aestuarium to the north & the river Belisama to the south. These two places are likely to be identified with Morecambe Bay (which was a conscious resurrection of Ptolemy's name) & the Ribble respectively, meaning that Portus Setantiorum was likely in or near the Wyre estuary55. The western side of the Wyre estuary was known by the appellation "Bergerode," perhaps signifying a safe place to moor vessels, until Early Modern times. Further north, Heysham was the site of a large stone bearing the suggestive appellation Bronneberh, which plays a key role in Christopher Robson's location theory56.

Conclusions & further remarks

This is just a brief survey of the evidence, aimed at some basic testing of the ideas put forward by Rev. Porteus. Unlikely as it may seem to be that the battle of Brunanburh took place on & around Darwen Moor, there are certain aspects of the history of the place, alongside Blackburn & Bolton, which suggest that further investigation would be rewarded.

Additionally, through conducting this survey, another outside bet for Brunanburh's location was inadvertantly stumbled upon: just across the River Ribble from Ribchester.

Taking Rev. Porteus' aside that the name of Æðelflǣd's burh at Bremesburig "seems to contain a similar root" to "the first part of the Roman name for Ribchester," it may be possible to suggest that Bremesburig was somewhere in the vicinity of the old fort of Bremetennacum Veteranorum57. If this is the case, then the focus of the battle was most likely the intersecting Roman Roads around Ribchester, in particular the north-south route from Carlisle and the east-west route from the Fylde & Walton-le-Dale into Yorkshire. Both of these routes were on the northern side of the river, though there is some evidence for another road between Ribchester & Coccium (Wigan), which may have passed through Osbaldeston township near Osbaldeston Hall58.

In addition, a number of medieval documents name places in Osbaldeston & Balderstone which evoke those associated with the battle. Hugh de Osbaldeston granted lands to Robert de Stodelehurst (Studlehurst), of which: -

The boundary began where Wendbroc fell into Thursbroc, following Wendbroc northward to Blakelache and thence to Ridscha-evese, following Le Ewese eastward to Alreneburne (or Abreneburne), thence southward across to Hakesherdes-hevese, following Le Eves westward to the first boundary; Kuerden MSS. iii, B 2b.59

Though Studlehurst is a small sliver of land between the woods in the west of Osbaldeston (now represented by the three farms Higher, Middle & Lower Studlehurst), Robert de Stodelhirst is, in 1331, described as being in Balderstone. Studlehurst eventually came into the possession of the Livesey family and, in 1806, the land was demised to the Hubbersty family. Livesey is the name of a farm in Balderstone in 1840 on the site of the present-day Balderstone Grange, whilst Hubbersty Fold is just west of this. Wende Brook is mentioned alongside Sunderland & Sherrs Brooks in a record of land grant to William de Balderston by his father Ailsi before 120760.

The alternative reading Abreneburne is also highly evocative of the name of the battle, though is likely a mistake. An Alrene-snape (and Altune) are also mentioned in connection to Studlehurst61.

Finally, with regards to the statement in Egil's Saga about the enhazeling of a field ready for battle [52], some way to the south-east of Osbaldeston, on the borders between Salesbury & Wilpshire, there is a Hazel Moor.

In conclusion, then, it may be germane to explore further the history of this region.


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Notes & references

1Though largely forgotten today, Rev. Porteus' theory did have some influence: a Mr. T.B. Lewis, chairman of the Trustees of Samlesbury Hall, an elegant black & white manor house between Blackburn & Preston, wrote a play on the subject, which was due to be performed on Wednesday 1st February 1933, "woven," according to a brief publicity feature in the previous day's Lancashire Evening Post, "around incidents in the Battle of Brunanburh, and the scene is laid on Darwen Moors."
2See e.g. Cavill, in Livingston (2011). One major misgiving I have about the suggestion of a Dingesmere in the Dee estuary is the location of Bromborough on the other side of the Wirral. Surely the Mersey would represent a more likely escape route for fleeing Vikings? Furthermore, were that river blockaded, then why not the Dee also?
3Neilson (1909); Bremner (1923). Burnswark's most vocal modern champion is Kevin Halloran, e.g. Halloran (2005). Rev. Porteus' criticisms of the site as a location remain.
4Wood (2013), esp. p.155ff. Other scholars in favour of a location in the east of Northumbria include Breeze (2014), proposing Lanchester in County Durham.
5Wilkinson (1856-7); Marquis (1909); Weigall (1927), p.207. A comprehensive modern treatment is that of Damian Bullen. Also, Robson (2012) sees an unlikely situation in which a battle at Burnley (Brune) preceded another at Heysham (Brunanburh).
6Hardwick (1882), pp.164-223. In addition to Brindle, there is also a Brinscall in the same district, in the parish of Withnell, which also features a Bury Lane.
7Lewis (2016), esp. pp.20-25.
8The Latin text of the document can be viewed online at
9See e.g. Lewis.
10Hardwick, p.208.
Interestingly, the manorial rights in Blackburn during this period were held by Thomas Belasyse, 2nd Viscount Fauconberg, who married Cromwell's third daughter Mary - of whom it was said by Burnet [apud Abram p.254]: "[s]he was a wise and worthy woman, more likely to have maintained the post [of Protector] than either of her brothers" - in 1657 at Hampton Court.
11Lofthouse (1951), pp.112-3; Abram (1877), p.129-30; Nightingale (1886), pp.16-19.
12See the Sights & Monuments Gazetteer for Lancashire.
13For example, work at Slipper Lowe unearthed Bronze Age remains, though I have been thus far unable to locate a source.
It must also be noted that, as the old adage says, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence: for example, the name of the township of Eccleshill to the north east of Darwen suggests the presence of a church of Romano-British provenance, though no archaological evidence of such a structure has been found.
14First edition Ordnance Survey 1:10,000 map viewable on Lancashire County Council's Maps & Related Information Online (MARIO) portal.
In addition to Baron's Pasture, a farmhouse named Baron's is indicated on the moors close to the Sough Tunnel. This is perhaps the 'Baron's Ouldlande,' noted as being in the possession of John Baron (†1611). The Darwen branch of the family are treated in Abram, p.501-2; & VCH Lancs Vol. VI, p.272.
15Wilkinson (2002), p.174.
16Coal mining is a feature of the hills around Darwen, as well as in Tockholes, with many pits worked between Tudor times up until quite recently. The bedrock is formed on Carboniferous Pennine Lower Coal Measures & Upper Haslingden Flags. See the BGS Geology of Britain Viewer.
17VHC Lancs Vol. VI, p.272 n.36.
18The document is available for download on the BwDBC website. Also Abram, p.489.
In addition to the names listed in the document, Crosby (2007), p.4, lists Carr Hall, the name of which "is derived from the Old Norse kjarr, a common minor place-name element in Lancashire: it means 'swampy ground overgrown with brushwood'."
19Abram, p.489.
20Ekwall (1922), p.66.
21Abram, p.41. BwDBC's History Notes mentions the derivation as a possibility but prefers Ekwall's explanation.
22The name of the Darwen is cognate with that of the various rivers named Derwent, as well as those named Dart (the Devon river by this name was formerly rendered "Darant," whilst the Kent Darent is presumably the site of a battle between the Romano-British forces of Vortimer and the Saxons under Hengist & Horsa, mentioned in the Historia Brittonum [44].
23Yates' map is available online at the LCC website.
24VCH Lancs., Vol. VI, p.281 n.7.
Also, note Wood, p.156, who contends that: "the most obvious interpretation of the name Wendun would be a hill by a river with the first element 'Wen'. If this is so, then the evidence of name and topography fits only one river, the Went, between the Don and the Aire." Thus, Wood sees no obvious difficulty with the dropping of the dental in this instance (albeit Wendun is easier to explain away in this regard than the Vínheiðr of the Saga) - and may even go some way to salvaging Rev. Porteus' notions on the matter.
25ibid., Vol V, p.274 n.13. Torhawe is perhaps represented by the modern edifice of Torra Manor (earlier Torra Barn) not too far to the west of Turton Tower.
26For De Statu de Blagborneshire, see Dugdale (1846), Vol. V, pp. 642-4. St. Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in AD 597 & St. Paulinus appeared four years later.
There is, however, a measure of confusion around the conversion of St. Eadwine, King of Deira: St. Bede [2:14] makes Paulinus the agent of the Deiri's baptism, whereas the Historia Brittonum [63] claims that "it was Rum Map Urbgen: he was engaged forty days in baptizing all classes of the Saxons, and by his preaching many believed on Christ." Urbgen or Urien Rheged was an important figure in the Hen Ogledd who emerged as a talented & successful warrior-chieftain during the late 6th century.
27 Bradley (2009), p.16 3.2.5.
28Miller (1951), pp.295, 364.
29See Pegge (1775), pp. 151-3.
30Littleton & Malcor (1994); also Malcor (1999a, b). An inscription of AD 241 by Aelius Antoninus, a centurion in the Legio VI, names him as being in charge of the Numerus Equitum Sarmatarum, a.k.a. the The Ala Primae Sarmatarum. Full details can be found on the Roman Britain website.
The Legio VI Victrix are not to be confused with the Legio XX Valeria Victrix, which was coincidentally also associated with Bremetenacum.
31e.g. Lang (1739), apud Bradley, figs.2, 9. Stoneybutts appears as a secondary name for the railway station on the 1848 OS map.
32For the Folly Wells, see Burnett (1906), p.196. Cicely Well appears on the 1840s OS map, and may indicate an alternative appelation for the All Hallows Well.
33Abram, p.246.
34ibid., p.260: "the Court also decreed that [...] 10 acres adjoining to Blackburn Town End ''should for ever lye, be, and continue open, and not enclosed, and that the same shall be employed and used for ever [...]for the mustering and training of Soldiers in these parts, when occasion shall require, and to and for the recreation of the People of the said Town''...".
35Lang, apud Bradley, figs.2, 9. Also, Mike Sumner's Audley: A Landscape that Reinvents Itself on BwDBC's Cotton Town history portal. Three fields named Townah Green, Nearer Townah Green & Further Townah Green are located on either side of the lower course of Audley Brook, a tributary of the River Blakewater.
Town's Moor currently lends its name to a retail park.
36VCH Lancs., Vol. V, p.235ff. [Bolton Parish]; p.243ff. [Great Bolton]; p.251ff. [Little Bolton]; p.12ff. [Halliwell & Smithills Hall]. Also the Architectural Practice (2008), p.5 4.2.
There's an improbable tradition that the hall is built on the site of a palace of Ælle of Deira, though there is no evidence to place him this far west. Perhaps the later Ælle, the opponent of Ragnar Loðbrók, is intended. The tradition is noted in Clegg (1876), p.3, which places Ælle's foundation in 579, with the circumvallations built in 680. Why nobody thought to build a wall around a palace this far from the heartland of the kingdom & in the realm of hostile forces for over a century is not mentioned.
37The course of the Roman Road actually passes just west of the modern town of Bury (a name Ekwall, p.61, derivers from burh) and, more distantly, east of Bolton.
38Lewis, pp.22-3; Robson, pp.4, 13. Also, see the Roman Roads in Lancashire gazetteer.
39Ó Corráin (1998). Also Woolf (1997).
40VCH Lancs., Vol. VI, p.37, esp. n.5-7; pp.47, 49-50. Whittle-le-Woods may also have formed a part of Gunolfsmoors [ibid., pp.3, 33; the latter suggests this was due to the de Hoghtons acquiring a moiety in this township]. Also Abram, pp.2-3.
41Ekwall, p.132, who also notes a lost PN Rothelisden or Routhelesden in Hoghton. Lofthouse's suggestion [p.95] that the stream derives its name from the farmstead Red Lees can be discounted.
The hero by this name appears in Beowulf. Hrólfr Kraki features in the eponymous Hrólfs saga kraka. The first Viking ruler of Normandy, Rollo, is another namesake.
Hroþwulf is also mentioned alongside Hroðgar in Widsith [line 45].
42Sources listing specific Eugenius are late: namely the Croyland Chronicle of [pseudo-]Ingulf and William Camden. Eugenius, probably also known as Owen Caesarius ("the bald"), is the likely father of the Dyfnwal remembered in Cumbrian tradition as King Dunmail, the last king of an independent Cumbria, who died in battle against the forces of Eadmund of England in AD 945. However, Dyfnwal was alive for thirty years thereafter. However, the battle associated with Dunmail's demise likely represents the waining of Strathclyde's influence this far south, with the reigns of these two rulers a likely high water mark.
43The Annals of Clonmacnoise are, it ought to be noted, definitive on this point: they simply mention Awley as the leader, whilst taking note of Awley mcGodfrey towards the end of the entry. "Sithfrey and Oísle ye 2 sones of Sithrick" are actually mentioned first amongst the slain, suggesting that Sigtryggr's sons were of paramount importance to the campaign (see Wood, pp.141-2).
To add to the confusion, the Annals of Ulster & Clonmacnoise also mention a third Anlaf, surnamed Ceanncairech who was defeated on Loch Ree & suborned into participating (Wood p.146).
Óláfr son of Guðrøðr ruled around 940 and was succeeded by Amlaíb Cuarán who had two spells in power in York during the 940s. Amlaíb Cuarán maintained the throne of Dublin over an extended period.
44Fjalldal (2005), p.73. Ring Adilsson appers in Gesta Danorum Book 8.
45Lewis, p.14. Fjalldal (ibid.).
46Forester (1853), p.71 n.1, 2, suggests that Froda & Gude are mistranslations on Henry's part and should be amended to Hylde-rine & Inwidda-Inwood respectively. Hildering appears on line 39 and Inwidda on line 46. However, in the latter case, the "old man" depicted is likely Constantine.
47This point is discussed by Fjalldal (ibid.). Alternatively, Wiccii is potentially Hwicce in western England. Turketil, presented as a significant hero in the source, is probably Thurcytel, abbot of Bedford and a part-Danish kinsman of Oscytel & Oswald.
48This is noted on the highly useful The Battle of Brunanburh 937 AD site, which affords access to the various sources, as well as material on a number of suggested locations.
With regards to Knut, surnamed Danaast or "joy of the Danes," he was recognised as co-rex with his father. Worsaae, apud Abram, p.37, suggests that the "Cnut-coins" treated by Rev. Porteus belong to this ruler.
49Gesta Danorum Book 9: "Kanute and Harald enriched themselves with great gains from sea-roving, and most confidently aspired to lay hands on Ireland. Dublin, which was considered the capital of the country, was beseiged. Its king went into a wood adjoining the city with a few very skilled archers, and with treacherous art surrounded Kanute (who was present with a great throng of soldiers witnessing the show of the games by night), and aimed a deadly arrow at him from afar. It struck the body of the king in front, and pierced him with a mortal wound. But Kanute feared that the enemy would greet his peril with an outburst of delight. He therefore wished his disaster to be kept dark; and summoning voice with his last breath, he ordered the games to be gone through without disturbance. By this device he made the Danes masters of Ireland ere he made his own death known to the Irish." Dublin at this juncture was most probably ruled by Óláfr son of Guðrøðr.
50Cavill, p.104ff; contra Cavill: Wood, pp.143-4.
Wood, esp. p.150, also dismisses the importance triumphally placed upon Bromborough's status as the only place ever known to be called Brunanburh, noting: "Bromborough itself first appears as a place-name only in the first half of the twelfth century, and securely in a contemporary manuscrupt in 1153; the manor is not called Bromborough in Domesday Book, but Estham (Eastham)."
51Ekwall, pp.70-71, derives Dinckley from either Britsh din-goed ("wood of the fort") or from an Old Welsh PN Dincat. Interestingly, a poem in the Canu Aneirin names a Dinogat or Dinogad, and waterfalls on a river Derwennyd (line 14: "penn pysc o rayadyr derwennyd"; Mod. W. "A physgodyn o readr Derwennydd"). Geraint Jones of Oxford University's Celtic Studies department provides a discussion.
As Ekwall notes, a number of Roman altars have reportedly been found in the locality, which is crossed by the road from Ribchester to the east. VCH Lancs., Vol. VI, p.336, states that: "Dr. Stukeley records that several Roman altars were found here, but all had been removed before 1725 save two which were both obliterated: one stood in a grass-plot in the garden at Dinckley Hall, covered with moss and weeds, the other was used in the house as a cheese-press."
Nearby, in the parish of Wilpshire, is Dunscar, which was recorded as Dungescarre in the 12th century. Though Ekwall, p.73, suggests Old English dynge ("manure") as the unappealing derivation of the first part, the romantic would perhaps see this as another memorial of Dincat in the region. VCH [ibid.] notes that Dinckley & Wilpshire were formerly counted as one parish. Abram, p.745ff., describes "the townships of Wilpshire-cum-Dinkley."
52For Martin Mere, see Coney & Hale (2005) & Lewis, pp.19-20. The lake, formerly the largest lake by surface area in England, is now long-since drained.
For Marton Mere, see VCH Lancs., Vol. VII, p.240: "Marton Mere was formerly very extensive and liable in time of floods to spread further over the country around. An agreement as to clearing the watercourse leading from it was made in 1731." The maps of Saxton & Speed support this, showing the lake stretching from close to Layton in the west to well east of Staining & Little Marton on its norhtern & southern extremities to the east. The Mere remains and this writer was born but a stone's throw away from it. Another point of interest is that one western outflow fed the peat-stained water of a pool which lent its name to the prominent holiday resort of Blackpool.
53VCH Lancs., Vol. VII, p.214 n.19, pp.215-6 n.24. The "cursed" nature of the mere is said to be accounted for as "many beasts had been drowned therein."
The duplicate names of the 16th century are found in the region between the old cross in Kilgrimol churchyard and Peel; and close to the Priory on the site of Lytham Hall: this particular feature may be perpetuated in the name of a pond, Curtains Pond, south west of the hall.
Kilgrimol is supposed to have been lost to the sea and local tradition also recounts the drowning of the village of Waddum Thorpe in 1612, though the existence of this place has not been upheld by contemporary sources. Further to the north was the similarly-legendary site of Singleton Thorpe.
54VCH Lancs., Vol. VII, p.257 n.15; p.332 n.18. Blacklache also features in a number of the fine topographical maps of Preesall local historian Gordon Heald.
Synonymous toponyms are found in Little Carleton [ibid., Vol. VII, p.229 n.12]; Studlehurst [ibid., Vol. VI, p.324 n.79]; a messuage called Little Blacklache in Woodplumpton [ibid., Vol. VII, p.288 n.49]; & a Blacklache-hevid in Eccleshill [ibid., Vol. VI, p.279 n.8]. In the case of the latter, a Blakepitte is also mentioned.
Incidentally, the Studlehurst Blacklache appears in a 13th century land grant (see above). Studlehurst also appears in Abram, p.609.
55See the page on Portus Setantiorum at the Roman Britain site for more information.
56Robson, esp. pp.8-9; 12. See also: VCH Lancs., Vol. VIII, p.110; 111 n.24.
57There is an inherent unlikeliness of this being the case: Ribchester's current name probably dates back to the Saxon era; the river's name is attested as Rippel in the Vita Sancti Wilfrithi, composed in the early 8th century, and the town is known as Ribelcastre in Domesday Book.
58VCH Lancs., Vol. VI, p.320 n.19. A via ferrata is mentioned as a boundary of lands granted by Hugh de Osbaldeston to his brother Benedict during the early 13th century. Though this may, of course, be the road to Manchester, that traversed Clayton-le-Dale rather than Osbaldeston.
The road to Wigan possibly went by the Roman station on Mellor Moor before going through Pleasington to the south west.
59ibid., p.314 n.8. Hubbersty Fold was known as Jenkinson's in 1848.
60ibid., p.324 n.79. It is incumbent upon me to note that, once again, Wend or Wende Brook possesses a dental ending.
61ibid., p.324 n.77.


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