Cog Icon signifying link to Admin page

Bridgnorth Castle

Bridgnorth before 1066

The early history of Bridgnorth can be summed up by two words: exceedingly obscure.

The Domesday Book, compiled by the Normans 20 years after their successful invasion of 1066, supposedly listed every town and hamlet in the parts of England that they then had occupied and, with few exceptions, given to various supporters of William 1 (best known as the Conqueror).  There are 495 places noted in Shropshire but no mention at all of Bridgnorth, only the nearby settlements of Quatford and Oldbury. Even then, the former had no taxable ‘households’ contained therein, just listing a few serfs, labourers, minor-league farmers and oxen. Shropshire itself did not occupy quite the same area as currently. Nearby Worfield is then in a different county, but had it been in Shropshire would have been the third biggest entity, registering 129 households. Claverley had 45, Quatt 38, Chelmarsh 27, Morville 22.5 (!), Erdington 15 and Oldbury a mere 13. Since Quatford qualified despite having no households (but a small new castle/house), we can safely postulate Bridgnorth showed no sign of even recent habitation (discounting the possibility that the Norman officials by some means missed something). So, was there anything happening at Bridgnorth’s location well before 1066?

Bridgnorth sits in the south-eastern quadrant of the County of Shropshire. Today a large but comparatively under-populated county, it sits wedged between Wales and the English Midlands. The north of the county is flat, the south hilly and its most prominent feature has to be the River Severn. At 220 miles, including the Bristol estuary, it is the longest river in Britain. As with the rest of the country, the pre-Saxon inhabitants were a Celtic people speaking Brittonic, collectively dubbed Celtic Britons. Our first organisational record for the area is with the Cornovii tribe, who controlled a swathe of English & Welsh land stretching as far north as the Wirral Peninsula in pre-Roman Iron Age Britain. Their ‘capital’ was thought to have been either at Wroxeter or The Wrekin, both a few miles from Bridgnorth. The dominant human influenced feature of the then landscape here and across much of the British Isles was over 4,000 iron-age hillforts. Shropshire has at least 50 knowns, with other contenders still waiting. Prominent are Caer Caradoc, Bury Ditches, The Wrekin,  Llanymynech, Ness Hill and Old Oswestry. The latter is one of the best preserved in the whole country and covers around 13 acres. Nearer to Bridgnorth we have a number including Titterstone Clee, Clee Burf, Nordley Bank, Mogg Forrest, Chesterton Walls and, 2 miles away, Barf Castle. The mis-named last offers testimony that the Bridgnorth area was populated before the Romans. Characteristic of almost all hillforts is the adoption of an area of high ground, often circular as possible and augmented by ditches, ramparts and sometimes palisading. They were certainly defensive but also functioned as storage areas and embryonic villages. Shropshire also sported at least two iron-age marsh forts, The Berth and the Wall Camp, lying within low lying marsh-type environs.

The Romans arrived nationally in southern England in AD 47 and soon set about absorbing all of the country and Wales. Locally, the Iron Age came to a decisive end when the Romans stormed the Cornovii defences at The Wrekin. They then adopted Wroxeter as a regional power-base, naming it Viriconium. Starting as a garrison fort that afforded views into Wales to the west, Viriconium went on to become the 4th largest Roman town in Britain, stretching more or less 3 miles in length. We know of various habitations in Shropshire and adjoining modern counties from the Roman era, several of which were quite important. Leintwardine in Herefordshire (current population less than 850) had town defences by the 2nd Century. Further down the communal scale, a 3rd century domestic enclosure was unearthed in 2013 at Bridgwalton, a mile or so west of Bridgnorth. When the Romans eventually left Britain in about 410, it seems that Wroxeter remained an urban centre for about another hundred years. It has been postulated that it could have been the setting of Camelot, or at least a major settlement, in the “tale” of King Arthur, and that Arthur’s last battle and death scene occurred near the Welsh border just a few miles to the west. Then again, Arthur has popped up in numerous places throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

The inhabitants of Shropshire, as with England at large, are now referenced as Romano-British. They were few in number and were then subject to attack and possible occupation from Scots and Picts. As to whether the epithet ‘The Dark Ages’ is correct for this period is a matter of debate, but the term Early Middle Ages is now preferred. Across England, urban living declined such that most towns seemingly were largely or utterly abandoned, and the populace became more or less exclusively agrarian. The exceptions were rare: York (probably the only instance north of the Thames), London and a very few other places of a 1,000 or so inhabitants.

Shropshire has never been a well populated county so we can surmise that between 500 and 850 it was likely devoid of anything larger than hamlets with infrequent fortified high-status centres supplemented in due course by occasional churches, and only one monastic house – Winnica at Wenlock after 680. Anything bigger than a hamlet seems to have been associated with a regional king of which there were initially many. Shrewsbury as a one-time centre for the kingdom of Powys may have met this condition. Wroxeter was only marginally occupied.

Britain as a land mass, slowly, but progressively, finds itself the target of mass immigration from Angles, Jutes and Saxons, coming from what are now Denmark, Holland and northern Germany. Each end up ultimately dominating various parts of the country. The Saxons concentrated in the south of England, hence the West Saxon references of Alfred the Great. The Jutes were concentrated in Kent and the Portsmouth area. East Anglia and central England, including Shropshire, was the territory of the Angles, who originated in what is now the border area between Denmark and Germany. The area known as the 'Old North' stood out the longest. This comprised northern England and the southern part of the Scottish Lowlands. It was not until 638 that the Angles took Edinburgh. Despite this, Cumbric, a form of Welsh, was still the everyday language of the kingdom of Strathclyde in the 9th century. Initially, it clearly was not an armed invasion as such with the first contingents ostensibly invited to help expel early post-Roman northern invaders. But over a considerable period, a significant number, including women and non-soldiers migrated across the North Sea. What degree of force was spent against the incumbents varied. The main chronicler of this period is Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, where he pronounces that the local Celtic populations were given the choice of ‘flight, death or slavery’. Certainly, there was considerable bloodshed e.g., the battle for Pevensey which witnessed the wholesale dispatching by Saxons of the Romano-British defenders and perhaps the civilians too. But the general modern view is that Bede’s viewpoint was rather biased and though there was a gradual ‘take-over’ of all regional power, it was not wholly military and the newcomers were always in the minority. Even after counting those who fled into (modern) Brittany, Cornwall and Wales. But the extent of the impact of these incomers, added to by the later Vikings, can be seen that a 2022 report on early medieval graves in eastern England revealed 76% having such generic ancestry. 

The eventual degree of incomers ascendancy can be compared with Spain and Italy, also on the receiving end of the same Saxon etc. immigration who kept their own languages, whilst here the newcomers’ shared language of a common Germanic denominator origin soon rules. Thus, Old English soon establishes itself as the national language of England and southern Scotland, albeit very regionalised. The later arrival of the Vikings brings a new language but as Old Norse is also a Germanic language, it was highly likely that speakers of the two languages were able to understand each other. By 1066, England, bar Brittonic-speaking Cornwall, spoke an Anglo-Scandinavian language. Over time, after passing through Anglo-French and Middle English, our modern English language evolves – ‘Standard English’ evolving mostly from the Mercian dialect. The closest foreign language to English is genetically Frisian from the north of Holland, Dutch then the next closest. It is no coincidence that the old English words for bridge, bryċġe, brycge etc, are close to the modern Dutch brug, Old Frisian brigge or brêge and Modern (West) Frisian brêge.

The ethnicity issue had got muddied and the English population eventually gains identification as Saxons with a collective term, although not necessarily contemporaneously, as Anglo-Saxons. This apparent harmony  does not prevent a long history of inter-kingdom warfare and rivalry. Post-Roman England was fragmented into main minor states and kingdoms that fluctuated in numbers and areas ruled over the centuries. This period is termed the Heptarchy whereby historians identify seven main groupings emerging before the 6th century. At times, one or other of these was ascendant nationally but eventually the Kingdom of Mercia emerged as the most powerful and successful state until well into the 9th century.

Before then, England as a whole had coalesced into five Saxon kingdoms: Northumbria, Kent, East Anglia, Mercia and Wessex (with Celtic west-Cornwall still independent). As far as we can ascertain, the last three at least did not have a fixed place capital town but instead had several peripatetic centres, only in the 9th century were single, permanent Royal centres chosen. The two Mercian governing centres that we know of are Repton (Derbyshire), and Tamworth (Staffordshire). The former was the first ecclesiastical centre of Mercia, before moving in 669 to Litchfield. The latter eventually mirrors Winchester as the pre-eminent administrative centre. Did Shropshire, a border-land, lightly inhabited and with no settlements to speak of, featured in this mobile rotation of important places? Strangely, it may have. Near to Shrewsbury is Atcham. Here, evidence of a double annexed timber hall, 23 x 8m, 26 x 9m, was discovered in 2017 and dated between the 6th and 8th centuries. The site type is now termed a ‘great hall complex’ and over 20 have now been identified across England. Their then enormous size, compared with everything contemporary, assuredly represented wealth and power and in most or all cases, transient Royal capitals. Interestingly, all the other examples found to date are far away from Shropshire and the other Welsh border counties, the nearest being Hatton Rock, Warwickshire.

Mercia meant “borderlands”, but the core area was the River Trent basin, though its borders ebbed and flowed and it stretched down to London. Shropshire stood as its central western boundary, up against what is now Wales. Conflict with Welsh, Northumbrian and other Saxon neighbours is seemingly endless. In 583, a Saxon army from the south and led by King Caewln occupies Angle dominated Shropshire. It is soon driven out back to Gloucester. By 600, a map of Britain south of Edinburgh would have the Celtic people to the left of a line running from there down to Newport, Wales, plus Cornwall. To the right, the Angles are dominant all the way down to about Worcester, then through Cambridge to the coast; the Saxons south of that line with large enclaves in Kent and Portsmouth, the two main bastions of the Jutes. In 613, a Northumberland army occupies Cheshire, and the peoples of Shropshire are cut off from both south and north. 642 sees another such army attack the county but their king, Oswald, is killed near Oswestry (he was conceivably the one that took Edinburgh in 638).

In 661, the Battle of Pontesbury, conceivably near Shrewsbury, witnessed the West Saxons defeated by the local Mercians. The West Saxons eventually occupy north Shropshire, but the south is ruled by a Welsh prince. By 723 the Saxons under Ethelbald have annexed the whole of Shropshire as well as sections of Wales. Mercian rule of Shropshire is consolidated under Offa (king from 757), who built his famous Dyke all along its western border. Under him, not only were old hillforts refurbished but new ones initiated, a trend not followed in other Saxon areas. He probably built new forts at Broseley and Burwarton. These Shropshire forts were no doubt needed as he was campaigning against the Welsh in 760, 778, 784 and the year of his death, 796. Mercia’s dominance is such it even extended its power into Kent from about 770. Locally, Mercia extended into modern Wales, and this included Rhuddlan, later a small town and doubtless the only urban setting in 10th century Wales. Even so, parts were laid waste by the Welsh in 784.

But extreme danger was brewing from across the North Sea: Viking warriors. What made these men (and overwhelmingly of that gender) leave their agricultural (albeit with a strong militaristic warrior ethos) centred existence and set off to raid much of northern Europe? A subject frequently debated but the two most observable, and generically most common denominators in general history, disease & famine at home or imperialistic ambitions directed by the overlord or king, seem absent from the picture. True, they suffered, as did England, a calamitous shock during 536 – 541 when Central American volcanic eruptions devastated agriculture and populations but this was 200 years before they embarked on their new careers. Nor were they bloodthirsty for its own sake, or indeed the want for adventure paramount. What we can do is consider is why and how. The ‘why’ is down to simple greed: simply seeking gain for individuals and groups, the principal reward being gold, land, animals and people, the latter mostly females, either as slaves or unofficial wives. The ‘how’ was two-fold. One, the availability of better boats. They now sported a true keel which in turn facilitated a mast and sail, as well as still being a rowing vessel. In turn, the design was ideal. They were all lightweight, narrow and long, featuring shallow drafts of as little as 500mm, though about 900mm would seem more recurrent. Whilst such drafts could be a distinct disadvantage on the open sea, they afforded the ability to traverse most rivers and as such were invaluable in being able to ‘hit and run’ deep into enemy territory. Two, timing: why in the 8th century, and not the 7th or 6th? The answer seems to be that only now had communities made sufficient progress in size and expertise diversity such that a significant portion of men could be spared for a great part of a year, and in due course, years. But whatever were the catalysts, the impact on the British Isles’ history and genetic make-up of the modern population was to be profound.

At first, they simply raided, possibly the first recorded event being off the Estonian coast in about 750. They did not turn their attention this way until the 793 raid on Lindisfarne. Further raids occurred afterwards, but they always returned home. At first, they were only in the hunt for various forms of mobile wealth, including slaves (some captives were already slaves) that they could return home with. Then they started to become more ambitious and start seizing land and some started to stay. They take Dublin in 841 and in 858 they ally with the Cornish to defeat Egbert of Wessex. In 865, a large force was put together and invaded Northumbria (an area which included what is now southeast Scotland), soon conquering it. This army became better known as the Great Heathen or Great Viking Army (micel hæðen here) and campaigned across England for 13 years – though the human constituents regularly changed. Here was a complete change of tactics in England, no longer just raiders but also conquerors. The Vikings were coming in large numbers, and many were going to stay and settle. They founded a kingdom at York, "Jorvik". Often bribed to stop fighting, they would simply renege soon after and resume fighting. There is never a “king” Viking, directing operations. Instead, at any one-time, various independent groupings existed, each having its own military force. They would align with others on an ad hoc basis, either to fight other Vikings or Anglo-Saxons. This was a time of much coming and going and historians disagree on many issues, dates and detail, though the ASC does allow us to chart the Army’s geographical progress year by year.

No longer just marauding warriors, the Army along with camp-followers may have been 5,000 strong and customarily stopped campaigning for the winter. It had no single base to return to and each winter would setup camp in whatever part of the country in which they found themselves. Even though transitionary, these camps were substantial affairs, housing not just humans but moreover various animals. The organisation had to have been quite an exercise. Tented accommodation, animal enclosures, latrines, graves for the dead are self-evident but we know that they also acted as temporary trading stations and hosted a number of craft trades.

Despite the ASC’s touring guide, to date only two firm Viking archaeological examples of over-wintering camps have been uncovered. One is near Repton (strictly, two separate parts), the other at nearby Foremark. Torksey in Lincolnshire is much more revealing, covering up to 55 hectares, aka 500,000 m2, 70+ football pitches. The siting suggests pre-planning as it sat wedged between the river Trent and marshy ground that meant no discernible ditches or embankments were dug or needed. As well as proof of manufacturing and pottery production, the site has offered up several thousand verified Viking metal finds, including brooches, ever-popular Viking lead gambling devices and weights for use in trade.

The two Saxon kingdoms should now be working together and are still not immune to occasionally fighting each other as well as their long-term antagonists, the Welsh. But Mercia foolishly forgoes a treaty with Wessex by letting the Viking Army have safe transit through Mercia in 870. An off-shoot seems to be the group that attacked Wenlock, destroying  St Milburga's tomb. Mercia soon lives to regret this appeasement but, in the meantime, Alfred the Great becomes king of Wessex in 871.  Another Viking army, the Great Summer Army, adds itself to the fray. Together, these Vikings progressively take the east of the Mercian kingdom, as well as completing control over East Anglia and Northumbria. The adjoining ‘Five Boroughs’, Leicester, Lincoln, Stamford, Nottingham and Derby, all succumb. Repton is sacked in 873, followed shortly by Tamworth. As firm power-brokers, the Vikings send into exile the Mercian king (also Alfred’s brother-in-law) and he is replaced by a Viking nominee, Saxon Ceolwulf II. What amount of control and influence the Vikings have is unknown. Was Ceolwulf II just a Viking puppet? He was certainly the last king of an independent Mercia. And he must have been shrewder than the ASC implies since he kept at least part of his throne for at least 5 years and waged war successfully against the Welsh in his own right. 2019 saw coins discovered in both Lancashire and Durham showing Alfred and Ceolwulf side by side. This representation as equals strongly advocates that they must have been allies at least for part of the time.

The Viking Army spends the winter of 873/74 at Repton and by the end of 874, Cambridgeshire is taken. By early 877, the Vikings formally annexe the east of Mercia and England is now divided by a demarcation line running very roughly between the River Mersey and the Thames Estuary, the Viking area to the east gaining the collective title of The Danelaw. Wales and west-Cornwall are managing to escape being in any faction. Soon, the Vikings add Shropshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire & part of Warwickshire under their control. Lingering, just about independent, is a core Mercian area equating to circa modern Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire & Gloucestershire.

As to why the Vikings just not dismantle the whole state rather than leave this rump under Ceolwulf II? It may be because of their losses in battle. At Repton there is a large 

burial site of 264, mostly men 18–45, originating from this period – discernibly warriors killed by war or disease. And they are busy consolidating their hold over the vast lands they already directly control. Viking control of the Danelaw is comprehensive, and they are transiting from a scary army of occupation to one of increasing integration with the locals. The towns are there to promote trade and revenue, not to be sacked. And again, they may have wanted to conserve energy for their main adversary, Wessex. But, no matter what, once Wessex was conquered, the Vikings would absolutely dispense with this purely practical Mercian decision.

Their coveting of the whole of England fleetingly came very close to fruition in the year 878. Starting from a base in East Anglia, and with various allies, Guthrum leads a large army into battle with Alfred, defeating him and setting up a base at Chippenham. After hiding in the marshes and burning cakes (or perhaps not...) Alfred quickly re-builds a Saxon army and decisively triumphs over the enemy at the Battle of Ethandun (Edington) in Wiltshire. Alfred, allied now with Odda of Devon, is greatly assisted by a separate defeat of another Viking army attacking his rear. A peace treaty is signed, Guthrum converts to Christianity and moves to Cirencester – but still threateningly close to Wessex lands. All this in one year! Alfred solicits several of the Mercian lords to ally against Guthrun who then realises his weakness and returns to East Anglia whilst the remaining Vikings return semi-permanently to the Continent. Still, over the following years, warfare still erupts periodically between Saxons and various Viking armies. The large 2015 illegally discovered ‘Leominster Hoard’ ostensibly records (Hadley/Richards) that a Viking force was present thereabouts some time in 879, a border town just 30 miles SW of Bridgnorth.

With Alfred’s victory, Mercian Warwick and Worcester join a Mercian-Wessex alliance. Mercia still has enemies to the west who no doubt have kept a keen eye on their neighbours’ misfortunes and it gets badly beaten by the Welsh in 881. Two years later it effectively submits to Wessex authority, Alfred cementing this pact by betrothing his 10 year old daughter, Æthelflæd, to Æthelred, the proposed next ‘King’ of Mercia, Ceolwulf having disappeared from the picture. Æthelflæd and Æthelred now rule Mercia – but never entitled as Queen and King. Thence on, the only Saxon king referred to is Alfred. By the end of the next century’s second decade, Mercia is formally annexed and the Saxon concept of ‘Shires’ introduced throughout greater Wessex.

The main enemy is ever present on the eastern borders of Mercia and both it and Wessex are fighting the Vikings for the succeeding few decades. For instance, in 885, a small army of Vikings returning from the Continent attack but are defeated by Alfred at Rochester; Alfred sees a pretext and then attacks Guthrum who retreats further into East Anglia. However, it is not all plain sailing and in the next couple of years Alfred loses the land around Bedford. Æthelflæd strengthens the Roman settlement at Gloucester and makes that her prime residence. Nonetheless, Alfred’s last war 892 – 96 is perhaps the most perilous for both Mercia and Wessex: not only with the palpable perils of war but compounded by serious outbreaks of the plague & other diseases.

Alfred’s main aim was clearly to secure the safety and security of a Christian Wessex, with the ultimate goal of encompassing the whole of England. His death came before any of these objectives were achieved but the trend was clearly well underway. Central to these targets was the creation of a Nation State, although this should not be seen in the context of a modern bureaucratic apparatus beholden to the centre, but a system where localised power bases administered laws & policies directed, but not personally controlled, by the King. Essentially a federal structure, and with travel and communication naturally restricted then, it was to be expected that the further away from London or Winchester, the more autonomy was necessary. An integral element was the foundation of a network of burhs, a model long been regarded as being initiated by Wessex but outwardly a mid-8th century Mercian innovation with at least two examples, Tamworth  (worth is literally a fortified enclosure) and Hereford. Mercia may also have built burh type forts next to important towns (tuns). And without much doubt, fortified places had long existed across England, especially any royal, and probably most ealdorman / high status accommodation enclosures, albeit many may have had somewhat rudimentary defensive characteristics.

Burhs were part of a long-term policy. The familiar format of a Wessex burh is as a fortified town, a rectangular shaped settlement enveloped with a ditch and earth embankment topped off with a timber palisade, the settlement, village or town sized, having been already there or came as a package with the new fortification. But of the 33 identified in the Burghal Hidage, only 5 probably fit this template. Another 11 are shaped to suit the promontory they sat on. Four enclosures re-used existing Roman walling but if new stone walling was erected it was very much the exception, timber infilling being the norm. At least 9, e.g., Hastings, Chisbury and Halwell were small (military-only) fort-like, some based on old hillforts, which did not enclose a village. In due course, a number of Viking defences were also embraced and then enhanced. The Saxons used the noun to describe an enclosure and it is believed a number of Wessex burhs went unrecorded. The siting pattern appears to have too many gaps where surely burhs of some type were required and these unidentified were likely just forts.

Earth and timber defences were not new, of course, Offa’s Dyke being an obvious example. Even the Vikings used the technique. But these new burhs were an integral part of a planned and co-ordinated system. They formed an inter-linked picture across much of Wessex with set distances between to aid relief and shorten distances for those fleeing the Vikings. They came with garrisons, themselves an integral part of the “army”: garrisons / active field forces / non-actives. The burh order depended upon a continuous readily available supply of soldiers. Supporting the burhs were linking roads and hilltop beacons (signalling and warnings) as well as local fortified Thegn (Lords) private burhs.

This book’s interest lies primarily with the land north of the rump Mercia post 874. Shropshire, Staffordshire & Cheshire have been traditionally regarded as continuing to be part of, and fully under the control of Mercia. The Mercian burh building programme (more of below) was simply a consolidation but research by Tony Sharp and others has verified this not to be so. As stated above, it is more likely that soon after that date and whilst still co-existing with Ceolwulf’s southern Mercia core, the north of old Mercia fell to the invaders. This northern portion was then broken down into sub-areas controlled either by local Saxons, Vikings or even on occasion, Welsh brigands/princes. One evident rationale for this new stance is that we know for certain that the Mercian burhs were founded in the second decade of the 10th century. So, if Mercian remit still existed after 874, why had these not commenced in the 880s, or 890s at the very latest? And by local labour rather than by an army led into the area from the south? And why not all reasonably concurrent rather than what happened at an average of 2 a year in a systematic, northernly path? If this region was not under Mercian control at all before 910, this calls into serious doubt the currently accepted ‘modern’ pre 910 origins of Chester, Shrewsbury and Much Wenlock. It must also be noted that as manifested by Domesday populations, Shropshire, Staffordshire & Cheshire would appear to be poor sparsely populated counties compared with England generally, with little farmed land and an over reliance on forests and sheep farming. As such, not so attractive to occupy and exploit – unless you are on a mission to re-establish a substantial & extensive Mercian state.

To ascertain the credibility of this line of thinking that the three counties were not Mercian for at least 35 years, we (with clear credit to Tony Sharp) shall look in detail at the three towns.

Chester was a Roman garrison town and would have fallen into disrepair in the centuries following the Roman exodus. The question is: when was it brought back into active long-term use? It pops up quite frequently in the ASC but there is no mention anywhere of any re-establishment as a proper town before the 10th century. Thus, no suggestion that the old walls had been made into a burh when a Viking army arrives in 893; indeed, the ASC refers to the place then being deserted. They made good the defences and a Mercian force commences a siege. The tactic employed is what we call today one of “scorched earth”, whereby all crops and animals in the surrounding area are taken or destroyed and any men found killed. The ASC deliberately refers to “men” rather than Dane, Viking, heathen, or even Welsh. The inference then must be that these unfortunate souls are “locals” of Anglo-Saxon heredity. If Mercia already held sway here, then surely this is not the action they would take – more likely to conscript them as soldiers or ancillaries.  

We shall see below that the (new) Mercian burh building programme started in 910 and deliberately moved steadily northwards from Worcester. Why would they build an isolated burh 100 miles away over very poor “roads”? Garrisons are rotated as a norm and have to be supported quickly by reinforcements if threatened. We have revealed that their remit in Cheshire had lapsed in the mid-870s, so no imperative from locals nor any need to cross defend with nearby burhs: Runcorn, the nearest, is not built until 915. If the ASC reference to building work at Chester is not Mercian, then who?  We know that in about 902, a contingent of Vikings expelled from Dublin arrived in the Mersey - Wirral region as settlers, not fighters. These Vikings have customarily been labelled, if erroneously the “Hiberno-Norse” (though local Norwegian based names remain: Kirkby, Croxteth etc.). It seems most probable that these re-built Chester as a Viking fortress. The Mercian Register talks of the city being renewed in 907. It gives no other detail, nor does it say by whom. “Renewed” does not infer conferring burh status. Likely the “Hiberno-Norse” were still in residence.

The reference in the Irish Fragmentary Annals to a siege of a Mercian owned Chester can be dispensed with as its credibility is extremely limited. Finally, and interestingly, it has to be noted that when war broke out in 910, there is no mention of a Mercian burh being utilised – because it was a Viking one! The most likely date for a Mercian burh at Chester is about 918.

Shrewsbury and Much Wenlock settlements likely existed well before 874, as noted above. Existence is not the issue: the questions are whether they were in Mercian control for the 35 plus years after that date and did the former warrant & receive a burh fortification upgrade. Interestingly, Welsh records fail to ever mention Shrewsbury before the late 12th century.

The case for a Mercian Shrewsbury burh in 901 is “corroborated” by a ‘Charter’ supposedly given by Æthelred and Æthelflæd but this document, Scrobbesbyrig, S211, looks to as getting its date wrong - or is simply a forgery. There is no other supporting proof or even inference to a burh or fortification at Shrewsbury being recorded before the 11th century. The Battle of Buttington was not far away but the ASC says the allied forces were comprised of Mercians from north of the Thames & west of the Severn aided by burh garrisons from Wessex, plus Welshmen, but no mention of any Shrewsbury garrison and local fyrd at all – because it and they did not exist. A Shrewsbury burh is not mentioned in the Mercian re-conquest of the 910s. In fact, the town first appears by name only in 1016. A mint is supposedly established under Æthelstan (927–39) but is not proven. Mints habitually only exist in burhs but even if the mint report is true, there is nothing to say such a burh preceded it rather than was concurrent. Furthermore, Bridgnorth burh is (probably) only started in 912 and it makes no logic to have constructed a burh at Shrewsbury around 11 years earlier. Burh construction was a methodical expansion spanning outwards from Worcester. So, on balance, Shrewsbury was not a fortification till the 11th century.

Much Wenlock’s existence as a town, rather than a hamlet supporting the pre-Priory, in 901 must likewise be questioned and in all likelihood probably originated in the late 10th century at its earliest.

Accordingly, as the year 892 starts, we see the 3 counties, Bridgnorth area included, still detached from Mercia. Warfare is now typically in the form of long-distance incursions into enemy territory, often via rivers or boats travelling the coast. The 892-96 war against Wessex & Mercia is composed of several attacks by various Viking armies, of assorted sizes, both by land and sea. Most early fighting was to the south and here we will only deal with those invasions directly affecting the Shropshire area. In 893 a Viking force marched across country to the River Severn where they set up a fortified encampment at “Buttingtune”, as they were prone to so do. As asserted above, it was besieged an allied army led by Æthelred. The tactic chosen was to force the defenders to starve but they broke out in 894 and in the battle the Vikings were beaten and the remnant regained Essex. There are two potential contenders for the site. Most likely, the village of Buttington 300m from the River Severn that is near Welshpool, 35 miles west of Bridgnorth, (though Buttington Tump, Gloucestershire, is also a contender).

Concurrently, another composite Viking force constitutes itself at Chester in 893 as stated above. In 895 this same army launches a ship-borne invasion via the River Lea which runs from Bedford and into the River Thames. Alfred forces them to abandon both fortress and ships and they make their way along the Roman Watling Street, avoiding Mercian land by transiting through the friendly areas of the Five Boroughs, arriving on the River Severn at a place named Cwatbrycge be Sæfern. The (B) Winchester Manuscript of the ASC uses both this wording as well as Brycge. Another spells it as Bricge; (E) has it as Cwat-bricg.

A modern English translation is roughly A marauding army reached a place called Cwatbrycge on the River Severn where they built a fortress and spent the winter there, leaving the following summer of 896. Where Cwatbrycge is positioned is unknown, other than on the Severn, and traditionally it is thought to most likely be Quatford, just south of the then non-existent Bridgnorth (although one J A Giles had it as Cambridge, Gloucestershire, 2 miles from the Severn). It has to be in the greater Bridgnorth area, as this army had passed through the Five Boroughs then turned west passing through southern Staffordshire and into south Shropshire (the Severn bears sharply west just north of Bridgnorth, so they would not have travelled any further north). They chose not to continue further west along Watling Street, instead setting up a fortified camp / fort (geweorc) to over-winter. The most logical placement would be the local main crossing point on the River Severn thereabouts. Any fort wall had to be in timber, but more likely given the time available, just a ditch and earth ramparts.

There is absolutely no proof that it was Quatford, however. In fact, the facts tend to suggest otherwise. There has never been found a single artifact trace of a Viking presence, to say nothing of a stronghold, even when trenches have been dug down to bedrock. More modern artefacts yes: a Henry I penny, brooches and the like. We have earlier looked at Viking encampments and how established they were in their infrastructure etc. even those single winter transitionary ones. If Torksey can yield-up thousands of objects why cannot Quatford, where habitation and digging has been ongoing since at least before 1080?  As to the suitability of the site, the ground rises substantially around it, so it is over-looked. As to area m2, that is hard to gauge since we do not know of the assembled numbers, but at least one thousand individuals. What is certain is it could not cope with a Torksey sized magnitude. But the encampment could have been adjacent: to the immediate south is a flat area bordered by the Severn on one side, Sterns Rough, a 10m high buff, the other. Natural barriers seem the preferred solution if Torksey is judged to be typical.

If not Quatford, where? The ASC is silent even as to which side of the River Severn it sat. A crossing-point is a given and Bridgnorth seems the only workable alternative. As such, the contention has supporters, including Mason and Barker. Terry Slater has suggested the Low Town area of modern Bridgnorth. Castle Hill and the Panpudding sites are also in contention. But to this author, all have drawbacks as answers. The Hill has particularly good defensive characteristics but offers no easy escape route, and it is too far from water supplies, there being no time to dig a well. Panpudding is similar and would be too small. The Low Town area is feasible but is overlooked much of the way around, with satellite observation posts on the Panpudding sites and the top of the Hermitage. But away from the riverside it would have probably needed at least a ditch and earth embankment (and possibly timber palisading) which would be time and effort consuming for what was a 4-6 month stay – and contrary to Torksey’s evidence. Thus, this author cannot make a conclusion for a best candidate for Cwatbrycge. Whatever the reality, it is the Bridgnorth area’s first known foray into history.

It is not known whether either the Chester, Lea and “Quatford” excursions were just raids, part of a bigger pincer movement with others that did not occur (or at least be recorded), part of a hoped-for alliance with Welsh chieftains, or as a prologue to form new Viking settlements?  Perhaps they were simply trying to exploit a political vacuum existing in the three counties?  After over-wintering at Cwatbrycge be Sæfern and apparently without engaging in any major combat, they left and made their escape, a number to East Anglia, others to Northumbria and France. Presumably, the Mercians and Wessex forces arrayed were simply too strong to contest with. This was the last real invasion of the decade, thereafter only small-scale nuisance raids endured. Despite numerous onslaughts from diverse directions, Alfred and his Mercian allies had come out on top. Alfred dies in 899 and is succeeded by his son, Edward.

In none of the excursions just detailed do the Chronicles mention any burhs or concentration of local allied forces. The Vikings in each case are pursued by forces originating from the south & east. So, more evidence pointing to the fact that, at least to 898, the three counties are not in Mercia’s remit.

In 910 a ‘Northern Viking-army’ is transported by boat up the Severn. Somewhere on the lower Severn they disembark and engage in a pillaging spree in the adjoining areas:  Æthelweard states this is in the ‘west country’ so presumably the west bank of the Severn. A Wessex army starts to pursue them north. The Vikings begin to head home, transiting eastwards across the Severn before being defeated comprehensively in a pincer entrapment by the forces of Mercia and Wessex at the Battle of Tettenhall (Teotanheale), Wednesfield, just about 20 miles east of Bridgnorth. Where they crossed the river is not offered up in the ASC proper but writing a Latin version decades later, Æthelweard names it as [ ]antbricge (ineligible first letter, presumably C). He clearly means the same place as the earlier Viking winter encampment in 895. As well, the battle site implies they had crossed in the Bridgnorth area. Roger of Wendover’s latter account spells it as Quantebregge.

The subsequent year, 911, sees Æthelflæd assumes power in her own right when her husband dies: not a queen but The Lady of the Mercians. The principle of Alfred’s model of burhs is fully adopted by Mercia. There had already been instances of burh building/strengthening in Mercian territory as part of the Wessex burh programme: namely Worcester and Warwick. This can be taken as another sign of who was dominant in the “alliance”. The Worcester burh was probably started at the time of Æthelflæd’s marriage, something like 885. The planning and processing are different in Mercia. In Wessex, it was a case of starting from a large secure area and adding the defences in territory already firmly in Alfred’s control. Mercia had lost most of its territory. Hence, Mercian burh building was part-and-parcel of the creeping re-annexation of lost land. We have clearly illustrated that the rump of Mercia lay in the old Mercia’s south, so any armed force re-conquering and re-establishing earlier Mercian control was going to have to be going north and east.

The Mercian Register records for us a sequence following a distinct methodical pattern of re-growing and extending secure borders that was both a consolidation of, as well as a deliberate act of radiating outwards power and security. Of those listed up to 916, only three have unambiguous homes, the remaining having no absolutely agreed sites that can be supported by any archaeological or topographical evidence (as too a few of the Wessex burhs, e.g., Piton).

910 Bremesburh Built just after the battle of Tettenhall and likely quick consolidation of new ground following the victory. Seemingly the Bromsgrove area

911 Hereford, a re-build as its defences

912 Her com Æþelflæd Myrcna hlæfdige on þone halgan æfen Inuentione Sancte Crucis to Scergeate 7 þær ða burh getimbrede, 7 þæs ilcan geares þa æt Bricge” (the year 912 Mercian Register within ASC ( 23 April 2021))

(a) Scergeate (geate meaning gap or similar), location unknown but favourite positioning is along the Severn Valley between Worcester and Bridgnorth: Bewdley? Another contender has been Old Oswestry (re Jane Wolfe) guarding the gap between Offa’s and Wat's dykes. (b) Bridgnorth (in all probability). No matter what, these two burhs should be at most 30 miles distant from the other since Alfred’s burhs were 20 – 30 miles apart, a pattern copied by his sister.

913 (a) Tamworth, (b) Stafford, 30 miles from each other, respectively 35 and less than 30 from Bridgnorth.

914 (a) Wæringwicum: Warwick, (b) Eadesbyrig (commonly identified as Eddisbury in Cheshire)

915 (a) Weardbyrig:  Whitchurch (site of Roman fort Mediolanum), or Warburton, Merseyside area, are primary contenders. (b) Cyricbyrig (Ċyriċbyrigi (‘fort with a church’) as referenced in the ASC): Somewhere along the border with Wales with Chirbury being the main contender, 35 miles from Bridgnorth, right on the Shropshire/Welsh border and 3 miles from Montgomery. (c) Rumcofan: likely Runcorn, also in the Merseyside area.

916 Æthelflæd secures her western flank with a campaign in Wales supposedly in response to the murder of a Mercian abbot. No known burhs.

After securing Mercia’s new northern & western borders, the Mercians turn towards the Five Boroughs and build in 917 at Derby. Just before she dies in 918, Leicester is added, and, supposedly, York yields to her. We have to be mindful that the Register is unlikely to fully represent a complete list of all her burhs: Wednesbury in the Midlands, for one, makes a great play as a missing burh. Wessex’s King Edward takes over and makes further advances into the Danelaw, constructing burhs at Manchester, 919, and, but open to significant doubt, Bakewell in 920. Æthelflæd’s young daughter succeeds her, briefly. By the end of the year, her brother Edward of Wessex is ruling Mercia. Edward formally allows Vikings living in re-conquered Mercian areas to remain and integrate.

Were Mercian burhs just a copy of the Wessex template? Since so few have been clearly identified, let alone examined, this is an unanswerable question. Many certainly replicated larger Wessex burhs being mostly not just fortifications and places of sanctuary, but also a source of administration, a trading centre, as well as a powerbase and assembly-point at which to attack enemies. But, keeping in mind the lack of current authentication plus the dearth of later references, it would be more than plausible to presuppose that a number of Mercian efforts were of compact fort characteristics. After all, we have already stated than at least 11 of Alfred’s were of this format. And, like some of these 11, several of these Mercian “burh-light” types, likely or not, were temporary, to be garrisoned for a year or two until the Viking frontier has been pushed back past subsequent fortifications, or replaced by a new defence in the vicinity, e.g., Easling by Guildford.

Then again, a place like Bridgnorth may inaugurally have been a temporary anti-Viking fort but was kept on as a buffer to the Welsh, forever a potential irritant to Mercia.

Regrettably, no proof has been left to us to declare that Bridgnorth was 100% the 912 site. No written or archaeological evidence has ever been uncovered. That said, no more than with most Mercian, and a fair number of Wessex burhs. Most speculation centres on the burh fortification being either on the site of the later castle or on the opposing hillock now known as Panpudding Hill. There are also two outside bets which we will now consider. One is Quatford, essentially assuming that was both the Viking temporary camp site and crossing point, and that Æthelflæd recognised its military potential, in much the same way as the Vikings had, and simply re-used and updated it. We know the Saxons did this elsewhere, but equally they built burhs almost adjoining pre-existing Viking forts. But the military requisites were different. The Vikings merely needed a temporary winter encampment that came with a natural protective element and was close to food etc. Æthelflæd needed a power base that afforded a watching brief against potential enemy incursions. Quatford is virtually at valley river level with no appreciable long-distance vision afforded to it except to the west. It would have tenuous re-supply links (other than water) and no natural high ground defensive characteristics. The best case seems to be that if the Normans chose the site, it must have had creditable defence attributes. But that small motte & bailey castle was most likely more a fortified holidaying haven rather than an important constituent of an integrated defensive system. Horovitz also tries to make a case for the burh being not exactly at Quatford but either on the west bank or on a now extinct river island. And, as with the supposed case of the winter encampment, no substantiation has ever been discovered.

The second ‘alternative’ is Bridgnorth’s eastern bank, either as the site or as a bridgehead combined with another part on the western side of the Severn. In both these two scenarios, a small burh was centred around what is now Moat Street. This would have been a town-based burh rather than a purely military endeavour. Both scenarios cannot be dismissed out of hand. Burhs were not necessarily chosen solely for their defensive capabilities but by definition it had to be a major consideration.  Haslam argues that Nottingham’s second burh (and its bridge, referenced elsewhere) built in 920 was placed at Wilford as against the more defensive positioning at West Bridgford.

An east bank burh would have been very exposed with the high hills to the east overlooking the community. Its one good feature would be its very close proximity to the river crossing, a trait of many burhs. We must, however, regard the east bank idea as just another one of various scenarios.

Back to the main candidate sites. Both are organic defensive positions. Bridgnorth’s castle hill sits above steep sided sandstone cliff faces whilst Panpudding is positioned a few hundred metres away on top of a naturally occurring steep hillock, though scarped and feasibly rounded on plan by human effort. Both had similar elevations and commanded the nearby fordable crossing of the Severn. It is possible both sites were chosen in unison but very unlikely.

For what was the Bridgnorth burh? Obviously to function as a military representative of the State, but in what capacity? We have seen that it and its post-Alfred contemporaries were part of a rolling programme re-capturing territory. As such, the field army would move on soon after. It may have been built simply as a temporary campaign fort that was soon made into a more enduring placement. Despite successes, there remained for a long time a constant threat of a new thrust from an enemy force. Malden in Essex is one such example: first put up in 911, reworked in 916. Relatively small, more fort like than burh-town, Bridgnorth burh’s first task was to stamp Mercian state authority in the area. It would then remain both as a living place for soldiers as well as an early warning of attacking forces. Their numbers and fortification strength would hopefully deter a direct attack, but they could equally attack the rear of any enemy force that did transit pass. Even if they were not strong enough to neutralise that force, they would unsettle the enemy simply by the fact that the enemy knew they were there. Both Bridgnorth and Panpudding fulfilled the criteria.

As told, there has been no evidence unearthed of any structure from this age at the current Bridgnorth castle hill site. But this would have been not surprising as the 12th century stone structures would have subsumed anything already in place. As a contender it has three major factors going for it. Its discernible commanding aspect overlooking the Severn; its apparent status as such in local post-1066 folk law, and references penned years later. But that obvious positioning attribute is also a disadvantage in that the promontory is a large area which would take a lot of effort to build, then man and maintain. In all likelihood, the initial deployment would be the ‘regular’ army whilst soon afterwards it would be left almost entirely to part-time locals. Without a town where would this number of men regularly come from? As to folk law, hearsay is notoriously unreliable and what is to say they meant the castle hill rather than the ‘old castle’ hill? i.e. Panpudding. Then we have the chroniclers who all wrote many years later in the 12/13th centuries. All are clearly flawed, writing well after the event they are reporting. Florence appears to have relied on second hand versions of hearsay whilst Roger relied on Florence! The only supporting “fact” rests on being so designated retrospectively by Florence of Worcester in the 12th century and that was over 200 years after the event, and he was not even living in England when writing.

John of Worcester, when writing of the 1102 siege, is of the opinion that the new castle was on the site of Æthelflæd’s burh (note: he seems to have used the Chronicle as a basis). The Chronicle of Florence of Worcester is clearly of the same opinion: Bellême… “began to repair and surround with a broad and lofty wall …..the castle which Et.holl'eda, lady of the Mercians, had formerly built in the reign of her brother….. , at a place  in the Suxoa tongue Bryege [Bridgnorth], on the west bank of the river Severn.”  He later then references the river Thames, not Severn, so accuracy somewhat under mined!  Roger of Wendover, (died 1236), also talks of Æthelflæd’ s burh as being on the west bank, and like Florence sees it as a restoration of a previous effort, though in his case does not state or allude as to who the previous builders were. But it seems he was retelling a script made by John de Cella, abbot of St. Albans, who in turn relied on material from Florence’s Chronicle. A few others make reference including Simon of Durham whose Historia Regum calls the place Briege. 

Plausibly the best case for the burh being the castle site is looking at nearby Stafford. There the burh’s exact position is not known but is believed to be in the centre along rectangular lines of Greengate/Gaolgate + Stafford/Broad + Earl + Mill Streets and was extended & enlarged in the medieval ages so to encompass the whole peninsula – although these are the town walls, not Stafford Castle. The reasoning would then go: if at Stafford, built a year after Bridgnorth, the Mercians chose the site that very much resembled Bridgnorth’s promontory, surely, they would have similarly thought that it was also the best site for Bridgnorth. Sensible logic but Stafford appears to be a proper burh town rather than the fort type we believe Bridgnorth was. Easling in Surrey is another part-match. It too sits on a sandstone promontory sitting above a river. Its squarish shape is different but the overall area, at 8 hectares (80,000 m2) is close. It does, however, stepdown towards the river on one edge.

Panpudding Hill too has no evidence supporting its assertion. It has certainly been a type of fortification and resembles what was later dubbed as a ‘Ringwork & Bailey’ castle. Ringworks consisted of a circular or oval trench, or concentric trenches, surmounted by an earthen embankment with a timber palisade fence atop. This format is explained further in our 1102 chapter, it being common in post-1066 medieval times. However, earlier variants were built in Anglo-Saxon times.

Here we are going to present our case for saying that Panpudding Hill was the site of the burh. In the next chapter, we will offer the case why it cannot be a post-1100 siege castle, the current most popular designation.

The Panpudding ringwork is oval and has a central inner courtyard summit of almost 50m diameter. To the west, separated by a man-made trench, is a distinctive flat bailey area about 40m in each direction at its maximum, narrowing to 18m at the western edge, complete with testimony of a trench and embankment. This bailey slopes slightly away from the ringwork and would have contained ancillary buildings in a fortified area which, if necessary, could be abandoned in favour of defending the adjacent and main ringwork fortification, the logical attack direction would be over the relatively flat ground to the west. There appears to be the suggestion of a rectangular building 18 x 10m in the bailey.

Panpudding has a better viewpoint aspect than that the castle site, especially down river. Viewpoints were far more proscribed in those days due to the profusions of forests; the large Morfe Forrest stretched eastwards from the Severn.

A further consideration is the proximity of the then hamlet of Oldbury, the hill sitting within its parish boundary. As it is highly likely that our burh was not built around an existing settlement but was a stand-alone military only fort, it was always going to be small, but still required a garrison whose soldiers needed not just paying but provisions, shelter for families etc. Oldbury is recorded in the Domesday Book as having just 13 households, and not possessing a church or chapel. A reason for the hamlet’s existence has to remain speculative but it is more than possible that it originated to service the garrison on Panpudding Hill. Its direct connection with the burh by this author is far from unique: Eyton for one, writes such in his main book as well as in volume X of the Transactions “quoting” that in the 11th century the burh was referred to as Oldbury. James Mackenzie in his 1896 book The castles of England, their story and structure, wrote that the burh was ‘separated from Oldbury by a marshy track of land’. Exact Interpretations of Oldbury’s original name, Aldeberie (Aldebur in Eyton’s rendition) differ, various authors not agreeing in detail but do in principle accord to a military connection. One author, David Horovitz, has it that the word meant ‘the old or disused fortification’. Esme Nadine Hookway too has it meaning an ‘old fort.’ Another has it as ‘Old Borough’ (burh).

Then we have the aforementioned ‘Copy of an Old Map’ of Bridgnorth identifying Panpudding Hill as the “Old Castle”. Since the map is at least post 1270, and shows the ‘new’ castle standing opposite, the insinuation must be that they were/are two distinct sites. Similar old town maps also appear to label the hill likewise. The word ‘old’ in Middle English could refer to the obvious but also to something no longer being used.

Similarly, a deed from 1299 also mentions “Old Castle” when referencing land that is clearly wedged between the road around Bridgnorth and the path (Coffin Way) to Oldbury that then passed close-by.

Can we find other burhs that partially resemble Panpudding? The total length of its two perimeters is just about 300m. Looking at the fort-like original Alfred burhs, although many sites are contested as to exact locations, we can reasonably determine the length of wall because their financial and manpower upkeep was determined by a “hide” , the agricultural needs of a local family, whose numbers are given in the Burghal Hidage. One hide, on average = 1.3m. The smallest at 126m, Lyng, is situated on the Somerset Levels. As such, it sits on a flat plain and is naturally protected on three sides by what was then marshland subject to flooding, and so is of no use to us. The next smallest, Lydford, is much more relevant. It registers at 175m and sits on a promontory. However, it looks like the stated length undermeasures the defended enclosure space by about 650m, i.e. the three sides sitting on top of steep inclines, the 175m being solely the wall to guard the flat ground. The defences were ostensibly good enough to ward off a Viking attack in 997. Eorpeburnan, Pilton and Halewell measure 407, 453 and 377 respectively but lack topographical evidence to support identification. Chisbury in Wiltshire is perhaps the closest model, being a reused hillfort, despite it having a theoretical wall length of almost 1,000m.

Post Alfred, we have Laughton en le Morthen in Yorkshire, strongly believed to have been a Saxon thegn burh. The subsequent castle fits with the familiar Norman blueprint: circular with attached, kidney shaped compound, and may have mirrored the defunct Saxon wall line. The circular area is smaller, the kidney bigger than Panpudding. Towcester, south of Coventry, is supposedly a 921 burh and sported a 100m diameter circular compound. But both are on the level too.

So, no noticeable parallels but a number of comparisons to make to Panpudding a potential fort burh. Additionally, being circular and on natural high ground, we cannot ignore the chance that there was an historic military use pre- 1st century. It may have been an iron-age hilltop fort, and certainly a few burhs were so appropriated. But here, this possibility is questionable. Their characteristic is a site with downward slopes on all sides, whereas Panpudding has these at best 70% of its circuit. But is irrelevant anyway to our quest.

The conclusion, at least for this author, is that Panpudding was most likely Æthelflæd’s burh. Anything but provable, but the most plausible candidate. It needs stating this author is far from being alone in asserting Panpudding as being the site of the Burh. Eyton certainly, Margaret Gelling (a strong suggestion) and Geo. T Clark in 1884, amongst others.

But before finishing our Panpudding appraisal, we must mention that there is another ground feature a touch further than 180m south of Panpudding Hill. This flat-topped promontory covers an enclosed area bigger than that of Panpudding and is largely surrounded by remains of a low earthen rampart. How this could have fitted into a pattern with Panpudding is still a mystery. They may each have complemented the other, but to what purpose? It somewhat tangles matters but we have to ‘park it’.

Aside from a presumption about a burh being founded, there is no record of anything happening at Bridgnorth prior to the Normans arriving in 1066. In particular, there is no reference anywhere to a mint being established, a widespread aspect of burhs, after Athelstan decrees that a mint could only operate within a defended burh. A few coins that have been found elsewhere stamped Brycg or Bridian originated from other towns. As to how long the burh was maintained, we have no thought. As noted, it may have been a one-year campaign fortress or it may be perpetuated for a good length of time, which could be anytime up until Domesday Book. A number of burhs were short lived, others eventually evolved into Norman towns and castles. During the reign of Æthelstan (the first King of England) many burhs were just closed.

A sort of ‘Bridgnorth’ village may have developed in its shadow, but this seems very unlikely: Oldbury would surely have fulfilled this function. Authors such as Jane Croom have put a late Saxon urban area in the St. Leonard's vicinity, co-existing with Morville Manor. Writers such as Haslem and Slater have opinionated that Love Lane originally led south from the Astley Abbotts direction direct to this church and its pre-urban development, prior to being re-directed when the town walls were erected. A component of this notion is the supposition that an early version of St. Leonard's Church existed in these times. To this author these perceptions are very doubtful since there is absolutely no evidence. There was supposedly a component of “Saxon” stonework found at the church but then lost although this could easily have been imported from elsewhere and reused, a recurrent enough practice.

This chapter takes us up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. What do we know in this intervening period?

England was becoming more prosperous relative to its neighbours, in part because of its stability heading into the second half of the 11th century. It was also an integrated state, as much as it could be mindful of transport and other constraints. By the 970s, if not earlier, the country was clearly entrenched as a military, economic, political and, most importantly, an administrative fact. One illustration of this is that by that time the mints (Royal but effectively run by dynastic families) were being operated on a uniform basis nationally. These attributes were the country’s undoing, though, as it made the country a desirable invasion target.

We can talk of an English identity evolving. Despite this distinctiveness having itself a very strong Scandinavian & NW European element, England’s linkage with the Vikings never went fully away. From 980, the Vikings are back in force, due in no small part by the allure of the new mints established. Unfortunately, England’s military adequacy is severely tempered since the king had not a single lord with recent, or perhaps any military experience to call upon. Their own Viking mercenaries was one defensive system used, bribes another but both to no avail and, for example, in 1016 the Warwick burh is sacked. Ultimately, England even acquired a very short-term (abruptly ending due to his early death) Viking king and then a more permanent version in the form of Cnut. It was he who tried to turn back the sea (to demonstrate that his earthly powers were limited) and was married to a Pole, exemplifying the spread of Viking trade and travel. Alfred had set in motion the attempt to create a single entity country to oppose the Vikings, who eventually acquire the whole thing in one go!

We are unsure whether Shropshire suffered further Viking incursions through the 10th century, though it seems likely, given they largely continued with their favoured tactic of long-distance incursions through or around opponent areas. The Wroxeter area, Wrocensæte, may have had a Viking settlement. Tamworth is sacked in 939 but that is 35 miles to the east. Danish attacks during the following century almost certainly occurred during the period 1016 – 1042. In particular, the county would have been embroiled in King Aethelred’s ill-judged order to kill all Vikings, men, women and children, and the retaliation in kind.

As to local government, there had been no “county” as such, simply an undefined part of Mercia. The Mercians then copied the Wessex concept of counties with the first named record of Saxon Shropshire (Scrobbesbyrigscire) in either 1006 or 1016 (depending upon which version of the ASC is consulted). It later becomes Salopescira. The chief administrator of the county was an Ealdorman. Who chose or why the borders are what they are is unidentified, though the Welsh western edge is fairly recognisable, at least in principle, up to Offa’s Dyke. The ‘County Hidage’ from the early 11th century shows Shropshire had become a defined area, although even then, only the eastern border line is definitive. There are twelve surviving county Royal Charters from this time, but ten of these concern just religious establishments. It was a place almost devoid of towns but with a reasonable number of villages and hamlets spread throughout. In this sense it mirrored post-1066 Wales to the immediate west. As we have noted above, there are suspicions about the exact form of existence of early 11th century versions of Much Wenlock and Shrewsbury, but the latter becomes the area’s administrative centre.

The county is divided from the mid-10th century into ‘Hundreds’ for taxation, military, and judicial purposes. Private land holdings were similarly based around localised manors. Both Mercian and then English Shropshire had churches, but they were of two distinct brands. Some were chapels, privately built, maintained and secularly staffed by local landowners, often for exclusive use for themselves, built adjoining their residences. Others were Minster chapels, sponsored and habitually dependent upon a ‘mother’ monastery or similar. Here, and nationally, these often served large areas. The trend in Shropshire after the 1066 Conquest was of chapels gaining their independence and rematerialising as parish churches staffed by a priest, with a direct allegiance to, and under the control of a Bishop, and ultimately the Pope in Rome. How much this trend was underway before 1066 is unclear, with Croom declaring it well in progress. And unlike that found in most of the country, she discerns no clear alignment to be found in Shropshire between the Hundreds and new church locations, though 14 out of 15 Hundreds possessed either one or two Minster chapels.

Whilst to all purposes the semi-autonomous Mercian kingdom had ceased to exist in 920, it appears that Mercia in various guises continued to function, and indeed between 955 and 959 seems to have regained some form of independence from the new Kingdom of England. The period 1013 - 18 sees a three-way struggle between the Saxons Aethelred and Edmund Ironside, and the Dane Cnut. The old (Viking) Five Boroughs as well as Mercia under Eadric Streona largely supported Cnut and at one time Aethelred sought out vengeance on these parties that included attacking Shrewsbury. Cnut becomes ruler of England, shaking-up regional government, heralding Mercia’s last come-back as one of the four (with Wessex, East Anglia, and Northumbria) major earldoms. Leofric became the Earl of Mercia between 1032 and 1057 and along with Earl Godwin becomes the wealthiest and most powerful non-royals in the kingdom. Leofric is superseded by Aelfgar and then in 1062, Eadeine. The King rules but land, wealth and power are split between him, Terra regis, (the king's land), the (English) Church and a few earls who with their housecarls acted also as the professional soldiery. This top layer of power was then supported by a considerable number of thegns of varying importance. Over the years, the magnitude of the Terra regis had been eroded as various kings rewarded supporters. Before the Normans, Shropshire is an area owned mainly by three powerful men: The King and the earls Edwin and Morcar. Near to Bridgnorth, the King held Morville and Chirbury, Edwin had Ditton Priors, Stottesdon and Chelmarsh, and Morcar retained Shifnal and Sutton Maddock. Other areas were held by The Church, this included Erdington, and lesser nobility. Locally amongst the latter, Norton was held by one Leoffled whilst Lady Godiva, she of Coventry legend and widow of Leofric, owned both Chetton and Highley. Alward, son of Almund, controlled Oldbury and Glazely. Society was going to change in the near future, but the core three male occupations: praying, fighting and manual work, were not changing any time soon.

During Edward the Confessor’s (1042-1066) reign, the Leges Edwardi Confessoris brought the 4 main roads of England, including Watling Street, under what was called the King's Peace. This meant criminality and civil wrongs so associated with it was an affront to the king personally and hence so much more serious. Similarly, so too with the main navigable rivers, including the Severn.

Shropshire and adjoining border counties continued to have their own unique non- issuance with the Welsh. One or two writers have said that the Bridgnorth burh was principally to defend against the Welsh, but this is unlikely: the threat from the Vikings was the existential one. By the time the English King Edward the Confessor was crowned in 1042, a great deal of Wales had, at least nominally, fallen under English jurisdiction. This did help abet continuous peace, for Shropshire and the other border counties certainly continued to suffer sporadic attacks. These were reciprocated in kind and both populations suffered periodically. Herefordshire suffered the most. We do not know whether Welsh incursions reached as far as the Bridgnorth area. In particular, warfare was conducted from 1052 onwards by the king of Gwynedd and Powys, Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, who campaigned extensively both sides of the “border” until his death in 1063. The consequence of this was that the Normans were going to inherit a border area largely laid to waste.

We leave this chapter with no testimony, either archaeological or documentary, of any existence of a Bridgnorth area habitation, civil or military before 1066. We can exemplify the chapter generally with the word Vikings, but in particular one noun: Denmark. Peoples from that region were a part of the Anglo-Saxon immigrant throng that, combined with the indigenous British, evolved into the Anglo-Saxon “cultural identity.” These people were then subject to prolonged attacks from the Vikings who were dominantly from modern Denmark and Norway. They then bred extensively with the locals in the north and east of England but usual practice is still to continue using the term Anglo-Saxon until 1066 whereafter the habitants are now called English.

Intriguingly, Dawn Hadley and Julian Richards have postulated that many encampments functioned as catalysts for urban development out of which the likes of Lincoln and Nottingham, not forgetting places such as Stamford and Torksey, now largely forgotten but once important medieval towns, evolved. And nationally, they indirectly reshaped the landscape and communication networks as a result of burh building, most of which were sited to command water and road transit points.

But a caveat. The Vikings’ direct impact on the west (including Shropshire) and south of England was always constrained by the sheer fact that these areas suffered only from armed incursions rather than occupation and immigration. Here, their sway over genealogy, place-naming and language was appreciably less.

And even when the 1000AD English population can be said to be dominated by a mix of Anglo-Saxon and Viking genes, military men from Denmark are still defining English history in the period 1000 – 1066. Conspicuously not only the Danish prince Cnut but the King Harold we meet dying at Hastings had a Danish mother. And along came the Normans. The irony here was that they were more Scandinavian than French. The Vikings had not just invaded our islands to their west but also to their south, carving out Normandy as a ‘Duchy’, though this was still within the overall authority of the French kings. They inter-bred with the local Frankish-Celtic peoples and in a reversal of what had happened with the Angles & Saxons, they adopted a version of French as their spoken language.

And the Danes still manage to make a very late appearance in 1070 when a group aid a rebellion against the Normans.