Wessex – Museums & Education

CHIPPENHAM MUSEUM

10, Market Place, Chippenham, Wiltshire, SN15-3HF

Tel : 01249 705020

HISTORY OF ANGLO-SAXON CHIPPENHAM

This is a town in north-west Wiltshire, which lies 20 miles/32km from Bristol, 86 miles/138.5km from London and 4 miles/6.5km from the Cotswolds, it lies on a crossing on the River Avon, because of this a settlement has been here well before the coming of the Romans, in Anglo-Saxon times it was a royal vill and possibly a hunting lodge under Alfred the Great, the river crossing was in a prominent position laying between the Marlborough Downs to the east, with southern Cotswolds to the north and west and having Salisbury Plain to the southwest.

In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the town is recorded as Cippanhamme: this could refer to Cippa who had his Hamm, an enclosure in a river meadow. Another theory suggest the name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word Ceap, meaning market. Over time the settlement’s name has changed, Cippanhamm (878), Cepan (1042), Cheppenham (1155) and so forth.

The town (excluding the Roman villages) is believed to have been founded around 600 A.D., in 853 A.D., AEthelswith (being sister of Alfred the Great) married King Burgred of Mercia at Chippenham, at the time Alfred was a boy of 4 years old, the wedding was held on the site of St. Andrew’s Church, this was recorded by Bishop Asser in the book ‘Life of King Alfred’, in his reign Chippenham was a royal vill, also with its proximity to the royal forests of Melksham and Barden, historians have argued  that is was a hunting lodge, AEthelfraed daughter of Alfred was married there to AEthelred Lord of Mercians, she became Lady of Mercia on the death of her husband later.

In 878 Danish Vikings successfully besieged Chippenham at Christmas so to entrap Alfred and the witan, but fortunately Alfred was able to escape with his entourage to Athelney on the Somerset Levels, safe from the Vikings he was able to build up strength to come out at Easter to conquer the Danes at the Battle of Ethandun, with his army he besieged Chippenham where the Danes had fled to and so they excepted surrender on Alfred’s terms and in so doing saved England, the Danish leader Guthrum excepted Baptism excepting the name Athelstan and with agreement the ‘Danelaw’ was created for the Danes and Mercia and Wessex for the Anglo-Saxons/Englisc under King Alfred the Great.

In 1086 the ‘Domesday Book’ refers to the town as Cepan with a population between 600 to 700.

ANGLO-SAXON/ENGLISC HISTORY

There is an Anglo-Saxon/Englisc exhibition on the ground floor.

ADMISSION

Free admission.

OPENING TIMES

Mon – Sat  10.00 – 16.00hrs.

Sun             Closed.

REFRESHMENT

There are plenty of places to eat within the town.

TRANSPORT

There are bus services coming from around the area and a train service on the mainline from London and Bath and beyond.

There are car-parks within the town.

 

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ROYAL BOROUGH KINGSTON UPON THAMES MUSEUM

Wheatfield Way, Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey, KT1-2PS

Tel : 020 8547 5006

e-mail : kingston.museum@rbk.kingston.gov.uk

ANGLO-SAXON/ENGLISC HISTORY

The Saxon metalwork collection is nationally important and includes three swords, about 20 spearheads and four shield bosses from the Mitcham Pagan Saxon Cemetary. The museum also holds a 10th century log boat and a collection of silver pennies representing the reigns of the seven kings thought to have been crowned at Kingston.

ADMISSION

admission is free.

OPENING TIMES

Tues, Fri & Sat 10.00 – 1700hrs.
Thurs 10.00 – 19.00hrs.
Closed on Bank Holiday Mondays, between Christmas & New Year, good Friday & Easter Monday.

REFRESHMENT

There is plenty of places to eat within the town

TRANSPORT

BUS

There are plenty of routes going to kingston from around the area.

TRAIN

Kingston is on the West London loop from Waterloo.

CAR

Car-parks are within the town centre not far from the museum.

There is disabled parking at the rear of the museum, but you need to contact the museum at least a day before you wish to visit.

 

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ATHELSTAN MUSEUM MALMESBURY

Malmesbury, Cross Hayes, Wiltshire, SN16-9BZ

Tel : 01666 829258

e-mail : info@athelstanmuseum.org.uk

ANGLO-SAXON/ENGLISC HISTORY

There are collections of coins and exhibits.

ADMISSION

Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

OPENING TIMES

Winter times – Oct-Mar            Mon – Sat     10.30 – 16.30hrs.                                                                                                                                                                       Sun         11.30 –  15.30hrs.

Summer times – April-Sept     Daily               10.30 – 16.30hrs.

GIFT SHOP

There are gifts to buy.

REFRESHMENT

There are plenty of places to eat within the town.

TRANSPORT

There is no train service, but you can travel to Swindon to pick up a bus service from Swindon, service no 31.

There is a car-park outside the museum.

 

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WATCHET MUSEUM

The Market House. Market Street. Watchet. Somerset. TA23-0AN.

No telephone.

e-mail on the Watchet Museum web-site.

HISTORY OF WATCHET

Anglo-Saxon/Englisc

During the Anglo-Saxon/Englisc era Watchet became a town of importance enough to have its own mint. As the Danes forced inroads into Wessex, many towns provided greater security by constructing fortifications known as burghs under Alfred and his sons.

Watchet became one of the ten important burghs of Wessex as it is listed in the Burghal Hideage, a document dated c 919 A.D.

“… and to Watchet belongs five hundred hides and thirteen hides. For the maintenance and defence an acres breadth of sixteen hides are required, if every hide is represented by 0ne man, then every pole of wall can be mounted by four men …”

We can calculate from this the length of wall around Watchet fortification c 919 A.D., as being 2,116 feet/645m. Each locality was responsible for the maintenance of its burgh as it was used by all as a refuge in times of trouble. Although we have documentary evidence for Viking raids on Watchet in the years 918 A.D., 977, 988 and 997, it may in actual fact have been more frequent as the Vikings used Steep Holm (hence the Scandinavian place name) to over-winter.

Excavations at Dawes Castle above Watchet suggest the burgh and its mint may have been sited there, but another site, at the south end of Swain Street, has also been put forward. Wherever it was located, the mint would have been sited within this fortifications.

Silver pennies were minted and the Museum is fortunate to have an original on display, along with various replica coins, with an interpretation of the minting process. Silver pennies from Watchet have been unearthed as afield as Scandinavia.

The establishment of the Saxon mint at Watchet drew the unwelcome attention of the Vikings, who staged several raids between 918 A.D., and 977 A.D. A re-enactment of a 988 raid was held at Watchet in 1998 to celebrate the town’s 1000 years of history – this was witnessed by huge crowds.

Hand-made replica coins are on sale within the Museum at £1.00p each.

Christianity came to Watchet and led to the establishment of St. Decuman’s Church, so dedicated probably in 1198, and is one of the largest and finest in West Somerset. Situated in a commanding position overlooking Watchet, it is this prominence which helped inspire Samuel Taylor Coleridge whilst staying with Wordsworth at the Bell Inn in 1797 with the first verses of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, considered among the greatest works in English literature. As a tribute to this, the Market House Museum society commissioned a statue of the Ancient Mariner and this was erected on the Esplanade in 2003.

the date in which St. Decuman lived is uncertain – some say 400 A.D., others about 700 A.D., it is said he was a Welsh missionary who crossed the Bristol Channel with a cow on a wattle or hurdle and lived a hermit’s life near Watchet. Local legend has it that whilst praying one day a native came behind him and cut off his head, after which he raised himself up, took his head in his hands and carried it to the spring just below the present church. There he washed all traces of blood from his body and head before replacing it and then continued his prayers. The spot is now the Holy Well.

SAXONS AND VIKINGS

When the Romans left Britain in about 410 A.D., successive waves of invaders and settlers arrived mainly Saxons, Angles, Jutes and Frisians from North West Europe. Many of these had been displaced themselves by upheaval throughout Europe driven by the Huns.

Anglo-Saxon refers to these Germanic tribes who came to dominate English life and give the country it’s name derived from : Angle-land. Another legacy is the English language which is a hybrid formed from many languages and can be traced to the language of the invaders.

As the invaders settled across England strong kings began to dominate, forming the kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia and Wessex. The native Britons were pushed further south and west and in 577 A.D., the Saxons defeated the Britons in a battle at Deorham near Bath, advancing to the shores of the River Severn cutting off the Britons of wales from those of the south-west.

life was very difficult for the ‘Sumorsaetas and Defnseatas’ who held Somerset, Devon and Cornwall against the frequent attacks from the Saxons and it was in 682 A.D., that they were pushed back further with Bridgewater and Watchet being taken and by about 700 A.D., a fortress was established on the River Tone that became Taunton, Exmoor, Devon and Cornwall held out until 815 A.D., when king Ecgberht finally took control. (but it was not by conquest)

By the time Alfred the Great (871-899 A.D.) was the ruler of Wessex. Watchet had become an important Saxon port and the site of a Royal Mint, one of several in the region, Axbridge, Bath, Bruton, Taunton and Crewkemge among others. The first Saxon king to issue coinage from Watchet, the silver penny, was Aethelred II in addition to Canute, Harold, Harthacanut and Edward the Confessor also issued coins from there which have been found in collections in Stockholm and Copenhagen some having come from Viking hoards found in Jutland and Zealand. The site of the mint has not been found but Dawes Castel just to the west of Watchet is one possibility, more information about the coinage can be found in the Market House Museum.

The reason for this concentration of Anglo-Saxon money in Scandinavia is probably the Levying of Danegeld or tribute money by Vikings during these troubled times appear to substantiate this. The first recorded raid have was that of 918 A.D., which is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and a more serious raid occurred in 977 A.D., The Vikings didn’t have things their own way however and many attacks were met with fierce fighting whereby many were slain. Legend has it the Battlegore in nearby Williton is the burial of Anglo-Saxon slain during Viking encounters but this has not been proved.

The last recorded raid on Watchet was 977 A.D., but it is probable that they lingered in the Bristol Channel for some years, holing up on Steepholm, Flatholm and Lundy island and one theory suggests that the Danes were actually allies of the Britons who were still battling against the Anglo-Saxons.

it is certain however that the evidence points to Watchet being a place of importance during the Anglo-Saxon conquest although little remains for the archaeologist to explore as the Saxons were poor builders! unlike the Romans before and the French-Normans who followed. (the Anglo-Saxons were adept at using wood for building as their homeland had massive forests but little stone so no doubt continued to work on what they were used to, but used stone for churches) Undoubtedly the small harbour was actually up into the river, where small ships and boats would have been worked, loading and unloading goods onto pack animals for the journey through the wooded countryside and over the Quantocks to the villages and towns of the interior, conquered Britons would perhaps have been working as slaves on the land and harbour side while in the remote parts of Exmoor and Dartmoor remnants of those British tribes would have been eking out an existence by hunting and primitive agriculture. Strong Celtic influences still exist in the south-west, particularly Cornwall where the Celtic language is still spoken, Cornwall before this was known as West Wales, as the west of Britain from Glasgow down through Strathclyde to Wales, then over to West Wales where British lived and then to Gaul which in time became known as Brittany/Little Britain with so many Britons migrating there caused by the pressure from the Anglo-Saxons and the plague.

Reference  A History of Watchet.

by A. L. Wedlake.

ADMISSION

admission is free, but donations are welcomed.

OPENING TIMES

open at the end of March till the beginning of November.

10.30 – 16.30hrs.

REFRESHMENT

There are plenty of places to eat in within Watchet town.

TRANSPORT

Train

Watchet station is on the West Somerset Railway.

Bus

There is a bus service no 16/24 from Bridgewater to Watchet

Mon – Sat, but no Sunday service.

Car

There is plenty of parking space near the museum.

 

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WINCHESTER CITY MUSEUM

The Square, Winchester, Hampshire, SO23-9ES

Tel : 01962 863064

HISTORY OF WINCHESTER

The area around Winchester has been inhabited since prehistoric times, know doubt the River Itchen was a key to this as the river could used as a highway, having also three hillforts which now over look the city, one called Oram’s Arbout on what is now St. Catherine’s Hill and Worth Down which is to the north, this was in the late Iron Age, as time went on a more urban settlement developed under the name Oppidum, but knowledge of this is obscure, it being overrun by the Confederation of Gaulish tribes from over the water of the Channel, who were known as the Belgae around the first century BC, the settlement was known as either Wenta or Venta from the Brittonic for “town” or “meeting place”.                                                                                                                                                                          After the Roman conquest of Britain, the settlement served as the capital of the Belgae known as Venta Belgorum/’Venta of the Belgae’, in the early years of the Roman province it was a subsidiary importance to Silchester and Chichester, but in time Venta eclipsed both of these by the second half of the second century, during the first part of the third century stone walls were built around the town for protection by which the town covered an area of 144acres/58ha putting it up as one of the largest towns in Roman Britain, this protection did not stop buildings being built beyond the wall, but in the later part of the fourth century of Roman occupation, the town started to decline as the Roman Empire was under pressure, threatened with the Hun invasion lead by Attilla who devastated the upper half of the Western Empire, leading to mass movement of people, including the Anglo-Saxons.                                    This leads us onto the Medieval period when the Romans eventually withdrew in 410 in which the Britons continued to act as before the town becoming an administrative place up to 450 and possible passing beyond this, the area of this admin area being on the site of the later Anglo-Saxon palace, who started to revive the town, this being shown in the discovery of 6th -7th century cemeteries.                                                                                                                                 The city became known as Wintan-Caestra/”Fort Venta”, King Cenwealh of Wessex erected the church of SS Peter and Paul in 648 this later became known as the Old Minster and becoming a cathedral when Dorchester-upon-Thames the Wes Saxon bishopric was transferred in the 660s, the present form of the city was developed in the late 9th century when King Alfred the Great restructured the city into a grid plan for defence purposes against the Viking attack, in so doing removed the previous Roman structures, also about this time a mint was created.                            By the early tenth century there were two ecclesiastical establishments, one was the convent of Nunnanminster which was founded by King Alfred’s widow Eathswith and the other being the New Minster under Bishop Athelwold of Winchester who was a leading figure in the Monastic Reform Movement being in the later part of the century where he expelled the secular canons of both minsters to replace them with monks, he also created the drainage system called the “Lockburn” which served as the cities drains until it was replaced in 1875, but it still survives, also in the late tenth century, the Old Minster was enlarged to be a centre of the veneration  for the ninth century Bishop of Winchester, St. Swithun, the three minsters became the home of the ‘Winchester School’ which architectural historian John Crook described as “the supreme artistic achievements”.                                                                                As the kings of Wessex became the kings of England especially after King Athelstan who became the true king of all England, Winchester became the capital of England until the French-Norman conquest.

 

ANGLO-SAXON/ENGLISC HISTORY

There is an Anglo-Saxon/Englisc exhibition on the middle floor of the museum, Winchester at one time was capital of Wessex, later to be the capital of England before the French-Norman Conquest, having much within the exhibit displaying an important part of the foundation of England.

ADMISSION

Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

OPENING TIMES

Winter times  –  Tue –  Sat     10.00 – 16.00hrs                                                                                                                                                                 Sun               11.00 – 16.00hrs

Summer times – Tue – Sat     10.00 – 17.00hrs                                                                                                                                                                   Sun               11.00 – 17.00hrs

GIFT SHOP

There is a gift shop within the museum.

TRANSPORT

There is plenty of bus services to the city and a train service direct on the mainline to London and Southampton.

There is also car-parks near the museum which is in the city centre.