Just a little extension on Alfred’s legacy, not so much in terms of the scholarly works he left behind, but in terms of what physical changes he made to the English countryside. These particular architectural achievements are pretty incredible and often overlooked Anglo-Saxon monuments.

Realising the threat of the Vikings and wanting to protect and unite the people of England, he began to construct burhs, which were fortified towns, often built up as hill forts. The hill forts were often built upon existing roman fortifications, but Alfred’s burhs consisted of incredibly high banks and ditches, with the burh at Wallingford reaching 9000 feet. The height and strength of the fortifications made them very effective protection from the Viking attacks and we now know from a document known as the Burghal Hidage that Alfred constructed 30 burhs in Wessex and 3 in Mercia. This shows how thoroughly Alfred protected his remaining kingdom of Wessex, once the rest of England had been taken by the Vikings. The construction of burhs was also continued by Alfred’s successors.

Some burhs display an unusually regular grid pattern of streets and this is what reveals to us that these burhs was built on pre-existing roman forts as grid street layouts were typical of roman settlements. Others were built on new sites, such as the Wallingford and Wareham burhs and do not display this regular street pattern. Little of the Anglo-Saxon settlements remain, but the hill banks and ditches are still visible but often left unnoticed. The town name -bury derives from the burh which shows the fortification has left some legacy, even if not overly physical.

I’ve included a photograph of the burh at Carisbrooke Castle, on the Isle of white, which is thought to have been a fortified site since roman times, and has been continually built up, destroyed and built up over centuries. The current castle was built between the 11th and 15th centuries. The English Heritage link for this castle is here. The castle has a rich history as among other things it was the castle where Charles I was imprisoned for fourteen months before his execution.

There is a good article on Anglo-Saxon burhs at the Britain Express website with a map of the locations of Alfred’s Burhs.

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