Anglo-Saxon Bradford on Avon

Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire


Saxon church chancel exterior


The settlement of Germanic tribes in what had been Romano-Celtic Britain began in the middle of the fifth century. The Angles settled from East Anglia northwards to eastern Scotland, coming from the border region of modern Denmark and Germany. The Saxons came from modern northern Germany and spread from southeast England. Other related peoples, the Jutes from Jutland, Denmark and the Frisians, from the coast of Germany and Holland also settled along the coasts of the southeast. It was not until the  following century that these peoples reached into this area- the Anglian kingdom of Mercia spreading from the midlands and West Saxon kingdom of Wessex from Hampshire and the upper Thames valley. Anglo-Saxon place names record their settlement, but archaeological evidence is scarce. The Saxons who are contained in place names are otherwise generally undocumented, pre-dating any surviving written records.

Bradford is first mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under the year 652 when Cenwalh, the West Saxon king of Wessex, is reported to have fought a battle at Bradanforda be Afne. The Chronicle, written much later, gives no details about whom he fought, perhaps against the native Britons or the Mercians, or what was the outcome. In another source, William of Malmesbury’s De gestis regum Anglorum written in the 12th century, a battle was fought at a place called Wirtgernesburh; this could have been the same battle and the place name might refer to the old hillfort at Budbury, just above the town. Until England became unified, Bradford was right on the frontier between Wessex and Mercia.

By the end of the seventh century St Aldhelm (c639-709), Abbot of Malmesbury and Bishop of Sherborne and a relative of Ine, King of Wessex, is reputed to have founded a monastery at Bradford. It is thought that such a Saxon minster church would have been replaced by the present Holy Trinity parish church in the 12th century. Work carried out at the church in 2016 found burials under the Norman walls and two were carbon-14 dated as 9th century (770–980 AD) and 10th century (890–1030 AD).

Expansion into Britain of other Germanic people -the Norse, Vikings and Danes- must have affected the area. The Danish Great Army and that of King Alfred may have passed nearby, coming and going between Chippenham and the battle of Edington in 878.

In 955 King Eadred granted Bradford to Nunnaminster, the Priory of St Mary in Winchester. Four years later the king held a great council meeting (witan) in Bradford at which St Dunstan, later to become Archbishop of Canterbury, was made Bishop of Gloucester.

Æthelred II, Abingdon Chronicle, British Library (from Wikipedia)

In 1001 Æthelred II (written Æþelræd), King of England, granted the Manor of Bradford to the Abbey of Shaftesbury in Dorset  and the Abbey seems to have gained the Hundred of Bradford as well. The grant of Bradford to the Abbey was, in part at least, to provide a refuge for the nuns and the bones of St Edward against the raids of the Danes. The Saxon Church in the town was built at about the same time and another at Limpley Stoke, dedicated to a West Saxon saint.

Æthelred granted his Manor of Westwood to a couple of his thegns in succession. Eventually Queen Emma, his widow and that of Cnut the Great too, granted it to Winchester Cathedral in 1043.

After William of Normandy gained the throne of England, the Manor of Bradford continued to belong to Shaftesbury and Westwood to Winchester, but the Domesday Book records that various parts of the Bradford Hundred were in other hands, Norman and English.