Battledown, (and the Battle of Aclea)

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Quiet fields between Basingstoke & Oakley – Now… © Nigel Smith

Close to where I live now in Oakley Hampshire, the railway divides in 2 directions, at Battledown Flyover, for the South and the West Country. Battledown has been well known to train buffs for over century. But what of the name, and could Battledown be a plausable site for the ancient The Battle of Aclea?

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes a battle in 851 between invading Vikings landing around the Thames, against Beorhtwulf The King of Mercia, and then King Aethelwulf of the West Saxons. The West Saxons whilst coming to the aid of their saxon ‘Brothers’ strengthened their own influence with their victory against the Danes at Aclea . (Aethelwulf’s son Alfred, would later galvinise the saxons further leading the first recognisable ‘English’ kingdom as we know it, with his capital at Winchester Hampshire.

There has been much specution about where the battle took place but no one has been able to confirm for sure the exact location. Aclea meant ‘Oak field or glade’ and Ockley in Surrey, an Oakley in Bedfordshire and Water Oakley in Berkshire are all suggested candidates for this battle.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reference is as an event, but it doesn’t give exact hints of location. From the point of view of the Vikings landing in the East from the Thames direction, Surrey and Kent would seem likely… However from the Thames, the course of the Viking insurgecy went west, across Bedford, Surrey & Berkshire. There was no M4 corridor then, so a skirmish could have easily meandered!

area-mapOakley, Hampshire’s location in South England

It was in the late Victorian period the idea of Oakley Hampshire being a possibilty was raised. In a letter to The Hampshire Chronicle Newspaper in 1884, Charles Cooksey explained why he felt the setting for the battle was in Hampshire. In 1910 Charles Oman’s book ‘England before the Norman Conquest’ also highlighted Oakley a possible site. Philologist Richard Coates relection on the Anglo Saxon Chronicle in 1989 also felt Oakley had some mileage away from the Ockley in Surrey location. The arguements have carried on being debated, and is still not convincing to everyone. ‘Surrey Medieval’ blog in 2013 still has it’s concearns against this evidence.

So why do I think Battledown could be the scene of the battle? As said, I’m no way the first person to suggest it should be considered a possiblity. The point is no-one can really be sure 100% sure of the location.

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Ancient routes near Oakley in location to ‘Battledown’

The Place has got history…

The location of Battledown is important. The Romans built a road from Silchester to Winchester, and we still use this route today (A33). But older than that is ‘The Harrow Way’ which intersects the Roman road at Battledown. This ancient trackway form part of ‘The Old Way’ from the Neolithic period. (The Neolithic hillfort Winklebury camp is also a couple of miles north which you can read in another blog of mine).

Oakley is 16 miles north of Winchester the Wessex capital, less than half a days ride. According to F.H. Baring, he believed several Synod’s of West Saxons, had been held at Acleah in 782 & 789 in Hampshire. An article of ‘Roots.Web’ suggests  A West Saxon Witenagemot or a ‘Kings Council’ I read of took place in 824 during King Egbert’s reign.

I think it is fair to say it was probably a good place to ‘convene’ with its trackways still primary routes across the Kingdom of Wessex.

It is said there was a battle that was fought there in 904 AD when Ethelwulf defeated the Danes, (after a previous battle recorded in 871 againgst the Danes, which had been lost.
In Basingstoke this area is still called ‘Daneshill’ to the North East). King Alfred followed later, but the historic battles with the Danes would have been an influence in his shaping as a King of Wessex.

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The area of Battledown today  © Nigel Smith

The Roman road, towards the Winchester direction is marked by the trees on the left.

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© Nigel Smith

I don’t wish to get all mystical about the setting, but if you walk or cycle across this spot, (which I recommend just for it peace and subtle beauty), It feels very believable that a battle took place here. As time has progressed, the fact is other sites have gained credability in accademia maybe just because of their logical convenience to London. Oakley has, on the face of it, just become a dormant setting away from the action. I just go back to my original nagging thought, Why has the name ‘Battledown’ endured?

 

 

 

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