On Friday, May 24, 1889, the Society made an excursion to Bartlow and
neighbourhood. About thirty members and their friends, amongst whom were
a number of ladies, started from the Great Eastern Railway Station at 1.45
p.m. in a saloon carriage attached to the ordinary train, and reached Bartlow
a little after 2.15 p.m.
The Society, on arriving at Bartlow, went straight to the School-house, where
a joint meeting was held with the Essex Archaeological Society. Amongst the
members of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society present may be mentioned - Prof.
Hughes, Rev. S.S.Lewis (secretary), Messrs. R.Bowes, J.Carter, J.W.Clark, A.H.Evans,
M.Fisher (of Ely), N.C.Hardcastle (excursion secretary), H. Johnson, J.J.W.
Livett, and Alderman Deck.
The meeting was presided over by G.A.Lowndes, Esq., President of the Essex
Society, and various papers were read, including one by the Rev. H.B.Swete,
D.D. Rector of Ashdon and late Fellow and Tutor of Caius College, on The
Battle of Assandun. An adjournment was then made to the Three Hills or
Tumuli, and here Prof. Hughes read a paper. The next place to be visited was
the ancient Church at Hadstock, a charming village a couple of miles from Bartlow.
Here the rector, the Rev. F.E.Smith, M.A., read a paper on The History
of Hadstock. The members of the two Societies were also invited to inspect
the Church plate and register at the Rectory, where Mr. and Mrs. Smith kindly
provided afternoon tea. The drive back to Bartlow was particularly pleasant,
the evening being a most delightful one. On arrival at the Three Hills Inn,
at Bartlow, a substantial tea was served; and the Societies afterwards proceeded
to Bartlow Church, where, in the absence of the Rector, the Rev. S.S.Lewis
read some remarks on the Church fabric, communicated by the Treasurer of the
Cambridge Society, Mr. W.M.Facett. The return journey was commenced at 7.41
p.m., and Cambridge was reached just before 8.30 p.m.
The Battle of Assandun.
The neighbouring parish of Ashdon is one of the sites which claim to have
witnessed the decisive battle between Eadmund and Cnut in a.d. 1016.
I have /2/ been asked to put together in the form of a brief paper the data
upon which those who maintain the identity of Ashdon with the Assandun of the
1. Let me recall the statements of the Chroniclers so far as they bear upon
Under the year 1016, the A.-S. Chronicle relates: The army [i.e. of
Cnut] went up again into Essex, and passed into Mercia, and destroyed whatever
The King [Eadmund]
overtook them in Essex at the down,
which is called Assandun
there Cnut had the victory
and all the
nobility of the English race was then destroyed.
Ib. a.d. 1020: In this year went the king [Cnut] to
Assandun, and Archbishop Wulstan
and hallowed the Minster at Assandun. The
Cotton (Canterbury) MS. if the Chronicle adds that this Minster was built
of stone and lime, for the souls of the men who there were slain, and
that one of the King's priests, named Stigand, was left in charge.
Florence of Worcester gives a fuller account of this battle, explaining that
Cnut brought his men down the hill to the level ground, where Eadmund's army
was drawn up, and that the hill on which Cnut was encamped was called Assandun,
which means the asses' hill. Florence also relates under 1020 the
dedication of the Church; it was marked by "great pomp and magnificence." William
of Malmesbury has some additional information about the Church. Cnut it seems,
was in the habit of building churches on his battle fields, and endowing in
each church a chantry-priest, whose duty it was to sing mass for the slain.
He did this at Assandun, and at the consecration of the basilica in 1020, the
King himself was present, and votive offerings were made by the English and
Danish nobility. At the time when William wrote, if report said true, the Minster
had dwindled into a Church of ordinary character in charge of a parish priest.
2. So much for the Assandun of the battle. Now let me collect and compare
some facts in the early history of Ashdon.
In Domesday (Essex, p. cxli.) the equivalent of Ashdon is Ascenduna.
In 1086 Ascenduna was a domain belonging to Ralf Baignard. Amongst other particulars
we are told hat it contained an acre of vineyard.
The Cotton MS. Vesp. F. xv. (dated 1444), consists of a collection of documents
having to do with the Cluniac Priory of St. Pancras, Lewes. Among these are
sundry deeds relating to the Church of Ashdon, and dating from 1200 to 1387.
At the beginning of the 13th century the Baignards, who are represented in
Domesday as lords of Ashdon in the time of the Conqueror, made over the benefice
to the Prior and Monks of St. Pancras. Most of these papers have to do with
their gift and its confirmation; a few refer to /3/ certain Parsons of Ashdon
who had dealings from time to time during the next two centuries with their
patrons at Lewes. There can be no question as to the identity of the parish
named in this Cotton MS. with the Ascenduna of Domesday. Yet the Domesday form
of the name does not once appear. It is replaced by Essendun, then Assendun,
and lastly Asshedon. The last two forms occur in quotations of 1244 and 1351
respectively, brought together in a single document dated 1387. It seems reasonable
to infer that the scribe of the Essex Domesday has inadvertently written Ascenduna
for Assanduna, and that Assandun, Essendun, and the like, are the forms from
which Ashdon has grown. The corruption can be traced back as far as the middle
of the 14th century.
I submit, therefore, that, so far as the name is concerned, there is no reason
for doubting the identity of the Assandun of 1016 with the Ashdon of to-day.
3. We come next to existing traces of a battlefield at Ashdon, and of the
erection of a Church of prae-Norman date upon it. The traces are faint perhaps
we ought not to expect anything very marked but I believe them to exist.
The present Church stands upon a hill. To the East, immediately in fact below
the East window, the ground falls rapidly away to a valley known as Water Lane
or Rock Lane, which immediately below the hill widens out into pastures and
arable land, and goes off to the North in the direction of Bartlow. This slope
between the Church and the valley seems to bear marks of terracing, and I would
suggest that it may have been the acre of vineyard mentioned in Domesday. But
it is more to my purpose to notice that this field has yielded abundant evidence
of the presence of Scandinavian remains. Some sixty years ago, as I have learned
from old inhabitants, in digging for gravel, graves were found lying north
and south in large numbers, it was stated: and rude weapons were turned up
together with (? Roman) pottery. Of these remains, unfortunately nothing has
been preserved. But in 1882, observing a very large mound at the bottom of
the field, I obtained permission of the owner to cut it open; and it was found
to consist of tons of lime, containing organic remains, chiefly the bones of
the sheep, ox, and horse, mixed with oyster shells and the shells of esculent
crawfish or the like. The quantity of these remains was so large as to preclude
the idea that the food which they represented had been consumed by the villagers;
and it has been suggested, not I think unreasonably, that such a vast heap
agrees well with the supposition that the army of Cnut just come back from
their raid into Mercia discussed their good fare on Ashdon Hill the night before
the battle or after the victory was won. /4/
But the Church? Does it connect with Cnut's minster or lime and stone? The
present building is a singular patchwork, chiefly perhaps of centuries xiv,
and xv. But there are clear tokens of one, if not more than one, earlier
building. During some internal re-arrangements in 1860 the foundations of a
smaller church were brought to light. Parts of an old font long disused and
until lately forming a door step, and the arch over a stoop for holy water,
also recently disclosed, are of early Norman or prae-Norman workmanship. Lastly,
the pillars of the nave-arcades rest on square basements about two feet high,
composed of squared Barnack stones; and such stones have been freely used in
other parts of the present building, where strength was specially needed, the
later work being merely of clutch or pebble.
Again I submit that these facts, meagre though they be, are consistent, so
far as they go, with the statements of the chroniclers. William of Malmesbury's ordinary
parish church suggests that Cnut's minster had after the Conquest rapidly
lost its pretentions. Was it only in part of lime and stone, and partly of
timber? and were the stone substructions used up by successive repairers of
the Parish Church for the support of their pillars or the strengthening of
their Tower and Chancel arch? I have not the architectural knowledge which
is necessary to enter upon these points. But in any case the existing church
at Ashdon contains features which point to a much earlier building and which
may be due to the minster which Cnut and all England consecrated in 1020.
3. But Ashdon has a competitor whose claims have to be heard. Its present
name is Ashington; it is near Rochford, in the S.E. corner of Essex. I will
at once confess that Ashington is backed by a formidable champion, the historian
of the Norman Conquest. In the History (ed.3, Vol. 1, p.320) Professor Freeman
assumes that Ashington is the true site of the battle, and fills up his picture
and draws certain inferences accordingly. In the Notes (ib. p.697 s.99), he
gives his reasons. They turn partly on a comparison of the names, partly on
local correspondences between Ashington and Assandun, as the latter is described
by the chroniclers. (1) Ashington, Dr. Freeman argues, is merely a corruption
of Assandun, as Huntingdon of Huntandun. The identification of Ashdon with
Assandun, on the other hand is probably due to the confusion of Assandun with Æ-cendun,
which is found in some mediæval authorities. To which I should venture
to reply: (a) it may be freely conceded that Ashington = Assandun, without
weakening the claim of Ashdon to the same etymology. Is is quite conceivable
that in remote times there were two hills in Essex sacred to the Ass; (b) the
confusion with regard to the etymology of Ashdon undoubtedly existed, but,
as I /5/ have shown, the forms which connect it with the Ass are prevalent
in deeds of the 12th and 13th century, and the solitary occurrence of Ascenduna
in Domesday is more probably an error than a true index of the original name.
(2) But, Professor Freeman adds, In June 1866, I went over the ground
with Mr. Dawnins, Florence in hand. We found that the place exactly answered
his description. Now I have already cited Florence's description. It
speaks merely of a hill outside Mercia, and in Essex, with a level ground below
it, where an army could be drawn up. At Ashington Dr. Freeman found two very
remarkable hills, and beneath them a swampy plain watered by the tidal
river. He has worked these details into his narrative, but they are assuredly
not in Florence, nor in any ancient chronicler I have seen. And I venture to
think that what is really to be found in Florence is not altogether consistent
with the local conditions of Ashington. Ashington is close to the Crouch, where
the ship of the Danes lay. But the chroniclers lay stress on the fact that
the Danish Army had been up in Mercia, and that Eadmund had raised the country
against them and given chase, with the result that he overtook them in Essex
at Assandun. Does this look as if Assandun had been in the corner of the county
more remote from Mercia and quite close to the Danish fleet? In that case should
we not have heard something more about the locality? that it was near the Crouch?
that Eadmund nearly missed the chance of offering battle? Does it not seem
more probable that the Danes had just crossed the border with their booty when
Eadmund came up? Then again the two striking and really steep hills that overtook
the Crouch, and the swamp below, are very picturesque surroundings; but do
they agree with our authorities? The down, along the slope of which Cnut brought
his men down very slowly to the level ground (I quote Florence), suggests a
different scene. With Dr. Freeman I have been at Ashington; unlike him, it
is my lot to live at Ashdon, where I see day by
day all the local conditions for which Florence vouches.
I have mentioned two hills at Ashington; the second is called Canewdon, and
Dr. Freeman is tempted to connect it according to local tradition with Cnut,
though he candidly adds, It is perhaps a little hard to get it out of
Cnutesdûn. The eldest inhabitant, however, pronounced it in his
hearing Canéwdon, which brings us near, if not to Cnut, at least
at Canutus. But an advocate of the claims of Ashdon may cheerfully make
a present to Prof. Freeman of this etymology. Overlooking the Crouch, the height
of Canewdon might well preserve the name of the great Danish leader, apart
from any direct connexion. There is certainly no need to justify its designation
by fixing the site of the great battle of 1016 on a neighbouring hill. /6/
On the whole I submit that the claims of Ashington to the honour of being
the Assandun of Cnut's victory are not established, and the balance of probability
is in favour of Ashdon. But I shall willingly relinquish this position, if
it can be shewn to be due to local prepossessions: and shall be thankful to
the present meeting if it can throw any light on a subject which is far from
- The Cambridge Antiquarian Society has its own website: http://www.arch.cam.ac.uk/DEPT/CAS/.
The secretay is Ms Sue M. Oosthuizen, Board of Continuing Education, Madingley
Hall, Madingley Cambridge CB3 8AQ
- The Essex Archaeological Society is now known as the Essex Society for
Archaeology and History. The secretary is Dr. C. Thornton, 75, Victoria Road,
- The ‘Cambridge Chronicle’ newspaper was published between 1762
and 1934, when it was taken over by a rival newspaper, the ‘Cambridge
- For a comparison of three primary sources (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Florence
of Worcester and William of Malmsbury) for the reign of Cnut the Great see William
Bakken, 'Piety and Power. King Cnut and the English Church, 1014 to 1035',