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Wallingford Town Defences

In the civil parish of Wallingford.
In the historic county of Berkshire.
Modern Authority of Oxfordshire.
1974 county of Oxfordshire.
Medieval County of Berkshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SU610897
Latitude 51.59795° Longitude -1.12913°

Wallingford Town Defences has been described as a certain Urban Defence.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Fairly detailed account of town defences. "The earliest defences of Wallingford were constructed about the time of Alfred" The earthen rampart has "probably never been crowned with a stone wall" (Beresford and Joseph 1979).
Wallingford Burh, lying contiguous to the west bank of the Thames, is a large univallate earthwork of sub-rectangular form, traceable, in varying degrees of preservation, around all of its four sides.
The best preserved portion is the western half of the work, i.e. that which lies wholly to the west of the north and south gates. This has partly been reduced or mutilated but in general is in a reasonably good condition and is almost entire throughout its length.
The section of the work most difficult to recognise is the northeast angle, from the north gate round to the east gate, which was incorporated into the outworks of the 11th century Wallingford Castle. Here, along the north side it coincides with the original bailey ditch, and along east side, overlooking the Thames, the 13th-14th century Queens Tower also on the edge of the original bailey, sits on its bank, a mound to the south of this tower is also recognisable as part of the burh bank.
South of the east gate it is recognisable as a slight but distinct scarping of the slope (very obvious in the grounds of the Castle Priory Hotel at SU 60908933) and St. Peters Church immediately south of the east gate sits on a mound, obviously part of the burh bank, and St. Leonards Church also occupies the bank at the southeast angle. From this point along the south arm to the south gate it shows as a sharp terrace within private gardens, the top occupied by the houses and the bottom occupied by a mill-stream.
A marked feature of the work is the fact that, with the exception of the west arm which is straight, the arms are laid out in two straights of similar length, the junction occurring at a point where the very regular north-south, east-west road system enters and leaves the work, thus implying a setting out with more than the west gate (as suggested by Beresford) in mind (F1 CFW 20-FEB-61).
SU 608898 NP Brooks, in a second season of excavation for Reading Museum, ( Med. Arch. 1969)) has located the town rampart, ditch, and north gate, beneath the outer rampart of the castle at its northwest corner.
Phases of construction:-
Period 1 (Anglo-Saxon) primary bank, 35 ft at base, of brick earth and gravel from the ditch. Turf revetment and some strengthening of the bank by an insertion of stakes, in irregular pattern, suggesting an unstable gravel core.
Sherds of early or middle Saxon pottery (500-900 AD) taken from the body of the bank; Prof Jope identified two sherds as 9th century. Pottery, therefore, is consistent with a construction in the reign of Alfred.
Period II (Anglo-Saxon). Ditch widened and deepened; face of bank cut back, and heightened, and a stone wall placed on top (as at Wareham).
Period III (4) (circa 1250). A new, stone north gateway (SU 68 NW 3) was erected over the town ditch, which was channelled into a culvert.
Period IV (circa 1275-1300). The castle defences were extended, destroying the north gate and causing North Street to be re-aligned some 40 yds to the west. At this time the town rampart was reduced to the level of the castle defences, thus destroying the town wall, seen now only as layers of rubble and mortar tumbled into the ditch.
Brook stripped an area under the outer bank of the castle, (6) exposing post holes and timber slots of 10th-13th century houses along the original main north street.
Finds included a coin of Ethelred II (Cricklade Mint circa 980), bone weaving implements and a weaving sword of Viking type (8th-11th century). Excavation resumes in 1968. (Brooks 1965-6; Wilson 1967 and 1968)
SU 606897: A section through the late Anglo-Saxon defences (see illustration card) during P.O. works in the Kine Croft was recorded in November 1971 by T.G. Hassall and R.T. Rowley. A primary bank of horizontal turves lying directly on the old ground surface corresponds with Brooks's primary bank (see Authority 5) and a second bank represents the late Saxon heightening of the rampart. There were, however, no other constructional details such as the vertical timbering found by Brooks. ( Oxeniensis 1972; Med. Arch 1972).
The impressive remains of the rectangular rampart and the grid of streets similar to the arrangements of other Wessex burhs have been taken as evidence that Wallingford was a new creation of Alfred's (Biddle 1976; Hinton 1977). The Burghal Hidage reference and that in Domesday to 'the 8 virgates of the King' have been used to support this view (Stenton 1971). However, it need mean no more than the fortification of an existing settlement. (Lobel 1976)
A pre-burh settlement at Wallingford has been assumed from the cemetery material (SU 68 NW 53) which dates from the 5th, 6th and perhaps 7th centuries, and from the unusual orientation of St. Leonard's Church (SU 68 NW 8) in the southeast corner of the burh. (Leeds 1938) Beresford and St Joseph, have also noted that some parish bounds enclosed areas outside the defences and interpreted this as possible evidence of an earlier settlement (Beresford and St Joseph 1979). The cutting across the western defences demonstrated that the bank sealed a plough soil, which may indicate Roman activity and the trench trough the north defences produced early-mid Saxon pottery from the bank again supporting the idea of a pre-burh settlement.
The place-name of Wallingford emphasizes the importance of the river crossing here and Hinton has recently suggested that the modern boundary of the borough, in describing an area on the east bank of the Thames, commemorates a Saxon bridgehead designed to control and block the river (Haslam 1984).
For the period 1066-86 there is a long account of the borough in the Domesday Book. In 1156 a charter of Henry II granting privileges to the burgesses, in return for their services in helping him to maintain his hereditary right (Beresford and Finberg 1973).
Wallingford is first recorded as a burh in the Burghal Hideage and was a major borough. Coins were struck from the reign of Athelstan until the end of the Saxon period (Hill and Rumble 1996). (PastScape)
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This record last updated 15/08/2017 15:56:51

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