Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wat's Dyke

Building fences has been part of the Welsh landscape since the causewayed camps of the Neolithic folks. Intruders [first wild animals, then wild men!] could only be kept out by vertical walls with, probably, water-filled ditches outside them. As time passed, and the needs changed, these fences became more complex taking all sorts of shapes and sizes. Hill forts became the norm, and all sizes were constructed depending upon the manpower and the resources.

The Romans of course went all out, building stone fences (walls) which parts still stand today. These were linear fences, marking long distances, which would certainly provide quite an impression to those on the other side.

The Anglo-Saxons followed with a series of wooden fences that would clearly mark a border to their most recent conquered lands. Starting in the south, the Wessex folks separated Cornwall from Wales following the battle of Dyrham [around 577 AD] by building Wansdyke. Thus the southern flank was somewhat protected from those wild Welsh.

The Northumbians and Mercians fought one another for the privilege to set the northern border. At first, the Northumbrian folks took the lead, and at the battle of Chester [ca. 613] defeated the folks from Powys. [It was here that the slaughter of monks at Bangor-Is-Coed is recorded.] Then, the Mercia Kingdom felt that the Northumbians were getting too powerful, and at the battle of Oswestry [Cogwy] around 641 AD, they put a stop to the Northumbrian folks. It was then the Mercians turn to set the stage for building Wat's Dyke. [The Annales Cambriae records ca. 634 AD that the Britons lost the crown of the kingdom and the Saxons won it!]

The drawing above shows the rough location of Wat's Dyke. Its name most likely comes from the Anglo-Saxon, "wat", meaning "guards". [See: Hand-Book of Anglo-Saxon and Early English, by Hiram Corson, 1873, p. 472.] It "guards" the northern most section of the Welsh border, protecting the northern flank of Anglo-Saxon settlement [colonists]. It was in this area where the onset of Welsh attacks was most frequent and destructive, making for the productive lands of Shropshire.

Starting at Oswestry (Oswestry Old Fort), the dyke moved northward along a series of lands and settlements which ended at Basingwerk Abbey. The locations identified [shown on the map] fell along both sides of this dyke, and represented my own family's locations. It was along Wat's Dyke that my JONES family had settled many years before the Anglo-Saxons arrived. Understanding this relationship [Wat's Dyke to family's land] has helped me sort through my Welsh genealogy...but that's another story.

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