Friday, 17 April 2009

King Arthur's Castle?

Although the history of Ashdown Park naturally focuses around the house that stands there today and the Craven family who built and lived in it, there are many other fascinating aspects of both history and legend in the local Ridgeway countryside.

The 200 years following the official withdrawal of Roman troops from Britain in 410AD are known as the Dark Ages, the least well documented in the recorded history of the British Isles. The inhabitants of Britain were Romanized to some extent, especially in urban centres but by blood and by tradition they were primarily Celtic. Under the Romans, local chieftains had played an active role in the government of the territory, and some of these leaders took up the reins after the Roman officials were gone. Vortigern, who declared himself Hugh King of Britain in 425AD hired Saxon mercenaries and granted them land in payment for their services. By 440AD the Saxons had rebelled and were demanding more land and territory. Tradition and legend have it that a succession of Romano-British leaders rallied the population against Saxon raids and that one, Arthur, succeeded in defeating them at Mons Badonicus, the Battle of Badon Hill.

Where was Badon Hill? There are no contemporary records about the battle and precious little legend other than that it lasted for three days and nights. The site has been located all over Britain but a strong contender is Baydon, four miles from Ashdown. For a start the clue is in the name. It is an uncommon name – there is no other place in England called Badon or Baydon. But was it called Badon as far back as the 5th century? A medieval reference to it in the Salisbury charters refers to it in the Latin form Beidona and states that the origin of the name derives from Old English “Beg-dun” meaning a down or hill once noted for the berries gathered there. Gildas, writing in the 6th century, also Latinized the name as Mons Badonicus and Bede followed him.

Then there is location. The Saxons controlled the Thames just as the Danes would do five hundred years later when Alfred the Great defeated them at the Battle of Ashdown. The hill-forts that had originated centuries before show archaeological evidence of occupancy in the fifth and sixth centuries, suggesting they were used to evade and hold off the invading Saxon tribes. If the Romano-British forces held the great Ridgeway forts of Uffington Castle and Liddington Hill, then Baydon, on a ridge of high ground between the two would be an ideal place to stand and fight. And the link with Ashdown Park? Just to the west of the park pale, within sight of the house, stands the Iron Age hillfort of Alfred’s Castle. It is equidistant between Uffington and Liddington and it guards the approach to the Ridgeway from the south, beneath the Baydon Ridge.

If Baydon was the site of Arthur’s Battle of Badon Hill, should Alfred’s Castle more properly be re-named Arthur’s Castle?


Carol Townend said...

Hello Nicola,
The walk along the Ridgeway is one of my favourite walks! When we went past Weylands Smithy the other day the skylarks were starting to hurl themselves about the sky. Next time, we must visit Ashdown House, it was closed when we did our walk, but I have never seen so many snowdrops in my life as there were on that driveway!!
Best wishes

Nicola Cornick said...

Hi Carol! It is a beautiful area to explore, isn't it, and so very rich in historical and archaeological sites. It would be lovely if you could come back when the house was open. The woods look fabulous too now, with primroses and wild anemones and the bluebells just coming in to flower.

Carol Townend said...

You are really tempting me...!
All best Carol

Nicola Cornick said...

Well, I try!

dianne said...


I am from New Zealand. My grandad was an Ashdown and I am tracing the history. Ashdown House sounds fantastic, I see that it was built by the Cavern family. I would love to come and visit one day, it looks beautiful. How would I find out any connection between my Grandad and Ashdown House/Forest.

Your work is wonderful.



Nicola Cornick said...

Hi Dianne! Thank you for your post. It would be great to show you around Ashdown one day, especially as you have a family connection. Do you know when your grandfather was here and what his full name was? Sadly the estate details are very sketchy but if you send me what you have then I'll see what I can discover!


Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.