Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Commemorating the Battle of Ashdown

The Battle of Ashdown between the West Saxon army and the Danes, took place on 8th January 871 AD. It happened a couple of months before Alfred became King of Wessex. I've blogged about the site of the battle previously and the work local historian Peter Knott did to locate it at Ashbury.  You can read the post here. Today on the anniversary of the battle I'd like to quote from Asser's description of what happened:

"In 871 the Viking army came to Reading. On the third day two of their earls rode out for plunder. Aethelwulf, ealdorman of Berkshire, confronted them at Englefield. The Christians won the victory.

Four days after these things happened, King Aethelred and Alfred assembled an army and went to Reading. They reached the gate of the stronghold. The Vikings burst out. Both sides fought fiercely but the Christians eventually turned their backs and the Vikings won the victory. Aethelwulf fell there. The Vikings, after a short rest, started to advance westwards from Reading.

The Christians, four days later, advanced against the Viking army at Ashdown. The Vikings, splitting into two divisions, organised shield walls. The Christians too split up into two divisions. But Alfred and his men reached the battlefield sooner (than King Ethelred who) was still hearing Mass.

Since the king was lingering still longer in prayer, and the Vikings had reached the battlefield more quickly, Alfred could not oppose the enemy battle-lines any longer without either retreating or attacking, and he moved his army against the enemy.

But the Vikings had taken the higher position, and the Christians were deploying from a lower position. A rather small and solitary thorn tree grew there, around which the opposing armies clashed violently. The Vikings took to ignominious flight and many thousands were slain over the whole broad expanse of Ashdown."

We will never know for certain the exact location of the Battle of Ashdown unless some incontrovertible proof comes to light, which seems unlikely. Here on the Ashdown House blog we are celebrating Alfred's victory and feel Ashbury has as strong an historical claim to be the location as any other site. It's also a wonderful opportunity to post up some of our gorgeous landscape photographs of the surrounding countryside!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Gerbier and Golf

G is for Gerbier and also for golf. In the Victorian heyday of Ashdown House there was a nine-hole golf course in what is now the fields to the west and south west of the house. I have a sketch of what the course looked like and we have drawn it onto an ordnance survey map to see where it would have been.

A number of National Trust properties once had family or “informal” golf courses as part of their landscape. Many, like Ashdown, have been lost but at Lyme Park in Cheshire, Studley Royal in Yorkshire and on Lundy Island, traces remain. There is a fascinating article about the ghost of the lost golf course at Studley Royal in the National Trust Views magazine, which you can click here to see (p33).

Golf first came to England from Scotland in the 17th century with the Stuart dynasty. At Ashdown the golf course was part of a wider sporting estate that also offered hunting and shooting and had its own cricket team. Whilst we have photographs of the early 20th century cricket eleven I have yet to come across any of Ashdown’s golfers.

And so to the other “G,” Sir Balthasar Gerbier. Gerbier was born in 1598 in Holland and was, amongst other things, a courtier, diplomat, art advisor, miniaturist, and spy. He was also an architect who worked with William Winde for the first Earl of Craven on the plans for Craven’s “palace” at Hamstead Marshall. It seems plausible that the same combination of Winde and Gerbier also worked on the plans for Ashdown House, which were drawn up at the same time. Gerbier died at Hampstead Marshall either in 1663 (according to a petition to the king from his daughters who asked for £4000 in unpaid salary) or in 1667 (according to Gerbier's monument in the local church). He is also buried there. It seems likely that the date on his memorial is wrong and that the building of both Hamstead and Ashdown were in their early stages when he died.