- "FARNDON, a parish in the higher division of the hundred of BROXTON, county palatine of CHESTER, comprising the townships of Barton, Churton by Farndon, Glutton, Crewe, and Farndon, and containing 857 inhabitants, of which number, 429 are in the township of Farndon, 8¾ miles (S.) from Chester. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Chester, endowed with £600 private benefaction, £200 royal bounty, and £600 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of Earl Grosvenor. The church, dedicated to St. Chad, was garrisoned in the civil war, and in consequence sustained great injury during the siege of Holt castle, in 1645; in 1658 it was repaired; it has a curious stained window, representing several gentlemen who commanded in Chester during the war. There is a place of worship at the township of Barton for Calvinistic Methodists. Farndon is bounded on the west by the navigable river Dee, which is crossed by an ancient bridge of eight arches, communicating with the town of Holt, in Flintshire. A charity school was erected in 1629, and endowed with land producing about £14 per annum, with a small croft and garden occupied by the master, who conducts the school on the Madras system. John Speed, the celebrated English topographer and historian, was born here in 1552." - Samuel Lewis, A Topographical Dictionary of England (1831)
- "FARNDON, a village, a township, and a parish in Great Boughton district, Cheshire. The village stands on the river Dee, 4 miles ESE of Rossett r. station, and 7½ S of Chester; was known at Domesday as Forendon; is connected, by a ten-arched bridge, with Holt in Wales; and has a post office‡ under Chester, and fairs on 4 April and 4 Oct. ..." - 1870-72, John Marius Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales
Farndon lies on the River Dee around eight miles to the south of Chester where the river forms the English-Welsh border. Prior to regulation the Dee south of Chester flooded frequently. Floods also extended into tributaries such as Pulford Brook. These floods and persistent waterlogging would have been a major impediment to travel and the river therefore became the logical choice for the line of a border. At Farndon the river narrows forming a crossing point between English Farndon itself and Holt in Wales. This feature of local topography would have connections with the fates of royalty for centuries that are easily missed today.
The settlement pattern at Farndon appears to date back over 1000 years. The circular churchyard wall surrounding St Chad’s, which is in turn surrounded by a circular outer enclosure (outlined in part by the route of the High Street) is all that remains of what appears to have been an important early medieval minster site. Although circular and oval churchyards are known from elsewhere in Cheshire, Farndon’s concentric plan is unique. Its closest parallels are Celtic monastic sites and towns which grew from such centres.
It appears that Roman goods were trans-shipped from Farndon through Heronbridge and then taken overland to the Roman city. This may indicate that the River Dee was not always navigable between Heronbridge and Chester. However, since the construction of the Norman weir at Chester the stretch of river between Chester and Farndon forms a long pound which is nowadays much used for boating. Just north of Farndon the banks of the meandering river feature a collection of holiday chalets. Further north still Eccleston was an early eeclesiastical site, and adjacent Heronbridge possibly also an important "border post" as well as the site of the Battle of Chester.
Farndon ward lies in the rural south-west of Chester district and is made up of the parishes of Churton-by-Aldford, Churton-by-Farndon, Crewe-by-Farndon, Edgerley, Farndon, and King's Marsh. Farndon has an excellent local history site as linked to in the sources at the foot of the page. To avoid duplication this page will not repeat much of what is available there. Farndon is identified on Saxton’s County map of 1577 and Speed’s County map of 1610. Useful information is also contained in Ormerod’s History of Cheshire, which provides a good account of Farndon’s manorial and ecclesiastical histories.
A Brief History
Farndon was possibly an important pre-historic site. There is an early Neolithic 'mortuary enclosure' discovered by aerial photography, and a circular feature which has tentatively been identified as a 'hengiform' monument - the latter possibly dates from 3100 to c 2400 BC. Stone-age burial customs are not well understood, but there may have been a practice see 'excarnation' of allowing bodies to decompose to skeletal remains which were then moved back to a place nearer to the home of the deceased. The English name is reported to mean "Fern Hill", and has been given as Fearndune, Farndune, Ferentone, Ferendon, Faryngdon, and Ferneton, amongst other variations, since its first mention in 924AD in connection with the death of king Edward the Elder.
No prehistoric finds are known from Farndon itself and only a handful are known from the immediate surrounding area. These include a mesolithic chert flake found 2km north of Farndon (CSMR 2508), a Bronze Age axe discovered c2km north-east of Farndon (CSMR 2395), and a vessel potentially of Bronze Age date is thought to have been found in the area of Coddington. However there is extensive evidence of prehistoric activity around nearby Pulford.
The Romans had ceramic kilns at Holt, from which they transported tiles to Roman Chester. Pottery was produced here in the first quarter of the 2nd century and tile until the mid 3rd century. In the early 20th century, six kilns, a bath house, sheds and barracks were found. The site of the Roman works depot was excavated in 1907 by T Arthur Acton, FSA, of Wrexham, following its rediscovery by A. N. Palmer, in 1907. The work continued for eight years with the costs being borne by Acton himself. He died in 1925 and no trace of his notes of the excavation could be found, when the material now known as the "Holt Collection" was acquired by the National Museum of Wales.
There is some evidence that during the Dark Ages there was an important royal stronghold at Farndon, or possibly nearby at Aldford. Farndon church is dedicated to St Chad of Mercia, who died in AD 672. He was the first Bishop of Mercia and his churches often have an early date. According to Bede, Chad was venerated as a saint immediately after his death. He remained the centre of an important cult, focused on healing, throughout the Middle Ages. Due to his Mercian connections, dedications are densely concentrated in the West Midlands and other former Mercian territories.
Edward the Elder, son of King Alfred and brother of Æðelflǣd died here on 17 July 924 (William of Malmesbury records a Mercian revolt that year at Chester, which Edward was busy putting down). Edward's body was removed for burial elsewhere. King Edgar the Pacific may have been rowed along the River Dee from a palace at Farndon to St Johns at Chester for his coronation.
There are two entries for Farndon at Domesday; one for land held by the Bishop of Chester, and the other for land held of Earl Hugh by Bigot. The latter holding, however, is thought to refer to Aldford. A site of particular note is the Sanctuary which was located at King’s Marsh (CSMR 1798), 1.5km east of Farndon. It was one of three sanctuaries within the ancient Earldom of Chester where those seeking the protection of the Earl could stay for a year and a day. Usually these were outlaws from elsewhere who had fled to the independent jurisdiction of the Earl of Chester. Hugh of Avranches established three "asyla" in Cheshire. These were at Hoole Heath near Chester, Overmarsh near Farndon and Rud Heath near Middlewich. The sanctuary at Hoole Heath may well be the reason for the bad reputation of Newton Hollows attributed to Lucian the Monk. Hemingway describes them as follows:
- These sanctuaries were the source of much emolument to the earls, who received fines from all such persons when they came to reside under their protection a heriot at their death and in case of their dying without issue claimed their goods and chattels.
Although there is no early formal market recorded at Farndon there is a noticeable widening of the High Street at its junction with Churton Road leading down to the river crossing as far as River Lane - which have been the site of a market. In comparison, Holt, just over the river, flourished as a market town. In 1391 Holt possessed two weekly markets, on Tuesday and Fridays. However, by 1411 only the Friday market was still active. And by the mid 1500’s even this market was in decline. By the 16th Century the markets of Holt were largely overshadowed by those of Wrexham, the natural centre of the region, and in the 17th Century the village market was further usurped by fairs that had started in Farndon. By 1872 markets has ceased at Holt Cross.
Following the defeat of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last independent Prince of Wales in 1282, Edward I gave John de Warenne, the 7th Earl of Surrey, the lordships of Bromfield and Yale. To secure his newly gained lands, John built (or extended) Holt Castle between 1277 and 1311, also known as Lion’s Castle, to control a nearby strategic ford across the River Dee. During the middle of the 14th century the castle came into the ownership of Richard Fitzalan, the 10th Earl of Arundel; in whose family it remained until the mid 15th century when the 12th Earl died without issue. Richard III granted the castle to Sir William Stanley in 1484, who held it until his execution by Henry VII in 1495, when it again reverted to the Crown.
A supposed double drowning at the Holt/Farndon bridge has led to the establishment of a noted legend for which the dates do not make any sense. Thomas Pennant, in his book Tours in Wales (1874), (citing a MS communicated by the Reverend Mr Price, Keeper of the Bodleian Library), states that the nephews of Dafydd ap Gruffydd were "drowned in the River Dee" at Holt Bridge by their guardians, John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, and Roger Mortimer the younger (c.1256 – 3 August 1326), on a journey from Chester to Dinas Brân: Madog ap Gruffudd of Dinas Brân, Llangollen, having died four years earlier, in 1277, leaving the two young sons with no trustees. Mortimer was appointed by King Edward I to be their guardian. This, and perhaps a double drowning recorded on graves at Farndon (St Chad's) churchyard, possibly led to various legends about the 'Bridge of Screams'. There is some debate as to when a bridge between Farndon and Holt was first built: it only appears to have been built some time after 1338 by Monks from St Werburgh's Abbey Chester a half-century after the two brothers were supposed to have been thrown off it. It certainly cannot have been in place before 1315, since documents of the lordship of Bromfield from that year that record a ferry at Holt and do not mention a toll-yielding bridge, which would certainly have done had it been in existence at that time. Given that the "boys" must have been alive before 1277 and the bridge was only constructed after 1338 they would have been in their 50's when supposedly thrown off it by a Roger Mortimer who was himself already dead.
A long siege during the Civil War brought about the decline of the Castle at Holt - it fell in 1647 and by order of Parliament Holt was slighted later that year. The bridge may in 1643 have been the first place that "grenades" were used in conflict. Sir William Brereton (MP for Cheshire), attacking the bridge for the Parliamentarians stated:
- "for which end they had also made a towre and drawbridge and strong gates upon the bridge soe as they and wee coceived it difficult if not altogether ympossible to make way for our passage".
Despite this he, Thomas Middelton and their forces took the bridge when they cast:
- "some grenados amongst the Welshmen".
Although severely damaged, Farndon church remained a garrison until the winter of 1645, when advancing Royalists, led by Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice, forced the Roundheads to flee, after more heavy fighting, leaving the church derelict.
There were ten inns in Farndon c 1650 which suggests that there was considerable passing trade in the town.
In a will dated 1663, William Barnston left a large sum of money for the future upkeep of the Church. He asked to be buried "at the upper end of the south aisle in Farne Church under a gravestone already there for myself'. He died the following year. In 1662, William also commissioned the Civil War window, in the end wall of this chapel, to commemorate the Royalist defenders of Chester. The artist obtained accurate details of dress and equipment from contemporary illustrations. The officers wear "bucket-top" boots, while the musketeers, pikemen and musicians have breeches and stockings with garters tied in a bow. From left to right along the top are Sir Richard Grosvenor, Sir William Mainwaring and William Barnston, identified by their coats of arms. In the centre, Sir Francis Gamul, another of Charles's attendants at the Siege of Chester and inhabitant of Gamul House in Chester, stands in front of his tent. Around the chapel are Barnston memorials from the 18th and 19th centuries. The most notable is the large marble memorial to Roger Barnston, on the wall opposite the Civil War window, which records his valour in the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. In 1857 he led his regiment to the relief of Lucknow, a capital city in Northern India, which had been under siege for five months. He died shortly afterwards from injuries received in the fierce fighting. There is a splendid obelisk to his memory outside the village to the north, beside the B 5130 Chester road.
John Speed, the famous Cartographer (and author of an early map of Chester} was born at Farndon. Despite this local connection the noted geographer and sometime historian made an embarrassing error when he located the death of Edward the Elder at Farringdon in Berkshire, rather than at Farndon.
Many of the stones at Holt castle were robbed-out by Thomas Grosvenor being floated downstream on barges to build the original Eaton Hall near Chester. The east-west road through Farndon, from Barnhill to Wrexham (an ancient salters-way), was turnpiked in 1782, while the north-south road from Chester to Worthenbury was turnpiked in 1854. The manor of Farndon was held under lease from the bishopric by Roger Barnston of nearby Churton in 1816 (Ormerod). In 1850 the Marquis of Westminster is listed as the lord of the manor, patron of the curacy, and impropriator of the tithes,
The "Mysterious" Death of Edward the Elder
The death of Edward the Elder at Farndon is often treated as a footnote. However the back-story reveals much of the complex politics of the time, which was a key tipping-point in "English" history. It is even possible that the death may have been one in series of connected murders. necessary to bring a man to the throne whose aversion towards relations with women would have otherwise disqualified him from kingship.
Edward the Elder, king of the Anglo-Saxons (899-924), was probably born in the 870s. He was the second child of a marriage of 868, and led troops in battle in 893. He was the son of Alfred the Great, the famous king of the Wessex Anglo-Saxons, and Ealhswith, a Mercian noblewoman. Edward had a younger brother, Æthelweard, and three sisters, including the noted "warrior queen" Æthelflæd.
Edward's father Alfred was an unlikely king: three of Alfred's brothers, Æthelbald, Æthelberht and Æthelred, came in sequence before Alfred and also died in sequence. Alfred had his first major fight with the Danes (under Guthrum and others) in 871-878 at about the time that the remains of St Werbergh were tranferred to Chester. He won a decisive victory in the Battle of Edington in 878 and made an agreement with the Vikings, creating what was known as the Danelaw in the North and East of England. Alfred also oversaw the conversion of Viking leader Guthrum to Christianity leading to a period of sometimes uneasy peace. Alfred had his second major fight with a fresh wave of Danes in around 894, just after Guthrum's death. The second conflict involved some action at Chester which may have drawn attention to the strategic importance of the city. Alfred died on 26 October 899 and Edward succeeded to the throne. Under Alfred the balance of power between Wessex and Mercia had shifted such that Mercia became the lesser state. Alfred had married his daughter Æthelflæd to the Mercian Æthelred to cement relations.
The illustrious Alfred ("the Great") is incredibly well-known, perhaps in some cases only for burning cakes that he had been asked to watch by a farmer's wife while hiding-out from the Danes. Edward the Elder is far less of a national icon, although he played a pivotal role in the transformaation of the cluster of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms into a coherent English state under one monarch, something that his father had aspired to but had nver actually achieved. Edward's formidable sister Æthelflæd has been pictured as "The lady of the Mercians" and a powerful warrior-queen and his son Æþelstān is also better known. Even his appellation "the elder" is a bit dull as compared with "Edward the Martyr" (from whom it distinguishes) and "Edward the Confessor", and even caries the connotation of a rather boring old man. The Normans did not help his reputation with their re-numbering, such that Edward "Hammer of the Scots" became Edward I. There are only the merest scraps of information available on his character: "..very strong and handsome and of great intelligence.." (Peter of Langtoft) or "..a gentle and pious man, amiable and affable to everyone.." (Richard of Cirencester) - although much of this may simply have been written to fill space on the pages of later chronicles.
Becoming king was not straightforward for Edward. A cousin, Æthelwold, disputed the succession and seized the royal estates of Wimborne, symbolically important as the place where his father was buried, and Christchurch, both in Dorset. Edward marched with his army to the nearby Iron Age hillfort at Badbury Rings. Æthelwold declared that he would live or die at Wimborne, but then sneaked away in the night and rode to Northumbria, where the Danes accepted him as king. Edward the Elder was consecrated at Kingston-upon-Thames by Alfred's Archbishop Plegmund: the "kings stone" traditionally used is still there (although the place-name come from "King's Tun" - a reference to the royal estates). Plegmund may have had an influence on the choice of location: the first surviving record of Kingston is from AD 838 as the site of a meeting between King Egbert of Wessex and Ceolnoth, Archbishop of Canterbury. Also, it is perhaps significant that Kingston lay on the boundary between Edward's Wessex and Plegmund's Mercia, until the union of these two states in the early tenth century.
Edward illustrates well how much intercourse there was between Britain and Europe by reference to the marriages of his daughters:
- Eadgifu (902 – after 955), who married Charles the Simple the King of Western Francia from 898 until 922 and the King of Lotharingia from 911 until 919–23.
- Eadhild, who was at least proposed to be married to Hugh Capet, Duke of the Franks and Count of Paris.
- Ælfgifu who married "a prince near the Alps", sometimes identified with Conrad of Burgundy or Boleslaus II of Bohemia or Boleslaus I, Duke of Bohemia.
According to Asser in his "Life of King Alfred", Edward and his sister Ælfthryth were educated at court by male and female tutors, and read ecclesiastical and secular works in English, such as the Psalms and Old English poems. They were taught the courtly qualities of gentleness and humility, and Asser wrote that they were obedient to their father and friendly to visitors. This is a rare case of an Anglo-Saxon prince and princess receiving the same upbringing and it is not unlikely that Æthelflæd, despite the troubled times of her childhood, also recieved at least some education, possible with the assistance of Plegmund who was Mercian and had lived near Chester before joining the court of Alfred.
Edward was a child throughout the early wars his father fought with the Danes but was more of a soldier than a soldier/scholar like his father. By 892, he was commanding part of the Anglo-Saxon army. As a son of a king, Edward was an ætheling, a prince of the royal house who was eligible for kingship. Even though he had the advantage of being the eldest son of the reigning king, his accession was not assured as he had cousins who had a strong, if not stronger, claim to the throne. Æthelhelm and Æthelwold were sons of Æthelred, Alfred's older brother and predecessor as king, but they had been passed over because they were infants during the troubled times when their father died. Æthelhelm is only recorded in Alfred's will of the mid-880s, and probably died at some time in the next decade, but Æthelwold is listed above Edward in the only charter where he appears, probably indicating a higher status. Æthelwold may also have had an advantage because his mother Wulfthryth witnessed a charter as queen, whereas Edward's mother Ealhswith never had a higher status than king's wife. In a Kentish charter of 898 Edward witnessed as "rex Saxonum", suggesting that Alfred may have followed the strategy adopted by his grandfather Egbert of strengthening his son's claim to succeed to the West Saxon throne by making him sub-king of Kent.
Asser gives more information about Edward's childhood and youth than is known about other Anglo-Saxon princes, providing details about the training of a prince in a period of Carolingian influence, and Yorke suggests that we may know so much due to Alfred's efforts to portray his son as the most throneworthy ætheling. In 893 the 23 year-old Edward defeated the Vikings in the Battle of Farnham, although he was unable to follow up his victory as his troops' period of service had expired and he had to release them. The situation was saved by the arrival of troops from London led by Æthelred, alderman of Mercia and Alfred’s son-in-law, bringing with him a Mercian force. The raiding army of the Vikings had captured much loot before starting to return to Essex and their fleet. Having intercepted them as Farnham, Edward defeated them and recaptured the booty. Edward must have been of marriageable age in that year as his oldest (supposedly legitimate) son Æþelstān was born about 894. In all Edward was to father somewhere in the region of eighteen children, including three kings. The legitimacy of Æþelstān would be later a subject of some debate as his mother Ecgwynn would either die or separate from Edward and there were rumours that she was a concubine rather than a wife. By the early 12th century, such rumours had given rise to fully-fledged popular traditions which reduced her to a low-born mistress. William of Malmesbury is alleged to have written down the tale of how Ecgwynn was a mere shepheress who had a prophetic dream about the moon shining out of her womb and then met Edward while he was out riding - with Æþelstān being the consequence of this chance encounter. Malmesbury contradicts himself elsewhere by stating that Ecgwynn was "of noble class", however it must be noted that many of the surviving texts of Malmesbury are said to be notably marred by anachronistic forgeries and additions.
Evidence that Alfred wanted Æþelstān to be the next king after Edward is also provided by William of Malmesbury who wrote that Alfred the Great honoured his young grandson with a ceremony in which he gave him a scarlet cloak, a belt set with gems, and a sword with a gilded scabbard. This may have been similar to a boyhood experience of Alfred when he visited Rome at the time of Leo IV and may of may not have actually happened. Moreover, at the time Æþelstān (born c.894) was the only male child of Edward and could have only been a few years old as Alfred died in 899/900. There is also the story of an acrostic poem which refers to Æþelstān and was supposedly written at Alfred's request, although some evidence suggests it was written much later. The system in place at the time was not always that the "next-in-line" became king. Kings could be skipped-over if they were disqualified by some disability or if they were too young to be king in the current situation. Alfred would have been well-aware that his own son Edward was not the most senior prince and may well, if Alfred was signalling anything, have been indicating that Edward would be king and Æþelstān might be king.
After Alfred's death in 899, Æthelwold disputed the throne with Edward the Elder. As senior ætheling (prince of the royal dynasty eligible for kingship), Æthelwold had a strong claim to the throne. Æthelwold father had been king when he was born, and upon his fathers death the "crown" (actually the helmet) had gone to Alfred because Æthelwold had been a minor. He attempted to raise an army to support his claim, but was unable to get sufficient support to meet Edward in battle and, as noted above, fled to Viking-controlled Northumbria, where he was accepted as king. In 901 or 902 Æthelwold sailed with a fleet to Essex, where he was also accepted as king. The Winchester version of the Chronicle tried to play this down, but that the rebellion of Æthelwold was mentioned at all indicated its importance.
The following year Æthelwold persuaded the East Anglian Danes to attack Edward's territory in Wessex and Mercia. At about the same time thr Hiberno-Norse Ingamund sought to settle at Chester. There is no reason to suppose that the two events were related, but the arrangements reached with Ingamund could have been affected by the threat on two fronts, and the close timing of these two events is often overlooked by historians. Edward retaliated with a raid on East Anglia, forcing the enemy to return home in order to protect their own lands. When Edward withdrew the men of Kent lingered and met the East Anglian Danes at the Battle of the Holme. The Danes were victorious but suffered heavy losses, including the death of Æthelwold, probably also Eohric the Danish king of East Anglia, Brihtsige, son of the ætheling Beornoth, and two holds, Ysopa and Oscetel, which ended Æthelwold's Revolt and hence the challenge to Edward's rule. The West Saxon chronicler who gave the fullest account of the battle was at pains to explain why Edward and the rest of the English were not present, as if this had been a subject of criticism.
Other than a few charters and his role in the coronation little is known about the involvement of Archbishop Plegmund in the activities of Edward the Elder and Æthelflæd during their rulership of Wessex and Mercia. However it may be that it was through Plegmund that one focus of their activities shifted to Chester. It can be speculated that Plegmund may have at least discussed with Æthelflæd the establishment of the cult of Werbergh at Chester.
Plegmund also took the opportunity to re-organise the church under Edward. When Edward came to the throne Wessex had two dioceses, Winchester, held by Denewulf, and Sherborne, held by Asser. In 908 Denewulf died and was replaced the following year by Frithestan; soon afterwards Winchester was divided into two sees, with the creation of the diocese of Ramsbury covering Wiltshire and Berkshire, while Winchester was left with Hampshire and Surrey. Forged charters date the division to 909, but this may not be correct. Asser died in the same year, and at some date between 909 and 918 Sherborne was divided into three sees, Crediton covering Devon and Cornwall, and Wells covering Somerset, leaving Sherborne with Dorset.
The effect of the changes was to strengthen the status of Plegmund's Canterbury compared with Winchester and Sherborne, and probably soured relations with Winchester. The records of these changes to organisation include documents which are full of apparent anachronisms and/or errors, or possibly reflect that many years later some of the changes were still raising issues. The most serious anachronism occurs in the so-called "Plegmund Narrative", where Pope Formosus threatens Edward the Elder with excommunication if he does not reform the church. In reality, Pope Formosus had not only died in 896 before Edward actually became king in 900, but in 897 Formosus had been exhumed, put on trial, found guity of heresy and thrown into the Tiber (although he was later pardoned).
In the 910s, Edward conquered parts of Viking-ruled southern England in partnership with his sister Æthelflæd, who had succeeded as Lady of the Mercians following the death of her husband and long-term "supporter" of Wessex in 911. Historians dispute how far Mercia was dominated by Wessex during this period. After Æthelflæd's death in June 918, her daughter Ælfwynn briefly became second Lady of the Mercians, but in December Edward took her into Wessex and imposed direct rule on Mercia. There is no certain record of Ælfwynn after her removal from power.
By the end of the 910s he ruled Wessex, Mercia and East Anglia, and only Northumbria remained under Viking rule. Edward was admired by medieval chroniclers, and in the view of William of Malmesbury, he was "much inferior to his father in the cultivation of letters" but "incomparably more glorious in the power of his rule". He was largely ignored by modern historians until the 1990s, and Nick Higham described him as "perhaps the most neglected of English kings", partly because few primary sources for his reign survive. His reputation rose in the late twentieth century and he is now seen as destroying the power of the Vikings in southern England while laying the foundations for a south-centred united English kingdom. However some care needs to be applied whhen assigning motives to historical characters and it is perhaps too simplistic to assume that Edward was bent on conquest and creation of a vast "English" kingdom.
According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, there was a general submission of rulers in Britain to Edward in 920:
- "Then [Edward] went from there into the Peak District to Bakewell and ordered a borough to be built in the neighbourhood and manned. And then the king of the Scots and all the people of the Scots, and Rægnald and the sons of Eadwulf and all who live in Northumbria, both English and Danish, Norsemen and others, and also the king of the Strathclyde Welsh and all the Strathclyde Welsh, chose him as father and lord."
This passage was regarded as a straightforward report by most historians until the late twentieth century, and Frank Stenton observed that "each of the rulers named in this list had something definite to gain from an acknowledgement of Edward's overlordship": Constantine II of Scotland would get assistance against the Vikings should he need it, Ragnald was confirmed in his newly gained Kingdom of York, and an end could be brought to the centuries of intermittent wars between the Strathclyde Welsh and the Bamborough Angles. Since the 1980s this "submission" has been viewed with increasing scepticism, particularly as the passage in the Chronicle is the only direct evidence for it, unlike other submissions such as that one in 927 to Æthelstan, for which there is independent support from literary sources and coins. Edward was not in a position to impose the same conditions on the independent Scots and the Northumbrians as he could on conquered Vikings, and the Chronicle probably presented what was actually a treaty between kings as a submission to Wessex. The rulers had met at Bakewell on the border between Mercia and Northumbria, and meetings on borders were generally considered to avoid any implication of submission by either side. Davidson points out that the wording "chosen as father and lord" applied to conquered army groups and burhs, not relations with other kings. In his view:
- "The idea that this meeting represented a "submission", while it must remain a possibility, does however seem unlikely. The textual context of the chronicler's passage makes his interpretation of the meeting suspect, and ultimately, Edward was in no position to force the subordination of, or dictate terms to, his fellow kings in Britain."
Local myth in Bakewell is that the site was originally that of "Baedeca's wella", which meant Baedeca's Springs. It is thought that this must have been a person, a Saxon who settled by the warm springs which rose at Bakewell where the limestone meets shale. According to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, all those who lived in Northumbria who were English, Danish and Norse, and chose Edward as their "father and lord" due to his prowess from building the borough there. "The North Derbyshire Archaeological Survey" of 1981, page 121, identified a possible earthwork on the east bank of the river Wye which could be the burh. This suggestion was taken up by local historian Jan Stetka, who carried out further documentary work and survey. This was published in 1997 as "King Edward the Elder's Burh - the Lost Village of Burton (Burh-town) by Bakewell", an Occasional Paper of the Bakewell and District Historical Society. The matter is still the subject of debate, although the parish church at Bakewell also dates from the 9th century, as attested by a fairly well-preserved Mercian style stone "cross" dating from that period and may indicate some development there at the time. It has been suggested that Bakewell was a site for the manufacture of stone crosses. This would make it somewhat similar to the stone cross workshop which is believed to have existed, possibly contemporaneously, at St Johns in Chester. One of the Bakewell crosses is particularly interesting as it has been suggested (see: Bakewell Churchyard Crosses) that figures on the crosses may include "Viking" characters such as Odin and Loki from "pagan" pantheons. Other supposed christian monuments are known to date from around the time of Edward the Elder and Æþelstān which also include elements of Norse religious symbolism, possibly indicating local hybridisation of the two myth systems, although it is not known whether this was condoned by the church.
Edward had continued Æthelflæd's policy of founding burhs in the north-west, at Thelwall and Manchester in 919, and Cledematha (Rhuddlan) at the mouth of the River Clwyd in North Wales in 921. Edward's eponym "the Elder" was first used in the 10th century in Wulfstan's Life of St Æthelwold, to distinguish him from the later King Edward the Martyr. His legacy is now generally regarded as successfully destroying the power of the Vikings in southern England, and laying the foundations for a south-centred united English kingdom. However, many writers have concentrated on his military exploits rather this his efforts to find diplomatic solutions to problems. If Edward was prepared to reach compromises with the "pagan" Vikings this could have made him unpopular with the church, and much was still to happen before the government of England fixed itself in the south.
Edward's imposition of direct control from 919 is a likely context for a change which ignored Mercian sensibilities. Resentment at the changes, at the imposition of rule by distant Wessex, and at fiscal demands by Edward's shire-reeves, may have provoked the revolt at Chester. There are confusing histories associated with Bakewell Castle with some theories suggesting that (as described above) it was associated with the homage he demanded of others in 920, while alternative theories suggest that it was built in 924 as a measure against a possible Mercian invasion. Yet other sources have no castle being built at Bakewell prior to that of the Norman earl of Chester Ranulph De Gernon, or even that the Norman motte was built on top of Edward's fort. It has been suggested that Edward might have stirred up a degree of resentment by re-organisation of parts of Mercia and the Danelaw into shires. The first evidence of the new Mercian shires comes in a reference to Cheshire in 980, but it appears that the reorganisation started in the last five years of Edward's reign.
Another reason for revolt at Chester could be shifting politics in North Wales. Anarawd ap Rhodri died in 916 and was succeeded by his son Idwal Foel ("the Bald"). At about the same time Æthelflæd sent an army against Tewdr, King of Brycheiniog (in south Wales) to avenge against the murder of a Mercian abbot and his companions. Her men destroyed the Royal crannog and captured the queen and court. Tewdr survived and made his submission soon afterwards. Æthelflæd probably had overlordshop of North and Mid Wales, but her death in 918 brought about a shift of submission to Edgar. It may well be that resulting tensions led to the "revolt" in 924, which may have been associated with Edgar's construction of a Burh at Cledematha (Rhuddlan) at the mouth of the River Clwyd, in 921.
According to a consensus view, Edward died on 17 July 924, at Farndon. By a most curious twist the historian and cartographer John Speed, who was himself born in Farndon, gets the place name wrong and substitutes Farringdon in Berkshire. The relevant reference to "Fearndune" in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is now thought instead to definitely refer to Farndon in Cheshire - however this does illustrate the paucity of records from this period. Two manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle ('A' and 'F') place Edward's death in 925, but three others ('B', 'C', and 'D') assign the event to 924. MS 'E' records the obit under both years. Contemporary sources record no further details, but William of Malmesbury (Gesta Regum, ii.133) records that he died a few days after quelling a combined Mercian / Welsh revolt. This might suggest that he died of injuries gained in battle although Malmesbury adds that "he was struck down by disease". At the time of his death (aged 49-50), his kingdom was the most powerful in the British Isles. Edwards son, Æthelstan, was at once accepted by the Mercians as king. Æthelstan's half-brother Ælfweard may have been recognised as king in Wessex, but died within weeks of their father. Æthelstan still encountered resistance in Wessex for several months, and was not crowned (this time with an actual crown) until September 925. In 927 he conquered the last remaining Viking kingdom, York, making him the first Anglo-Saxon ruler of the whole of England.
The parish church of Farndon is set within a circular churchyard, an indication of an early origin, as is its dedication to St Chad. A similar circular churchyard is found at Eccleston possibly indicating some survival of Roman christianity along this section of the River Dee. It has been suggested that there was an early minster parish based on Farndon which encompassed the medieval parishes of Farndon, Aldford, Tilston and Coddington, including everything between the Dee and the southern end of the Mid-Cheshire Ridge. Farndon has several characteristics which are indicative of a multiple estate; and possibly in the 10th century this was under royal patronage. The settlement plan, however, is more reminiscent of a monastic site and it is possible that since Farndon originally included Aldford, that the royal centre was located there instead. It has been suggested that Edgar the Pacific rowed to St Johns at Chester from Farndon rather than from Edgar's Field. So Farndon was possibly a royal base which may have been established around the time that Chester had been effectively re-founded by Edward and his sister. Yet Chester, which had presumably benefited from its royal connection apparently revolts against Edward: could it be that there is more to the death of Edward?
Events around the succession of Æþelstān are unclear. Ælfweard, Edward's eldest son by his second wife Ælfflæd, had ranked above Æþelstān (son by his first wife) in attesting a charter in 901, and Edward may have intended Ælfweard to be his successor as king, either of Wessex only or of the whole kingdom. If Edward had intended his realms to be divided after his death, his deposition of his sister's daughter Ælfwynn from the rulership of Mercia in 918 may have been intended to prepare the way for Æþelstān's succession as king of Mercia. When Ecgwynn died or was put aside so Edward could make a more prestigious marriage to Ælfflæd, Æþelstān was sent to be educated at the court of his aunt Æthelflæd and uncle Æthelred in Mercia, possibly to avoid conflicts with his stepmother and her children, or even the possibility of assasination. Wessex and Mercia were at this stage still recent partners and not yet integrated into a single England.
When Edward died, Æþelstān was apparently with him in Mercia (at Farndon), meanwhile Ælfweard was in Wessex. While Mercia acknowledged Æþelstān as king, Wessex may have chosen Ælfweard. However, Ælfweard outlived his father by only sixteen days, dying at the age of 22 at Oxford, disrupting any succession plan and meaning that he was king for a very short period (17 July 924 – c. 2 August 924) if at all. Nothing is known of the circumstances of the relatively young Ælfweard's death other than the very convenient timing for Æþelstān. No reign is explicitly attributed to him. However, a list of West-Saxon kings in the 12th-century Textus Roffensis mentions him as his father's successor, with a reign of four weeks. He is also described as king in the New Minster Liber Vitae, an 11th-century source based in part on earlier material. The text of the latter is now in the British Museum. It is not known with any certainty what Edgar's wishes were for the succession, but Æþelstān is known to have remained unmarried and appears to have had no interest in women. If the chance of no further heirs from his firstborn was already evident to Edgar it certainly makes sense that he might have favoured the first of two sons by his second wife. This would have the benefit that should Ælfweard die without issue, there was a chance that the throne could pass to Edwin, second son to his second wife.
It is worth comparing Æþelstān's sucession with that of his Edward the Elder. Edward's father Alfred had become King when the "rightful" heir, Æthelwold - the son of his deceased elder brother - was still a minor, and passed the throne onto Edward the Elder despite opposition from his nephew. The "rightful" claimant had enough support for a revolt and remained a problem for some years. In Edward's own case the elder claimant was Æþelstān but rivals existed in the form of Ælfweard and Edwin.
As noted above, opposition to Æþelstān seems to have continued even after the coronation. According to William of Malmesbury, an otherwise unknown nobleman called Alfred plotted to blind Æþelstān on account of his supposed illegitimacy, although it is unknown whether he aimed to make himself king or was acting on behalf of Æþelstān's surviving half-brother Edwin, Ælfweard's younger brother and half-brother to Æþelstān. Blinding would have been a sufficient disability to render Æþelstān ineligible for kingship without incurring the odium attached to murder, and in Æþelstān's case it would have apparently been uneccessary to accompany blinding with the traditional castration. Tensions between Æþelstān and Winchester seem to have continued for some years. The Bishop of Winchester, Frithestan, did not attend the coronation or witness any of Æþelstān's earlier known charters. Frithestan first witnessed a charter of Æþelstān's in April 928, and thereafter he witnessed regularly until his resignation in 931, but he always attested in a lower position than his seniority would normally have entitled him to. In 1827, St Cuthbert's tomb at Durham was opened, and among the objects found was a stole and maniple which appear from inscriptions on them to have been given by Queen Ælfflæd to Bishop Frithestan, presumably before Edward put her aside to marry his third wife in about 919. Æþelstān probably took the relics from Winchester to donate to Cuthbert's tomb, another indication of his bad relations with Frithestan and perhaps of a somewhat spiteful character.
Edith of Polesworth
An associated local mystery is the identity of St Edith of Polesworth, an obscure Anglo-Saxon abbess associated with Polesworth (Warwickshire) and/or Tamworth (Staffordshire) in Mercia (these may be two different saints). Her historical identity and floruit are uncertain and are discussed at some length by the Tamworth heritage Trust quoting from the book "Royal saint Editha" by Christine Smith. The D-version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, confirms that on 30 January 926 King Æþelstān married his sister to Sihtric (d. 927) and attended the wedding feast at the Mercian royal centre of Tamworth (but gives no name for the sister). Some late sources make her another daughter of King Edward the Elder by his first wife and therefore a full-blood sister to Æþelstān. The tradition which was written down at the monastery of Bury St Edmunds in the 12th century and was later re-told by Roger of Wendover (d. 1236) and Matthew Paris (d. 1259) asserts that she was a sister of King Æþelstān, who gave her (around 926) in marriage to Sihtric Cáech, a hiberno-scandinavian (Viking) King of southern Northumbria and Dublin. It then suggests that the marriage was never consummated. When Sihtric broke his side of the agreement by renouncing the Christian religion and died soon thereafter, she returned south and founded a nunnery at Polesworth, not far from the Mercian royal seat at Tamworth, spending the rest of her life as a devout nun and virgin.
Curiously, there is a somewhat mysterious St Edith's just a few miles upriver from Farndon. St Edith's at Shocklach stands on its own in the middle of fields overlooking the river Dee, and quite close to the remains of the strange "double castle" at Shocklach. Inside the church, tucked away in a corner at the western end near the bell-tower, is a carving on a piece of sandstone about 12 inches square. The parish leaflet states it "seems to show a military figure on horseback", although it has been suggested that it shows "the Flight into Egypt". The citation in the Grade 1 listing identifies it as a "mounted knight" and dates it possibly to the 17th century. The carving is of a man on a horse with, in some interpretations, many legs and therefore actually may be a representation of Odin, the Norse god, and his multi-legged horse, Sleipnir. The Corpus of Anglo-Saxon stone sculpture also suggests that it could be Odin and discusses interpretations, including the fact that the wall in which the stone is set dates from the Norman period (apparently built in around 1150 by Thomas de Shocklach). Could this be a "viking" connection given that there were Vikings in the Wirral and that Viking hoards have been found in the Gowy valley - especially given that there is a connection between the Viking Sihtric and "Edith". There is a local legend that there was a flood and most of the village of Shocklach was flooded underwater. People headed inside the church because they thought they would be safe. But the water still came in, and, according to a legend which must be considered dubious (as the church has a tower) drowned them all. Other local "legends", which cannot be substantiated and may simply be "gossip", have a local farmer finding a hoard in the area and dipping into it when short of cash. A "Shocklach" hoard was found in 2003 comprising twenty-four gold and silver coins of six denominations to 1584–7. More on the local archaeology can be found in Shocklach: Its History and Archaeology.
In 933 Edwin was drowned, supposedly in a shipwreck in the North Sea. Conveniently, this removed yet another person who could have had a claim to the throne in preference to Æþelstān. His maternal first cousin, Adelolf, Count of Boulogne, took Edwin's body for burial at St Bertin Abbey in Saint-Omer. Just why this overseas burial should occur is unclear, as is the precise nature of the relations between Adelolf and his cousin. In 926 Adelolf has been sent as an ambassador to Æþelstān by Hugh Capet, effective ruler of northern France under Rudolph, Duke of Burgundy, who had been elected king of France in 923. Adelolf was to seek the English king's agreement to a marriage between Hugh and another of Æþelstān's sisters. Among the lavish gifts sent to Æþelstān, an avid collector of relics, were said to be the sword of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (with supposed fragments of the cross including a nail and thorn set in crystal in the hilt) and the notorious Holy Lance. There are several rival lances and it appears that William of Malmesbury was mistaken when he stated that it was given to Æþelstān - although it would have been impressive for the lance to have turned up at Æþelstān's crushing defeat of the combined Norse-Celtic force in the Battle of Brunanburh in 937 (possibly fought just north of Chester - although the site is much debated). Æþelstān gave these relics to Malmesbury abbey. Others, more bizarre, like the head of St. Branwaladr or St.Samson’s arm he gave to other churches. The whereabouts of these supposed relics are unknown. Despite the gifts there was no marriage between a daughter of Edward the Elder and Hugh Capet (or at least no children), instead Hugh married Adelaide of Aquitaine. Adelaide and Hugh were the founders of the Capetian dynasty of France. The direct Capetians, or the House of Capet, ruled France from 987 to 1328; thereafter, the Kingdom was ruled by cadet branches of the dynasty. All French kings through Louis Philippe, and all royals since then, have belonged to the dynasty.
The twelfth-century chronicler Symeon of Durham said that Æþelstān ordered Edwin to be drowned. The same story was recounted by William of Malmesbury, who is not always accurate, "King Æþelstān ordered his brother Edwin to be drowned in the sea". William's account associates Edwin's death with the earlier plot to blind Æþelstān and replace him with Edwin. In this version, Æþelstān is convinced by jealous courtiers to have Edwin sent to sea in a leaky boat, without oars, without food, and without water. Despairing, Edwin throws himself into the sea and drowns. Other versions are less conspiratorial. The Francian Annales Bertiniani compiled by Folcuin provide more detail, but with a slightly different twist:
- "For in the year of the Incarnate Word 933, when the same King Edwin, driven by some disturbance in his kingdom, embarked on a ship, wishing to cross to this side of the sea, a storm arose and the ship was wrecked and he was overwhelmed in the midst of the waves. And when his body was washed ashore, Count Adelolf, since he was his kinsman, received it with honour and bore it to the monastery of Saint Bertin [at Saint-Omer] for burial."
In yet another variant on the same story, repeated by Thomas Mortimer (in his "New History of England" 1764-6) Edwin did not go to sea alone but was put in the boat with his armour bearer and a page. Some time later a cup bearer who had been Edwin's accuser, tripped with one foot but saved himself with the other, saying "how brothers afford each other's help". On hearing this Æþelstān jumped to a surprising conclusion and had the matter reinvestigated. It then seems that it was discovered that Edwin was falsely accused and the cup bearer was put to death. This version ends with the claim that Æþelstān did seven year's pennance and built the monasteries of "Middleton and Michelness" (Milton Abbas) in Dorset to atone for his mistake. The truth behind this story is in question, as are many other dubious tales of establishments which supposedly were founded by Æþelstān, not least because Æþelstān lived for less than seven years after the death of Edwin.
In addition, the story has passed (in a possibly garbled form) into the foundation legends of at least one Masonic lodge (AL 5782 and/or 482), with a local connection in that it was associated with the Bridgegate in Chester. The several "masonic" legends concerning Æþelstān contradict each other on many points, especially as regards the role of Edwin. Some have Edwin undertaking a "journey to the east" and returning with "secrets". Some have him slain by Æþelstān and some do not. To be generous, these tales may be intended as allegorical rather than simply being based on a mistreatment of the facts.
Drawing all these elements together, the death of Edward while at Farndon was certainly advantageous for Æþelstān (who just happened to be present to be made king), as was Ælfweard's "sudden and convenient" death sixteen days later. Edwin's boating accident removed the last of Æþelstān's potential rivals and put the rulership of England in a Mercian rather than a Wessex camp. Although the various accounts differ, it cannot be discounted that Æþelstān may have had Edwin killed. Once that is supposed it become easier to suspect that Æþelstān was also responsible for the convenient death of Ælfweard, or even that he had a hand in the death of his own father, Edward, who is variously supposed to died of battle injuries or some unspecified disease. Certainly Æþelstān would have faced issues at being made king - those around him were probably aware that he had no wish to have relations with women and hence would have no children, which must have been a unique issue for those who would have to approve and support his succession. Perhaps arranging for the death of his rivals was the only way he could gain and retain the crown which he would be the first to wear, and enjoy the benefits of a whole new coronation ceremony written specifically for him.
Æþelstān died at Gloucester on 27 October 939. His grandfather Alfred, his father Edward, and his half-brother Ælfweard had been buried at Winchester, where the New Minster was probably established as a royal shrine, together with other royalty including Edward's mother Ealhswith and Edward's second wife Ælfflæd, but Æthelstan chose not to honour the city associated with opposition to his rule, or the minster wher his step-mother was buried. After Æþelstān's death, the men of York immediately chose the Viking king of Dublin, Olaf Guthfrithsson, as their king, and Anglo-Saxon control of the north, seemingly made safe by the victory of Brunanburh, collapsed. The reigns of Æþelstān's half-brothers Edmund (939–946) and Eadred (946–955) were largely devoted to regaining control.
Chester was an important base in 942 when there was collusion between the Welsh and the Scandinavian kingdom of York during King Edmund's campaign against the latter. The eldest son of King Edmund and Saint Elgiva, Eadwig was chosen by the nobility to succeed his uncle Eadred as King. He was succeeded by his brother Edgar The Pacific who seized the Northumbrian and Mercian kingdoms from Eadwig, in around 955 and became overall king on the death of Eadwig a few year later. As noted above, while Edgar is often said to have made his famous voyage on the River Dee from Edgar's Field, others have suggested his journey was made from a royal palace at or near Farndon. Edgar seized the Northumbrian and Mercian kingdoms from his older brother, Eadwig, in around 955 and became king on the death of Eadwig a few year later. Edgar's reign was a peaceful one, and it is probably fair to say that it saw the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England at its height. Although the political unity of England was the achievement of his predecessors (including Edward the Elder), it was Edgar who saw to its consolidation. Edgar's death would usher in a further period of instability with the eventual conquest of England by the Danes in 1013 during the troubled reign of "Æþelræd Unræd". Edmund Ironside would try to put matters straight before he was (according to tradition) shot by a determined assassin concealed in a latrine. The Sandinavians would rule until they were replaced by Edward the Confessor, another king who chose to remain celebate. His successor Harold was beset by difficulties which arose in part due to his lack of a firm claim to the crown and may or may not have ended his days at the Hermitage in Chester. Farndon's days as a royal stronghold came to an end, but it's strategic importance would persist and the castle at Holt would play an occasional role in the fates of Kings.
There are no identified remains of the supposed "palace" of Edward and/or Edgar at Farndon. It may have been built upon at some later time, erased by movements of the river, or perhaps is still to be discovered. The logical site of St Chad's has been excavated to a limited extent but shallow bedrock was reached without any significant finds other than a few shards of pottery. Finding the site of the palace and the associated possible minster and/or determining whether there are connections with the not too distant site at Poulton/Pulford would be a major step forward in national "Dark Age" archaeology, as well as the often overlooked (but very well documented) local history of Farndon.
- Cheshire Castles: for the nearby Holt Castle and the supposed murder at Farndon Bridge;
- Farndon: on the River Dee;
- Dark Ages;
- Battle of Brunanburh;
- Royal Treasure: was Richard II's treasure at Holt or Beeston Castle?;
Sources and Links
The "LOCAL HISTORY" sites listed below contain an immense quanity of information on the local history of Farndon and Holt:
- Edward the Elder: "King of the Anglo-Saxons, Forgotten Son of Alfred" (2019) by Michael John Key.
- AEthelstan: by Sarah Foot. Has a section on Edward the Elder;
- Edward the Elder: by John Speed (the one who was born in Farndon), he famously gets the place of Edwards death wrong;
- Basileos Anglorum: a study of the life and reign of King Athelstan of England, 924-939;
- Ӕlfwynn of Mercia: Deposed by Edward;
- Farndon Parish History LOCAL HISTORY website by Mike Royden - a local historian who is more accurate than John Speed:
- Holt Local History LOCAL HISTORY website;
- CHESHIRE HISTORIC TOWNS SURVEY, Farndon: Archaeological Assessment (2003);
- Chestertourist: some LOCAL HISTORY on Farndon - some good images of the stained glass in the middle of the adverts;
- Farndon: a LOCAL HISTORY booklet from c. 1981;
- Farndon: on Wikipedia;
- The Civil War window in the Church of St Chad at Farndon in Cheshire;