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  Vortigern Studies > Wansdyke > Articles > Gardner (1)

Keith Gardner, born in 1932, first got involved in archaeology as a 17-year old schoolboy, at Wraxall Roman villa site just north-east of Nailsea. He either dug with, or knew many of, the greater, and lesser, luminaries of modern British archaeology, starting with Wheeler at Bindon Hill in Dorset.  Also a caver in his youth, after work on several local sites, Gatcombe, and others, and acting as correspondent to the Ordnance Survey, he led the field work on Lundy from the mid-1950s for fifteen years, a most productive period, becoming a Life Member of the Lundy Field Society. There was some further involvement with Lundy, but the National Trust had taken over, so it was no longer a major preoccupation.  He was Secretary to the Clevedon & District Archaeological Society from 1955 until 1960, and while with them his other significant involvement was with the Iron Age hillfort of Cadbury-Congresbury in north Somerset, in 1959. There they found evidence that the fort had been re-occupied in the 5th/6th century AD, from the presence of rare North African potsherds.  It is now recognised that this is evidence of a high-status site for the period, and Keith was co-director with Peter Fowler and Philip Rahtz from 1968 to 1973, when further work was done on the site.

When he retired from his career as an art historian, he joined the committee of the CBA-SW in late 1997 as Editor, replacing Dr Stephen Rippon as Chairman of the CBA-SW in 2003. During this time he was elected a Life Member of the Bristol and Avon Archaeological Society. He had also been pursuing a review of the Wansdyke, that enigmatic earthwork, cataloguing the Skinner diaries and other projects. A Master of Hounds, and a committed Mason he was also co-editing a history for the Order. Keith suffered a sudeden and unexpected heart attack early in the evening of 24th January, 2008.

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The Wansdyke Diktat? - A Discussion Paper
Keith S. Gardner (1932-2008)

An antiquarian opinion was that WANSDYKE extended west of Dundry Hill and crossed the Ashton Vale. This view was sanctified by Major in 1929 but the view proposed by Fox & Fox in 1960 currently obtains, ie that Major's fieldwork was ill-based and unreliable, that there is neither need nor evidence for the dyke to cross the Vale. and that Maes Knoll is the western terminal, the dyke having fulfilled its role by blocking the Fosse Way.

This paper revives the problem in the light of a subsequent postulation that a polity based on Cadbury for the construction of the dyke in North Somerset, and considers the possible need to effectively control access from the north-east along the Ashton Vale to these two high status sites. Specific claims made by earlier field workers of evidence for a continuation of the dyke west of Dundry are again considered, and authoritative statements regarding the relationship between Wansdyke and its incorporated Hill-forts are re-examined in the light of apparently flawed observations in support of the current claim. The possibility of there being extant, maybe unfinished, and albeit even irrelevant linear earthworks between Dundry and the Avon Gorge is noted.

Fig. 1: North Somerset - Cadcong to Bath (after P A Rahtz: Cadrex 1992).
Fig. 1: North Somerset - Cadcong to Bath (after P A Rahtz: Cadrex 1992).
here to enhance.

In the late 18th century the Antiquarian vicar of Long Ashton, the Rev John Collinson (1791 Vol.3, p.140), stated that Wansdyke extended west from Dundry to cross the pre-enclosure Highridge Coinmon, and thence via Yanley in the Ashton Vale, to terminate at Portishead. According to Rutter (1829, pp.326-7) even at that time there was some dispute regarding the validity of any claim that it continued west of Maes Knoll, but as he pointed out, the fact that Collinson lived in Long Ashton 'gave him an advantage in personal examination'. Rutter's contemporary, the Rev John Skinner, tended to the view that Wansdyke extended from Yanley to Stokeleigh, but was unable to confirm his suspicions in the field.

Albany Major (1929), whilst recording many field features accurately, was somewhat over-enthusiastic in his interpretation of some of them being vestiges, and indeed 'branches' of Wansdyke west of Dundry, to the extent that the very idea is now popularly regarded as a figment of his imagination.

O.G.S.Crawford (1953, 252) accordingly dismissed Major's work in toto, and slated that 'the western terminus is at the hill-fort of Maes Knoll '. This was used as a basis by Fox & Fox (1960, p.1) to claim that ' The Somerset portion ends at......Maes Knoll' and in a footnote (p.1) ' There is no evidence for its continuation to the Severn estuary'. Unfortunately neither Crawford nor Fox have dismissed in detail any of the claimed evidence regarding a crossing of the Ashton Vale, discussed in the earlier publications, but have peremptorily rejected the whole suggestion out of hand. The received wisdom amounts today to a diktat; - no respectable researcher looks for Wansdyke west of Maes Knoll.

This may well of course be the case, but there are various pieces of 'evidence' brought up by Collinson and Major which at least deserve to be examined, and reasons given for their dismissal, particularly as two high status Late/Sub-Roman sites are now known to exist in the 'unprotected' Ashton Vale (Fig. 1).

The first problem is to explain away the two medieval land deeds which specifically refer to Wansdyke Lane as a place name in Long Ashton, Collinson, whose Rectory lay at the very gates of the Ashton Estate. This had access not only to the relevant countryside, but to the papers of the Smyth family, among which he claimed was a land-deed, dated March 1310, referring to property on the east side of Wansditch Lane in Long Ashton. Now this need not necessarily imply that Wansdyke was on this actual spot, but it is a long way from the eastern approach to Maes Knoll (if that is its nearest point) for a 14th-century lane to carry its name. A passing comment by Skinner suggests 'Wansley Street' as a local place name survival in the early 19th century (Appendix 1).

The second matter is to account for what appears to be a massive earthwork which does descend west Dundry in the direction of the Peart and Highridge Common, across which Collinson claimed the dyke ran. Collinson (1791), having written of its course being 'directed hither from the ancient fortification at Mays-Knoll', (Vol III, 140) continues '...Descending the hill it crosses Highridge Common, where its tract is still visible'. If this was in fact the case, if a man-made dyke does descend the hill towards Highridge Common then there is surely a case to pursue. In addition there are remains of several other apparently unfinished stretches of linear earthworks which should merit re-examination, if only to prove their irrelevancy.

Ref: BRO-AC/D 1/15 & 16 (Plate 1)
Since 1791 the deed remained lost and unidentified among the massive archive collection. Until the 1960's the Ashton Court papers were held at the Estate Office in Long Ashton and in spite of searches made by the writer in the 1960's, it seemed beyond the scope of the administration there to be able to find a document filed 650 years before.

Fortunately the whole collection came, with the house and estate, into the hands of the Bristol Corporation and hence the Bristol Record Office, where eventually the document referred to by Collinson (AC/D.1/16) came to light and with it a second and similar deed (AC/D. 1/15).

In the 1970's the two documents were photographed; and Frances Neale produced translations and comment and produced a schematic plan of the relationship of the properties to each other and to the lane system approaching the highway to Bristol (Appendix I, Fig.2). What was there in the landscape of the Ashton Vale that still merited the appellation 'Wansditch' 750/800 years after its assumed construction? If Wansdyke extended west of Maes Knoll, to leave such a place-name where is it? Was it, as claimed by Collinson, the deeply sunken lane of Yanley; the meeting of which at right angles to the Bristol highway fits the schematic plan prepared by Francis Neale?

There are in addition a number of enigmatic sections of what can only be described as linear, and apparently uncompleled earthworks, which might possibly have been part of an attempt to span the Ashton Vale and control passage along local Roman period roads to Gatcombe and Cadbury-Congresbury.

Lower Grove Farm, Dundry NGR ST 5559 6742 to 5552 6725 (Plates 2 & 3)
Hidden among the confusion of humps and bumps and tortuous descriptions in Major's (1924) works, was a linear bank which he says 'plunges straight down the shoulder of the hill along a footpath approached by a short flight of steps.The descending bank of the dyke is exceptionally big, but consists partly of a natural ridge of rock'. He credits the discovery lo a Col. Prowse of Clifton who 'read a paper on it to a local society*. Major was apparently shown the feature by Prowse.

The oolitic limestone is notoriously prone to slippage, but the 'banks' on Cotswold and on Dundry are usually parallel with slope of the scarp. This feature runs at right angles to the slope. It appears to be an earth and stone bank, up to 3m in height and at least as wide across the top and comparable in size with the dyke's descent from the NW corner of Stanlonbury. It runs down the hill for 170m from below the north western 'point' of the scarp, the 'corner' of Dundry Down. It may be based on a natural feature but it is there and it has to be satisfactorily explained.

Lower Court Farm, Yanley NGR ST 548704
Excavations here by Leech & Pearson (1986, pp.12-35), in advance of housing development, exposed a settlement of medieval date. Associated with this was a linear feature described as 'a hollow-way or silted up boundary ditch', which ran north up the hill towards the main A 370 road. Now this may not be the missing Venelle de Wondesditch, but in view of its date and location some consideration should surety have hitherto been given to a possible association with the Land Deeds. Collinson (1791) was adamant that the deeply sunken Yanley Lane was associated with Wansdyke and Skinner (1830) who singularly failed to satisfy himself that any vestige remained in the field which he could ascribe to Wansdyke nevertheless observed that local people referred to the lane as Wansley Street! (Appendix 1).

Stokeleigh Hill Fort NGR ST 560 734
Barrett (1789, p.19) actually refers to 'a praetentura orfence' running from Stokeleigh and Burwalls forts, over Leigh Down, (without associating it with Wansdyke), while Seyer (1821.p.60) was the first to include what would appear to be part of such a work in his plan of the forts. This outwork, apparently unfinished, and still quite obvious, approaching Stokeleigh from the west, turns north-east and runs parallel to the ramparts to their termination on the rock edge. The ditch, where it parallels the ramparts is to the north. Skinner notes 'a distinct agger [havingJ much the appearance of Wansdyke'. Haldane (1966, pp.33-7 & 1975, pp.29-32) whilst accepting the work as unfinished does not satisfactorily explain its intended purpose or date. Perhaps significantly he does associate a late RB period of occupation with the events leading to the construction of Gatcombe's defensive wall (Note 2).

Summerhouse Plantation, Ashton Court NGR ST 556 722
If the dyke was planned to connect Dundry with Stokeleigh/Burwalls then one might expect to find some semblance of it in Ashton Park. Here an earlier field system is well preserved across ifs ostensible path, and no trace of a linear work can be seen. To the south however there is a linear rock cut ditch, classified as a 'Camp' on early OS 25" maps and subsequently re-classified as a quarry. Other quarries exist in the park but none are linear in this fashion. It is 340m in length and at its western end the ditch is paralleled by a substantial stone bank to the south. Is it possible that this was another work gangs' unfinished section, subsequently exploited for its accessible stone content?

Observations by Fox & Fox with regard to the actual relationship between the Dyke and both Maes Knoll and Stantonbury have not escaped criticism, with Rahtz & Barton (1962), Tratman (1963) and Burrow (1981) having re-appraised the work.

Stantonbury NGR ST 672 638
As a schoolboy the writer was well acquainted with Stantonbury hill-fort: its sides were densely wooded and the top, although not wooded, was a wilderness of brambles and nettles - a difficult ground for the Fox's to view. In 1972 however the crop of trees on the north-west corner of the hill was felled, revealing for the first time in decades the impressive sight of the fort's ramparts and junction with the Dyke. The writer obtained permission from the Duchy of Cornwall lo take advantage of this fact to carry out a new survey of the monuments. The interior had been taken in hand in the mid 1950's and a small team from Cadrex were able to examine the complex, it was apparent that statements made by Fox & Fox (1960) were at variance with what lay before us.

On p32 Fox & Fox state 'Stantonbury is a univallate Iron Age hill-fort enclosing some 30 acres'. It is in fact multi-vallate and the OS 1:1250 Map (ST 6763) indicates a total enclosure of about 8 acres. At first sight it appears to be one unit divided by a cross-dyke, first recorded by Major (1924, footnote p.55), somewhat like Cadcong. On closer examination it appears that the western half is primary and the eastern part, secondary, possibly in part contemporary with Wansdyke, the inner bank of which forms one side of the eastern entranceway.

Again on p.30, approaching the NW comer of the fort up the Dyke Fox & Fox claim 'Bank and ditch die out as the summit is reached and can be seen ending in an open patch of ground below the former Iron Age defences (Plate viii b)'. The Dyke in fact runs right up to the corner of the ramparts, and for the last 50m or so is accompanied by an outer dyke. a feature repeated at the eastern junction and illustrated by Major (1926, p.56). Along the north side of the hill-fort, and outside the main rampart there is a terrace which appears to connect the two stretches of outer dyke. Fox & Fox (p.32) suggest that this feature might post-date the hill-fort, and Burrow (p.84) accepts the possibility and again the much maligned Major includes it in his plan (p.54).

Maes Knoll NGR ST600 660
Dealing with Maes Knoll, we again find the Fox & Fox report at variance with more recent observations. Describing the beginning (or end) of the Dyke below the north-east corner of the hill-fort Fox & Fox (pp.27-8) make it quite clear that Wansdyke 'does not touch the Iron Age defences at any point. At Stantonbury the frontier earthwork ceases in a similar way'. Rahtz& Barton (1963, pp.9-10) and Tratman (1963, p.14) both disagreed with this and saw the Dyke continue along the northern rampart to its flourishing finish in Maes Knoll Tump. Burrow's resurvey in 1974 (p.81 & plan D p.193) suggests that the Dyke runs up to and finishes at the East side of the fort. Ironically Major's (p.41) observations seemed closer to Rahtz, Tratman and Burrow than to the 1960 view.

The inclusion of even two hill-forts in this stretch of such a dyke, is unusual if not unique qv Burrow (1981, p.80). If Wansdyke was to protect the Cadcong/Cameron territory (Whittock 1988, p.3) or was part of a 'grand plan' imposed by a hypothetical HQ at Cadcong as postulated by Cadrex (1992, pp.250-1), it would-make good sense to include the dramatically situated complex of Avon hill-forts, as indeed would a continued barrier across the Ashton Vale. Burrow (1981, p.154) makes the point that the work as it stands 'effectively blocks the most ready access to the larger part of Somerset east of the Parrett; it would be even more effective with the Ashton access to Cadcong blocked.

We thus have two hill-forts - Maes Knoll and Stantonbury - where the Dyke, contrary to previous reports, actually runs up into the earlier ramparts. We also have an unfinished linear bank associated in a similar way with Stokeleigh.

Fox & Fox (p.45), postulate that: 'The purpose of West Wansdyke was to control traffic and incursions from the Cotswolds and Lower Avon valley, proceeding south-west principally by the Fossway Roman road. The construction of a well-sited straightly aligned cross-ridge dyke to bar this road at Odd Down was probably primary'. Again (p.36): The military importance of West Wansdyke is determined by its power of protection of the south-west from incursions from the Avon valley and the Cotswolds beyond.' Building on this theory, with which we have no argument, they continue (p.37): 'West Wansdyke does not continue west or Maes Knoli, although there was an obvious defensive line for it on the forward slope of Dundry Hill. The reason is not difficult to see; the Cotswold escarpment has been outflanked and the danger of an incursion From the north overcome. Finally they accept that (p.45): 'The alignment of much of West Wansdyke is militarily weak, lacking visual control of the Avon valley. It indicates that the builders were not wholly free to choose their position... Historically West Wansdyke is likely to be a West-Saxon construction, by King Cynegils on a line imposed by Penda of Mercia after AD 628'.

The suggestion of a para-military barrier across the Fosseway is attractive; most recently Underwood (1999) has illustrated the Saxon Dyke system, showing on the smallest scale map of England and Wales, the blocking of the lcknield Way, the Ridgeway and the Fosse Way. Seen from afar this may well seem sufficient, but seen from North Somerset, from behind the dyke, even if 'the Cotswold escarpment has been outflanked' is it strategically acceptable that 'the danger of an incursion from the north has been overcome'? If this was the only route to be barred, why was it necessary to extend it to Maes Knoll? Is not the answer to block Margary's Route 540, a postulated Roman road running south-west to Mendip via the Chew Valley? qv Aston & lies (1986, p.52).

If we accept that, then what about the Ashton Vale, the access route to Cadcong from the Avon and south Gloucestershire -Tratman (1962, plate 13) postulates a complex of Roman roads passing over the west of Dundry including one directed at Yanley and Gatcombe via Highridge. Branigan (1977, fig.34) shows a 'possible' road approaching Gatcombe from Long Ashton. The enigmatic bank above Highridge is directed across the Ashton Vale straight for the Stokeieigh/Burwalls hill forts, and it's line would effectively control any route from the Bristol area.

In a personal communication on the matter of closing the Ashton Vale, in 1962 Lady Fox responded 'I'm afraid we did regard the Avon Gorge as a barrier, lacking local knowledge, and so did not pursue our fieldwork to the coast - there is also the tide to be considered with the river crossing, running up to Saltford originally'. Against this argument of a tidal barrier is the fact that there was actually a well documented ford below the Clifton hill forts, partially demolished as an obstacle to shipping, as early as AD 1480. and totally blown up in 1883/4. This was noted as being 'of a breadth still sufficient for a carriage', in 1821 qv Seyer(1921, p.61) and was navigable for several hours either side of low tide; see also Rutter (1829. p.273) and Dobson (1931, p.224).

Other writers have commented on the poor choice of line. particularly when viewed from the work itself. However if one stands on the presumed site of the Saxon victory in AD577, Dyrham hill fort, (a most commanding promontory with sweeping 180 degree views north and south along the Cotswold escarpment) the first southern horizon one sees emerging from behind Lansdown is Wansdyke ascending the east side of Stantonbury. The line to Maes Knoll, along the natural scarp edge of Dundry and across to Stokeleigh on the Avon Gorge is clearly evident as a topographical feature. The whole southern half of the bowl of the middle Avon is seen in perspective, clearly enclosed by the arc formed by the low range of hills, backed by Mendip, and breached in the west by the unprotected (?) Ashton Gap.

MAES KNOLL- BATH Recent Research (Note 3)
Ten sections cut across the Wansdyke by Avon Archaeological Unit on behalf of English Heritage between Maes Knoll and Combe Down have shown a great continuity in design and construction techniques, and have produced Roman period pottery from the body of the dyke, favouring a sub-Roman date for its construction. The work has strengthened the opinion that the dyke was 'designed to form a major physical obstacle whose principal role was to operate as an effective, defendable, military boundary'.

A further view is that the use of the dyke was short lived, and the work af a two phase construction bui to a common design and technique. Unity in design of course need not extend to construction nor imply one work. force. There is evidence elsewhere to suggest that linear earthworks were not constructed from one end to the other but by separate work-gangs in different areas, arguably based on the hillforts, qv Fox.O'Neil & Grimes (1946, p.4).

The work here is now thought to have been carried out, not in a single effort, but over a number of years. The line was established by a shallow ditch and completed some time later. This implies that there was no great urgency, that perhaps a perceived threat did not materialise. This in turn supports our own speculation that an unfinished Dundry - Avon Gorge stretch could well have sporadic part finished sections, exhibiting different stages of completion, sections which were still associated with the name Wansdyke in the 14th century.

Broad gaps may also be planned or be due to destruction. A series of long gaps occupied by natural barriers - rivers and ravines - reduces the length of Wat's Dyke from 38 to 22 miles qv Fox et al (1946, p.2-4). At Stantonbury the once apparent evidence of the descent of Wansdyke across the fields to the Bath - Weston road has long been ploughed away.

Currently popular alternative possibilities lo the Fox's choice of a 7ih-century Saxon/Mercian boundary are that the date may relate either lo the period before the Battle of Badon, (C. AD 485 +/-) or to that following the Saxon capture of Gloucestershire and Bath in AD577. This is perhaps more valid now in view of our more recently acquired knowledge of the pre-Saxon occupation of the high status settlement at Cadbury-Congresbury, and the defended Roman establishment at Gatcombe. The latter site is retarded bv Cadrex (1992, p.228) as a plausible place of origin for the population of sub-Roman Cadbury (qv. Note 1). North Somerset appears not to have been subjugated for almost a further 80 years after Dyrham and, in view of increasing discussion on a 5th century origin for many linear earthworks - Snyder (1998, p.232), the suggestion that Wansdyke was the northern frontier of a sub-Roman polity, based on Cadbury and other major hill-forts, is attractive, qv Cadrex (1992, pp.250-1).

Now the argument that it was a negotiated post-Dyrham treaty boundary, implies that the victorious Saxons, having, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, captured Gloucester. Cirencester and Bath and having killed their three 'kings', were happy to allow the British south of the Avon to construct a barrier to bar their progress into Somerset which would hold them up for some 80 years or so. On balance logic would seem lo favour the construction of a pre-Badon military frontier, in preparation for the impending advance of Saxon armies and perhaps unfinished by the time of a British victory and then regarded as no longer necessary. This would seem to fit the available evidence; strategically the whole plan would have best served by linking the heights above the Avon from Bathampton to Stokeleigh, incorporating the hill forts of Maes Knoll and Stantonbury.

Whatever the course or extent of West Wansdyke, some of the comments on its topographical location still stand. Whether it defends or defines an area, that area is to its south', its line could have been at the dictation of more powerful interests to its north, the victors in AD 577 being possible contenders, but this would not seem compatible with Saxon strategy. An alternative 'High Arthurian' event, pre AD 500, sees Wansdyke sitting as a boundary between the Britons of Gloucestershire, (who were to fall in AD577) and those of Somerset who survived perhaps until the AD650's. If it relates say, to the northern frontier of a latter-day Dumnonia would it not sit practically as a 'fall-back' military defence with the river being the natural boundary? This would then place the defendable heights above Bath and the Stokeleigh/Burwalls complex on the actual frontier, with southern access via the otherwise indefensible 'bowl' of the middle Avon effectively blocked (qv Appendix 2).

Having said all this one has to accept that there is little currently to support the Ashton Vale hypothesis other than the Land deeds, the various enigmatic earthworks and a now plausible raison d'etre. Circumstantial though these may be can we really be confident that Maes Knoll was the planned western termination of Wansdyke ?

We cannot go so far as to say we have a proven case but the discussion should not be allowed to stultify in the face of a demonstrably flawed diktat - are we not still justified in asking three simple questions?
i) lf the 14th-century documents do not refer to a feature in the Ashlon Vale associated there almost 700 years ago with the tradition of a section of Wansdyke, what do they referto?
ii) If the linear bank descending Dundry in the direction of Highridge Common, the Ashton Vale and Stokeleigh is not part of Wansdyke what is its date and purpose?
iii) If the incomplete linear works, particularly those approaching Stokeleigh are not part of Wansdyke what are they?

There may well be three simple answers, none of them relevant to a western extension of Wansdyke, but it is surely a lapse of professional discipline not to ask the questions.

The Diktat is based on two premises:
i) that there is no strategic reason for the work to extend west of Maes Knoll and
ii) that there is no evidence in the field of it's so doing.

It is suggested that with the now acknowledged high-status sites of Gatcombe and Cadcong in the extended Ashton Vale there would have been a strategic need for such an extension in the 5th/6th century.

It is further suggested that, unless and until clear explanations to the contrary are forthcoming, the additional existence of the Land Deeds and of other enigmatic ditches and banks, in particular, the west Dundry earthwork, make the diktat unsafe.

Note I
We have postulated (Cadrex. p.228) that Gatcombe may have been the place of origin of the population of Cadbury Congresbury. The possibility is strengthened by the earliest references to Gatcombe as Gadecumbe in the Exchequer Lay Subsidies in AD 1327 and Cadecumbe, in Kirby's Quest, 1285; qv SRS (1889).

Note 2
Haldane's (1966, p.37|2|) 'rectangular enclosure', located on the inner side of the outer bank, bears a superficial resemblance, in plan to Structure VII, at Cadcong qv Cadrex (p.202).

Note 3
Thanks are due to Avon Archaeological Unit for kindly discussing their results in advance of publication, and to Frances Neale who found and interpreted the Long Ashton Land Deeds.


  • Aston, M & Iles. R, 1986 The Archaeology of Avon, Avon County Council
  • Barrett, W. 1789 History & Antiquitics of Bristol. Privately published.
  • Burrow, I. 1981 Hill-top Settlement in Somerset, BAR-91
  • Cadrex (Rahtz. et al), 1992 Cadbury Congresbury, BAR-223
  • Collinson, J. 1791 History of Somerset Vol 3, 140, Privately published.
  • Crawford, 0 G S. 1953 Archaeology in the Field. Phoenix House.
  • Dobson, D P 1931 The Archaeology of Somerset. Methuen.
  • Fox & Fox 1960 Wansdyke Reconsidered. Royal Archaeological Institute.
  • Fox. O'Neil & Grimes 1946 Linear Earthworks - Methods of Field Study Antiquaries Journal 175-9.
  • Haldane, J. 1966 Stokeleigh Camp PUBSS 7966, 33 & 37.
  • Haldane, J, 1975 Excavations at Stokeleigh PUBSS 1975. 29.
  • Leech, R,& Pearson.T, 1986 Excavations at Lower Court Farm, Long Ashton BAAS 5. 12-35.
  • Major. A, 1924 The Course of Wansdyke through Somerset SA&NHS Vol. 70.22-37.
  • Major, A, & Burrow. E.1929 The Mystery of Wansdyke E. J. Burrow
  • Morris, J, 1973 The Age of Arthur Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
  • Rahtz, P & Barton, K 1962 Maesknoll Camp - Trial Excavations PUBSS 10.1, 9/10.
  • Rutter. J, 1829 Delineations in NW Somerset Privately published.
  • Seyer.S, 1821 Memoirs of Bristol Privately published.
  • Skinner, Rev J, 1830 Diaries. British Library ref: Add. Mss 33,717 May 8th 1830, 57.
  • SRS.1889 Kirby's Quest 1285 Somerset Record Society Vol III. 29.
  • SRS, 1889 Exchequer Lay Subsidies 1327, ibid p.93.
  • Snyder C A, 1998 An Age of Tyrants Sutton, p.232.
  • Tratman E K, 1962 Some Ideas on Roman Roads in Bristol & North Somerset PUBSS 9.3, 159-176.
  • Tratman, E K, 1963 Iron Age Defences & Wansdyke PUBSS 10.1, 11.
  • Underwood. R, 1999 Anglo-Saxon Weapons & Warfare Tempus Fig 81.
  • Whittock. M, 1988 Reflections on the Cultural Context and Function of the West Wansdyke BAAS 7, 2-3.

APPENDIX 1: Yanleigh, Long Ashton.

Collinson 1797
'...(Wansdyke) forms by its vallum a deep narrow lane overhung with wood and briars leading to Yanley Street in the parish of Long Ashton. From Yanleigh it traverses the meadows to a lane anciently denominated from it Wondesdich Lane as appears from a deed dated at Ashton 3 Ed II...' (AD. 1310).

Skinner 1830
'...I looked down upon Yanley Lane from a wall which bounds the road and perceived it ranged nearly into a straight line with High Ridge hill and Dundry tower. If this lane had been the course of the Wansdyke, ...which the name seems to imply, for some of the people called it Wansley Street, it would have ascended the height near where I stood to make my sketch and there seemed to be a corresponding lane ascending the hill and pointing to the heights above'. Frances Neale translated the medieval land deeds, of which the following is a synopsis, and produced the schematic plan of the location herewith.

Yanleigh - Schematic Plan. The layout of Wondesdich Lane and the A370 as described in the Land Deeds (Frances Neale).
Fig.2 Yanleigh - Schematic Plan. The layout of Wondesdich Lane and the A370 as described in the Land Deeds (Frances Neale).
here to enhance.

British Record Office AC/D 1/15 1310 March 14
Grant by Robert de Stylweye to Adam de Clopcote of a messuage and curtilage in Aystone near Bristol, situated on the east of the 'Wondesdich* lane ('venelle de Wondesdich') between the tenement of William Gondulfe on the east and the said lane on the west; which messuage and the south head of the curtilage adjoin a house of William Gondulfe; and the end of the curtilage stretches to the highway leading to Bristol. For the customary services.

British Record Office AC/D 1/16 1310 March 28
Grant by Willliam Gondulfe to Adam de Clopcote of a cottage and a plot of land annexed at Aystone near Bristol, situated on the east side of 'Wondesdich' lane, between Williams tenement on the east and the said lane on the west, of which one head of the cottage and land adjoins the tenement which Adam holds of the gift of Robert Stylweye: and the other head stretches to the wall of William's close. To hold of Robert Styfweye, Williams chief Lord for Id. per annum and Royal service as appropriate.

The evidence of these 2 deeds therefore produces the following schematic plan of two adjoining plots, lying end to end, north/south on the east side of Wondesdich Lane where it joins the main Bristol road. The lane must clearly run up to the south side of the A370. A number of lanes still hold this position, arguably the oldest being Yanley Lane, part of which was postulated by Collinson to be the ditch of Wansdyke.

APPENDIX 2: Cadcong & Wansdyke - a Speculative Model.

By AD 43 the south western tidewater peninsula, from Dorset to Gloucester, was divided between three tribes, the Durotriges of Dorset and south east Somerset, the Dumnonii of Devon, Cornwall and part of west Somerset and the Dobunni of Gloucestershire and north Somerset.

According to Seutonius, Vespasian with his II Legion Augusta, conquered two of these tribes 'with extreme prejudice'. One was presumably the Durotriges to judge by the evidence of a massacre at their great oppidurn of Maiden Castle, while the other could well have been the Southern Dobunni, who are major candidates for a similar sort of catastrophe at Worlebury. The Northern Dobunni are thought to have come separately to terms with Aulus Plautius, and thus avoided any recriminations.

This apparent division of the Dobunni is reflected in the subsequent Civil Administration as the Imperial authority created a new Canton (of the Belgae) which included north Somerset and was administered from as far away as Winchester. The subservient Gloucestershire Dobunni were allowed their own local civitas at Cirencester (Corinium Dobunorum), thus perpetuating the division between the two sections of the tribe.

On the collapse of Roman Government in Britannia the country appears to have fragmented into petty kingdoms, among which Vortigern would appear to have been some form of High King, employing Saxon mercenaries who typically rebelled and fought their former employers. Against this background Arthur is said by Nennius to 'have fought with the Kings of the Britons but was himself Dux Bellorum' The famous victory of the Britons over the Saxons at Mons Badonicus (c.AD 485 ) may well have been at a hill (fort?) near Bath, possibly at Bathhampton a few kilometers from the east end of the West Wansdyke. Some cooperative effort by 'the Kings of the Britons' was obviously achieved, a cooperation which could well have seen the construction of Wansdyke.

What relationship these kingdoms had to the old Tribal structure is unclear but according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for AD 577 the battle of Dyrham saw the death of three 'kings' and the capture of their three cities of Glo'ster, Cirencester and Bath - the rump of the Dobunni? By AD 584 the Saxon's westward advance appears to have been checked on what was for ever to be their frontier with the Cymru - the River Wye.

What prevented them in AD 577 swinging south into Somerset having taken Bath? Not surely a 'gentleman's agreement' allowing the construction of an agreed barrier? Is it not more likely that the present area of North Somerset, behind a pre-existing Wansdyke, was so powerful a polity as to deter them from even trying? It is suggested by Morris (1973, p.307) that the one local pre-Roman tribe to have survived intact enough for Gildas to have mentioned it by name, the Dumnonii, had formed alliances with the neighbouring 'Welsh' - that is the Britons around the Bristol Channel. This alliance would seem to have been defeated c.AD 614 in a battle near Axminster and, according to Gwent traditions their peace was broken in the same year. Even so it is not until AD 658 that 'Cenwalh fought at Peonna against the Welsh and drove them in flight as far as the Parrett'.

Cad Cong was contemporary with all this - or at least with Badon and with Dyrham. It's decline could be attributed archaeologically to the early 7th century - a result of the Saxon defeat of the Dumnonii in AD614? Do we see in Cad Cong a llys, the court of a local 'Welsh' king, backed by a western alliance; do we see in the adjoining temple at Henley Wood a ghost of Hen Llys, the 'Old Court', and do we see in Wansdyke the northern frontier of a latter day Dumnonia?

The Wansdyke Diktat? - A Discussion Paper
First published in Bristol and Avon Archaeology 1998.
Copyright 1998 Keith S Gardner, used with permission.

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