Acleah, that is, Junction 7 of the M25? Part 1: Farthing Downs

The things I know now

In the months prior to my walk, I read two things which, while having known of their existence for a number of years, I was unaware had relevance to the business of locating Acleah. The first is Catherine Cubitt’s 1995 book Anglo-Saxon Church Councils, in which it is suggested that the battle site – which she explicitly locates in Surrey – might be one and the same as the recurrent Southumbrian synod site of the same name (Cubitt 1995, 309-311). She also put forward the idea that the dates of these meetings – or at least the credibly-attested ones – hint at a connection with Archbishop Wulfred of Canterbury (pontificate 805-832), which would err towards a Kentish (or should that be Kent-ish?!) location for Acleah. Indeed, she concludes with the statement ‘A site on the Kent-Surrey border could be possible’, the most specific suggestion she makes in this regard (Cubitt 1995, 311).

We know Archbishop Wulfred attended at least one assembly in Surrey in 809 as he is the first named witness of a grant of land by the Mercian king Coenwulf made iuxta monasterium quod dicitur Crogedena, i.e. Croydon (S 164). Nevertheless, note must also be made of the promulgation of S 127, purportedly in the year 787, in a location named variously as Æcleaht and Æcleath. The charter text is highly suspect as things stand but is still in with a good shout of incorporating at least some genuine eighth-century elements; it is clearly of interest to the piece in hand – but not necessarily strong proof in its favour – that the confirmation of privileges it details was for Chertsey, Surrey’s number one Anglo-Saxon monastery. So, some decent evidence, but vaguely attributed to a border zone and not harnessed to any particular location.

This leads me neatly on to my second positive discovery, Alexander Rumble’s analysis of the place- and field-names of Merstham parish. It was published as an appendix to his study of the boundary description of the Merstham estate found in S 528, a diploma of the year 947. The piece is written to the-then standards of the Survey of English Place-Names, which were greatly improved since (and, to a degree, because of) the publication of The Place-Names of Surrey [PNS] back in 1934. As was noted in my first post on Acleah the battle-site, in PNS Oakley was reported as a minor name and connected to the 1544-recorded Okeley copp. I also noted Ockley (Hill, Wood) from the 1872 OS map, further to which Rumble (1970-71, 24) supplies Oakley Farm 1823, Ockley (Wood, Feild [sic]) 1840. There’s nothing we can do about the lateness of these forms, particularly since Rumble seems to have been rigorous in his data collection, yet the 1544 form does suggest we are dealing with a medieval name. Moreover, Rumble saw no problem in deriving it from Old English āc-lēah, with the second part of the 1544 form being either copp, ‘hill-top, peak, mound’, or a truncation of Middle English copis, ‘coppice’ (Rumble 1970-71, 24).


About Robert J S Briggs

Back to being a part-time early medievalist; Surrey born, London based, been known to travel
This entry was posted in Anglo-Saxon, Annals, Archaeology, Barrows, Charters, History, Landscape, London, Old English, Phenomenology, Place-Names, Surrey, Viking, WPLongform and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Acleah, that is, Junction 7 of the M25? Part 1: Farthing Downs

  1. Pingback: Acleah, that is, Junction 7 of the M25? Part 2: Ockley Wood and environs | Surrey Medieval

  2. Pingback: Around the Archaeology Blog-o-sphere Digest #8 | Doug's Archaeology

  3. UPDATE: I have become aware of an article which makes a far more convincing case for an Early Anglo-Saxon routeway along Farthing Downs than the sum of my own afternoon’s worth of observations. The article is Brian Hope Taylor, ‘Celtic agriculture in Surrey’, Surrey Archaeological Collections, 50 (1949), 47-72, which is freely available at The gist of his analysis – which is presented in a separate appendix (pages 62-64) – is that all of the barrows, and in particular the northern cluster (which he describes as the largest grouping), show significant affinities in their siting with the probable line of a contemporary track. Track and barrows both occupied the crest of the ridge, aside from the northernmost barrows, which sit adjacent to a “bivallate fieldway” of probable Roman date or operation. It’s not especially easy to follow Hope Taylor’s argument (or maybe I’m being dense) but careful plotting of his suggestions on a map could then be retraced on the ground with an eye – or two – on the viewshed and how prominently the barrows feature.

  4. That is a pretty disturbing artist’s reconstruction, I’m having waking nightmares now… Enjoyed the article very much!

  5. Pingback: Another Surrey candidate site for the battle of Acleah? | Surrey Medieval

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