View eastwards from Great Bedwyn showing river, canal and railway
Great Bedwyn shown within Wiltshire
|Population||1,347 (2001 census)|
|OS grid reference|
|Civil parish||Great Bedwyn|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||South West England|
Great Bedwyn is on the River Dun about 4.5 miles (7.2 km) south-west of Hungerford and 6 miles (9.7 km) south-east of Marlborough, Wiltshire. The Kennet and Avon Canal and the Reading to Taunton line both follow the Dun and pass through the village. Bedwyn railway station is at Great Bedwyn and is the terminus of the rail commuter service via Reading and London Paddington. It is a railhead for Marlborough which is served by buses that connect with the trains.
'Bedanheafeford', the Battle of Bedwyn
The battle of 'Bedanheafeford' between Aescwine of Wessex and King Wulfhere of Mercia in 675 is alleged to have been fought near Great Bedwyn. The battle was originally recorded in the 675 AD entry of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The location of the battle has been associated with Crofton by local historians, due to placename interpretation, and the discovery of graves belonging to suspected battlefield victims in 1892.
AH Burne interpreted ‘Biedanheafde’ as an early version of Bedwyn, the derivation of the name being "the head of the Bieda" or "Beda", a stream running through the Bedwyns. However placename interpretation is tenuous evidence for the battlefield location; the site of the battle has also been claimed for Beedon in Berkshire, and elsewhere.
The discovery of a number of skeletons at Crofton in 1892 by J.W. Brooke was later used to substantiate a local battlefield location. An account of the battle of Bedwyn was published by local historian Maurice Adams in 1903. However only excavation of these graves will confirm if they contain battlefield victims or not.
Brooke recorded that “I cannot assign any period to them, but the field over them is paved with flint weapons. On one visit I observed children building miniature castles with human femur and tibiae.” In a letter to Maurice Adams, B.H. Cunningham described the graves, five to seven in number, “radiating from a common centre like the spokes of a wheel”. Unfortunately he had made no notes of his finds and was writing from memory. Mrs M.E. Cunnington’s study of Saxon grave sites in Wiltshire noted that there was no evidence to support the belief that the Crofton site contained Saxon graves. Nearby finds consisted only of a La Tène earthenware pot. As the graves are within the site of a causewayed camp this is not surprising. Maurice Adams would not have known about the Crofton camp as it was undiscovered until an aerial survey in 1976.
Given the lack of evidence, Maurice Adam’s confidence in a Bedwyn battlefield site cannot be shared. Crofton is not the only alleged battlefield in Bedwyn; for a while a battle between Alfred and the Danes in 871 was assumed to have taken place near Marten. It is now recognised that the location for that particular battle was at Marten (Down), Dorset. Until more substantial evidence about the Crofton graves can be gathered, there is no reason to suggest that the Bedwyn location, for an obscure 7th century battle, is little more than a myth.
Reference in the will of King Alfred the Great
The last will and testament of King Alfred the Great contains reference to Bedwyn. Describing his elder son Edward's inheritance he writes "And I grant him the land at Cannington and at Bedwyn and at Pewsey..." The Bedwyn of King Alfred was a large estate, whose territory included the modern parishes of Great and Little Bedwyn, Grafton, and Burbage. Bedwyn continues to enjoy an enduring royal pedigree. It belonged to the crown in 788, when part of the estate was granted to a crown servant called Bica. King Alfred's descendants held the estate until it was granted to Abingdon Abbey by King Edgar in 968. However the estate was recovered by King Athelred a few years later, and was recorded as a crown estate in the Domesday survey of 1086. Although most of the estate passed into the private hands by the end of the mediaeval period, the execution of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, in 1552 resulted in the temporary return of much of Bedwyn to the crown. The disastrous finances of his descendants resulted in the great sale of 1929, and much of the former Bedwyn estate was purchased by The Crown Estate. They remain one of the wealthiest landowners in modern Bedwyn.
Church of St. Mary
The Church of England parish church of Saint Mary the Virgin was started in 1092 but was not completed for another 200 years. Beneath the church are the massive remains of a Saxon church begun in AD 905. In the chancel is a memorial to Sir John Seymour (1474–1536), father of King Henry VIII's wife Jane Seymour. The church is designated as a grade I listed building.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (June 2013)|
In 1076 Lanfranc, the first Norman Archbishop of Canterbury, approached one of the major issues of the English church, the non-observance of celibacy. The practice was so widespread that he attempted only to prevent its future occurrence, and he did not try to impose an immediate ban. The Domesday Book reveals that the priest at Bedwyn was married, and that the office of priest was passed from father to son: Brictward the priest holds the church of Bedwyn. His father held it before 1066AD. A similar situation existed in Burbage. About 100 years earlier, the Bedwyn priest Ceolbeoht had two sons, Sigestan and Athestan.
Despite Lanfranc’s work, lack of celibacy continued into the Mediaeval period. In 1107 Roger of Salisbury, the Norman bishop of Salisbury, lived openly with his mistress, Matilda of Ramsbury. He was setting an example that local priests seemed happy to follow. Henry I of England's attitude was to fine non-celibate priests; he received large sums from the priests for licence to live as before. This policy provided him with an additional source of income, needed to fund his war to recover Normandy. Roger of Salisbury was a protegee of Henry I who rose rapidly from his original position as priest of Avranches, to become Chancellor of England by 1102, and Bishop of Salisbury by 1107. His son, Roger le Poer, later became chancellor, and his nephews, Nigel and Alexander, bishops of Ely and Lincoln.
Bishop Roger founded Devizes, by building a castle and market centre on the boundaries of his Wiltshire estates, (Bishop’s) Cannings and Pottern. During the reign of king Stephen he had made sufficient enemies to ensure his downfall. In 1139AD the bishop and his son Roger were captured by the king. His mistress, Matilda of Ramsbury, prepared Devizes' defences, but fearing for the lives of her son and his father, soon surrendered to the king.
Wolfhall manor was first recorded in the Domesday book, and has often been associated with the mediaeval wardens of Savernake forest. Ironically few wardens lived in Wolfhall, as the estate was often divided among local members of the gentry, or leased to tenants. However in the Tudor period, it was occupied by Sir John Seymour, whose numerous children included Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII, and Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset.
Edward Seymour was probably the second and last Seymour warden to occupy Wolfhall manor. The ambitious duke of Somerset desired grander accommodation than Wolf Hall could provide, and he intended to replace the house with a new mansion on Bedwyn Brail. The design and construction of the mansion was supervised by his steward, Sir John Thynne, founder of Longleat House. A correspondence survives, dated between November 1548 and June 1549, which shows Thynne directing the plans. Unfortunately, the mansion was unfinished when Seymour fell from power, and was abandoned after his execution in January 1552. His son Edward was unable to maintain Wolfhall manor house, which rapidly deteriorated, and was eventually abandoned in favour of Tottenham Lodge, now Tottenham House.
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