Anglo Saxon "London" Lundenwic

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Central London was once largely marshland. The first major Anglo Saxon settlement was Lundenwic (now Covent Garden/Aldwych). Later, King Alfred re-established a town within the old Roman walls, known as Lundenburh.

The archaeological discovery of Saxon London is an object lesson for anyone believing that archaeological theory and fieldwork need not be connected. The city of London is one of the best-documented settlements in Anglo-Saxon England, both in terms of contemporary documentary sources and in terms of what can be gleaned from later sources about conditions pertaining in the sixth-eleventh centuries. Despite this, the location and the nature of settlement in London during this period, especially in the earlier centuries up to the end of the ninth century, have been a source of speculation and contention from the days of Sir Mortimer Wheeler, whose work begins the scientific study of Saxon London (Wheeler 1927, 1935). It continued through the early 1980s, when a spate of articles appeared, all stimulated by two papers published simultaneously by M. Biddle and A. G. Vince in 1984, which suggested that, in common with several other seventh-ninth-century trading centers, the port and main settlement of London lay outside the Roman walled city on a "green field" site. This period of speculation was brought to a neat conclusion with the discovery of extensive archaeological evidence for settlement to the west of the Roman city, along and behind the Strand, an area of London along the Thames. Despite criticism from place-name scholars, this settlement has been termed Lundenwic in recent archaeological literature. The name Lundenwic was current in documentary sources from the early eighth century to the late ninth century and undoubtedly did refer, in most cases, to the Strand settlement. Indeed, it appears to have been commemorated in the name of an area of the Strand occupied in the Medieval period by a triangular market Aldwych. However, it is claimed that the name may well have been one of several used for London, depending on the context. When referring to the defensive aspects of the site, the name Lundenburh (or variants) was preferred; when the name was used as a mint mark, it was either shortened to Lundonia or appeared as Lundonia Civit.

The history of Anglo-Saxon London relates to the history of the city of London during the Anglo-Saxon period, during the 7th to 11th centuries.

Romano-British Londinium had been abandoned in the late 5th century, although the London Wall remained intact. There was an Anglo-Saxon settlement by the early 7th century, called Lundenwic, about one mile away from Londinium. Lundenwic came under direct Mercian control in about 670. After the death of Offa of Mercia in 796, it was disputed between Mercia and Wessex.
Viking invasions became frequent from the 830s, and a Viking army is believed to have camped in the old Roman walls during the winter of 871. Alfred the Great re-established English control of London in 886, and renewed its fortifications. The old Roman walls were repaired and the defensive ditch was re-cut, and the city now became known as Lundenburh, marking the beginning of the history of the City of London. Sweyn Forkbeard attacked London unsuccessfully in 996 and 1013, but his son Cnut the Great finally gained control of London, and all of England, in 1016.

Edward the Confessor, the step-son of Cnut, became king in 1042. He built Westminster Abbey, the first Norman Romanesque church in England, consecrated in 1065. Edward's death led to a succession crisis, and ultimately the Norman invasion of England.


Early Anglo-Saxon settlement in the London area was not on the site of the abandoned Roman city, although the Roman London Wall remained intact. Instead, by the 7th century a village and trading centre named Lundenwic was established approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) to the west of Londinium (named Lundenburh, or 'London Fort', by the Anglo-Saxons), probably using the mouth of the River Fleet as a trading ship and fishing boat harbour.

In the early 8th century, Lundenwic was described by the Venerable Bede as "a trading centre for many nations who visit it by land and sea." The Old English term wic or 'trading town' ultimately derived from the Latin word vicus, so Lundenwic meant 'London trading town'.

Archaeologists were for many years puzzled as to where early Anglo-Saxon London was located, as they could find little evidence of occupation within the Roman city walls from this period. However, in the 1980s, London was 'rediscovered', after extensive independent excavations by archaeologists Alan Vince and Martin Biddle were reinterpreted as being of an urban character. In the Covent Garden area excavations in 1985 and 2005 have uncovered an extensive Anglo-Saxon settlement that dates back to the 7th century. The excavations show that the settlement covered about 600,000 m2 (6,500,000 sq ft), stretching from the present-day National Gallery site in the west to Aldwych in the east.

By about 600, Anglo-Saxon England had become divided into a number of small kingdoms within what eventually became known as the Heptarchy. From the mid-6th century, London was incorporated into the Kingdom of Essex, which extended as far west as St Albans and for a period included Middlesex and Surrey.

In 604, Sæberht of Essex was converted to Christianity and London received Mellitus, its first post-Roman Bishop of London. At this time Essex owed allegiance to Æthelberht of Kent and it was under Æthelberht that Mellitus founded the first cathedral of the East Saxons, which is traditionally said to be on the site of an old Roman temple of Diana (although the 17th century architect Sir Christopher Wren found no evidence of this). The original building would have been only a modest church at first and it may well have been destroyed after Mellitus was expelled from the city by Sæberht's pagan successors in 616. The majority of London's population remained pagan during the larger part of the 7th century, and the bishop's seat was occupied only intermittently, by Cedd between 653 and 664, and by Wine between 666 and c. 672. The bishopric of London was re-established for good in 675, when the Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus, installed Earconwald as bishop.

Lundenwic came under direct Mercian control in about 670, as Essex became gradually reduced in size and status. After the death of Offa of Mercia in 796, it was disputed between Mercia and Wessex.


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