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Anglo-Saxon Burhs

by Stephen Francis Wyley 

 This web page is based on an orginal 'Castle Data Sheet' produced for Steven Lowe in 1991.

Historical Background
Other Relevant Information
Other web pages on fortifications by the Author


England; Bath, Exter, Portchester, Lydford in Devon, Christchurch in Hamshire, Burpham in Sussex, Wareham in Dorset or Oxford and Wallingford in Oxfordshire.

Historical Background.

In 877 the eastern half of England was controlled by the Great Army (of the Danes), Northumbria was colonized and Mercia was reduced to a puppet kingdom. Wessex on the other hand had retained freedom by a combination of bribes and resistence but in January 878 it was overrun by an unexpected winter attack. And so the King, Alfred son of Aethelwulf, had to find sanctuary in the marches aroung Athelney in Somerset.

From there Alfred waged a guerrilla war, his example plus the morale boosting capture of the raven banner of Ragnar Leatherbreeches enabled Alred to raise another army in the early summer and at Edington in Wiltshire inflicted a major defeat on the Danes. And at the Viking Fortress at Chippenham after a two week blockade by Alfred and his forces the Vikings surrended, agreeing to leave Wessex and also to having the leaders baptized as Christains. This was a major turning point in the war but there was little chance of rest since remnants of the Great Army still held much of England, while still another force of Danes threatened from across the Channel.

Alfred set about strengthening his position by creating a royal navy and instigating a program of fortress construction consisting of fortifications called burhs. The burhs (later 'boroughs') acted as a form of national defence system, each burh intended to house the people from the surrounding country side during enemy raids. The villages in the area of a burh were required to provide manpower for the defence and maintainence of that burh, on the basis of one man for each hide of land the village contained. Each man was responsible for repairing and defending about 1.25 metres of wall. The number of hides assigned to a burh did vary with the size of the fortification.


The three main types of burh constructed were; firstly, based on repaired Roman fortifications such as Bath, Exter and Portchester; the second type was based on the promontory forts of the Bronze Age, where and earthwork rampart was raised across a steep sided headland, such as at Lydford in Devon, Christchurch in Hampshire and Burpham ins Susses; the third type's defences consisted of a surrounding earthen rampart which was faced with wood or stone, the rampart was fronted by a deep ditch. In some cases the area inside these walls were divided up into plots in gridwork for residental purposes, that layout still exists at Wareham and Wallingford.

Other Relevant Information.

At the end of Alfred's reign in 899 England was a lot safer from Viking raids, his son King Edward ahd his daughter Aethelfleda continued the work. Their new burhs were constructed to consolidate their territorials gains at; Hertford, Bedford, Buckingham, Stamford and Nottingham.


Allen Brown, R., English Medieval Castles, London, 1954.

Anderson, W., Castles of Europe, Hertfordshire, 1984.

Brice, M.H., Forts and Fortresses, London, 1990.

Knightly, C., Strongholds of the Realm, London, 1979.


Castles on the Web

Introduction to the History of Medieval Boroughs

 Site O is a group of people from around the world that share an interest in fortifications and artillery. Some are authors on the subject, some are connected with Universities and teach it and others are simply fascinated with it.

Other web pages on fortifications by the Author.

A Dictionary of Military Architecture
An Aerial View of Masada
Bibliography of Military Architecture
David's Tower, Jerusalem
Drawings of Aspects of Military Architecture
Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives
More Pictures of the Theodosian Land Walls
Siege Warfare, The Art of Offence and Defence
Shiro, A Japanese Castle
The Walls of Ankara
The Defences of Constantinople
The Town Walls of Conwy
What is a Castle?

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This page was last updated on the 7th January 2002

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