… but moving on anyway:
1. I ‘arrived’ in Bruton after a logical progression from Athelney, taking in what seemed to be the more important Somerset settlements en route – and found myself on ‘the Hardway’, south of Bruton, which turned out to be the old Harrow Way.
2. I followed the Harrow Way into Selwood Forest and found I was passing Alfred’s Tower, dismissed as being late, unreliable evidence of Alfred having passed that way – a mere folk tradition.
3. The Harrow Way continues on to Kilmington Common, a name suggesting a possible small assembly or meeting place. Not pleased to find that Brixton Deverill was not far ahead because …
4. … the suggestion that the name ‘Brixton’ might have been a corruption of [Ecg]bryht’s-Stone has been dismissed. Domesday records the lord in 1066 as ‘Brictric’ and the place name was then just ‘Devrel’. In any case, the so-called ‘Egbert’s Stone’ wasn’t in [Brixton] Deverill but in [Kingston] Deverill, a couple of miles to the south. Wild goose chase.
5. But, (click to enlarge) an old Ordnance Survey map (1890) shows a ‘British Trackway’ which leads from Kilmington Common, through Maiden Bradley to Kingston Deverill. We’re still following the Harrow Way and this is where we arrive.
6. Following the trackway from Kilmington into Kingston Deverill, it skirts round the north of the hill where the prehistoric sarsen stones were originally found. They were moved by a farmer from ‘King’s Court Hill’, to a location by the church. Local legend said the king was Egbert and that he held court there. A likely tale!
7. But if not Bryht’s stone [Deverill], why not King’s stone [Deverill]? Well, Kingston is also recorded as simply ‘Devrel’ in Domesday. It seems to have taken on the name of Kingston post Conquest when the land passed into the hands of the Crown. Nothing to do with the Saxon Egbert. It became the king’s ton, not the king’s stone.
8. Wondering in a previous post who the ‘King’, of King’s Court Hill, might be, it now emerges that as late as 1896 the hill was simply ‘Court Hill’ although more recent accounts of the farmer and how he removed the stones report it as ‘King’s Court Hill’. PS It still is ‘Court Hill’ on the current OS map: the ‘King’ must be a local addition.
9. Court Hill? That fountain of wisdom, Wikipedia, has an article about the Moot Hill: sometimes called Court Hill, Justice Hill, Judgement Hill, these were the communal assembly places where local administrative business was discussed, where criminals were tried and law dispensed.
10. And here’s an annoying thing: there are several short accounts on the internet of the farmer’s removal of the stones from the hill, but I found (and have lost) a source with details that aren’t elsewhere. This is what I remember reading: a local villager recalled the stones being moved when he was a boy; they were moved down by the church; a Mr Carpenter, the postmaster, played some part in the story; a later rector eventually had the stones moved again, to their present site (also near the church), but the key point of the story was … (it may have been in a digitised version of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History proceedings) …
11. … the stones on the hill were presumed to have had some unspecified significance. There was a tradition that fines had been exacted there and even executions taken place. Two notable points: first, this supports the idea that the hill was an assembly place of the ‘king’s court’ where the king’s justice was dispensed, though not necessarily in the presence of the king himself; but secondly, this version made no mention of King Egbert, his stones, or even of King Alfred. That suggests that though it may only have been a folk memory/fantasy, it was independent of other stories about Alfred and Ecgbryht’s Stone. It wasn’t pleading a case for tourist attention.
12. The stones, originally three, two uprights and a capstone, must have been the remains of a neolithic dolmen [like the example, right]. Quite a small one, but set on the hill, with the covering burial mound by then eroded, the stones must still have been a landmark in Saxon times. Next to a main trackway, it was the kind of location used as an assembly place. It is a large, low hill: plenty of room for Alfred’s massed fyrds, from Somerset, Wiltshire and those of Hampshire (who would be marching down the Harrow Way in the opposite direction).
13. In addition, taking the edge of Selwood as running through the Brewhams, to the east of Bruton, Kingston Deverill would be about 9 miles inside, as a crow would take flight, along the Harrow Way. It is well inside the Wiltshire part of the forest and could be said to be in the orientali parte – geographically and administratively – as Asser and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle said; and unlike Penselwood which was on the very western edge of the forest, adminstratively in Somerset – the occidentali parte.
There seem to be more arguments in favour of Kingston Deverill than Penselwood itself. But, the snag, the snag …
[To be continued]