… a few weeks ago: “This subject is an over ploughed field: everything has already been suggested by someone, and the ground is so churned up it’s hard to make progress.”
The more I read, the more I find everything I’ve written has been said before; but nothing of it seems to be demonstrably wrong. However, it does seem useful to sort out the obviously wrong from the possibly right, so step forward Sir Richard Colt Hoare, archæologist and antiquarian, some of whose ideas appear to ‘anticipate’ mine – but who is not infallible.
I’ve been reading his History of Ancient Wiltshire, London, 1812 (if the volumes are separately paginated, it’s volume I, pp 62-63). Examining Alfred’s route from Athelney to Brixton Deverill, he considers the most direct route, ‘which Alfred would have chosen’, passed near Somerton, Castle Cary, Bruton and Maiden Bradley. That was my conclusion. Hoare writes:
“From Castle Cary or Bruton, he would have penetrated through Selwood by the road now bearing the name of HARDWAY, which leads to the summit of a hill called KINGSETTLE upon which a lofty tower was built by my predecessor and grandfather Henry Hoare, Esq., in honour of king Alfred […] From this eminence the British road would have led him in a direct line over Kilmington Common, by Rodmead farm, to the Vale of the Deverills, and to Brixton, or the PETRA ÆGBRYHTA, where his first day’s fatiguing march terminated.”
I was with him on the Hardway, or Harrow Way, as far as Kingsettle Hill (and King Alfred’s Tower) and over Kilmington Common; but I stopped at Kingston Deverill for reasons that Hoare wot not of 200 years ago. On pp 97-98, Hoare writes [sorry, digitisation not always clear]:
“BRIXTON, the town or stone of Brithric, or Egbert, and the Petra Egbryhta of Asser and the Saxon Chronicle [Note: The village may have owed its appellation either to Brihtric, who succeeded to the kingdom of the West Saxons on the death of Cynewulf in the year 784[?], and reigned over it till the year [800?]; or it may have been so called from his successor Ecbryght, or Egbert: the latter bears the greatest affinity to the Ecgbryhtes-ston of the Chronicle.“]Hoare, a distinguished archæologist, did not have instant access to the the text of the Domesday Book (unlike me who knows nothing of archæology or so-called ‘Antiquities’). All the modern Deverills – Brixton, Kingston, Hill and Longbridge & Monkton – are separately noted for taxation purposes in Domesday, but none is distinguished by any name but ‘Devrel’. So the name Brixton did not exist, even as far back as 1066, so certainly not in the time of Asser.
When the Deverills were finally distinguished from each other Hill and Longbridge took local features, Monkton’s lord was the abbey of Glastonbury, Kingston’s lord in 1066 was Queen Edith, and became Crown property. Brixton’s lord in 1066 was Brictric (son of Algar).
Brixton was therefore a late name having nothing to do with Cynewulf’s successor, Beorhtric, nor his successor Ecgbryht; but was Brictric’s-ton, a name given to it some time after 1066 to distinguish it from the other ‘Devrels’.
A second point: although I read Hoare’s section on Kingston Deverill, he made no mention there of the sarsen stones – a strange omission for an archæologist writing about his county’s antiquities. The explanation for this could well be that our Kingston farmer had, before 1812, when Hoare’s work was published, already moved the stones from Court Hill and they were now serving as stepping stones down by the river. They weren’t moved up to the rectory garden and reassembled in recognisable form until the mid 19th century. Hence Sir Richard would have overlooked Kingston and passed on to Brixton.
Just one other small point: I felt, as Hoare did, that Athelney to Egbert’s Stone could be covered in a single day, though less of a ‘fatiguing march’ in that Alfred was on horseback for this part of the journey, as Asser and the Chronicle say.
There are a couple more points from Hoare’s work which are relevant, but here I will stop for the moment.