As we know, when Alfred rallied his army at Ecgbryhtesstane, they pitched camp there for one night and next morning set off for Æcglea or Iglea where they again camped one night before moving off to Eþandune to take on Guthrum’s army.
The location of Egbert’s Stone is explicit enough, in that it was in the eastern part of Selwood Forest. But what of Æcglea (Asser), Æglea (Henry of Huntingdon), Iglea (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle)? The evidence of the Place Names of Wiltshire (EPNS, Gover) appears clear, to the satisfaction of scholars, that this was a place called Iley Oak, in Eastleigh Wood, near Sutton Veny – on the southern edge of Salisbury Plain. This, it seems, was the Saxon meeting-place for Heytesbury and Warminster Hundreds, but not only does it not exist now, there seems no trace of such a place in Domesday, which is a bit annoying.
The Victoria County History for the Hundred of Warminster says:
In 1439 the sheriff’s tourn for the hundreds of Warminster and Heytesbury was held at ‘Ilegh‘, later called Iley Oak, a great tree which stood probably in Southleigh or Eastleigh Woods between Sutton Veny and Longbridge Deverill. It was still the meeting place of the tourns in 1652. Nothing is known of the meeting place of the other hundred courts until 1831, when they met in the Town Hall at Warminster. The name Moot Hill, applied to the low mound across the Wylye south-west of Norton Bavant village, which was formerly a detached part of Warminster parish, may indicate that the early meeting place of the hundred was there.
However, Aecglea was not where the fyrds assembled – that had been at Ecgbryhtesstane; and in any case, this is late medieval, and one would like evidence that it existed pre-Conquest. Oakley in Somerset is in Domesday in the form of Achelai, and vestiges still exist of place and name. It seems in size to have been at least as significant as ‘Iley Oak’.
It was also strategically interesting, a mile or so south of the old Roman town of Ilchester, a fortified site on the River Yeo – a key communication point as there had been a ford there in Roman times, although by the late Saxon period there would probably have been a bridge. The town lay on two main Roman routes to the south: the Fosse Way, the road from Exeter to Lincoln through Cirencester; and a road from Dorchester which joined the Fosse Way at Ilchester. Oakley was set between Oakley Brook and the old Roman road (now the A37); it was on the borders of Stone Hundred (incl. Yeovil) and Tintinhull Hundred (incl. Ilchester).
Furthermore, according to an article by the archaeologist, Jeremy Haslam (2012?), Ilchester was ‘probably’ one of King Alfred’s burhs – the system of fortresses he built up as a defence against the Danes (Haslam’s rather dense argument is based on the number of Somerset hides given in the Burghal Hidage: they appear not to correspond with the number given in Domesday, suggesting that at least one burh was missing from the burghal list).
More about roads next time.
[To be continued]