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ON THE DATE OF THE CONQUEST OF SOUTH LANCASHIRE BY THE ENGLISH. 
W. BOYD DAWKINS. 
ARCHAEOLOGIA CAMBRENSIS. 1873.

 

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Archaeologia Cambrensis - The Journal of the Cambrian 
Archaeological Association. VOL. IV. FOURTH SERIES. 
1873. 236-239.
 
xxx236 ON THE DATE OF THE CONQUEST OF SOUTH 
LANCASHIRE BY THE ENGLISH. 
 
{Reprinted, by permission, from the Transactions of the Manchester 
Literary and Philosophical Soeiety.) 
 
The most important event in the history of Lancashire, 
the conquest by the English, has been either lightly 
touched upon by the county historians, such as Baines 
and Whittaker, or so interwoven with the Arthurian 
legends as to be almost unintelligible. The date, so far 
as I know, has been altogether ignored. 
 
What, however, the modern writers have passed by 
or misunderstood, may be gathered from certain events 
recorded in the History of Nennius, Baeda's Life of St. 
Cuthhert, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It is possible 
to fix the date and the circumstances of the conquest 
of southern Lancashire with considerable accuracy, and 
to make out the latest possible time at which any part 
of the county was under Welsh and not English rule; 
or, in other words, was within the boundary of Wales 
and not of England. To examine these points properly 
we must see what relation existed between the English 
on the one hand, and the Brit-Welsh on the other. 
 
In the year 449, the three ships which contained 
Hengist and his warriors landed at Ebbsfleet in Thanet, 
and the first English colony was founded among the 
descendants of the Roman provincials, who were known 
to the strangers as Brit-Welsh. From that time a 
steady immigration of Angle, Jute, and Frisian, set in 
towards our eastern coast as far north as the Firth of 
Forth, until in the first half of the sixth century the 
whole of the eastern part of our island was occupied by 
various tribes whose names, for the most part, 
still survive in the names of our counties. The principal rivers 
also offered them a free passage into the heart of the 
country, and the kingdom of Mercia gradually expanded 
from the banks of the Trent until it reached as far as 
 
xxx237 ON THE DATE OF THE CONQUEST OF SOUTH 
LANCASHIRE BY THE ENGLISH. 
 
the line of the Severn. The river Humber afforded a 
base of operations for the Anglian freebooters who 
founded the kingdom of Deira, or modern Yorkshire; 
while the Rock of Bamborough was the centre from 
which Ida, who landed with fifty ships in the year 547, 
conquered Bernicia, or the region extending from the 
river Tees to Edinburgh. The tide of English colonisation 
rolled steadily westward until, at the close of the 
sixth century, the Pennine chain, or the stretch of hills, 
heath, and forest, extending southwards from Cumberland 
and Westnioreland, through Yorkshire and Derbyshire, 
as far as the line of the Trent, formed a barrier 
between the English and Brit-Welsh peoples. The 
Brit-Welsh still held their ground as far to the east as 
the district round Leeds, which constituted the kingdom of Elmet, 
while the kingdom of Strathclyde extended from Chester as far 
north as the valley of the Clyde (1). 
 
(1) See Freeman, Norman Conquest, vol. i, p. 35,  
map of Britain in 597. In this map Elmet is placed in Deira, 
although it did not pass away from the Brit-Welsh till 616, 
according to Nennius and 
the Annales Cambriae. 
 
The point which immediately concerns us is 
the time when that portion of the latter kingdom which 
comprises southern Lancashire fell under the sway of 
the English. 
 
The two kingdoms of Deira and Bernicia had united 
to form the powerful state of Northumbria at the 
beginning of the seventh century, under the greatest of her 
warriors, Aethelfrith. In the year 607 Aethelfrith 
advanced along the line of the Trent through Staffordshire, 
avoiding by that route the difficult country of 
Derbyshire and east Lancashire, and struck at Chester, 
which was the principal seat of the Brit-Welsh power 
in this district (2). 
 
(2) Baeda, Eccl. Hist., lib. ii, c. 2; 
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, A.D. 605-607. 
 
There he fought the famous battle by 
which the power of Strathclyde was broken, and that 
is celebrated in song for the death of the monks of 
Bangor who fought against him with their prayers. 
By this decisive blow the English first set foot on the 
 
xxx238 ON THE DATE OF THE CONQUEST OF SOUTH 
LANCASHIRE BY THE ENGLISH. 
 
coast of the Irish Channel, and Strathclyde and Elmet 
on the one hand were cut asunder from Wales on the 
other. Chester was so thoroughly destroyed that it 
remained desolate for two centuries, until it was restored 
by Aethelred and Aethelflaed (the Lady of the Mercians), 
and the plains of Lancashire lay open to the invader. 
In all probability south Lancashire was occupied by the 
English at this tune, and the nature of the occupation 
may be gathered from the treatment of the city of 
Chester. A fire (to use the nretaphor of Gildas) went 
through the land, and the Brit-Welsh inhabitants were 
either put to the sword or compelled to become the 
bondsmen of the conquerors. It is impossible to believe 
that the Brit-Welsh of Strathclyde, after such a defeat 
as that at Chester, could have maintained any position 
in the plains of Lancashire. The hilly districts, however, 
of the middle and northern portions of the county 
would offer positions from which a defence might be 
successfully maintained. We may, therefore, infer that 
the boundary of the English dominion in Lancashire, 
after the fall of Chester, was marked by the line of hills 
extending from Bury and sweeping round to join those 
in the neighbourhood of Oldham and the axis of the 
Pennine chain. 
 
This western advance of the Northumbrians 
was completed by the conquest of Elmet, in 616 (1), 
 
(1) Nennius, c. 66, circa 616, 633 A.D.; 
Annales Cambriae:, A.D. 616. 
 
by Eadwine, the successor of Aethelfrith; and in all probability then, 
or about that time, not merely the valley of the Aire, 
but also Ribblesdale and the hills of Derbyshire, and 
the district extending between Elmet and Chester, 
became subject to Northumbria. 
 
The remaining fragment of Strathclyde in the north, 
still unconquered, embracing Cumberland and Westmoreland, 
was finally subdued by Ecfrith about the 
years 670-685 (2), 
 
(2) Baeda, Vita St. Cuthbert, c. 37. 
For this notice I have to thank the Rev. J. K. Green. 
 
 
and with its fall the whole of this county 
was absorbed into the Northumbiian kingdom. A 
 
xxx239 ON THE DATE OF THE CONQUEST OF SOUTH 
LANCASHIRE BY THE ENGLISH. 
 
passage in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, under the year 
923, proves that the south of Lancashire was called 
Northumbria: "In this year, after harvest, King 
Eadward went with his forces to Thelwal, and commanded 
the 'burh' to be built and occupied and manned; and 
commanded another force, also of Mercians, the while 
he sate there, to take possession of Manchester (Mameceaster) 
in North-Humbria, and repair and man it." 
 
This passage is of particular interest, because it presents 
us with the first notice of Manchester that is to be 
found in any English record. At that time it was 
clearly not so important as the town of Thelwal, near 
Warrington. 
 
From these notices it may fairly be concluded that 
south Lancashire was occupied by the Northumbrians 
immediately after the battle of Chester, and that 
the Northumbrian dominion embraced mid-Lancashire 
shortly after the fall of Elmet; and finally, that the 
Welsh occupying the more northern poitions were subdued 
about the years 670-685 A.D. And it must be 
remarked that the cause of the Celtic population of 
Strathclyde remaining to this day in the portions latest 
conquered, in Cumberland and the south-west of Scotland, 
while it has disappeared from south Lancashire, 
is due to the change in the religion of the conquerors 
in the interval between the two conquests. When the 
battle of Chester laid south Lancashire at the feet of 
Aethelfrith, the English were worshippers of Thor and 
Odin. When Carlisle was taken by Ecfrith, they were 
Christians warring against men of their own faith. In 
the one case the war was one of extermination, in the 
other merely of conquest. 
 
W. BOYD DAWKINS. 

 

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