Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Welsh beat woman. Mayhem in Newport. 918 AD
Athelflaed once came to Newport, but it wasn’t a happy experience. She was the daughter of Alfred the Great and married to the King of Mercia who was facing some problems. Lucky he had Athelflaed as his wife!
The Vikings were attacking his kingdom from the North, and the Welsh, taking advantage of this, decided to attack his southern possessions. The Welsh leader, Owain of Brecon, was soundly trounced by the Saxons, who unfortunately didn’t know when to leave well enough alone, and marched deep into South Wales.
On their way home they were ambushed in the marshlands of what is now Clarence Place. The Welsh attacked as the Saxons were crossing the ford where Newport Bridge now stands. The battle was savage but ultimately the Welsh prince, Morgan (he of Glamorgan) won, and the remaining Saxons were taken prisoner. To their surprise the Welsh discovered the Saxons had been led by a woman, Athelflaed. Chivalrous or embarrassed, the Welsh released her along with the surviving Saxons, some of whom were allowed to settle on the western bank of the Usk ford.
Athelflaed was less lucky. She died in Tamworth that same year, showing that some places are even less lucky than Newport.
Newport Bridge heading into Clarence Place
Those Saxons who stayed built a mill at the present junction of Mill St. and Shaftsbury St - which operated for the next thousand years. A little higher up, where Mill St. meets Queen’s Hill, the Saxons built their geldenhall. The area between there and today’s Civic Centre is still known as Goldtops from the time when gild or geld was names given to settlements that paid tax to a manorial lord.
The area connecting Goldtops to Mill St. is presently known as Pentonville. A thousand years ago or more it might well have been known as Pyndanvil, coming from the Saxon word Pyndan for a dam on a mill stream, and vil, meaning a small collection of houses.
Well, it took an army led by a woman and a sneaky Welsh ambush, but Newport had at last the germ of a settlement in its swamp…and it was…err…Saxon, not Welsh.
Mill Street is just to the left of the river above Queensway
A less sexy Athelflaed