Alfred the Great – Rebuilding Bath

Alfred the Great was born in 871 AD,and as his name suggests, was a great King of Wessex. He eventually succeeded in fighting and beating a fierce and formidable Viking army after many battles. He was nearly killed in a surprise attack in Chippenham in 878, escaping with a small band of his soldiers. He retreated to the Somerset levels, to Athelney, a small island rising from the surrounding marshes. It was here that he is reputed to have burnt the cakes he was asked to look after because he was too busy plotting his counter attack on the Vikings. Cakes or not, he raised an army south of Bath at Selwood near Frome and won a decisive battle at Ethandun (Erdington) in May 878 AD.

To defend against future attacks he built a ring of forts or “burhs” (from which we get the present day “borough”) around his kingdom of Wessex. These included Bath, where he rebuilt what was left of the old Roman defences, probably repairing parts of the old wall using pieces of the dilapidated Roman architecture and using earth and wood to improve the defensive line. He also layed out a typical Saxon street plan with a wide central street (following part of current day Westgate Street) between gates to the east and west. Roads radiated north and south form here and some of these can still be seen in Bath’s map today. The High Street, north of where the Norman built, Bath Abbey is today, was probably the Saxon site for the market. Bath was well situated as a trading place, as it lay on the old Roman Foss way at a significant crossing point over the River Avon. It was probably quite success and Alfred’s son, Edward the Elder, started minting money in the town to support the market and goods were moved by river as well as road. And so began a new period of prosperity in the history of Bath…



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