A mint, a Burh and the founding of Saxon ‘Axanbrycg’ to resist the Danes

This is an extract from the programme for the Axbridge Pageant due we hope in 2021 written by Harry Mottram and directed by John Bailey. It was originally due to be performed this month but has been put back 12 months due to Covid-19 with even a question mark over that date due to the ongoing problems of social distancing.

And so to the creation of the town in the early 9th century by Anglo Saxons as a fortified settlement or Burh to resist the Danes who got as close as Tarnock a few miles away.

Axanbrycg’s name (as it was known) is thought to have been coined as a bridge over a river – possibly the one that flows under the Square rather than the River Axe in the marshes below the town. Where the first town was located is open to conjecture but just off the Square is the generally accepted view. Axanbrycg was important with its own mint making silver coins and as a base for King Alfred’s campaigns against the Danish army.

To this we have our next scene in which the Saxon army battles it out in a home win against the invaders. Just think, if the Danes had won then we’d have become Scandinavians and Danish would have been the language of Australia and Canada – and we’d have exported Ikea stores to the world!
Back to Saxon Axbridge. Cue the Danish army and the battle (as recorded in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle) of The Raven. Nobody is quite sure where the brutal struggle took place, so in this version we consider that Axbridge is the most likely site for the Dark Age dust up.

Let the Chronicler take up the story: “M’æst winterstund onufan lang twelfta, wægn fyrdtruma tô−foran sê lendan.”
Or in our modern tongue: “In the year CE 878 about mid-winter after Twelfth Night, the Danish Army rode out over the land of the West Saxons and drove many people into the sea and of the rest most part they rode down and subdued their will.
“But King Alfred with a little band uneasily sort the woods and fastnesses of the moor with the war flag they called The Raven.
“In the seventh week after Easter, the King and his little force fought all the Danish army and put them to flight riding after them up to their fortress.
“There the Danes gave him hostages with many oaths, that they would go out of his kingdom. They told him also, that their king would receive baptism.”

In 927AD England finally emerged as a nation under King Æthelstan and despite variuous bust ups between the rulers was an Anglo Saxon domain until 1066 when a new lot of invaders arrived.

The Saxon sequence was directed by Diane Lukins who wishes it to be known that no Danes were harmed in the making of this scene. All other scenes are directed by John Bailey, the artistic director.

The pageant with a cast of 300 is now scheduled to take place from Saturday to Monday August 28-30th, 2021 – having been put back a year due to Covid-19. Please note due to the ongoing pandemic the date may have to be altered again.

For more details of the pageant visit http://axbridgepageant.com/index.html and

Follow the Pageant on Twitter and Facebook

For more from the journalist Harry Mottram visit www.harrymottram.co.uk