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THE WALLS OF WALLINGFORD.
By I. CHALKLEY GOULD, Esq., F.S.A.
(Read at the Reading Congress, 1905.)
WAS glad to note that in his inaugural address Mr. Keyser referred to the vallum protecting Old Wallingford on the north, south and west, as one of the prehistoric remains of Berkshire.
I have little doubt that it is to the
pre-Roman period we must assign this earthwork wall, of which the remains present so imposing an appearance ; but it must not be forgotten that some students of ancient defences regard the town wall as coeval with the Castle works, which occupy the northeast corner of the town enclosure, and were constructed within the historic period. Assuming the correctness of my view, it is evident that we have in Wallingford the remains of two separate and distinct schemes of defence : one the town wall for the protection of all inhabiting the good town, the other the Castle works, constructed probably for the advantage of Norman lords, the men who reduced the conquered Saxons to a condition little better than servile.
The earthen town wall demands our first attention, not only on account of priority of age, but also because its remains have excited much conjecture and speculation.
The wall has been variously claimed as Celtic, Roman, and post-Roman. First, let us see what was here, so far as we can tell by that which is left. Looking back to a far distant period, we see a settlement occupying a large area (about 114 acres) surrounded on three sides by a high rampart of earth and a deep moat, the former no doubt surmounted by a sturdy timber wall or stockade with a raised walk behind it, whereon the defenders could operate. On the eastern side the great river, with its morass, afforded ample protection. The wall of earth and timber was pierced on the western side by a strongly defended passage-way, while on the east was the wellguarded ford over the river.
As much of the town wall is now in the hands of the Corporation, this opportunity may be taken to urge them to preserve from the least mutilation every portion which is in their care; and at the same time an appeal may be made to those private owners who possess other sections to treat with reverence this relic of Britain's past story.
When was this town wall constructed ?
Some cling to the theory of Roman origin. They may be correct : 'I will certainly not dogmatise on my own views, but I can see no evidence that the Imperial invaders of Britain built the wall, and cannot but agree with the late Mr. Hedges, whose large and valuable book shows that he regarded Wallingford as a British fortified town, though “there exists evidence sufficient to show almost to a certainty that in the time of the Romans the town was a place of note, strongly entrenched, and probably a military station.” That they occupied the place is certain, for the military exigencies of their advance would necessitate the occupation of so important a ford over the river; but that it was a Roman town, in the sense that Chester, Verulam, Colchester, and some others were, is very doubtful.
Had Wallingford's wall been of Roman origin, we should find traces of its continuation on the fourth or river side of the enclosure.
It was for long thought that the Romans were content with a water guard where such existed on one side of their stations, and we were told of Richborough's three sides and of those of Burgh Castle by Yarmouth ; but examinations have proved that, though long lost to sight, the walls of these places once extended on the water side.
At Wallingford such was not the case. I speak with the diffidence of one whose examinations have been somewhat cursory, but venture to say that, at least so far as the northern portion of the river side is concerned, there never was a wall. My impression is that the ford over the river was the cause of a Celtic, pre-Roman settlement on this, the higher bank; and that, growing in trade and population, the settlement was early defended by a rampart of earth with its moat outside, this moat being filled with water by the stream which flows in from the west. Now its waters run only to the south and east, but there is proof that the current in earlier days was divided to flow north as well as south.1
1 History of Wallingford. By John Kirby Hedges. 1881.
It may be that in the days when Briton fought Briton there were but two ways into the town, the west gate, and the ford way on the east; but when Roman rule brought order and encouraged trade, gateways were opened on the north and south sides, and the place rendered more accessible for traffic and market.
Some writers claim that the wall was constructed by Romanised Britons after the departure of the Imperial legions. Clark adopts this view, but such origin can neither be proved nor disproved by any yet-recorded evidence.
The main point relied upon in support of this theory is the rectangular form of the enclosure, but rectangular strongholds existed even in the far-away age of bronze, and they were constructed in the subsequent early-iron period ; indeed, there was never a time when people did not make square-shaped, or any other shaped, defences which best suited the position. Nature guided the forms of hundreds of early camps by the contour of the hills and so forth, but here on the levels of the river Nature left man to form the castrametation.
1 The clever way in which the waters flowing from the west were made to aid the defence of the town is worth noting. Originally the course was straight through the site to the Thames, but at the west side the course was artificially stopped, the waters forced to flow around the ramparts, and the former bed of the stream filled, and subsequently built over.
2 Mediæval Military Architecture in England. By Geo. T. Clark. 1884.
Leaving the prehistoric walls of the town, we pass to those of the later defensive work—the mighty stronghold which occupied over 30 acres in the north-eastern angle of Wallingford There may still be seen its triple rampart and moats, defences against the open country on the north, and its strong protection against the inhabitants of the town itself: all suggestive of the great change brought to England by the Norman conquerors, whereby it became a question, not of defending an already existing town, as such, but of establishing a feudal lord in safe quarters, whence he could take his share of the work of controlling the Saxon inhabitants of England. As the Rev. J. E. Field tells the history of this Castle, it is unnecessary for me to touch on the important part it played in Norman and later days, and we may pass to the material evidences which remain.
Though many sections of the earth works have been mutilated to accommodate the site to modern residential purposes, enough exist to show the general scheme. We see that the leading feature was a high, artificial mount, such as we are familiar with throughout England and Normandy, reared not to carry stone structures, but to be surmounted and encircled by wooden defences ; strong palisades, or stockades, of timber perhaps wattled and plastered, for newly thrown-up earth cannot carry the weight of masonry.
Surrounding the mount was its deep fosse, or moat ;3 and beyond, on the north, was the principal court, or bailey, with its triple defences and complicated series of banks and ditches : except on the eastern side, where a high rampart, partly natural, overhung the waters of the
1 It is deeply to be regretted that the modern “Castle Lane" was made, cutting deeply through the heart of the works, and destroying their continuity. Why it was made it is easy to see, but not the less to be lamented.
2 Mr. Hedges, excavating the mount, found it to rest on a solid foundation of stone, sloping upwards towards the outside, and forming a saucer-shaped base for the earth.
3 It is possible that the fosse, or moat, did not extend round the north base of the mount, though probably it did, but has been filled in for pasturage.