EBK Activity Sheets


King Alfred's Walled Towns
  • Gateway to the Burgh at Tamworth (after Sheila Sancha)In the 9th Century, the Vikings tried to take over England. They invaded Wessex and Mercia. There was a bloody war but, eventually, the Saxon King Alfred won. The Vikings went home.
  • Alfred wanted his people to be safe from Viking attacks. So he set up 'Burghs' all over Wessex.
  • The word 'Burgh' is the same as 'Bury' or 'Borough'. It means a defended place. It still exists in placenames like Edinburgh.
  • Alfred's Burghs were forts with strong defences. People from the countryside could run to safety inside them when the Vikings attacked.
    • Some were built inside old hillforts, like Chisbury (in Wiltshire).
    • Some were built in old Romano-British towns, like Winchester (in Hampshire).
    • Some were built around villages, like Wareham (in Dorset). They were often at river-crossings.
    • Some were built on islands, like Sashes Island at Cookham (in Berkshire).
  • The King's men built big banks and dug deep ditches all around the burghs. They put strong wooden walls on top of the banks.
  • The Burghs had a permanent garrison (a group of soldiers who defended a single place).
  • Some burghs had grids of streets laid out and they became busy towns. There would have been lots of industry (making things) going on, like dyeing cloth and grinding corn (to make bread).
  • Some burghs were quite empty inside. This meant there was plenty of room for people when they had to run and hide there.
  • The King used them as centres of local government. Royal officials lived there. They would collect taxes there and mint coins (make money). Often, the burghs were used as big market-places. There was often a church at one of the gateways.
  • Alfred's son, King Edward the Elder, built lots more burghs in Wessex. His sister, Princess Aethelflaed, built them in Mercia too. The picture is of the gateway at Tamworth (in Staffordshire).
  • The Vikings didn't attack much any more though. Most of the burghs weren't used in the way that had been planned. Lots of people moved in and they soon became big towns. 
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