Posted by: kljolly | June 1, 2012

Oakley and Shaftesbury

My mapping of the Woodyates and Oakley region has become more intense through examining the documentary sources, primarily charters and Domesday Book.  In particular, I am looking first at Shaftesbury’s landholdings in the area and then will take a look at Glastonbury’s.  Both religious houses dominated the north Dorset landscape in the mid-tenth century in ways that reshape the regional boundaries in ‘Albretesberge’ hundred, where Oakley and Woodyates lie (see Ryan Lavelle, “The ‘Farm of One Night,'” Haskins Society Journal 14 (2005): 53-82).

The charters from Shaftesbury Abbey, a female religious house, are both a goldmine and a source of confusion (see Anglo-Saxon Charters V:  Shaftesbury Abbey, ed. S. E. Kelly).  Shaftesbury is to the east of my area of concern, but holds lands west of Cranborne Chase at Sixpenny Handley, Farnham, Gussage St. Andrew, and Tarrant Hinton, all to the south of Woodyates and Pentridge (held by Glastonbury).  However, the charters are questionable when it comes to dating the acquisition of lands, often backdating or overlapping in confusing ways.  What is clear is that by 1066 in Domesday Book, Shaftesbury is a major landowner in Dorset, estates generally within 15 miles of its location. This includes most of Sixpenny Hundred, as well as other estates in fertile valley lands (Nadder, Vale of Blackmoor), as well as chalk lands and some on the Isle of Purbeck.  Handley (Sixpenny Handley) and Gussage (St. Andrew) are both outliers, according to Kelly (p. xxiii).

The charter detailing Handley’s boundaries allows me to refine my previous map of the land described by Domesday Book.  Although not an authentic diploma, S630 is probably based on a genuine charter of 956 (Kelly, #21 and p. 88).  Kelly, pp. 91-92, helpfully give ordnance survey numbers for the boundary markers, which I have then mapped onto GoogleEarth:

In defining the territorial line with Woodyates and Pentridge, this Handley map suggests a possible location for Bishop Ælfsige’s tent.  The charters often use barrows, as well as trees and other landscape features, as boundary markers, revealing which earthworks and woods were visible in the tenth century as landmarks.  This charter uses a lot of barrows, unsurprising given the large number of them still visible today.  The description begins with Handley’s northern bounds:  Arest on litlen ac lee estward, of aclee on pegan beorh.

First, a “little oak wood” (litlen ac lee) echoes Aldred’s description of the tent’s location aet áclee.  I have taken this to refer to Oakley Down and/or Ackling Dyke, both indicating oak trees in an abundance no longer visible today.  That a small wood of oak trees marked a boundary between Handley and Woodyates suggests that the tent was set up somewhere on this line between the landholdings of two major religious institutions, Shaftesbury and Glastonbury.

Second, the northern boundary of Handley moves southeast from aclee to a barrow labeled “Pegan’s,” probably a proper name.  Kelly associates this with Wor Barrow, which seems likely since it lines up with the next set of markers along what is later the parish boundary.  Wor Barrow, west across Ackling Dyke from the Oakley Down barrows, might be an interesting place to pitch a tent.

One other insight on Woodyates emerges from ninth-century Shaftesbury charters 5 and 6 (S334 and S342) in reference to the land at Cheselbourne (as the crow flies, about 21 miles southwest of Woodyates):  both overlapping charters name Woodyates as the site where King Æthelred issued the grant to Ealdorman Ælfstan, dated 869 or 870.  A hundred years later, Aldred and Bishop Ælfsige are at, or just south of, Woodyates.  Its name and location hint that it may have been  a common meeting spot, a gateway on Ackling Dyke just south of Bokerley junction, near the ancient boundaries of Bokerley Dyke and Grim’s Ditch.

The Shaftesbury charters have interesting information on other sites in the area, but right now I am going to pick up the Glastonbury book that just arrived via InterLibrary Loan (my lifeline).


  1. […] Karen Jolly of Revealing Words has been plotting her landscape around Oakley: routing to Old Sarem, Oakley’s landscape, and extending to around Shaftesbury. […]

  2. […] years earlier:  King Æthelred’s  grant to Ealdorman Ælfstan (S334 and S342), a charter in Shaftesbury’s hands.  We also know that Bishop Ælfsige signed one charter in 970 (S781), but not any of the other […]

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