Name: Graham Aldred
Institution: School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester
Project Details: PhD 2013-2019 Examination of the role and origins of Anglo-Saxon settlements which incorporate the element worth
Supervisors Prof. Neil Christie and Prof. Mark Gillings.
It is commonly recognised that in the Anglo-Saxon world, the naming of geographical features and settlement names was far from an arbitrary association of attractively linked elements. Settlement names in particular were specifically descriptive, communicating more than simply the name of a point in a landscape. My research considers those settlements incorporating the name-element worth in the context of the Kingdom of Mercia. From its origins in the 6th century to its decline and division under the Danelaw during the 9th century, the extent of Mercian territory and influence took in an area of England south of the river Humber and north of a line from Bristol to Southampton. I concentrate on the Mercian heartlands and generally, though not entirely, exclude areas covered by those counties south of the Thames valley and north of the rivers Humber and Mersey. Worths in this core area of Mercia exhibit common patterns of location: they tend to cluster, usually in groups of three or four (lone examples are rare), close to junctions of major routes, usually of Roman origin. The positions seem to be strategic, overlooking areas traversed by these roads or in a controlling position. My thesis exploits the onomastic (place-name) evidence but accords equal weight to landscape analysis, the meaning and significance of place, settlement morphology, the historical record and archaeological evidence of both the settlements and their surroundings, treating each as an artefact in their own right. I contend that while these locations may indicate specific hierarchical social functions within a planned and managed landscape, it is more likely that these features are a combination of coincidence and convenience borne of later Anglo-Saxon landscape re-organisation. Isolated worths, on the other hand, may be more indicative of either economic or strategic significance and will require further research.
The key questions to be answered are:
When and why were these worth places established? Is their location on or near boundaries and the junctions of major routes significant? Why do they seem to occur in groups? Is there anything in common with their position in and relationship with the historic landscape? Was this apparent organisation part of a deliberate process or simply random association? If deliberate, at whose instigation and for what reason? Finally, how might we use this evidence of worths to develop our understanding of people and their relationship to landscape in Mercia and more broadly in Anglo-Saxon England?