Great Bedwyn is a village in the east of Wiltshire, on the River Dun about 4½ miles south-west of Hungerford and six miles south-east of Marlborough. The smaller village of Little Bedwyn is found to the north.
The Kennet and Avon Canal follows the valley of the Dun and passes through the village, as does the Reading to Taunton railway line, on which at Great Bedwyn is Bedwyn railway station. Bedwyn is the terminus of the rail commuter service by way of Reading and London Paddington. It is a railhead for Marlborough which is served by buses that connect with the trains.
'Bedanheafeford', the Battle of Bedwyn
The battle of 'Bedanheafeford' between King Aescwine of the West Saxons and King Wulfhere of the Mercians in 675 is said to have been fought near Great Bedwyn. The battle is recorded in the AD 675 entry of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and local historians reckon the battlefield to be associated with Crofton, due to placename interpretation, and the discovery in 1892 of graves of the fallen.
A H Burne interpreted Biedanheafde as an early version of Bedwyn, a name meaning "Bieda's Head" (dative), perhaps in reference to a stream running through the Bedwyns. However placename interpretation is tenuous evidence for the battlefield location; the site of the battle has also been claimed for Beedon in Berkshire, and elsewhere.
The discovery of a number of skeletons at Crofton in 1892 by J.W. Brooke was later used to substantiate a local battlefield location. An account of the battle of Bedwyn was published by local historian Maurice Adams in 1903. However, only excavation of these graves will confirm if they contain battlefield victims or not.
Brooke recorded that: "I cannot assign any period to them, but the field over them is paved with flint weapons. On one visit I observed children building miniature castles with human femur and tibiae." In a letter to Maurice Adams, B.H. Cunningham described the graves, five to seven in number, "radiating from a common centre like the spokes of a wheel". Unfortunately he had made no notes of his finds and was writing from memory. Mrs M E Cunnington's study of Saxon grave sites in Wiltshire noted that there was no evidence to support the belief that the Crofton site contained Saxon graves. Nearby finds consisted only of a La Tène earthenware pot. As the graves are within the site of a causewayed camp this is not surprising. Maurice Adams would not have known about the Crofton camp as it was undiscovered until an aerial survey in 1976.
Given the lack of evidence, Maurice Adam's confidence in a Bedwyn battlefield site cannot be shared. Crofton is not the only alleged battlefield in Bedwyn; for a while a battle between Alfred and the Danes in 871 was assumed to have taken place near Marten. It is now recognised that the location for that particular battle was at Marten Down in Dorset. Until more substantial evidence about the Crofton graves can be gathered, there is no reason to suggest that the kings clashed at Bedwyn.
The last will and testament of King Alfred the Great contains reference to Bedwyn. Describing his elder son Edward's inheritance he writes "And I grant him the land at Cannington and at Bedwyn and at Pewsey..."
The King's estate at Bedwyn was large, encompassing the modern parishes of Great and Little Bedwyn, Grafton, and Burbage. King Alfred's descendants held the estate until it was granted to Abingdon Abbey by King Edgar in 968, but it was recovered by King Athelred a few years later, and was recorded as a crown estate in the Domesday survey of 1086.
Most of the estate passed into the private hands by the end of the mediæval period, but on the execution of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, in 1552 much of Bedwyn returned for a time to the Crown, before being restired to the Seymours, though the disastrous finances of later generations resulted in a sale in 1929, and much of the former Bedwyn estate was purchased by the Crown Estate, which remains one of the wealthiest landowners in modern Bedwyn.
Church of St Mary
The Church of England parish church is Saint Mary the Virgin. The church was started in 1092 but was not completed for another 200 years. Beneath the church are the massive remains of a Saxon church begun in 905.
In the chancel is a memorial to Sir John Seymour (1474–1536), father of King Henry VIII's wife Jane Seymour. The church is designated as a Grade-I listed building.
In the Domesday Book of 1089 it is recorded that that the office of priest here was passed from father to son, as it states Brictward the priest holds the church of Bedwyn. His father held it in the time of King Edward'. It was not until later generations that celebacy was imposed on all the clergy.
Wolfhall manor was first recorded in the Domesday Book, and has often been associated with the mediæval wardens of Savernake Forest. Few wardens actually lived in Wolfhall though, as the estate was often divided among local members of the gentry, or leased to tenants. In the Tudor period, it was occupied by Sir John Seymour, whose numerous children included Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII, and Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset.
Edward Seymour was probably the second and last Seymour warden to occupy Wolfhall manor. The ambitious Duke desired grander accommodation than Wolfhall could provide, and he intended to replace the house with a new mansion on Bedwyn Brail. The design and construction of the mansion was supervised by his steward, Sir John Thynne, founder of Longleat House. A correspondence survives, dated between November 1548 and June 1549, which shows Thynne directing the plans. Unfortunately, the mansion was unfinished when Seymour fell from power, and was abandoned after his execution in January 1552. His son Edward was unable to maintain Wolfhall manor house, which rapidly deteriorated, and was eventually abandoned in favour of Tottenham Lodge, now Tottenham House.
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- Pearson, Michael (2003). Kennet & Avon Middle Thames:Pearson's Canal Companion. Rugby: Central Waterways Supplies. ISBN 0-907864-97-X.
- Alfred Burne (1950). The battlefields of England. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-06-470833-0.
- Adams, Maurice (1903). Savenake, Wolfhall, Tottenham & the Battle of Great Bedwyn. London: not known.
- Cunnington, M.E. (1934). "Wiltshire in Pagan Saxon Times". Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine (Devizes) 46.
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