Anglo-Saxon burh at East Lyng
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1019100
Date first listed: 17-Nov-1972
Date of most recent amendment: 12-Oct-2000
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Sedgemoor (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: ST 33232 28989, ST 33312 29034, ST 33430 28865
Reasons for Designation
Anglo-Saxon centres, usually known as burhs, are defended urban areas that are
characterised by a planned, ordered layout, sometimes including a regular grid
of streets. They date mainly from the late ninth century AD, as King Alfred's
response to the threat of Danish invasion. There are some earlier, eighth
century examples in the kingdom of Mercia. They include large towns covering
around 58ha, and smaller forts ranging in size from 1ha-9.5ha. Their defences
are usually either restored Roman town walls or newly built earthen ramparts.
Documentary evidence suggests that mints and markets were established in most
of the larger centres.
Many of the larger fortified centres now lie beneath modern cities or towns,
but strong traces of their layout usually survive in the modern street plan.
Most original buildings, including churches, dwellings and outbuildings, were
simple timber structures, traces of which may survive in the form of fragile
below ground features such as post holes, sill-beam slots and pits. Other
contemporary features include water supply and drainage systems, burgage plot
boundaries, middens and street furniture. A few of the smaller burghal forts
were short-lived and have remained largely undisturbed by subsequent
development since their abandonment.
Fortified centres are a rare monument type with around 90 identified examples
across southern, eastern and central England. The greatest concentration lies
within the late Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia, and they cluster in
areas with favoured royal residences such as Somerset and Wiltshire. They are
a comparatively well documented monument class, with 35 fortified centres of
Wessex listed in the Burghal Hidage, a document which dates to the early
tenth century AD. They are one of the earliest groups of planned medieval
towns in western Europe. All examples with significant remains are considered
to be of national importance.
The Anglo-Saxon burh at East Lyng includes the only open and largely undeveloped areas of the burh including its artificial western defences, the inner part of the monument having been subject to later development. The burh is historically well documented with direct references confirming its association with the nearby fort and monastery founded by King Alfred at Athelney to which Lyng was connected by a causeway. Lyng's entry in the Burghal Hideage further confirms its importance at an early date and its place, along with Athelney, in the early history of England. The monument will contain archaeological information relating to the measures which were taken to protect the country against the Danes during the time of King Alfred (AD849-99).
The monument, which falls into three separate areas of protection, includes
the undeveloped parts of the Anglo-Saxon burh of Lyng, a fortified settlement
situated on the Somerset Levels. The burh was aligned from east to west and
was located on higher ground than its surroundings on a site now occupied by
the present village of East Lyng and bisected by the main A361 road. The
higher ground occupies the eastern end of a narrow peninsula that forms a
natural elevated island. The burh would have been protected on the north,
south and east sides by the surrounding, now reclaimed, marshland. The west
side of the burh is fortified by a low bank and ditch up to 25m wide aligned
from south east to north west across the neck of the peninsula at the western
end of the present village. A section of about 60m of this defensive earthwork
is visible to the south west of St Bartholomew's Church.
The burh lies just west of the Anglo-Saxon occupation site of Athelney, which
the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records as having been built by King Alfred in 878.
The sites were connnected by a causeway which appears to have been overlain by
the medieval Balt Moor Wall. Both the Athelney settlement and part of the Balt
Moor Wall are the subject of separate schedulings.
The extent of the burh is defined by a scarp at the interface of the naturally
raised ground and the lower floodplain. The scarp is an average of 15m wide
and 2.5m high and is visible intermittently around the perimeter of the
The vestiges of a street plan, probably of medieval date but considered to
retain something of the earlier Anglo-Saxon pattern is represented by several
hollow ways laid out at right angles to the main east-west alignment of the
burh. On the south side of the settlement a hollow way approximately 6m wide
is flanked on its south east side by a raised platform up to 10m high above a
4m wide ditch which is located on the south side of the platform at the edge
of the higher ground.
Documentary evidence for the Anglo-Saxon burh comes from a wide range of
contemporary historical documents including the 9th century Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle, which records that the burh was built at King Alfred's command, and
the early 10th century Burghal Hideage list (a 10th century survey of defended
places), in which Lyng is mentioned as a fortification holding 100 hides.
All fencing, fence posts, gates, gate posts, cattle troughs, walls, telegraph
poles, sheds and all post-medieval structures are excluded from the scheduling
although the ground beneath these features is included.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 33711
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Aston, M, Leech, R, Historic Towns in Somerset, (1977), 87-91
Hill, D, 'Proceedings of Somerset Archaeology & Natural History Society' in The Burghal Hideage - Lyng, , Vol. 111, (1967), 64 - 66
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing