Bridport has often been thought to be the location of Brydian, a fortified location mentioned in a document called the Burghal Hidage. However, it is by no means certain that this is the case.
The Burghal Hidage is a document drawn up after King Alfred’s post-878AD development of a network of defended burghs (fortified locations). However, it seems that the version that has come down to us dates to his son, King Edward the Elder, because it includes sites such as Buckingham, which were not fortified by the Saxons of Wessex until his reign. Nonetheless, there may have been earlier versions dating to King Alfred’s reign that have been lost to us. Given Bridport’s location on a Roman road extending between the Saxon locations of Dorchester to Exeter, it seems likely to me that it would have been part of King Alfred’s defensive burgh programme.
However, there are good reasons to question whether Brydian was at Bridport and not somewhere else. Chief among these options is the charming village of Little Bredy, just seven miles west of Dorchester. It is here that the River Bride rises from the earth. The source is dammed to create a beautiful artificial lake.
The important point is this. The Domesday Book (1086) shows that Cerne Abbey owned places called “Littelbred” and Langabride”. But when we go back to the founding charter of Cerne Abbey (987AD) we find that these places are called in Latin “Bridian” and “Ulteriore Bridian.” The meaning of “ulterior” is “further away” or “distant.” As I don’t know the answer to the question “further away from what?”, I have adopted the respected expert on place names A.D. Mills’ opinion that Bridian refers to Little Bredy and that Ulteriore Bridian refers to Long Bredy. The charter (S1217) is referred to here and can be read (in Latin) here. Note that although some elements of the charter may be spurious, much of the information may be correct (e.g. the owning of the Bredys is confirmed by Domesday). That neither of these Brydians were Bridport is shown by Bridport having a separate entry in Domesday. Furthermore, at this time Bridport was owned by the king, and not by Cerne Abbey.
It has been suggested that if Brydian had been at Little Bredy, then the fortified site might have been on Warren Hill, where there might have been an earlier Iron Age hill fort.
It is worth mentioning here the confusion to be caused by two rivers with very similar names. The River Bride flows from Little Bredy to the coast near Burton Bradstock. The River Brit flows from the north, passes through Bridport and enters the sea at West Bay. It seems that the River Brit was named after Bridport and was originally called the Woth.
Another location that I have seen being referred to in relation to this puzzle is the area around Bredy Farm and Bredy North Hill, just to the east of Burton Bradstock (referred to in Domesday as Brideton). However, I think these are just named after the River Bride that flows by here and I can’t see a reason to place this location above Little Bredy in the hierarchy of places that could have been Brydian (with Bridport at the top, as we shall see). Bredy Farm and Bredy North Hill are on OS maps. Bredy Farm is a great place to get some cider and there is a restaurant that I understand is very good.
So, is it still possible that Brydian could have been at Bridport? I think that the answer is “Yes”. Here are my reasons. Little Bredy is far too close to Dorchester for there to have been a separate fortified settlement there. Bridport is further away (about 15 miles as opposed to 7) and on a significant Roman road. We also know that there was a mint at Bridport in later Anglo-Saxon times and these have inscriptions such as “Bryd”. It seems highly unlikely to me that there would have been a mint at the small location of Little Bredy (or, even less likely, up on Warren Hill). So, if Bridport was Bridian, why was Little Bredy also Bridian (or Brydian). I believe it is possible that people who lived in the valley of the River Bride (therefore including Little Bredy) moved (or spread) to what we now call Bridport and took their name with them, and that this occurred before the time of King Alfred.
So, taking Brydian to be Bridport, what was this place like at the time of King Alfred. Unfortunately, no Anglo-Saxon defences have been found, but there are a couple of clues. One is the entry in Domesday where we are told that there was a church at Bridport. This would have therefore been Anglo-Saxon (a church at Burton Bradstock – Brideton- is also mentioned). In the absence of any conflicting evidence it seems likely that this church would have been where St Mary’s church now stands.
It is interesting to note how the land around the church lies between two rivers, something which crops up in other significant Wessex Anglo-Saxon locations (such as Christchurch, Wareham and Reading). The two rivers are the River Brit and the River Asker. It seems to be a good working hypothesis that the Saxon settlement would have extended from this confluence north to at least the east-west Roman road. The confluence is easy to observe from the bridge near Palmer’s brewery.
To conclude, I believe that it is more likely that the Brydian mentioned in the Burghal Hidage was at Bridport. This does not, however, mean that other locations can be ruled out entirely.
This post is one of several sequels to my book on King Alfred. Click on the image to find out more about the book at Amazon.