This post on King Alfred’s Tower and Egbert’s Stone is adapted from my book, King Alfred: A Man on the Move, available from Amazon and book shops.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles refer to Egbert’s Stone (Ecgbryhtes stane) as the place where the armies from Somerset, Wiltshire and part of Hampshire came together to fight alongside Alfred after he had left Athelney in the seventh week after Easter in 878, en route for the important and decisive battle at Ethandun where the Vikings were defeated.
King Alfred’s Tower is frequently suggested as being at or near the site of Egbert’s Stone, and I read some material dating from 1901 that there had been a local tradition that a beacon had been lit here as a signal for the gathering of Alfred’s forces.
This building is a folly, built from 1762 onwards, and is in a lovely location surrounded by woodland on Kingsettle Hill in Somerset. The first thing that struck me about this monument is it’s size. It is huge. Indeed, an american military aeroplane crashed into it in 1944. The second thing that struck me was it’s unusual three-sided shape. I understand the views from the top are excellent but it was closed when I visited. But is this the site of Egbert’s stone? The road that goes past the tower is again the ancient Hard Way (also known as the Harrow Way), with the ancient name surviving at the nearby Hardway Farm. This is the same Hard Way / Harrow Way that crops up in relation to Willoughby Hedge (in a future post) and the Battle of Basing.
From the evidence available, it is, however, difficult to define the location of King Alfred’s Tower as east of, or in the eastern part of, Selwood, which is required to fit the description given by Asser and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.
We need to remind ourselves of the size and shape of Selwood. Towards its southern extremity it extended eastwards across to at least Gillingham Forest (Source: Hutchins, History and Antiquities of Dorset, 1774) and further north, in Wiltshire, it extended east at least as far as Warminster. We know this because the following settlements answered at the forest eyre 1187-90: Heytesbury, Knoyle and Westbury. The following villages etc were represented at forest inquisitions: Longbridge Deverill, Sutton Veny, Warminster, and Westbury (source: Victoria County History. Wiltshire Volume IV, 1959)
The location is adjacent to an important ancient route (the Hard Way), but this does not seem enough to determine this to be the spot, or even a candidate, for being the correct location of Egbert’s Stone.
The term “Kingsettle” is also interesting, because there are some woods and a farmhouse approximately 14 miles away, just a short distance north of Shaftesbury, that also have this name. It may be that the name was shared with the location of the tower, or the other way around.
Kilmington Common was put forward by a Dr Williams-Freeman in the 1950s . Kilmington Common is the name of the village and it lies about a mile east of Alfred’s Tower. The west-east road and track, named Tower Road and Long Lane respectively, lie on the route of the ancient track called the Hard Way, which is the same Hard Way that goes past King Alfred’s Tower. I parked near where Tower Road meets the village and walked a short distance down the track called Long Lane, partly to appreciate that this was a potential site for Egbert’s Stone and partly for the simple enjoyment of walking on the ancient Hard Way. I looked over to where “the common” is marked on the OS map, but there was little to see apart from crops. Although the case for this location is supported by evidence that tracks ran in other directions near here, it seems difficult to define this location as east of or in the eastern part of Selwood. I therefore consider this to be a less likely location for Egbert’s Stone.
You can view my video on Egbert’s Stone below:
There is much more about the travels of King Alfred in my book, including maps and references. To learn more about the book, click or tap the image below.