The little church at Aller, Somerset.

This post is adapted from my book, King Alfred: A Man on the Move, available on Amazon. It would be great if you could support this project by purchasing a copy.

This is a peaceful spot and I always like coming here. I never cease to be amazed at how this modest location that was so important in the history of England is so under-visited.

St Andrew's church, Aller, Somerset Levels. Where King Alfred baptised Guthrum, the Viking leader, after he was defeated at the Battle of Ethandun
St Andrew’s church, Aller, Somerset Levels. Where King Alfred baptised Guthrum, the Viking leader, after he was defeated at the Battle of Ethandun

King Alfred defeated the Vikings at the crucial Battle of Ethandun (likely to have been at Edington in Wiltshire) in 878. The Vikings fled to their fortress, which seems to have been at Chippenham, where they then surrendered.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles tell us that three weeks after the Vikings surrendered, the Viking leader Guthrum came, accompanied by thirty of his men, to be baptised into Christianity at a place near Athelney called Aller. Asser tells us that Alfred himself raised Guthrum from the baptismal font and that Guthrum became Alfred’s adopted son.

The older of the two fonts at St Andrew's church, Aller, Somerset Levels
The older of the two fonts at St Andrew’s church, Aller, Somerset Levels

St Andrew’s church at Aller, like Athelney, is on raised ground in the Somerset Levels, suggesting that the church probably would also have been on an island in Alfred’s time. The oldest parts of the current church are 12th century, so the events of 878 must have taken place at a preceding structure. It has been claimed that a font in the church (the more bowl-shaped of the two fonts), recovered from the rectory pond in the nineteenth century, was the one used to baptise Guthrum. The church can be tricky to find. Coming from Langport direction, it is necessary to take a left turn onto the road called Church Path and then turn left where there is a wooden sign for the church. The church also has a small but beautiful King Alfred Window, which is a memorial to the two reigns of King Alfred and Queen Victoria.

The King Alfred stained glass window at St Andrew's church, Aller, Somerset Levels
The King Alfred stained glass window at St Andrew’s church, Aller, Somerset Levels

It can be speculated as to why Aller, about fifty miles distant from Chippenham, was chosen as the location instead of somewhere closer. Perhaps Alfred did not trust Guthrum and this was deemed to be a safer location, or perhaps Aller was a more significant place then than it seems to us today. It might even be that Alfred knew Aller well if he came here to pray when he had his base at nearby Athelney.

Aller is only a few miles north-west of Langport, which must have been a significant place in Alfred’s time as it is included in the Burghal Hidage (a list of defended locations), drawn up under his son, King Edward the Elder. Although there is nothing that I could find to specifically connect King Alfred with Langport, it seems likely that he would  have been there at some point.

I made a short video at Aller:

There is much more about the travels of King Alfred in my book, including maps and references. To find out more about the book, click or tap the image below.

4 Replies to “The little church at Aller, Somerset.”

  1. Do we know that Guthrum was baptised at Aller near Athelney? The Treaty was signed at Wedmore where Alfred possibly had his summer hunting lodge; very close to Wedmore is Mudgley which is adjacent to Allermoor. (Also formerly Aller Moor). Wouldn’t it make sense to baptise close to where the treaty was signed? Perhaps, before the modern rhynes were built, there may have been a suitable place for baptism?

    1. I remember coming across Aller Moor and similar thoughts went through my head. However, both the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and Asser’s Life of King Alfred tell us that the Aller at which Guthrum was baptised is close to Athelney.

  2. Paul, nicely put together. I live near an Aller Lane in Mid Dorset. Any clues to the meaning of the word Aller? Nearby is Milton Abbey which has a connection to Alfred’s grandson, Althelston.

    1. Dear Graham, I am pleased that you enjoyed the post. In your location Aller refers to Alder trees (ref: Place Names of Dorset. Vol 3. Mills. A.D. English Place Name Society. 1989. Page 209). In Somerset it is likely to be the same, although as with much of looking into the distant past we cannot know for certain. I am familiar with the Milton Abbas area. I recently (I am also in Dorset) went to St Catherine’s Chapel at Milton Abbas and very much enjoyed the views.

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