Egbert’s Stone. Part 3. The Upper Deverills

This post focuses on the Deverills in Wiltshire and is my third post on Egbert’s Stone. The others are here and here. There is a link to a video at the end of this post. This post is adapted from my book, available on Amazon and bookshops.

In my book I argue that the place more likely than any other single location to have been Egbert’s Stone is the collection of villages known today as the Upper Deverills. The Upper Deverills are a short distance south of Warminster (Wiltshire) and consist of three small villages on the River Deverill, now named on maps as part of the River Wylye. These villages are Kingston Deverill, Monkton Deverill and Brixton Deverill. Please note that I have worded this carefully. It is impossible to apply mathematical probabilities to the different options, but hopefully the following will serve as an illustration. If there were to be eleven alternative locations and I ascribed a 20% likelihood of one location being correct and 8% to each of the remaining ten, then it should be seen to be clear that saying that a single location seems more likely than any other single location is a very long way from saying that it was more likely to have been there than anywhere else. 

Looking back to Kingston Deverill, Wiltshire, from the climb up to Cold Kitchen Hill
Looking back to Kingston Deverill, Wiltshire, from the climb up to Cold Kitchen Hill

The ford that lies on the border between Kingston Deverill and Monkton Deverill is thought to be at the junction of two important Roman roads and the area is just a short distance north of the ancient track known as the Harrow Way (also known as the Hard Way). In fact, some of the nearby A303 main road lies on the course of this ancient trackway. Indeed, near Willoughby Hedge service station, the A303 (on the line of the Harrow Way) crosses one of the Roman roads that leads to the aforementioned ford, so this could be a significant location as well, and I expand on this in the book.

A Roman road runs through this hedge. Near Willoughby Hedge service station on the A303
A Roman road runs through this hedge! Near Willoughby Hedge service station on the A303.

Kingston Deverill is also associated with a legend that three large stones were once brought down from Court Hill, adjacent to the village. These once served as stepping stones but were also considered to have been “Egbert’s Stones” (the early sources do not indicate that there was more than one). The name of Court Hill has also been brought into the story in that King Egbert (Alfred’s grand-father) “held court” on the hill. None of this can be proved, but it seems to me that this is the more likely location even without this legend. This is not only because of the proximity of important ancient routes, but also because following the river away from here is a plausible route to options for the location that Alfred went next, which was called Iglea (and the last stop before the Battle of Ethandun. The site also fits with Asser‘s description of Egbert’s Stone being in the eastern part of Selwood.

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 ford between Kingston Deverill and Monkton Deverill, Wiltshire. Two Roman roads crossed at or close to here
The ford between Kingston Deverill and Monkton Deverill, Wiltshire. Two Roman roads crossed at or close to here.

I visited the ford and found it to be a lovely spot that also seemed well cared for. Please note that there are signs saying that the ford is not suitable for vehicles to cross. If you visit Kingston Deverill, remember to visit the 15th century St Mary’s church (although there may have been an earlier structure) where I was delighted to find a banner depicting King Alfred, indicating that his connections with this area have not been forgotten.

King Alfred banner in St Mary's church, Kingston Deverill, Wiltshire
King Alfred banner in St Mary’s church, Kingston Deverill, Wiltshire

There is a legend that Alfred prayed at a church at Monkton Deverill before the Battle of Ethandun, and this church later became dedicated to St Alfred the Great. The church is now a private residence, and appears to have been constructed more recently than the time of King Alfred, although there may have been an earlier structure on the site (I am not aware of any evidence of this).

When walking in the hills here I rarely see anyone else and it seems to me that this beautiful rural area is relatively under-visited. I recommend the stiff climb up towards Cold Kitchen Hill (itself an important site in pre-historic and Roman times) for the elevated views over the Upper Deverills that this provides.

Later on, I found an additional contender for Egbert’s Stone just south of the railway line, and on the county boundary, about a third of the way between Westbury and Frome. This appeared on OS maps as Ecbright’s Stone until 1901, after which it disappeared. However, this seems to be far too close to Edington (bearing in mind Alfred would camp an additional night somewhere else before the battle). Today the OS map marks it as a boundary stone, just on the edge of a feature called Round Wood, and perhaps that is all it ever was. Looking at maps, it seems that this site has no public access.

Finally, it is worth noting that both Asser and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles refer to camps (i.e. plural) at Egbert’s Stone, with Asser reverting to a singular for camp at Æcglea/Iglea. If the Deverills are the correct location, it is perhaps therefore possible that Alfred’s camps were in more than one location there.

I made a video about Egbert’s Stone:

There is much more about the travels of King Alfred in my book, including maps and references. Tap or click on the image below to learn more.