King Alfred was born in 849 and, according to Asser, Wantage was the place. This leads us directly into the argument about whether the “Life of Alfred” was written by Asser, or somebody later pretending to be Asser. I’ll perhaps write more on this in another post. Suffice to say for the moment that the main consensus is that Asser did write the “Life of Alfred”, and therefore King Alfred was born at Wantage.
In the first half of the 9th century Berkshire (Wantage was in Berkshire then), or at least parts of it, appears to have been changing hands between Mercia and Wessex. An argument has been made that Alfred would not have been born in a potentially hostile Mercia. However, we cannot tell how hostile Mercia was in 849, and it also seems possible that this part of Berkshire was under Wessex control by then.
There has been much speculation about where the royal estate would have been. I explored these locations but my conclusion was that it is not possible to know for sure where it was. In his will King Alfred left an estate at Wantage to his wife Ealhswith, and it seems plausible that this was the same estate at which he was born. evidence suggests that the focus of settlement had changed from the west of to the east of the Letcombe Brook by Alfred’s time.
I read the work of Lis Garnish (PDF here), who preferred the areas to the north and east of the church of St Peter and St Paul, with another possibility being to the south of this church and to the east of Priory Road. I agree with these possible locations, which are consistent with the shift in population focus.
I like Wantage. It has an old centre based around the market square, and in the middle of this you will see the famous statue of King Alfred, usually surrounded by parked cars. Largely on the back of successful regeneration, Wantage won the Best Town Centre in Britain competition in 2014. These efforts seem to have left a legacy and I am very pleased for Wantage to see this. Wantage also crops up in Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure under the guise of “Alfredston”!
Outside of the centre there is a King Alfred’s Well (or Spring.)” However, it doesn’t seem possible to connect this to King Alfred and, in any case, it appears to be named after an Alfred Hazel, a 17th century cloth manufacturer!
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.