24 October 2017

Offa's Dyke: a line in the landscape

It was very nice to receive my copy of 'Fortress Salopia' in the post this morning. This book, edited by Tim Jenkins and Rachael Abbiss, explores the long military history of Shropshire - from the Iron Age to the twentieth century. My contribution was chronologically somewhere in the middle, in the form of a chapter on Offa's Dyke.

The Offa's Dyke chapter contrasts the Cyril Fox and Keith Ray schools of thought, and comes up with some conclusions of its own. Although in broad agreement with much of what Keith Ray is saying about the construction and form of the Dyke on the Shropshire stretches, there are some areas where more work needs to be done. For example:
  • The attribution to Offa is still not certain: we only know that the Dyke is post-Roman (Fox) and pre-Norman (Everson) but more dating is required;
  • The question of entrances and controlled access still needs further work: I examine this in the context of the unusual form of the earthwork at Hergan;
  • There needs to be more consideration of the relationship between the Dyke and fortified (or at least defensible) enclosures and positions behind (ie. to the east) of it.
The volume resulted from a conference at the University Centre Shrewsbury last year, which saw some interesting papers and as usual much debate. Sadly Hugh Hannaford's excellent overview of motte-and-bailey castles in the borderlands was not able to be included in the book, but as well as Offa's Dyke, there is much of interest:
  • Andy Wigley on the origins and social context of Iron Age hillforts
  • Roger White on the impact and legacy of Roman occupation
  • Rachael Abbiss on the Georgian military landscape
  • Tim Jenkins on the logistical legacy of the first and second world wars
  • Ruth Brown and Kay Smith on surviving collections of arms and armour
  • James Pardoe on the interpretation of military heritage
It was a very enjoyable meeting and the resulting publication is a useful and timely contribution. It would be nice to see some more thematic studies of Shropshire and the surrounding areas which are similarly well-balanced between academic and popular audiences.

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