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London and the Vikings: Late Saxon London

Map of Late Saxon London
image: University of Southampton
click on the image to enlarge

Þy ilcan geare gesette Ælfred cyning Lundenburg, 7 him all Angelcyn to cirde, þæt buton Deniscra monna hæftniede was, 7 hie þa befæste þa burg Eþerede aldormen to haldonne.
(Anglo-Saxon Chronicle anno 886)

Although the Anglo-Saxon chronicles simply uses the word ‘gesettan’ (occupied), Alfred’s biographer, Asser claims that he rebuilt the city:

In the same year, Alfred, King of the Anglo-Saxons, after the burning of the cities and the slaying of the people, honourably rebuilt the city of London, and made it again habitable. He gave it into the custody of his son-in-law, Ethered, earl of Mercia, to which king all the Angles and Saxons, who before had been dispersed everywhere, or were in captivity with the pagans, voluntarily turned and submitted themselves to his dominion.

(Asser, “The Life of King Alfred – year 886)

Certainly, the distribution of finds from the late 9th – 10th centuries show a marked difference to distribution of finds from the 8th and 9th centuries (see the distribution maps here…), and one can see a shift from the Aldwych area (with just a few finds in the area of St Paul’s Cathedral, founded 604) to the site of the old Roman walled town – a shift from the open unprotected area of ‘Ludenwic’ to the more easily protected area of ‘Lundenburg’.

There is good evidence, both from documents and from archaeological excavations, to suggest that Alfred did, indeed, organise the rebuilding of London, and that new streets and houses were laid out from the late 9th century onwards.

Aspects of this development have been discussed in a short article by John Clark of the Museum of London. (John Clark, “King Alfred’s London and London’s King Alfred”, London Archaeologist, Vol 9, 2, 1999 – available as PDF file)