For the cradle of English civilisation, go to the Wirral      

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The Independent Online

The people of Merseyside have another reason to stoke their sense of pride - the history of England may have been forged in Wirral.

The people of Merseyside have another reason to stoke their sense of pride - the history of England may have been forged in Wirral.

Viking enthusiasts looking for the site of an epic battle that was instrumental in the birth of the idea of Englishness believe they have found it at what is now Bromborough, south-east of Bikenhead.

At the Battle of Brunanburh, in 937ad, an army of Norwegian Vikings and Strathclyde Scots were defeated by Anglo-Saxons from the Midlands and the South led by King Athelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great. It was a turning point in England's history, with Athelstan hailed as a Christian hero who had united Anglo-Saxon forces to conquer the Vikings. In effect, he had created Englishness. The battle was commemorated in a poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a contemporary history - yet no one knew for certain where it had taken place.

Dumfriesshire was suggested as were Northamptonshire and Yorkshire. But three University of Nottingham scholars - Paul Cavill, who runs the English Place-Name Society, Steve Harding, a scientist, and Judith Jesch, a Viking studies lecturer - have identified Wirral as the site of what was described as the bloodiest battle to have taken place in England. Five British kings and seven earls were killed on the Celtic side as were numerous Saxons, including two of Athelstan's cousins.

The researchers base their conclusion on analysis of two place names - Brunanburh itself and Dingesmere - mentioned in the 73-line Chronicle. The former, meaning "Bruna's fort", has been assumed by many scholars to be the old name for Bromborough, where a well-established Scandinavian colony existed at the time of the battle, making it a sympathetic base for northern raiders.

If Dingesmere could be identified as being near by, then that would provide confirmation. But the origin of that place name was puzzling - until Professor Harding suggested it might be related to theOld Norse word for a place of assembly or Thing, as in Manx Tynwald or Icelandic Althingi. And indeed just such a parliament, known as Thingwall, used to be held in Wirral. The Thing field itself is thought to be at Cross Hill, off the A551; the word would have been pronounced "Ding" by local Viking folk who had picked up a Celtic accent.

The researchers then realised that Dinges-mere derived from the Old Norse for "marshland of the Thing". The place-name served to warn travellers of the dangerous marshland of the Dee, particularly when attending the Thing.

Professor Harding said they had solved one of the "important loose ends" in the story of the Battle of Brunanburh. A paper explaining the theory has been published in the Journal of the English Place-Name Society.