Offa’s Dyke

The following is an excellent description of the Dyke,taken from The Bedside Rambler by Christopher Somerville:

Offa’s Dyke is a symbol of division and mistrust, an ancient barrier between Welsh and English that runs the entire length of the border between the two countries. A low bank of earth and stones, five or six feet high, is all you are likely to see of the Dyke on the ground. Seen from the air the Dyke can be made out winding round bluffs,clinging to the edges of escarpments and diverging to cross rivers at suitable points – almost always with a clear view into the country lying to the west.
There was good reason for this westward aspect. The Dyke was built in about AD 790 on the orders of Offa, King of Mercia, to mark the boundary between his then relatively peaceful kingdom and his long-term Welsh adversaries. It provided not only a tangible, undeniable frontier and statement of separateness of the two countries and their cultures, but also an excellent grandstand from which Offa’s people could observe and report back to their king what the unruly neighbours were up to.
An extraordinary amount of organisation must have been needed in planning the Dyke, surveying it and gathering the labourers to build it to the original height of 12 feet or more. Twelve hundred years later it still stands along the border to perpetuate the name of King Offa and the memory of his domination of southern England.

The following From an article in Currant Archaeology 316. Report by Madeline Leonard in Withowinde Magazine 181, Spring 2017

The first recorded mention of Offa’s Dyke was by Asser in his 9th century Life of King Alfred.

The Dyke represented an imposed rather than a negotiated border, militarily enforced and entirely serving Mercian interests…
The homogeneity of the Dyke’s construction is its defining feature. Constructed in short segments along its entire length, the bank commands extensive views for continuous surveillance over the area to the west, including settlement and defensive sites, and viewed from the west, presents a dominant image.

Its function as a perm able boundary over which the British had no control was evident from certain crossing points to which travellers were funnelled. In his Description Cambriae (1194) Gerald of Wales wrote that Offa ‘shut the Welsh off from the English by his long dyke on the frontier’ which kept them out of the fertile lands of the Mercian side, and perhaps gave the Mercians a sense of security.

Further Note:
At one time Offa’s Dyke was believed to be a negotiated boundary with gaps to permit trade between the Anglo-Saxons and the Welsh. But more recent archaeological research shows it as being a fortified barrier with a military purpose. The ditch and bank always have their face on the Welsh side showing that this is an offensive earthwork built to prevent the incursions of the Welsh.

Above compiled by Peter C Horn

May 9th, 2017