St Ealdhelm’s Day 2018

This year marks 19 years since Wessex Society adopted St Aldhelm (spelled Ealdhelm in the West Saxon dialect of Old English) as the Patron Saint of Wessex and started to raise awareness of the saint and his day as the Day for Wessex. Since then St Ealdhelm’s day (25th May) has been officially recognised as Wessex Day, while support for Ealdhelm himself as our Patron Saint is growing.

Eric Pickles said in the House of Commons on 25th May 2013:

Recent events remind us that we are stronger as a society when we celebrate the ties that bind us together. Whatever one’s class, colour or creed, let’s have pride in Britain’s local and national identities. It’s right to celebrate the kingdom that paved the way for a united England: for today, the only way is Wessex.

But who was Ealdhelm? Well, unlike other British patron saints, Ealdhelm was not only real he was also a native of Britain, indeed of Wessex, probably born in Wiltshire. He lived between c640 AD and 709 AD. He was a poet, a musician, a singer and an orator, was the greatest scholar of his time, and copies of his writings still exist.

He was the first abbot of Malmesbury and went on to found many churches across Wiltshire and Somerset. Ealdhelm is claimed to be the founder of the church of St. Michael-intra-muros in Bath and the 7th century cross in Bath Abbey could be that of St. Ealdhelm. Bishopstrow in Wiltshire is said to derive its name from the time when Ealdhelm as Bishop planted his ash-staff in the ground whilst delivering a sermon but the sermon lasted so long that the staff took root and become the “Bishop’s Tree”, hence Bishopstrow. The churches at Bradford-on-Avon and Doulting, near Shepton Mallet are also claimed to be founded by Ealdhelm. At Frome he is reputed to have founded a monastery. Wells and Glastonbury were re-founded by Ealdhelm.

He later, in 704AD became the first bishop of the new diocese of Sherborne. He died in the visitation of his diocese at Doulting, near Shepton Mallet on 25 May 709. There is a legend that after his death, his body was taken in procession or translation of 7 miles a day for 7 days from Doulting to Malmesbury for burial. His burial site at Malmesbury became a centre for pilgrimage until after the Norman Conquest.

He was the first person in the West Country to be canonised

The journey on which his body was taken, was one of seven stages each of seven miles. The exact route is not known, but according to William of Malmesbury there were crosses still standing in his time erected at each spot where the corpse rested.

The suggested route was Doulting – Frome – Westbury – Bradford – Bath – Colerne – Littleton Drew – Malmesbury. This route joins all the major locations where Ealdhelm founded churches or monasteries.

To honour this day, in previous years members of Wessex Society have staged various events on 25th May such as walking the whole 49 mile route in relay between Doulting and Malmesbury over which St Ealdhelm’s body was carried in 705AD.

This year, we will be replicating that relay but this time – age taking its toll on many Wessex Society members – it will be by car in order to visit as many Ealdhelmian sites as possible.

Why not join us. We aim to start from the church at Doulting at 10:30, stopping off for a pub lunch somewhere along the way.

We hope to see you there.

Don’t let the bustards grind you down

About 13:45 on Sunday 8th April Derek Pickett, Jim and Emma Gunter, Mark Godwin and Peter and Marion Spencer met up with Lynne of the Great Bustard Group at Enford Village Hallf for a booked visit to the Great Bustard release site.

The Great Bustard features on the Wiltshire County flag and on the Wiltshire Coat of Arms. Note the dragon (based on the Wessex Wyvern?) in the canton of the shield.

Wiltshire Coat of Arms

The last Great Bustard was shot in England in 1832. David Waters, a retired Wiltshire Police Officer, set up a project to re-introduce the Great Bustard to Salisbury Plain. Details about the project including some short video clips can be found on the Great Bustard Group website at:

Salisbury Plain is a chalk plateau covering 300 square miles (780 km2) mostly in central and southern Wiltshire stretching into the neighbouring counties of Berkshire and Hampshire. Most of the Plain is military training area. There are a number of villages on the Plain including Enford and private owned farm land. The Great Bustard release site is on privately owned land. The wildlife on Salisbury Plain, including the Great Bustards, has adapted to their often noisy Army neighbours. Lynne did mention that the Great Bustards were not too keen on helicopters. Probably because they can fly very close to the ground and the down draft from the rotors stirs up the dust.

Bustards 1

We climbed aboard a Land Rover and Lynne drove us out of Enford village and on to Salisbury Plain. In order to protect the release site I will not go into detail of which direction Lynne took. After a short, rather bumpy in places, drive we arrived at the viewing hide; a large wooden hut. Lynne had brought several pairs of binoculars for us to use, I had brought my own. Those who work in the acting profession will advise you never to work with children or animals because both can be very unpredictable.
The Great Bustards that David Waters and his team released on Salisbury Plain are completely free ranging. The birds, who are not advised about group visits such as ours ,decide if they will put in an appearance or not. We were fortunate that two male birds permitted us to view them through binoculars.

Bustards 2

We climbed back aboard the Land Rover and Lynne drove us back to Enford and to the Great Bustard Group shop outside the village. The journey included a drive along a flooded track which Lynne informed us was Winterbourne. The shop had several items for sale with a Great Bustard theme. After we had made purchases and paid the £15 each for the tour, money well spent, Lynne drove us back to the Enford Village Hall where we said goodbye to her. We then adjourned to the village pub, the Swan Inn, for a drink.

Wessex Chronicle: The back issues


One thing I have been meaning to do for ages is upload back issues of the Chronicle to the website. Well, with the change in format, now seems the perfect opportunity. Each of the links below will allow you to download a PDF of all the Chronicles I still have available, starting in 2012, when the digital edition was first launched. The most recent issues are not included, in deference to those who had subscribed. Update 02/01/2018: All issues are now uploaded. An index will appear in volume 18 issue 4, being emailed to former members soon. All four issues of volume 18 will be uploaded to this site in January 2019.

Volume 13, Issue 1
Volume 13, Issue 2
​​Volume 13, Issue 3
Volume 13, Issue 4
Volume 14, Issue 1
Volume 14, Issue 2
Volume 14, Issue 3
Volume 14, Issue 4
Volume 15, Issue 1
Volume 15, Issue 2
Volume 15, Issue 3
Volume 15, Issue 4
Volume 16, Issue 1
Volume 16, Issue 2
Volume 16, Issue 3
Volume 16, Issue 4
Volume 17, Issue 1
Volume 17, Issue 2
Volume 17, Issue 3
​Volume 17, Issue 4

Big changes are coming to Wessex Society

Well, it’s been a while since anything has been posted to this blog, but that’s about to change. You see, at our meeting on the 7th of October, we decided to disband as an organisation with a formal membership structure. But that does not mean the end of Wessex Society by any means. The Wessex Chronicle will now turn from a hugely expensive print magazine with a tiny circulation to…well, this blog. Contact us if you have an idea for an article or interview that you would like to see published. Our quarterly meetings in Salisbury will change from business meetings, with agendas and minutes, to purely social gatherings. And instead of membership fees, we now have a Patreon page, where people can donate online. The average monthly donation for Patreon pages is $4.44 (£3.34). At the time of writing this, the Society has 244 likes on Facebook. If each of those people donated the average amount, we could have an annual income of nearly £10,000. With that sort of money, we could achieve all sorts of projects that we had to shelve for lack of funds, such as:

  • Paying for contributions to the Chronicle, attracting a higher quality of contributor.
  • Sending out Wessex flags to private businesses, and to district and parish/town councils, as well as county councils and unitary authorities, for them to fly on St Ealdhelm’s Day.
  • Publishing our Essential Wessex series of books on Wessex history and landmarks.
  • Publishing our long-gestating Wessex Dialect Dictionary.
  • Sponsoring prizes in the arts for works exhibiting regional distinctiveness.

All these are previously-mooted ideas, thought there may be others we haven’t thought of. If you think of anything else, please speak up. But above all, donate! ​The more we can collect in donations, the bigger we can go. So, it’s over to you, lovely people.

St Ealdhelm’s Day round-up


The above images come from Dorset County Council, which was one of several councils to fly the Wessex flag outside its offices again this year. Somerset and Wiltshire councils also agreed to fly the flag, as did Portsmouth and Bristol City Councils, though a trip down to City Hall in Bristol failed to yield any evidence of them actually flying the flag we sent them. South Gloucestershire once again flatly refused, while Swindon asked for a flag, but not until the actual day, meaning that there was no way that we could get a flag to them on time.

Outside local government, Wiltshire Museum also flew the flag, pictured left. We had visited the museum as part of our annual St Ealdhelm’s Day walk, which this year was held in Devizes. A full report of the walk will appear in the next issue of the Wessex Chronicle.