My latest academic journal article explores the significance of the contemporary place-names for Offa’s Dyke and Wat’s Dyke, arguing that they constitute a distinctive dimension of borderland identities tied closely to the surviving and former lines of these middle Anglo-Saxon linear earthworks. One might guess they are honoured in the names of modern businesses, schools, streets and houses mainly on the English side of the modern border, but no. While they are indeed found straddling the modern Anglo-Welsh border, it is actually on the Welsh side where the dykes are most frequently cited through names and thus materially manifest in signs. For my other recent post on this subject, click here.
One prominent exception to the overall Welsh bias in Offa/Wat/Dyke names is a cluster of street-names and a school, the origins of which can be traced back to the 1930s, just east of Chepstow at Sedbury (Gloucestershire). This is where Offa’s Dyke departs from the Wye and crosses the Beachley Peninsula to Sedbury Cliffs where it ends, overlooking the Severn estuary. The Dyke here is largely destroyed, but its traces are still discernible beside the houses of Mercian Way.
This is also important in heritage terms because the Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail has, since the 1970s, traversed the housing estate in question.
So here, we have the physical monument surviving in fields to the east, a partially preserved bank subsumed within the housing estate, but a prominent fossilisation of the monument in the names of roads: Mercian Way and Offa’s Close. Meanwhile the antiquarian George Ormerod and a series of other Saxon and Viking street-names afford a cluster of early medieval identities for the inhabitants.
The primary school is also Offa’s Mead Academy!
From a countryside conservation and walker’s perspective, this housing estate is often described in negative terms, as a modern eyesore to be rapidly traversed in order to enjoy either the views over the Severn or the Wye Valley, depending on the direction one is travelling. In archaeological and heritage terms, we have the perverse situation where Cadw, English Heritage, county councils and other authorities and organisations have struggled (i.e. not deigned it worth their time) to recognise the presence of Britain’s first- and third-longest ancient monuments for the benefit of locals and tourists alike. I suspect the Offa’s Dyke Association, because of the Path, are the only organisation to physically have a presence here through their waymarkers. And yet local communities have come to ‘live in the shadow’ of the Dyke through their naming practices. In my view, this situation, while no one’s individual fault, is a clear case of generations of snobbery towards local people and their heritage and a missed opportunity for public engagement linking people to their historic environment. I hope my publication helps to shift this lack of attention to naming practices and their materiality in the form of signs.