Posts Tagged ‘Doctor Who’

Week Eight: Oswestry’s Other Border

Wat’s Dyke plays second fiddle to it’s better known cousin, Offa’s Dyke. But I think Wat’s Dyke may be more interesting. The Wansdyke Project produced a great deal of the most current research about Wat’s Dyke, examining in particular the assumptions made about what it was for, when it was made, and who – or what (pun intended?) – “Wat” was. Keith Matthews ably sums up the evidence in a paper on the Wansdyke Project site, and it’s this research that I’ve referenced in the comic.

Matthews’ suggestion that the Mercian King Coenwulf was responsible for the dyke is certainly open to challenge, depending on how one reads the evidence. But regardless, the interpretation of the dyke as being both a customs/trade border and a military one would certainly fit with the general relationship between Mercia and Powys through most of the Early Welsh/Anglo Saxon period. When people ask “What is Wat’s Dyke for?”, I have a feeling we should look at other borders that are both physical as well as symbolic for a clue as to how people in the past regarded it. The red line at Passport Control, behind which you have to stand before being called forward to the desk, for example. It’s not a defensive wall, but it is certainly a border in both legal and psychological terms. Step over that line, behave badly, run across it – and you may well be tackled to the ground, arrested, charged and even denied entry. Both Offa’s Dyke and Wat’s Dyke fall into this kind of category – borders that people respected because of the consequences: both in terms of trade and tax, and in terms of military retribution.

And what of “Wat”? Matthews’ suggestion that the name references the old English hero Wade (also written Wadda or Wat) is new to me. But it makes sense: Coenwulf was certainly not as well-known as Offa, so it’s possible that his legacy was a bit more transient. Myth, legend and folklore are often more solid and lasting that history! Wade was a hero connected with water, so perhaps the fact that Wat’s Dyke starts right at the water’s edge in Holywell has something to do with this identification. And Wade himself would make a great hero to identify with such a curious construction as the Dyke, snaking its way down the Welsh border. Who but a hero with his magic boat, descended from Wayland the Smith, would make such a thing? I think of Wade – with his semi-divine ancestry, his Germanic origins, and his magic travelling machine – as sort of halfway between Thor and Doctor Who. Now there’s a comic just waiting to be made!

The Oswestry Heritage Comics are a year-long series of weekly newspaper comic strips about the archaeology, history and heritage of area around Oswestry, Shropshire in the UK. The comics are published in the Oswestry and Border Counties Adverizer every Tuesday, and on Facebook. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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