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The Antiquities of Bridgnorth

118 pages
Library of Alexandria
The first thing which naturally engages our attention, in considering the Antiquities of Bridgnorth, is the origin of its name. This, as well as other names just as simple and intelligible, has afforded matter for the ingenious speculations of etymologists, who, by a sort of alchemy, of which they only are the masters, have transmuted it into a form totally different from its own. For instance, some have made it out that the name signifies the tower or castle on Morfe, and that it was originally Burgmorfe, the first syllable of which, “Burg,” being derived from the Greek word πυργος, ‘a tower’, the other being the Saxon name of the neighbouring forest, which extended over the large district still so called. But it is not easy to conceive, how “Burg” should have been transmuted into “Bridge,” and still less so, how “Morfe” should have been corrupted into “North.” The name is a very plain one, and just as plain is its etymology;Bridgnorth i. e. the north Bridge, or the bridge lying to the north of some other bridge. In every ancient record it is called “Brugge” or “Brug,” the Saxon form of the word “Bridge,” and there is no instance, I am informed, of the syllable “North” being added to it, at least in any public document, earlier than the reign of Edward I. Bridges in early times were not so common as they are now, and therefore a place, which had a bridge or bridges of any size, often took its name from this circumstance. Thus Bruges, a town in Flanders, was so named, from the numerous bridges over the canals, which intersect it; and Bridgetown, near which the famous battle of the Boyne was fought, was so called on account of the bridge, which there crosses the river. So our town received its first name of “Brug” from the bridge, which here spanned the Severn; and was afterwards called “Bridgnorth,” to distinguish it from a bridge lower down the Severn, at Quatford. After the origin of the name, the next thing to consider is the first foundation of Bridgnorth. There is no doubt that this is very ancient, probably as ancient as the age of Alfred the Great. The Saxon chroniclers inform us that Ethelfleda, the daughter of Alfred, who inherited the magnanimity which has made her father’s name so illustrious in the page of history, aided her brother Edward in resisting the incursions of the Danes; and for this purpose erected several forts and castles in different parts of the country, and among these one at Bridgnorth. It appears that the Danes, in a.d. 896, having been driven from their settlements on the banks of the Thames, and their fleet having been destroyed, retreated northward, and at last made their way to the Forest of Morfe, adjacent to Quatford, where, as some writers record, they entrenched themselves in a strong fortification. We have proof of their having been in this neighbourhood, from the fact that a place between Bridgnorth and Quatford still bears the name of Danesford, marking the spot, where no doubt these wild marauders found a passage across the Severn, which passage they no doubt used in carrying on their depredations on the east side of the stream. There is supposed to be other local evidence of the Danes having settled for a time in this neighbourhood, which is not without its interest. I refer to the discovery, made by Mr. Stackhouse, formerly Incumbent of St. Mary’s, of an ancient burial ground upon Morfe, which from its character he supposed to be Danish. The following account of it, together with the subjoined sketch, is given in the 460th Number of the Philosophical Transactions.