Battle of Billington

Here is Billington Moor, which includes that rather steep hill called the Nab which overlooks Whalley. This is a very pleasant village with house prices to match, though it was probably the site a bloody battle in the year 798.

Simeon of Durham describes the battle site as Billingahoth at Walalege, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle merely stating it was near Hwaelleage. Hwaelleage and Walalege are certainly both Whalley, and Billangahoth (‘Hill of the Billings’) is likely Billington, a village close by, and the large hill in whose shadow it sits. There is an alternative site suggested by Historic England as being near Stonyhurst at Bullasey Ford, where there is a tumulus, but I think this less likely. As one army marched down the Roman road from York (which may have taken them past the site of our chapel), the other army would have been waiting for them on the raised ground of Whalley Nab, from which they would have had the advantage. So who was fighting whom?


Image by Gary Chambers from Pixabay 

It was fought between King Eardwulf of Northumbria and a Saxon chief called Wada. ‘Lancashire’ was part of Northumbria back then, and Ealdorman (‘earl’) Wada I suspect was based nearby at Waddington or Waddow Hall near Clitheroe. Eardwulf won the day, and Wadda was defeated, fleeing south to the kingdom of Mercia, beyond the Mersey river. Why did Wadda fight against his king? Because he did not recognise him as such. Eardwulf had deposed the previous king, Osbald, to whom Wadda may have sworn his allegiance. Osbald wasn’t a terribly pleasant individual, with Alcuin, Bishop of York, writing to him thus:

I am disappointed in you for not taking my advice. I urged you in my letter that you should give up this way of life. Do not add sin to sin by ruining your country and shedding blood. Think how much blood of emperors, princes, and people has been shed through you and your clan.

It was Osbald who gave his name to Osbaldeston, another Ribble Valley village towards Blackburn. It sounds like Eardwulf had done Northumbria a favour by replacing bloody Osbald, though Wadda perhaps begged to differ.

We know little of the battle, other than Wadda’s defeat, and the death of another notable, one Alric son of Herbert. It took place on 2nd April, but as most Saxons then spent their time killing each other instead of writing things down, the whole affair will always be draped in mystery. That hill, once wet with blood and strewn with corpses, is now a peaceful and beautiful place. The shield walls, the spears, the Old English war cries, are all long forgotten. Bishop Alcuin’s observation of Osbert applies not just that dark age, but to all times and locations:

“Think how much blood of emperors, princes, and people has been shed”.

It makes little difference to us now who won that battle. Northumbria is just another county, its line of kings long gone. Many of us similarly spend our lives fighting for things which do not ultimately matter. Moderns may not arm their tenants and oath men, but we too will jostle and fight to increase wealth, prestige or fame. James asks in 4:14:

For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

1200 years ago, Billington Moor was the talk of all Englalond, but now it is forgotten, overlooked and neglected. So too your desires, wants, battles and achievements. Only Christ and our works for Him will be remembered and celebrated.