The Battle of Winwaed - Location

Although maps of the area do not show a battlefield, the OS Landranger, does have the words "Pendas Fields" (SE3735-SE3835) located near Barnbow Wood. This is too much of a coincidence, and probably refers to the approximate area of the battle. During the 20th Century, the name has been transferred to both a train station (now closed) and a street.

Cock Beck (current source: abandoned clay workings neighbouring the Wellington Hill Shell Garage) passes through the area. Could this be the River Winwaed? Edmund Bogg 1893 refers to the battle occurring "on Whinmoor high table land, about a mile above the village of Seacroft and near the source of the little river (Cock)". Although the only real candidate, it does appear to be far too small to drown an army! It has to be remembered though, that the landscape has changed considerably. As well as the growth of neighbouring Leeds, the land has been drained and is now farmed.

Alan Wallace, who lives in Whinmoor, emailed me some interesting information in regard to why Cock Beck would have been particular dangerous for Penda:

Dear Sir,
I came across your interesting site whilst studying the history of Whinmoor where I now live.
With regard to your exact location of the river may I suggest that it was in fact the stream that is today known as the Cock Beck which runs along the bottom of the hill and passes under the York Road.
The reason that this was so dangerous was that a medieval defence system had been constructed from Whinmoor to Swillington which consisted of a deep and wide ditch with an earth banking some 15ft high on the Leeds side. This would certainly give an advantage to the Oswy with dryer ground underfoot and higher position. Penda's men would have been up to their knees in mud and on the edge of freezing water.
The Farm that has been recently destroyed on the north side of the York Road was called Grimes Dyke Farm after the defence system and which can still be seen on it's land.

Regards
Alan Wallace

The modern name of Whinmoor suggests a gorse moorland. This tallies with the sandy soil often found in the area. The sandy soil comes from the underlying millstone grit and lower coal measures. Also very common on the wide Wellington Hill/Whinmoor Ridge is boulder clay. In fact, the geological map of Leeds shows the Barnbow area to be predominantly boulder clay. Bede describes the River Winwaed to be in flood. The clay could have made the flood level of the beck much higher than we would normally have expected.

The above account of Arthur Bantoft, quoting Butcher, quotes a position east of Seacroft, and crossed by Thorner Lane, Red Hall Lane, and Coal Road. The modern positions of these lanes puts the location to the north-west of Pendas Fields - but close to the source of Cock Beck!

It should be noted that Aaron Thompson in his translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth, proposes that the River Aire is the Winwaed.

Walker proposed a third location: The River Went in the Wentbridge / East Hardwick area, just south of Pontefract. This location was recently championed by A.C. Breeze in his paper "The Battle of Uinued and the River Went, Yorkshire" published in Northern History v41 Issue 2 (September 2004). The first half of Breeze's paper makes a very good review of the literature concerning the Battle of Winwaed, although he is sometimes very dismissive of proposed locations without giving any reasons for his dismissal.

The second half of the paper puts forward the case for the River Went. He translates Winwaed (Uinued) as "The Whiteness" and a white-water river. This comes from the Welsh gwyn (white), and comparisons with other names (River Coquet / Cochwedd: the redness; Wynford: white torrent, Wendover: white water). The River Winwaed is translated as a river known for white water, and the River Went (old name: Weneta). A story is then built up from this, that makes a lot of sense. Roman engineers avoided the notorious marshes at the head of the Humber, resulting in only two main land routes south out of Yorkshire. One was a route that headed south east from York to a Humber crossing at Ferriby. The second went south west from York to Tadcaster, and then south (Ermine Street) via Doncaster to Lincoln. This latter route would have made a lot of sense for Penda who would have been looking for a turn to the west. The Roman route survives to this day, passing the proposed area as the A639 Hardwick Road / Doncaster Road. This route crosses the upper plain of the Went in an area of marshes which would have caused problems in winter. Travellers would have tended to keep to the dry higher ground to the east. The battle is dated as 15th November, when it is reasonable to assume that winter rains would have made the marshes impassable, forcing Penda onto this drier high ground. The high ground narrowed down to a funnel-type shape on the northerly approach to the Went crossing. Penda's large army became particularly vulnerable at this point. Breeze draws parallels with the topography at Agincourt, where the larger French army becomes trapped on a funnel-shaped high ground to be routed by the smaller forces of Henry V.

As well as topography, Breeze argues for two more factors that would have been beneficial for Oswy, and in both cases draws parallels with Napoleonic defeats. First, Penda had fought a long campaign in the far north. His army was on the long trek home and tired (compare: Napoleon's Russian campaign). They would have also been laden down with the spoils of their victory, including the treasure taken from Oswy. Secondly, it is likely that Oswy would have known of the route's vulnerability. As with Wellington's choice of Waterloo, Oswy would have been in a position to choose the location of the battle in order to gain an advantage. At Waterloo, Agincourt, and Breeze's Winwaed scenario, the victors were able to hold the high ground and always be fighting downhill towards the enemy. At the battles of Agincourt and Winwaed, a numerically superior enemy is trapped resulting in their unlikely defeat.

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