“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

When a "moot point" was not quite so "moot"

The below memorial can be found on the White Horse Trail footpath in Wiltshire where it intersects the Woodborough to Pewsey Road, just to the south of the Kennet and Avon Canal.

The memorial reads:

"29th July 2000. A gathering was held at this site of families who bear the Swanborough name and whose origins can be traced to this location."


"Swanborough Tump
Swinbeorg. C.850
Meeting Place of The Hundred of Swanborough"


"Here in the year 871 the future King Alfred the Great met his elder brother King Aethelred I on their way to fight the invading Danes and each one swore if the other died in battle the dead man's children would inherit the lands of their father King Aethelwulf."

Swanborough Tump is a small hillock which today is marked with a memorial and a standing stone, which are shown below. The Tump would originally have been the moot (the meeting point) for the Swanborough Hundred, where people would have come together to debate and discuss important issues. The memorial refers to one such meeting in 871 A.D. when King Alfred and his brother Ethelred assembled their troops at the Tump, prior to going to fight the raiding Danes at the battle of Ethandun. Unsure if they would survive the coming battle Alfred and Ethelred made their wills at the Tump to ensure that their lands and children would be provided for in the event of their death. Alfred eventually went on to finally defeat the Danes seven years later at the battle of Edington.

So what was the Swanborough Hundred? In Saxon times a "Hundred" was a unit of land that was divided into one hundred "Hides". A "Hide" being a parcel of land that was able to support one family. The size of a "Hide" varied however, depending on the quality of the soil and the size of the family it was intended to support. So in Saxon times a 'Hundred Hide' was an administrative area that could comfortably support one hundred families.

Similarly in the Norman era, land was divided into three levels of administrative district. These were the "Shire", the "Hundred", and the "Vill". Which are roughly comparable to today’s Counties, local districts, and villages. Each "Hundred" had a designated meeting place and the Swanborough Tump was the meeting place for the Hundred Moot of Swanborough. Moots were assemblies or councils where points of local governance and other issues could be debated. In such assemblies points which were put up for discussion were said to be mooted. This practice gave rise to the original definition of a “moot point", a point worthy of debate and discussion.

Interestingly however the modern common meaning of a "moot point" is exactly the opposite, with a "moot point" these days being one that is not worthy of debate and discussion. It seems that this modern day meaning may have arisen from the legal profession and the introduction of "moot courts". A "moot court" being a training court where law students can argue hypothetical cases and particpate in simulated court proceedings, but which ultimately led to no real outcome. Well except for helping to change the meaning of a "moot point".

Swanborough Tump, a public meeting place from the Saxon era until as recently as 1764.

Even though Swanborough is not the name of a local town or village it seems that in the thirteenth century, when the fashion of having a surname began in Britain, that the name of the Swanborough Hundred’s meeting place began to be used as a local surname.

Pictures: Wiltshire (March 2016).

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