Time Travel London: To Anglo-Saxon Brixton

By M@ Last edited 60 months ago
Time Travel London: To Anglo-Saxon Brixton

The latest entry in our series that imagines London past and present in the same image. See below for how to enter.

Liam Roberts has previous form with artistic depictions of Brixton. A couple of years ago, he entered our hand-drawn maps competition with Brixton As A Tree. Now he's at it again, imagining what the area might have looked like a millennium ago. He explains:

I was trying to imagine how the Brixton vicinity might have looked well over a thousand years ago. Accounts vary a little, but there seems to be agreement about one thing: Brixton takes its name from the Saxon "Beorhtsige's Stone" (certainly not "Town of Bricks"!).

Beorhtsige was a local Surrey lord who would convene councils of other neighbouring lords at a large stone landmark on his fiefdom — somewhere near contemporary Brixton Hill, though you could imagine that where Acre Lane and the River Effra met would also have been a logical place to meet up).

What no one seems to know for sure is what those councils were for. Was the Stone simply a landmark, where Beorhtsige would solicit the demands of his neighbours in order to draft up petitions to the King? Was it a convenient place to gather to resolve their own disputes — either amicably, or less so? Given the area wouldn't be settled for centuries, maybe the Stone had a more spiritual than pragmatic significance — was it a kind of altar, or a henge, and Beorhtsige a high priest? If yes, what did they do there?

To make the image, I've brought together one photo of contemporary Brixton (facing Lambeth Town Hall from Coldharbour Lane/Brixton High Street), and another photo of Mayburgh Henge (an English Heritage site not far from Penrith). So, perhaps this is slightly cheating...

We're still looking for further entries in the Time Travel London series. You can use Photoshop, as Liam has here, or you can make your image with paint, pencils, collage...whatever you like. The only rule is that your creation should depict some aspect of London's past alongside something from the modern (or future) city. We'll arrange an exhibition of the best images. Thinking caps on, and send entries to matt@londonist.com.

Previous entries, for inspiration:

And see also: An Anglo-Saxon map of London

Last Updated 09 May 2013


By law every Anglo-Saxon administrative district (called a Hundred because it was composed of 1010 hides of land) had to meet every month for a gemot. THis was the meeting of free men where all legal business (criminal and civil) was transacted, so criminals would be tried but marriages would also be announced, financial transactions would be recorded like the sales of livestock, land would be bought and sold, boundaries adjusted, etc. These meeting places were often associated with some notable landscape feature like a hill or a really old tree or a spring, but sometimes with a manmade feature like a standing stone. There's no reason Beorhtsige as a wealthy local magnate, perhaps the ealdorman of the Hundred, wouldn't come to be associated with the place where the gemot met during his tenure in the area, and no reason why that wouldn't have worked its way into folk memory in the form of a place name to indicate where the gemot met.