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‘Wantage won’t fight for Alfred’s remains’
Buy this photo » Wantage mayor Charlotte Dickson with the Wantage statue
ALFRED the Great can rest easy it seems.
Wantage leaders yesterday said they were unlikely to start a battle for the King’s bones if they are found by a new archaeological project in Winchester.
Archaeologists at the University of Winchester want to discover if remains lying in an unmarked grave at St Bartholomew’s Church are those of the legendary king – who was born in Wantage – and are now seeking permission from the Church of England to exhume them.
It follows the discovery of Richard III’s remains that has sparked a battle between York and Leicester to become the Plantagenet king’s new resting place.
Wantage mayor Charlotte Dickson hoped that if Alfred was found, it would benefit tourism in the town.
She said: “People in Wantage might like King Alfred’s remains to be brought here but I don’t think we would campaign for it – Winchester Cathedral would be an appropriate place for a king to be buried and we can’t compete with that.
“This discovery is fascinating, coming so soon after Richard III’s remains were found in Leicester.
“We need to do everything we can to milk our claim to Alfred the Great, and the town council is planning to use money left over from our Jubilee budget to amend our road signs.
“Instead of simply welcoming people to Wantage we want to amend the signs so they also say ‘The Birthplace of Alfred the Great’. I would also like to get the Vale of Downland Museum more involved in promoting Wantage’s links with Alfred.”
Town councillor Patrick O’Leary said if the remains were confirmed as being King Alfred’s, then some people in the town could start to demand they were buried in Wantage instead.
He added: “I think we should capitalise on our links with King Alfred’s links but I think it would be going too far to move the remains to Wantage, and possession is nine tenths of the law so Winchester would fight hard to keep them.”
It is thought the grave at Bartholomew Church might hold the bones of Alfred after a possible earlier burial of the king under the nearby ruined Hyde Abbey. A diocesan advisory panel of the Church of England will consult English Heritage on whether the bones can be exhumed before a judge makes a final decision.
Dr Katie Tucker, from the University of Winchester, said: “If the bones are from around the 10th century then that is proof they are Alfred and his family, because Hyde Abbey was not built until the 12th century. “There would be no reason for any other bones from the 10th century to be there.”
Experts will rely on radio carbon dating to prove that the bones are Alfred’s.
ANGLO-SAXON King Alfred lived from 849 to 899AD and was born in Wantage.
The only English monarch to be given the title The Great, he died in his capital Winchester, where he was buried.
The Blowing Stone, a perforated sarsen stone in Kingston Lisle, near Uffington, is reputedly how King Alfred summoned his Saxon troops, in readiness for the nearby Battle of Ashdown against the Vikings.
Also, according to legend, a person who is capable of making the blowing stone sound a note that is audible at the White Horse will be a future King of England.
Wantage’s Market Square statue of Alfred was sculpted by Count Gleichen, a relative of Queen Victoria, and unveiled in 1877 by the future Edward VII and his wife.