Archenfield is an area in south-west Herefordshire
- the parish of
Kings Caple is the only part of Archenfield
east of the Wye. To the west of Archenfield is the valley
of the River Dore - the 'Golden Valley' - while the northern
border lies on the Worm Brook. Archenfield is the English
term for the land that the Welsh called Ergyng or Ercic.
It is the enigma of Archenfield - this intriguing border
land that for centuries was not quite England and not
quite Wales - which gives it such fascination for archaeologists
Ergyng takes it name from Ariconium, the Romano-British
industrial settlement in
near Ross-on-Wye. Ariconium is east of the Wye and is
not within either modern or Domesday Archenfield, and the original
Ergyng was presumably much larger than its descendent.
The growth of the power of the Germanic English made it
no longer viable as an independent kingdom and a dynastic
marriage merged it with Gwent.
Gwent was the British kingdom based in an area approximating
to modern day Monmouthshire and like Ergyng, took its
name from a Roman place-name - Venta - Caerwent. In the
8th century it would be the Kings of Gwent - Morgan, his
son Ithel ap Morgan and his sons, Ffernfael, Rhodri, Rhys
and Meurig, who would defend Ergyng against the power
of Mercia, at that time moving into the central Wye Valley.
By the beginning of the 9th century the Mercians had gained
control over this area and a Mercian bishop sat in his cathedral
at Hereford. During the rest of the century Mercia moved
its frontier southward to the banks of the Dore, the Worm
and a stream then known as the Taratur, annexing northern
Ergyng. The sites of old British churches - Mafurn, Lann
Guorboe, Lann Iunabui, Lann Deui, Mochros, Lann Ebrdil
and Bolgros fell to Mercia and the British became foreigners
- 'Welsh' in English - in what had been their own land.
The rump of Ergyng - Arcenefelde - is clearly identified
in the Domesday Book. The men of Archenfield were exempt
from all services to the crown with one exception - they
were to lead the army on campaigns into Wales and form
the rear-guard on its return. The exemption from all other
services is mentioned again in 1250 and 1326 - 'The
Frenchmen and Welshmen of Urchenesfeld hold their tenements
in chief of our lord the King by socage, rendering 19 pounds
7 ahillings and 6 pence. And they ought to find 49 foot-soldiers for our
lord the King in Wales for 15 days at their own cost.'
Many of the rights and customs of the people of Archenfield
were maintained until comparatively recently. Men born
in Archenfield had the right to take salmon from the River
Wye until 1911.
In Kings Caple, the only part of Archenfield east of the
Wye, Domesday lists the inhabitants as one Frenchman and
five Welshmen. Six local men paid the dues which had been
owed at this time, and before, for centuries. Payment
was still being made by one of these 'King's Men of Archenfield'
in the 1960s.
Kilpeck Church Front Door
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