Oesewalum was held by Earl Aldberht (also: Ealdbeorht, Ealdberht), and his sister, Selethryth (also: Seleðryth ,Seleðryð), Abbess of Lyminge, Minster on Thanet, and Southminster (Suthminster), and was either inherited from their father, a Kentish noble and land-owner, or granted to them along with other extensive estates by King Offa of Mercia for their support in quelling a Kentish revolt against him during the mid-880′s. Aldbert is recorded on some documents as being a minister or advisor to Offa.
Southminster is now believed by some authorities to be a “lost” abbey in or near Eastry, which lies to the south of Thanet, that was subsidiary to the abbey at Minster-in-Thanet and was not Minster Abbey itself as was generally held.
For political reasons Aldberht and Selethryth made a grant of Oesewalum to Wulfred (also Uulfred), the Archbishop of Canterbury, around 805 with the grant entailing that the Archbishop was to gain possession of the manor after both their deaths. Selethryth died around 805, and Aldberht eventually entered the monastery at Folkestone and died there around 820. After his death the deeds of Oesewalum were seized by Oswulf, a relative of Aldberht and Selethryth, who appears to have inherited their interests and later became an earldorman. Oswulf took the deeds to the Southminster Abbey and gave them to Cwoenthryth, the daughter of King Coenwulf of Mercia (also Cenwulf, Kenulf, Kenwulph) and overlord of Kent, who was then the abbess.
Cwoenthryth had succeeded Selethryth as Abbess of the Abbeys at Southminster, Minster and Lyminge and her father was at that time involved a long running dispute with Archbishop Wulfred over whether laymen or clergy should control religious houses.
Ceolwulf, Coenwulf’s brother, succeeded to the throne of Mercia in 821, but only reigned until 823 when he was usurped as King of Mercia by Beornwulf, and Baldred (Bealdred), possibly a Mercian kinsman of Beornwulf’s, became the king of Kent.
Cwoenthryth had retained possession of Oeswalum for some four years or so under the protection of her father and uncle but in 824 Beornwulf, the new king, agreed to resolve the dispute of ownership of various manors and estates between Cwoenthryth and Wulfred at the Council of Clofso (Cloveshoe) where Oesewalum, Oesuualun in the charter, was one of the estates returned to Wulfred.
This protracted struggle over the possession of Oesewalum, which Wulfred apparently referred to in at least one contemporary document as a small piece of land, may indicate the previously unrecognized importance of the manor to the abbeys of Minster and Southminster. Dr. F. W. Hardman, a respected East Kent antiquarian of the early 1900’s alludes to this importance in the manuscript of an unpublished book on Nonington held in the Kent Archaeological Society (KAS) archives at MaidstoneMuseum. He believed that Oesewalum was in fact an inland refuge for the inhabitants of Minster Abbey from raids by Vikings. By inference it would also have served the same purpose for inhabitants of Southminster as Dr. Hardman, in common with other antiquarians of the time, believed that Southminster and Minster on Thanet were one and the same. Dr. Hardman also believed that this use as a refuge was the origin of Nonington, (probably deriving from something like Nunningatun, the Nun’s manor).
In Roman times the Wantsum Channel, which separated the Isle of Thanet from the rest of Kent was two miles wide in places, the first bridge to Thanet was not built until 1485, and a ferry ran from Sandwich to the island until the mid-1700’s. Minster had been an active port until the Wantsum silted up in the 13th to 15th centuries. Oesewalum would have been well suited for use as a refuge, far enough from the Wantsum, five miles or so, to be safe from a quick raid from the sea and easily accessible from Minster via the port of Sandwich and then by road via Woodnesborough to Eastry, the site of Southminster Abbey, then on to Chillenden and a mile or so from here was Oesewalum.
The exact location of this sanctuary is not yet known but an ideal site would have been the promontory now called Beauchamps, just behind Old St. Alban’s Court, which overlooks the road and valley looking towards Thanet and would have been easily defensible from any casual raiders who came this far inland as well as controlling the road. The ancient route from Sandwich runs to the west of Beauchamps and continues on past St. Mary’s church in Nonington to Womenswold, across to the east side of Barham and then on through the Elham Valley through the old market “town” of Elham and on to Lyminge Abbey, successively under the control of Selethryth and Cwoenthryth.
The churches on the route also have the name of their patron saint in common with the first Minster Abbey, St. Mary the Virgin. Sandwich’s oldest church and the site of a lost convent on Strand Street which was on the Wantsum’s edge, Eastry, Nonington, Elham, and Lyminge are all dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin, with Lyminge being jointly dedicated to St. Mary and St. Ethelburgha, its founder.
A Saxon (left) tries to repel a Viking raider (from a contemporary manuscript)
The first Viking raid on Kent recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was an attack on the Isle of Sheppey in 835, but it appears that Kent had been subjected to raids from the sea since at least the 790’s as can be seen from a charter of King Offa of Mercia.
Probably given to help placate the church in Kent to accept his rule King Offa of Mercia issued a charter in 792 confirming the exemption of the Church in Kent from various services with the exception of “an expedition within Kent against sea-borne pagans arriving with fleets, or against the East Saxons”, evidence that raids were already well in progress. These “sea-borne pagans” were presumably Scandinavian in origin, either Danes or Norwegians.
The raids appear to have quickly become a problem to the nuns of Lyminge Abbey as in 804 they were granted land for a sanctuary in Canterbury, and Lyminge suffered so badly from “Viking” incursions that the nuns moved to Canterbury taking Ethelburgha’s relics with them.
There were some reports of Vikings building fortifications in Kent by 811, and the situation must have become serious because when King Coenwulf granted Archbishop Wulfred land in 822 he maintained an obligation for Wulfred to destroy fortifications built on the land by pagans, by this time almost certainly Danes.
In 825, Beornwulf attacked the West Saxons but was badly defeated by Ecgbert, King of Wessex, in battle at Ellandun, fought at Wroughton near Swindon, Wiltshire. This defeat ended Mercian supremacy and changed the course of English history. Æðelwulf, King Ecgbert’s son, invaded Kent and expelled Baldred which brought Kent under the control of Wessex.
Wulfred left his property to his kinsman, Werhard, with the specific instruction that Werhard should in his turn leave the property to ChristChurch, Canterbury. In his will written in the early 830’s Werhard states that a charity was begun by Wulfred, and that he intended to continue it as Wulfred wished. Wulfred specified that Oesewalum, again written Oesuualun, should provide seven paupers with “enough to eat be given each day as is convenient and over the year let each pauper be given twenty-six pence for clothing”.
Werhard also instructed that a mass be celebrated for his soul every day and that on his anniversary 1,200 paupers should each be given food of a loaf of bread, some cheese or butter and one penny (£.5.00 in total for 1,200 paupers, a large sum).
After Werhard’s will Oesewalum seems to disappear as an entity, the name does not appear in any surviving documents possibly because of the ravaging Danes as by this time any sanctuary at Oesewalum would have been of little use.
In 851 and 854 the Danes overwintered on the Isle of Thanet and by 865 the raids were so bad and East Kent was so badly ravaged that the inhabitants offered the Vikings a large bride to leave them in peace, however, during the negotiations the Danes changed there minds and rampaged through East Kent. Along with other minsters and abbeys in Kent Minster in Thanet fell into decline because of the Danes incursions and its lands either fell into disuse or were sold off, but it must have taken a real “frontiersman’s” mentality to have wanted to own and work land within reach of the Danes.
Perhaps this is what happened at Oesewalum as it became untenable and therefore virtually worthless, as at some point during the next two centuries the manor ceased to be part of ChristChurch’s possessions and eventually came into the possession of the Crown which appears to have divided the manor into three smaller manors.
The Domesday Survey of 1086 records the manors Eswalt, Essewelle, and Soles as held from the king, William I, by Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux and Earl of Kent.
However, Nunningatun, the Nun’s manor, left its name which became Nunningitun around 1070 and eventually evolving through the centuries into the modern Nonnington or Nonington.