Aldreth is a small village in Cambridgeshire with about 260 residents (2001 census). It is located near the larger village of Haddenham and falls under the same Parish council. Aldreth is surrounded by fenland on all sides and the River Great Ouse, or the Old West as the locals call it, runs close by.
Aldreth has been the site of two major battles in history. They both were between Hereward the Wake (Saxons) and William the Conqueror (Normans). Aldreth is located on the edge of the Isle of Ely and because the isle was surrounded with water Aldreth was a good place to invade the isle from. Aldreth was also the main route into the isle. William the conqueror knew this. He had invaded the whole of England apart from the Isle of Ely and he wanted to capture the isle so badly that he built a 3km causeway from Willingham to Aldreth. In both battles Hereward held out with his knowledge of the Fens and guerrilla warfare. These victories for Hereward did not mean an end to Williams's determination and he eventually found another way through to the isle in 1071.
There are many theories about how Aldreth got its name. Here are the most popular ones:
William had taken over most of England and by this time he thought a little place like the Isle of Ely would be an easy battle but he would turn out to be very wrong. William began by finding out the narrowest strip of water between two pieces of dry land. This just happened to be between Willingham and Aldreth and so he decided to build a causeway bridging this gap. He built the causeway and although Hereward had the chance to destroy it he did not. Hereward built a turf rampart at the end of the causeway near Aldreth and effectively set a trap for the Normans.
After the causeway had been built the Norman army swarmed towards the isle in the thousands. The bridge began to sink under the pressure and many Normans found themselves pushed into the water in the mad rush to get at the riches of the isle of Ely. All this time Hereward stayed extremely calm. The bridge began to tilt and men began to lose their footings and slip. They arrived at the foot of Hereward's fort and then came an avalanche of spears, arrows and stones from Hereward's fort. The Norman knights were massacred at the foot of this fort. The catastrophe that Hereward had predicted happened a few moments later, the whole bridge rolled over and the dark water of peat and mud engulfed all the men on the bridge.
Thousands of Normans are believed to have been killed here and still today weapons and armour are being found around Aldreth and the Old West River. After seeing this disaster, William and his surviving men retreated and made other plans to invade the isle.
Before this battle the isle had been suffering from a drought and this was to be a major part of Hereward's plan to hold out the Normans.
William moved his troops to Willingham and began to build his causeway stronger and broader. William asked all the Ouse fishermen to help him in transporting materials across the marsh. Hereward cut his hair and beard and sailed over to help William. At the end of the day Hereward set fire to the reeds surrounding and the causeway itself. The causeway was burnt and some Normans were killed in the fire. For seven days Hereward ambushed William's men and his causeway but William eventually managed to build the bridge.
William started his main attack with catapults and balistas firing at the Aldreth fort. William saw the English retreating and hurried quickly on. Theyttt6t Normans were searching the reeds for Hereward's army and all of a sudden they heard shouts. It was Hereward and his men. They were over the other side of a 50feet stretch of water. Javelins and spears were thrown at every moment and the occasional man fell forward into the water. William got his boats and pushed them into the water. Some men slipped and fell in but their comrades were too busy to help them. The reeds that the boats were crossing were set on fire and then another avalanche of firepower hit the boats and the men inside them. William himself got an arrow shot straight through his shield and into his chain mail. William was dragged from the battle. Meanwhile men were burning and the bridge had been set alight. It was a scene of chaos and death. The next day William withdrew his Army and vowed never to fight there again.
The search for Hereward the Wakehttp://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/longview/longview_20030923.shtml