On Mudwennestow

South of the town
from half-sunk washlands
wreathed in morning’s brume
rise the whip-strong
thirsty-rooted willows
of Mudwennestow
Modwen’s holy place

of Andressey
martyred Andrew’s isle
bathed, sustained
by Mercia’s life-course
the great ribbon that ties

born in high moor
lucent seep
from weathered turf
consumed, turbid estuary
in Ægir’s brew.

Battle road.
Dissolution witness.

Bringer of noble
pious Modwen
traveller, pilgrim.
Alfred’s healer
so the Norman held.

wild Caledon took her.
Her maiden bones rest
in happy, aged Byretun.


Mudwennestow (St Modwen’s Holy Place) is another Anglo-Saxon name for Andressey, a small island in the River Trent in Burton-upon-Trent. Andressey is named after St Andrew, to whom St Modwen, Burton’s patron saint, dedicated a shrine on the island in the 7th century. Norman historians claimed that she cured a sickly Alfred when he visited Ireland in his youth; quite an achievement as she would have been over 200 years old!

Ægir is a giant or “Jötunn” from Norse legend, and god of the sea, who was renowned for holding great feasts and brewing beer. It is also the name given to a tidal bore which appears in the lower reaches of the Trent near its confluence with the Humber.

Dissolution refers to the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, of which Burton Abbey was a victim.

Royalist refers to the Battle of Burton Bridge in 1643, between Royalist and Parliamentarian troops during the English Civil War. There was also another battle in 1322 between Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster and his cousin King Edward II during the Despenser War, hence “battle road”.

Byretun, according to Frederick Calvert’s Picturesque Views and Description of Cities, Towns, Castles, Mansions, and Other Objects of Interesting Feature, in Staffordshire (1834) is the Anglo-Saxon name for Burton. It is synonymous with Buryton, a word used by the Saxons to denote places of Ancient British or Roman origin.


4 thoughts on “On Mudwennestow

  1. I finally got around to reading your wonderful poems although it has taken an age to find the right time. Please take this as a great compliment as it means that I treasure them and want to give them the time they deserve.
    Ironically, I read this one and did all the research myself before seeing your footnotes! I think that I enjoyed the poem more because of this. It meant that I went away and read and pondered and reflected and then came back to the poem with a key in my mind as to what it was that you were sharing. Interestingly, Garner had the same effect on me with Red Shift and his mysterious code at the end. My searching for the key and unlocking the answer with no help created a special bond between myself and the story and the same has happened with your poem here.
    Every so often I encounter words that are new to me in your poems: ‘brume’ was the one this time and I love this about exploring your work. I know that each word you choose will have been deliberated over with great care but I am always touched and intrigued when archaic words are used that speak of a time before our own. I realise now that when you write about the past, you call on their words, their sound and rhythm to give a sense of time and place. For me it’s a real signature of yours and one I really enjoy.
    And although I feel this story belongs to St. Modwen, I cannot help get drawn into the river’s current and as it passes through the wash-lands so it touches upon its history. What a perfect image. The river, a great observer of times past, will remember the maiden and all Muddwennestow’s stories for all time. It is, as you point out, the great life-ribbon that ties the past and present together.

    Liked by 2 people

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