Rethinking Wat’s Dyke: A Monument’s Flow in a Hydraulic Frontier Zone

Howard Williams


Britain’s second-longest early medieval monument – Wat’s Dyke – was a component of an early medieval hydraulic frontier zone rather than primarily serving as a symbol of power, a fixed territorial border or a military stop-line. Wat’s Dyke was not only created to monitor and control mobility over land, but specifically did so through its careful and strategic placement by linking, blocking and overlooking a range of watercourses and wetlands. By creating simplified comparative topographical maps of the key fluvial intersections and interactions of Wat’s Dyke for the first time, this article shows how the monument should not be understood as a discrete human-made entity, but as part of a landscape of flow over land and water, manipulating and managing anthropogenic and natural elements. Understanding Wat’s Dyke as part of a hydraulic frontier zone not only enhances appreciation of its integrated military, territorial, socio-economic and ideological functionality and significance, most likely the construction of the middle Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, it also theorises Wat’s Dyke as built to constitute and maintain control both across and along its line, and operating on multiple scales. Wat’s Dyke was built to manage localised, middle-range as well as long-distance mobilities via land and water through western Britain and beyond.

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