Near to All Cannings and Pewsey in Wiltshire, England, is Swanborough Tump. A small concrete pillar marks the site, and a plate on the top is inscribed:

Swinbeorg c 850
Meeting Place of the
Hundred of Swanborough
See link to local council photo of the site with the 2000 Reunion memorial on top!

1992 by John Swansbury

Russell's Family at the Tump (note the overgrown state) 1993

August 1998 by Karen Swanborough

October 1998 by Nigel & Kim Swansborough

a plate on the front has been added:

[In answer to several queries about "what is a 'tump': A "tump" is a mound or barrow. From various sources it would appear this was an ancient burial mound or man-made barrow, vs. a naturally occuring hill. See Ley-lines below by Russell Swanborough.]

Below is an explanation for the differences in the photos. Here is a paragraph from a letter sent to John Ayling 1998 in reply to a letter he sent the Wiltshire County Council Education and Libraries Department:

"Your family name is certainly very local, coming from the Swanborough Hundred. The Swanborough Tump, the meeting place for men of the hundred and where King Alfred and his brother drew up their wills before a battle with the Danes in 871 A.D. has recently been comemorated by the parish of Manningford, in which it lies. They have cleared some of the scrub from it, erected a sarsen stone and unveiled a new plaque detailing the Tump's history."

 Below from John Swansbury's Research
The division of the Anglo-Saxon Shires into rural "Hundreds" dates back to either King Edmund I (AD 939) or King Edgar the Peaceable (959-975). Each Hundred was comprised of ten "Tithings", and each Tithing consisted of ten families, headed by a "Franklin" or freeman who owned the land on which the family lived. Under a system called "Frankpledge" the inhabitants were personally responsible for the suppression of theft and violence in their district. When the Normans invaded, the system of ownership of land was inverted, so that it all belonged to barons instead of to franklins.
King Arthur (871-901) is said to have made his will here. He had conquered the men of Wessex in 878 at the battle of Ethandum (near modern Edington) and stormed the strong Danish stockade at Chippenham, leading to the Treaty of Wedmore.
Information about the Swanborough Hundred from the Victoria History of Wiltshire. Vol 10:
No place in Swanborough has ever grown larger than a village.[Page 3]
Swanborough was one of the largest Wiltshire Hundreds in 1084. [Page 4]


By 1651 it was the custom for the Michaelmas Court Michaelmas (29th September) to be held at Swanborough Tump, in the ancient parish of Mannigford Abbots, near the boundary with Wilcot, and the Lady Day Court at Foxley Corner in Urchfont. Swanborough Tump, the meeting place of the ancient Swanborough Hundred, is a medium-size bowl-barrow and as Swana Beorh occurs in a charter of 987. The name is thought to mean "barrow of the peasants". In 1651 and occasionally later the site was called Swanborough Ash, after the tress which grew upon it. After the hundred passed into the Lord Radnor's hands [in the later 18th century, ibid, p215] .. it was the custom to adjourn the Swanborough Tump meeting to the Rose and Crown in Woodborough. [Page 5]

Below from Russell Swanborough's Research

The content of this text was gleaned from various sources, but most was taken from old books found in a public library in a village near to the Swanborough Tump and some from a tome describing the more obscure historic sites found around England which was discovered by chance in Sawston county library in Cambridgeshire. I have been back there to try and relocate the book in order to photocopy the relevant pages, but it appears to have gone missing over the years. The legend described within it (and expanded below) is supposed to account for the reason why there are so few Swanborough's! A short piece about an 'Edward Swanborow' is taken from an otherwise totally inaccurate description of the name sold by one of those market stall 'certificate' vendors.

The English name Swanborough is without doubt of locative origin, deriving in its current form from the domesday registration of property, although it almost certainly has its origins in pre-Christian times. There is some evidence that the name was associated with the area as far back as 500BC.

The name originates in central Wiltshire, from what is now an almost imperceptible mound known as the Swanborough Tump, and which is surmounted by two ash trees known as the Swanborough Ashes. Until the great gales of 1986, there were three ashes upon the Tump. In the history of the Tump, three ashes was always a significant number and legend has it that, should there be less than three ash trees growing, misfortune will befall the male line of the name. Over time the number has dropped below three on many occasions as a tree dies, and in the past someone has always replaced it and restored the number to three, but not always as speedily as the family would like it. [I don't know if anyone has taken on this responsibility lately. The last time I was there I couldn't see how many ash trees there were due to the overgrown surroundings.]

The place name Swanborough can be found on modern Ordnance Survey maps in several places, one of which is obviously the Swanborough Tump which is located at 51.20.6N and 1.48.4W, about [if I recall properly] 8 miles South-South-West of Marlborough. Other places bearing the name Swanborough are a second site in Wiltshire and two sites in East Sussex, named Swanborough Hill and Swanborough Manor. In fact the lady who administers Swanborough Manor can provide some fascinating history of her own, and it's on the 'net. [See Swanborough Manor page.-BSD]

The Swanborough Tump was for a long period the meeting place of the Hundred of Swanborough. In fact, as late as 1764, Swanborough Ashes was still recorded as a public meeting place for the area

For those who may have thought the name originated from the time of the Danish invaders, in fact the site was already well known in the ninth century. There can be no question that it was the agreed meeting place for Alfred and his brother King Ethelred I in 878 before the battle of Ethandun, when Wessex was being attacked by the Danish invaders. A passage in Alfred's Will reads, "When we assembled at Swanborough, we agreed, with the cognisance of the West Saxon Council, that whichever of us survived the other was to give the other's children the lands which we had ourselves acquired, and the lands which King Ethelwulf gave us."

The ash was sacred to the northern European tribes in the 4th century BC and the Swanborough Tump appears to have been associated with the worship of Teutonic Gods during this period. There is certainly hard evidence that the site has these early pre-Christian links.

It is known that the name Swanborough actually took the form of 'Swinbeorg' in this time of the ninth century and later 'Swanabeorgh'. Due to the phonetic style of the early recording of the name it has taken many different forms subsequently. [See Spelling of Name]]

In the class system in England at that time, there were senior or superior 'gentlemen' among the lower classes. These would probably have been overseers or administrators of some kind and seen as 'shepherds of the people'. They would certainly have been the sorts of people closely involved with the writing of the Domesday book that was to be started in 1086. Thus 'swain' meant 'gentleman of the lower classes' but they were still peasants along with the villagers, cottagers and crofters who worked the agrarian economy of the time. A hang-over of the swain epithet can be found in the early term for a senior non-commissioned officer or 'boat-swain', shortened later to bo'sun. Coxswain is another example.

Before Europe had formal borders, the northern European tribes had many language similarities. Old English used the term 'swain' or 'swan' and Old Norse of the same period had 'sveinn' with similar meaning and Old German has similar terms. Whether one was the root of the other is difficult to ascertain but I suspect that they all had even earlier common roots.

The Swanborough Hundred was formed from a long and wide 'Y' shaped valley. These wide valleys were known in those times as a 'barrow'. Clearly a better class of people lived in the Swanborough Hundred, a fact which is supported by the fact that Devizes was situated right in the middle of it and, besides being a major market town, it was the administrative centre for the surrounding areas right from the pre-Christian times.

Hence it appears that the name Swanborough in early English most probably means 'barrow of the gentlemen of the lower classes', or more simply, 'valley of the peasants' [I prefer the first one] and predates any kind of Norman or Danish invasion by over a thousand years. [It is a particularly beautiful part of England and I am not at all surprised that a Saxon King would want to call his daughter Swanborough.]

In the thirteenth century, when the fashion of adding a surname began in Britain, the name Swanborough as a surname, rather than just as a geographical site, would probably have been taken by the overseer or convenor ('chief swain') of the Swanborough Hundred, which was the collection of properties, or 'hides', defined a century or so earlier, and shown on the maps of the time. It is spelled on the ancient maps [I have several versions] variously with a hyphen as 'SWAN-BOROUGH' and as 'SWANBUROUGH'. (Incidentally, the name of the nearby town of Marlborough probably means 'the barrow where lime fertiliser can be found', but that's another story).

Historical references to the name are few, but it is said that a certain Edward Swanborow emigrated to Virginia on 6th December 1658 to escape the famine and tyranny in Britain of that time, and who apparently bonded himself to work for a Henry Daniell for six years in the hope of improving his fortunes.

Although a name originating over two and half thousand years ago, it has strangely few direct descendants, and a legend that may explain this anomaly…


A 'Hundred' is a unit of land that was originally defined in Anglo Saxon times. It was divided into 'Hides'. A 'Hide' was an area of land large enough to support one family. The size of a Hide varied with the quality of the soil and the size of the family it was supposed to support. A 'Hundred Hide' was basically an administrative area that could comfortably support one hundred families; the term was later shortened to a 'Hundred'. The Swanborough Hundred includes the famous Wiltshire market town of Devizes.

 Barrows and Ley-Lines
(continuing from Russell Swanborough) 

In the old books that I researched, it says that, during the ninth and tenth centuries, the 'borough'

part of our name was clearly a variation of 'barrow' which has one clear meaning - tumulus, (or tump in the Wiltshire area), meaning burial mound. There were (and are) many such tumps in Wiltshire. However, it appears that all small hills, or tumps, were not burial mounds (see ley-lines next).

One of the books explains that the 'barrow' in Swain-barrow can also have a less frequently found second meaning of an area enclosedbetween high ground, or wide valley. A common use of this meaning is in wheelbarrow, meaning sort of 'valley on wheels'.

I don't think it matters too much whether Swanborough 'Barrow of the peasants' means area around the mound of the peasants, or valley of the peasants, the area remains the same, but can anyone give any further elucidation?


If someone has an ordnance survey map of the area(s) around the Swanborough Tump and areas south to Stonehenge and Salisbury, then they may be able to confirm whether or not the Swanborough Tump is on the 'Old Sarum Ley'. The 'Old Sarum Ley' is a ley-line that stretches from south of Frankenbury Camp in Hampshire, through Clearbury Ring, Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire,

Old Sarum (old Salisbury), and Stonehenge and has its northern end pass through or terminate at more or less the spot where the Swanborough Tump is situated. I can't say for sure because I don't have sufficiently detailed survey maps. I intend to get them if no-one else already has them.

To the uninitiated, Ley-Lines are supposedly lines of energy that run through the earth (a bit like acupunture lines on humans) and that have mysterious phenomena associated with them. They are straight and pass through the middle of the edifices erected in their line. In other words, it is conjectured that Salisbury Cathedral, Stonhenge and the other sites mentioned above were *deliberately* built where they are to take advantage of the power that came from the ley-line. They were initially identified by prehistoric man as areas with forces that might be harnessed for useful purpose. They are usually marked by stones and mounds (tumps!) and of course, psychics and dowsers love working around them.

Other theories regarding their creation are: they are a part of the balance of the universe, or that the scientists of Atlantis magicked them into place. It is said that inexplicable natural phenomena often occur in the ley-lines. For example, dense clouds of flying ants have occasionally swarmed around the Salisbury Cathedral spire, and it is said that if a Bishop of Salisbury is about to die, mysterious white birds appear.

If the Swanborough Tump is on the Old Sarum ley-line then we can expect that it will be associated with an extra element of mystery. In which case any dowsers and psychics in the family must bring their gear along to the reunion!

Other ley-lines are: Glastonbury ley, to the east of Old Sarum ley, Speyer Cathedral ley in Germany, The death roads of Holland, Several in Prague, Bohemia, Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.This should get the magnifying glasses and dowsing rods working. 

More on Ley-Lines

Response by Nige Swansborough, Godalming, UK
As far as I can make out from my maps, if you plot a line between Salisbury and Stonehenge, then continue to go straight in a North(ish) direction the line will pass about 200 yards to the left of Swanborough Tump. Carry on up the same line and you pass within 'spitting distance' of West Kennet Long barrow then after another mile or so it hits dead center of Silbury Hill (the largest pre-historic barrow in europe).

So, it looks like Russell might be on to something!


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Updated January 15, 2005

Copyright 1998-2005, Bonnie Swansbrough

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