The Legend of Red Bottom

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THE notorious King Ethelred was not only ‘Redeless’ or ‘Unready’ but also a disastrous King. He made a “peaceful co-existence” pact with the Danes and then, in the year 1002 broke it by ordering a massacre of Danish settlers, men, women and children, including the Danish King Sweyn’s sister. The Danes, understandably went berserk and the whole of Southern England bore the brunt of their reprisals. Death and destruction was rampant in Dorset, Wareham in ashes, Cerne Abbey desecrated and destroyed. Attacks are known to have taken place along the Dorset coast at Portland and Charmouth. Ethelred was forced into exile and his throne occupied by a succession of Danes until the defeat of King Harold Godwinson by William the Conqueror in 1066.

On the outskirts of the village of Burton Bradstock there is an inlet where the River Bride joins the sea. Here, to Burton Freshwater come the modern Invaders known locally as ‘they Holidaymakers’, colloquially as ‘The Cuckoos’ sometimes ‘The Grockles’. On the fields surrounding the inlet they set up their tents and caravans and throughout the summer months the peace is shattered by the yells and transistor noises of their young and not so young at play, and the belligerent bickerings of their Elders enjoying themselves. However, these modern invaders bring benefits as well as disturbances to the local community as the soaring profits of those other hardy annuals, the church fetes, coffee mornings, car boot sales, etc., can testify.


So much for well-documented fact. Now for the legend handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation.


There is a dip in the hill leading from the present Burton Road down to the holiday complex. A born-and-bred vintage Burtoner will tell you it is called ‘Red Bottom’.

When the Danes mounted their reprisal raids at various points along the Dorset coast one unlucky party had the temerity to nose their longship into the inlet now known as Burton Freshwater. Climbing the greasy dip in search of fresh victims they were taken unawares by a horde of savage Burtoners who descended upon them and out-berserked the beserkers so that the dip ran red with Danish blood. Legend does not explain how the Invaded were ready for the Invaders. However, as the men of Burton from time immemorial up to the first quarter of this century depended largely on the sea for their livelihood, it is quite possible there would have been a ‘look-out’ on the cliff top for ‘Mackel strayen’ who, with a fisherman’s keen eyesight would have had ample time to warn the village of the approaching longboat.

Fact or fiction? Probably, I suspect, a mixture of both. One indisputable fact emerges. To this day that dip above Burton Freshwater is still known locally as ‘Red Bottom’.


The above article was published in "The Dorset Year Book of 1991" and is reproduced by kind permission of the editor.