Ever wondered how Godmanchester got its name - and probably one of its most attractive features? It was largely thanks to King Alfred the Great who, shortly after his encounter with the famous burnt cakes, defeated the marauding Danes in a great battle at Wedmore in Somerset. One of those who survived the battle was an important Danish Lord - Godrum - or Guthrum.
In the Domesday Book, the town is spelt as Godmundcestre and today's pronunciation of the name Godman-chester (not God-manchester) also reflects its origins.
Robert Fox's "History of Godmanchester", published in 1831 contains more of the life of Guthrum. How much is true is debatable, but like Alfred and the Cakes, there is no point spoiling a good story with mere mundane facts.
Prior to the battle at Wedmore, Alfred is claimed to have entered the Danish camp, disguised as a harper, and even to have passed some days in the tent of Guthrum. After this decisive battle in English history, a small number of Danes, including Guthrum, escaped and defended themselves in some fortifications for a few days. Besieged by Alfred and exhausted by famine they eventually surrended unconditionally.
To establish a peaceful realm, the victorious King offered Guthrum the opportunity to adopt Christianity which, since the alternative was fairly unpleasant, he rapidly did. Guthrum was received at the font by Alfred who adopted the Dane as his godson, renaming him Athelstan. After a twelve-day party, Guthrum took possession of the East Angles as a vassal of Alfred.
By about 880 AD there was a Danish settlement at Godmanchester and the antiquary Camden claimed "the town from Gorman's camp first took its name".
In Fox's time there was "a place on the Belisle estate known as Gorman's pond". Even today there exists a local legend that the stretch of water along the Causeway (referred to in the RCHM for Huntingdonshire as the "Mill Lade") was excavated by the Danes to enable their longboats to be turned round.