19 May 2015

The Anglo-Scandinavian history and Viking archaeology of Wirral.

You may find this blog excerpt from and about Ireland as it pertains to the Viking Age interesting. Click on the title link to go to the site where you will find even more interesting information. (Ed.)


The Irish sea was a major transport and trade route for the Vikings during the early medieval period and so Ireland, the West coast of Scotland, the North coast of Wales and North West England all show strong Norse influences. In the year 902AD it is recorded that many Viking invaders and settlers were expelled from Dublin. One of these named Ingimund was granted permission to settle land near Chester by Aethelflaed Lady of the Mercians and eldest daughter of King Alfred the Great. Most have interpreted this to mean he was given the end of the Wirral peninsula. There's plenty of evidence to support the migration of Hiberno Norse Vikings from Dublin to the Wirral around this time with them establishing a small independent region with it's own parliament. This area was already a melting pot of ideas and cultures being an effective buffer zone between native Cymry in Wales, Anglo Saxons in the "midland" kingdom of Mercia, Danish Vikings spreading north west across the country having first settled the east coast, whilst just a little further north Strathclyde was a mix of Britons and more Norse from Dublin.
The battle of Brunanburh, the "anvil on which England was forged" (937AD), is arguably the most important battle ever fought on English soil, as for however briefly, this was the first time England was united under one king as one single country and many believe that Bromborough on the Wirral is Brunanburh the site of this battle. There's even some suggestion that Meols (a Viking name meaning sandbank) is where the Viking King Canute (who ruled all of England from 1016 to 1035AD) proverbially showed that even a king could not command the tide. Many more of the place names around the end of the Wirral peninsula show strong Viking characteristics. The "...by" suffixes to names such as Greasby, Frankby, Pensby and Raby are Viking in origin noting a settlement or farmstead. Thingwall derives from a Viking reference to the fields of a council or parliament known as a "thing". What is more DNA studies of the local population show many of the people with ancestry on the Wirral still have strong genetic connections to Norway.
In terms of surviving physical archaeological evidence Meols had been an important trading port since before the time of the Romans with large amounts of important Viking age metal work having been recovered there. Rumours still circulate of an intact Viking clinker built boat buried under a pub car park in Meols and we all await the day funds are available to investigate and resolve this matter as the river Mersey has been the source of many Viking age logboat finds. Several important examples of early medieval decorative stone carving have been recovered from around the Wirral such as the "hogback" displayed in St. Bridget's church in West Kirby (again another place name of Viking origin). The Huxley hoard of silver recovered from near Chester shows very clear Hiberno Norse styling and the portable antiquities database shows a wealth of other small Vikings finds recovered by metal detectorists all over the Wirral. However, as a culture dependent upon oral traditions to remember their past and who built in wood which soon rots away (such as the traces of Viking age bow sided buildings found in the ground at Irby) they left no great stone palaces, amphitheatres, temples, monasteries or cathedrals and no manuscripts or carved inscriptions we can now study or visit as tourist attractions as we might to engage with and learn about earlier or later history.

Consequently the sad thing is that if you ask the local population about the heritage of their area, the first response of many is to either talk about the Roman history of Chester or the more recent industrial history of Liverpool, neither of which are technically on the Wirral. The term "Dark Ages" is no longer fashionable in academic circles but it does accurately reflect the difficulty of researching this period of history. The comparatively limited, fragmentary and occasionally contradictory evidence compared to other periods of history can be seen as contributing to public ignorance or misconception about this period. It was a time of great cultural diversity, political intrigue and change with amazingly skilled craft workers producing great works of art but you need to be passionate about this history to pick through the scraps of evidence to make sense of it and bring it all to life ... but that is what the Skip Felagr do.

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