Welcome to the Wirral Vikings blog
Greetings or in Wirral Norse Heill and welcome to the new Wirral News Viking Blog.
We thought we'd kick off with this introductory piece giving a bit of background behind the blog, inspired by a surge interest in the Vikings in our favourite area - Wirral - and then say something about the blog itself. Here we go!
Viking Wirral - and Viking Genes
1000 or so years ago Wirral - recently described by TV Weatherman Fred Talbot as "Little Scandinavia" - was home to a thriving community of Vikings of primarily Norwegian descent.
These Norsemen came to settle in Wirral after being driven out of Ireland and then Anglesey. Their expulsion from these places initiated their migration into the area and they established a community with their own leader - a man called Ingimund, their own language - Old Norse (perhaps with an Irish accent), a trading port - Meols, and at its centre a place of assembly or government - the Thing at Thingwall.
Experts believe Viking Wirral was the scene of what BBC's Neil Oliver described as one of the most important battles in the History of the British Isles - the Battle of Brunanburh in 937.
Their legacy also remains in a wealth of archaeology - and in all the place names these Norsemen have left behind. And these Vikings are still with us today: a recent genetic survey of Wirral and neighbouring -West Lancashire has shown that up to half of the DNA from old Wirral families is of Norse origin. Our blog site has been set up for readers of the News to discuss all things Viking.
AD902-3 First Vikings led by Ingimund arrive in Wirral:
Painting Â© by Chris Collingwood http://www.chriscollingwood.co.uk/
Viking migrations into the region:
Â© John Harding
You can't escape the Vikings on Wirral - they are even on our signposts. Take this one for example in the centre of Irby: all the names - including Irby itself - are Viking or Viking influenced:
Viking Wirral - map of major Wirral place names in their probable Old Norse form - can you identify these with their modern forms? Norse Ã is pronounced "Th".
...and a closer view of north Wirral:
Viking weaponry found at Meols - bent spear head, shield boss and axehead:
Â© The Meols Project
What's in a name?
Wirral has a fantastic wealth of Scandinavian place names - major and minor. It has amongst the highest concentration of place names in the country ending with -by, a Viking term meaning a settlement or farmstead, but there are many other examples.
Most are concentrated in the northern and western end of the peninsula and their distribution gives us an idea of the boundary of the Norse community.
Some place names show clearly that many of the Norse settlers came from Ireland and bringing Irish people with them: names like Dove Point ('black point'), Liscard ('hall on a rock') and Noctorum ('hill that's dry') all have clear Irish elements. Irby itself is an Old Norse name meaning "settlement of the Irish". Places like Denhall (from Old Danish Danir - Danes) tell us that Danes were there too.
Ness ('promontory') and Neston probably marked the southern extremity of the initial Norse settlements and the neighbouring settlement of Raby is an Old Norse name meaning 'boundary settlement'.
From Raby the boundary appears to have run north-eastwards along the River Dibbin and the ridge of high ground separating Bebington from Storeton (Old Norse 'big farmstead') up to Tranmere ('crane or heron sandbank').
The existence of the community's Thing at Thingwall ('assembly field' - one of only two definite surviving Thingwall place-names in England - attests to the Scandinavians being the dominant population.
The large numbers of minor names/dialect words like carr (Old Norse kjarr - 'marsh brushwood'), holm (holmr - 'island on marshy area'), rake (rak -'lane'), breck (brekka - 'slope on a hillside') and slack (slakki - cutting/cut through) also helps tell us the population were primarily Norse speaking, a language which affected the dialect of the population for centuries after the settlement period. The large numbers of carr and holm names around the Birkett and Fender tell us that much of the land was boggy and prone to flooding.
Cross Hill, believed to be the site in Thingwall of the "Thing" parliament:
This would meet regularly to discuss law and policy and would also be convened in matters of emergency. The arrow indicates the possible spot where Ingimund would have stood to address the Wirral Thingmen.
Ingimund's deal with Queen Aethelflaed
The arrival of Viking settlers into Wirral is recorded in Irish chronicles reinforced by Welsh and Anglo Saxon records (the refortification of Chester shortly after their arrival).
They tell of how the Norseman Ingimund gained permission to settle 'in lands near Chester' how their settlements were peaceful - presumably as part of the deal with Queen Aethelflaed - at least initially.
Several field names for example have the name element arrowe (Old Norse - aergi - 'shieling/pastureland') - for example Youd's Arrowe and Bennet's Arrowe which are now part of the Golf course and Bithell's Arrowe, Widings Arrowe, Harrison's Arrowe and Wharton's Arrowewhich are in the area between Arrowe Brook Farm and the Cricket Ground - and this shows a peaceful farming activity.
However the story of Ingimund in the Irish Chronicles ends by telling us of how in 907 he called a meeting of the leaders of all the Norsemen, Danes and their Irish followers after which they started attacking Chester.
A wealth of Viking archaeology and stonework
Wirral is blessed with many fine examples of Viking Age archaeology. In the 19th century Viking artefacts were discovered at Meols as coastal erosion exposed ancient settlements: these finds were catalogued and published in 2007 by the Oxford University Archaeology Society (D. Griffiths, R.A. Philpott & G. Egan: Meols, the Archaeology of the North Wirral Coast): they include coins, Hiberno-Norse pins, brooches, part of a drinking horn and what appear to be weapons from a possible pagan burial.
Other Wirral finds include the magnificent hogback grave marker at St Bridget's Church, West Kirby, (recently beautifully restored by the Merseyside Conservation Centre) and another smaller hogback from Bidston, discovered in 2004.
Remains of an elliptically shaped Viking house with an amber bead and other finds have been found at Irby - and that find is to be published soon in a special publication by the National Museums of Liverpool. Viking cross fragments have been found at Hilbre Island, West Kirby, Woodchurch and Bromborough.
At the Church of St Mary and St Helen at Neston, there are several pieces belonging to at least three Hiberno-Norse crosses, with fascinating imagery including the touching scene of a Viking couple embracing.
Vikings revive an ancient seaport
Archaeological evidence suggests that Meols had been used as a seaport long before the arrival of the Vikings, indeed many of the finds show it probably began in the Iron Age and was used by the Romans.
Although Meols today offers only few advantages as a port this was not true in Medieval and ancient times, and from a perusal of old maps it is not difficult to see why. Until the 19th century the coast at Meols extended several hundred metres outwards from its position today - a lost landform which was known as Dove Point.
A tidal channel known as the Hoyle Lake provided a sheltered anchorage. Viking-Age Meols became a point of communication with other Norse communities around the Irish Sea and an important trading base, and it continued to trade well on into the middle ages.
Coastal erosion, silting and other changes to the coastline resulted in the loss of Dove Point by the end of the 19th century.
18th century map of north Wirral. Kirkby, "the village of the church" is the old name for Wallasey Village:
Viking Tranmere and Viking Horse racing
Wirral's Tranmere Rovers (Trani-melr = "Cranebird/heron sandbank") is unique in being the only team in the English Football League with a definite Norwegian Viking name*: all Viking fans should support Tranmere.
Although they were not kicking footballs in the 10th century there is place-name evidence that they were participating in another type of sport - the field names Heskeths in Irby and Thornton Hough derive from the ON hestaskei¶ meaning "horse race track".
* Scunthorpe is Danish in origin and most likely Grimsby and Derby as well. Conference side Barrow probably also carries a Norwegian name.
Dingesmere and the Battle of Brunanburh.
Next year marks the 1075th anniversary of the Battle of Brunanburh one of the most important battles in the history of the Britsh Isles - comparable in importance to Hastings - and yet, as BBC presenter Neil Oliver said in a recent broadcast - few people have even heard of it.
Brunanburh is the old name for Bromborough on the Wirral and although its location has been debated most experts now acccept that the battle was fought on Wirral.
It took place in AD937 - almost 40 years after the first Viking settlements and involved invading armies coming from Ireland and Scotland confronting Anglo-Saxon armies coming from central and southern England.
The Anglo-Saxon poem describing the battle tells how the invaders departed from Dingesmere, recently explained as the "Things-mere" - the wetland or marshland of the Thing - a term used earlier by locals and seaman to warn sea-travellers coming to the Thing meetings about the hazards of coastal marshland.
Much later sources coming from Iceland claimed that Vikings fought on both sides with one of the warriors their most famous Viking - Egil Skallagrimsson. Although the precise location on Wirral for the main battle site and Dingesmere are not known with any certainty it is believed the bulk of the fighting could have taken place in the Bebington-Brimstage region and Dingesmere may have been the Dee Estuary along the coast from Neston up to what is now Heswall Point or Sheldrakes.
One of the major combatants was the Viking leader Olaf Guthfrithsson and a coin with him as king dated AD 941 was recently found at Neston.
Viking genes in old Wirral families
Recent Y-chromosome DNA analysis of men from old Wirral families (i.e. possessing surnames extant in the area prior to 1700) has shown, in common with neighbouring West Lancashire, that a substantial amount - up to as much as 50% - of the DNA admixture appears to be of Norse origin.
Many of the individuals who took part also had strong personal matches in Scandinavia including Heswall born Brian Totty.
When asked if he was surprised about his results he replied as follows: 'Well, I wasn't surprised, I was delighted to get the proof of something which had been suggested to me for many years by a local historian.
His name was Canon Lee who was the rector of Heswall Church and he would be pouring over the Parish Registers and whenever I bumped into him he would say "Here comes Totty the Viking".
I used to laugh and think he was winding me up. I accepted in good faith what he said about the Parish Register and that goes back five centuries or so to the 1650's but this took us back another seven hundred years would it be. This has scientifically proven what the suggestion was so the result has proved something that couldn't be established with certainty through anecdotes in Parish Registers'.
The survey led by Professor Mark Jobling from the University of Leicester - the birthplace of genetic fingerprinting - was recently published in a leading scientific journal and a book will be published in a forthcoming book.
The Wirral News Vikings blog site
Our blog now provides you with the best possible opportunity for you to discuss with yourselves, ourselves and other experts locally, nationally - and internationally - about Wirral's Viking heritage and Vikings in general.
And also if you think you've discovered something or have an idea which you think is of potential interest to others and would like it checking out this may provide an easy way of doing it: if we can't answer your query ourselves we will consult with colleagues at Liverpool Museums or the Universities of Nottingham and Oxford and wider afield to give the best possible answer: so, happy and productive blogging!
Steve and David