http://blogs.wirralnews.co.uk/wirralvikings/

Welcome to the Wirral Vikings blog

By Steve Harding on Apr 7, 10 05:14 PM in Viking History

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:
Vikings_arrive.jpg
Painting © by Chris Collingwood http://www.chriscollingwood.co.uk/

Viking migrations into the region:
Viking_migrations.jpg
© 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_signpost.jpg

Viking Wirral - map of major Wirral place names in their probable Old Norse form - can you identify these with their modern forms? Norse Þ is pronounced "Th".
Viking_Wirral2.jpg
...and a closer view of north Wirral:
Viking_Wirral.jpg

Viking weaponry found at Meols - bent spear head, shield boss and axehead:
Meols_weaponry.JPG
© 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:
Thingwall_Thing.jpg

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:
1732_North_Wirral.jpg

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

23 Comments

Denis Sayer said:

Hi
We went to the Viking weekend at the Birkenhead Priory enjoying it so much we stayed over three hours. We where told the next viking event was ar Royden Park but we are unable to find a date. Can you help, please

Jarl Gunnar Olafsson said:

There looks like a miss spell in the sentence of this interduction "Greetings" doesn't mean "Sjaumst"! That word means "see you later" the correct word for "Greetings" is (Heill og sÊll) or (Komdu blessa-ur). Also the name Ingimund, is not correct in spelling this Norse Viking name. It should be Ingimundur. We here in Iceland, speak the old Viking Norse language which is Icelandic, and are names are from those times also. There are rules when one writes his name and mens names ended most of the time with the letter "R".

bukmacher said:

I came across your blog and found here many interesting posts. I am sure that i wil come back here soon !

MRS JAN HUGHES said:

I remember the survey carried out a few years ago and I didn't get around to sending any DNA in. Can I still participate because as far as I know I have Scandinavian ancestors?

Dear Jan,
I'm afraid we finished testing in the area some while back but its possible to have your DNA tested by a company called Oxford Ancestors. They will characterise part of your DNA which enables you to get an idea about your maternal ancestry (mothers mothers mother etc). For men its also possible to test for paternal ancestry (father's father's father etc). If you do the test and need some help with what the results mean we are happy to help. The test can be quite expensive (up to 200 pounds) but is quite painless (a mouth swab). For individuals the test can just give a rough "idea" about where one line of your ancestry may have come from (two for men) although in some cases (& these cases generally for men though!) one get get a clearer idea. Of course we have very many ancestors if we go back 1000 years.
There is a book we have just published explaining the basis of these tests:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Viking-DNA-Wirral-Lancashire-Project/dp/1906823464
Hope this helps!
Best wishes
Steve

Heather Butler said:

NEW COURSE ON WIRRAL VIKINGS!
Such is the interest, a new Adult Education course is available on Viking Wirral. Wirral Lifelong Leisure Learning are offering a course entitled the 'Wirral Vikings' to run from Friday 14th January 2010 (2-4pm) at Hoylake Library for 10 weeks, a 5 week slot at Pensby Boys School starting on 2nd March (6-8pm) and a 4 hour workshop on Saturday 5th February between 10 and 1pm at Hoylake library. Tutor will be Heather Butler.

For further details, or to register interest, phone Roger on 07507695894 or email rogerquayle@wirrallearning.ac.uk

Steve Harding said:

Sounds great Heather! ... let us know how it goes. Its a pity the fantastic exhibition at Chester is just about to end as the class would have enjoyed it. A Happy New Year to everyone!
Steve

PLEASE VOTE FOR (WIRRAL) VIKINGS TO WIN MAJOR NATIONAL AWARD!

Vikings (with Wirral's taking pride of place) have been nominated for 'Research Project of the Year' Award by Current Archaeology Magazine based on a feature 'Raiders and Traders' in Issue 245, August 2010. Whichever nomination gets most online votes, wins.

To vote (its easy, anybody can) and help Wirral to its deserved position of winner!, go to:

http://archaeologyawards.org/

and click on Research Project of the Year. Anyone can vote - its easy!

Copies of my recent book 'Vikings of the Irish Sea' can be bought from:
http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/

Thanks, David

Tranmere= "Trana myrr" in Old Norse, equivalent to "Cranebird marsh". In modern Norwegian it would be "Tranemyra".
The maps are interesting, as I can understand right away the origin and meaning of most of the place names.

Best regards
Jørn Løset, Norway
Fortcoming Longship book (2011): http://www.westholmepublishing.com/vikinglongship.html

Steve Harding said:

Thanks Jørn, very interesting. Tranmere is my football team and I think David's father comes from there. They actually managed to win a game yesterday beating the mighty Southampton 2-0. Will check out the "myra=marsh" as an alternative to the current "melr=sandbank" interpretation with the English Place Name Society. Good luck with the new book - we will certainly purchase a copy,
All best
Steve

Hello again, Steve. The prefix "tran" stands firm as the Old Norse word for "crane" in English. The Old Norse form was "trana", as you probably know, while it has turned into "trane" in modern Norwegian.
I'm aware of the common interpretation of the suffix "mere" as derived from Old Norse "melr" in the sense of a sandbank/river bank. However, I suspect that "melr" was pronounced more like "mel", because the -r was unstressed. During the Middle ages the -r in a lot of similar placenames in Norway ending with "-melr", lost the unstressed syllabel in time, in the phonemic transformation that is known as apocopation. If this was the case, it would my opinion be more likely that Tranmere had turned into Tranmel today.

In contradiction, the Old Norse word "myrr", meaning marsh/bog, would have been pronounced with a stressed -r in the end, hence the spelling -rr. The stressed -r would have been much more resistant to be cut off in the end, just as it is in Norwegian placenames that originates from ON "-myrr". The modern suffix is pronounced "-mÃœr", with a long y just as the e sound in "-mere". Somehow the y must have turned into an e today, presumed that this is correct.

However, I can't be entirely sure on this, so my thoughts should be regarded as an alternative theory about the etymology of Tranmere. I'm not a linguist, so I suggest that this question is passed on to a qualified expert in the field. But there aren't really that many around that are experts in both English and Old Norse, unfortunately.

Cheers,
Jørn

tom coxhead said:

what can you tell me of the origins of liverpool people or ormskirk

Steve Harding said:

Dear Tom
In terms of people coming from old familes present in south west or west Lancashire prior to the Industrial Revolution and the growth of Liverpool as a port, their origins seem to be very similar to that of Wirral, at least according to a recent DNA survey.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Viking-DNA-Wirral-Lancashire-Project/dp/190728494X/ref=pd_rhf_p_t_1

The West Lancs/ SW Lancs part of the investigation was based on a survey of the Y-chromosome DNA of men whose surname was either on a large list of people paying towards the stipend of the priest of the altar of Our Lady at Ormskirk in 1366 or had a surname of an old place-name in the region.

The 2 most interesting things that came out of the survey was the stronger than expected Scandinavian input into the genetic make-up of the "old" population on both sides of the Mersey - and that the River does not seem to have been much of a barrier to population movement, even in Medieval times,
Hope this helps!
Best wishes,
Steve

Peter Jones said:

Thank you for this blog, very interesting and informative. I've become so interested after reading your websites that I have started seeking out Wirral Viking courses and I am even looking into my own DNA and ancestral history.

Wendy Williams said:

Really interesting blog, which I found while searching for more information on the Vikings of Wirral. I'll keep checking in to see what else is happening here. It's particularly interesting for me, as I'm just about to become artist in Residence at the Millennium centre in Leasowe and my first project is to build an installation out of paper Viking long boats.
I'm hoping to work with the public in making other Viking artefacts.

As my DNA confirmed that I have Viking blood in me, do I get a chance to help row the longship into Meols in 2013 ?
Also I would like to inform everyone that we have Viking Interpretation signage in Meols Park, Meols, Wirral and its well worth a visit.

As my DNA confirmed that I have Viking blood in me, do I get a chance to help row the longship into Meols in 2013 ?
Also I would like to inform everyone that we have Viking Interpretation signage in Meols Park, Meols, Wirral and its well worth a visit. Details at http://friendsofmeolspark.wordpress.com/2010/06/02/viking-history-in-meols-park/

As my DNA confirmed that I have Viking blood in me, do I get a chance to help row the longship into Meols in 2013 ?
Also I would like to inform everyone that we have Viking Interpretation signage in Meols Park, Meols, Wirral and its well worth a visit. Details at http://friendsofmeolspark.wordpress.com/2010/06/02/viking-history-in-meols-park/

Steve Harding said:

Thanks Roy - I think we got the message!
Yes of course, we've pencilled you in. There will be training sessions organised for all volunteers in due course with the help of Liverpool Victoria Boat Club at Birkenhead Docks. We have well over 120 volunteers at the moment - an incredible response - although we are looking for an eventual total approaching 200 as 100 are needed to bring the boat into harbour but a further 100 volunteers will be needed to take it out again when it leaves for Dublin.

The Meols Park signage is indeed brilliant and is a great credit to the Friends of Meols Park - the park is just round the corner from Meols station (within easy reach of Liverpool Lime Street). We are hoping it will form the basis of a Viking Heritage trail through Wirral, and who knows, one day a Viking Centre,

All best
Steve

Graeme Milner said:

Hello Steve - My brother-in-law Giles Kristian (author of the ‘Raven’ trilogy) has recently volunteered to help bring your longship into harbour and his also challenge me to also help you. So I’ve accepted his challenge and now contacting you to volunteer my time…please let me know if I still have the opportunity to help?
Kind Regards,
Graeme

Steve Harding said:

Thanks Graeme, Yes very happy to pencil you in. The first training session won't be until later this year/ early next year (I will be sending out a circular to everyone in due course). There will however be a 13 mile Viking heritage walk (from Neston, Wirral to St. Olave's in Chester) on 29th July (St.Olav's Day) and I am hoping many of the volunteers for the Draken will join me on this - it will give an opportunity to talk about the project. I will put a blog out on this soon.
All best,
Steve

Profile

David Griffiths

David Griffiths - grew up in Heswall, Wirral, and is now a Reader in Archaeology at Oxford University. Together with Rob Philpott and Geoff Egan, he is one of three lead authors of the publication 'Meols: The Archaeology of the North Wirral Coast' (Oxford 2007). He has been an active researcher on the Viking period since 1986.

Steve Harding

Steve Harding - was born and brought up in North Wirral where his family on both sides go back many generations , and is now a Professor of Biology at Nottingham University. He is coauthor with Dr. Paul Cavill and Professor Judith Jesch of Wirral & its Viking Heritage (English Place-Name Society, 2000) and author of the "popular" books Ingimunds Saga Norwegian Wirral (2000) and Viking Mersey (2002). His Academic publications on the Vikings include a paper on the genetics of the North west with Prof. Mark Jobling and other collegues (2008), a paper with Cavill and Jesch explaining Dingesmere in the Battle of Brunanburh poem as the Things-mere (2004) a paper on the Wirral carrs and holms place names and a further paper paper on Brunanburh examining antiquarian legends and considering possible locations on Wirral for the battlesite and Dingesmere.

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