Hickling has a rich history in the Anglo-Saxon/Viking period and we were fortunate to host a lecture on this period in early 2019 by local author, Rebecca Gregory.
We are very grateful to Rebecca for putting together a blog/article for the website; for further information, her book is a great place to start: click on the book cover image to buy a copy.
Rebecca Gregory: Viking Nottinghamshire (blog post)
The first impact of the Vikings on England was as seafaring raiders, targeting churches and monasteries around the coast from the late eighth century. This had little impact on inland areas, however, and it was only when the so-called “Great Heathen Army” began their conquest of England in the year 865. This army was made up of many groups of warriors from Scandinavia and elsewhere, banded together under shared leadership, and with different aims from the piratical raiders who had targeted the coast in previous decades. This army began its travels in East Anglia, then marauded round much of eastern England, spending winters in encampments in Nottingham, Repton (Derbyshire), Torksey and Foremark (Lincolnshire), among others.
Recent excavations at Repton, Torksey and Foremark have given us a picture of who the Great Heathen Army may have been. They probably numbered several thousand people, including women, children, craftspeople and traders, and they left behind them evidence of leisure activities as well as industry and warfare.
After their campaign was over, a peace treaty was struck with the Anglo-Saxon leadership, and a portion of England was given over to Viking rule from the year 878. This area would be known as the “Danelaw”, and stretched from London to the Mersey, incorporating the areas that would become Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Middlesex, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Suffolk, and Yorkshire. These are the counties, therefore, where many Scandinavians settled in the late medieval period and left their mark on place-names, dialect, archaeological evidence, and regional identity.
Place-names are one of the most abundant sources of evidence for medieval settlement and language. While Hickling has an Anglo-Saxon name, there are several settlements nearby which have names containing words from Old Norse, the language of the Vikings. Owthorpe is ‘Ufi’s outlying settlement’, from a Viking man’s name; Long Clawson is ‘Klakkr’s settlement’, again containing a Viking man’s name; and the various nearby places ending in –by come from an Old Norse word for a settlement. While place-names don’t provide a reliable indicator of exactly who lived in those places, they demonstrate that the language of the Vikings was in general currency in the local area.
In the years after the Danelaw was reclaimed by the Anglo-Saxons in the tenth century, Viking influence did not simply disappear. This period in history is best called the “Anglo-Scandinavian” period, where the two cultures, languages and traditions combined to make new forms of cultural expression and identity.
Hickling contains a very special example of Anglo-Scandinavian identity: its “hogback” stone, which can be found inside St Luke’s church. Hogback stones were originally grave covers, and are found only in areas of England where Scandinavians are known to have settled. They contain mixtures of newer Christian iconography and traditional Scandinavian-style designs, and are a clear expression of Anglo-Scandinavian identity.
For more about the Viking history of the East Midlands, you can access a plethora of resources, including blog posts, lectures, and information on artefacts and names, at emidsvikings.ac.uk. The Key to English Place-Names (kepn.nottingham.ac.uk) provides the origins of most settlement-names in England, with the exception of some smaller villages and hamlets. You can find more on all the topics touched on above in my book, Viking Nottinghamshire.
(Rebecca Gregory Sept 2019)