Greetings My Friends.
This part will briefly describe the time period from the arrival of the Romans, through the middle ages or medieval period of the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings and up to the beginning of the Norman conquest in 1066.
A Roman bronze parade helmet and mask found at Ribchester.
Courtesy of the British Museum.
One of the biggest impacts north-west England and the Ribble valley has experienced, was the arrival of Roman soldiers in about 69 A.D. They started a massive building project to build forts, towns and roads to join the already formidable Roman network, using their usual high standards of excellence.
By about 80 A.D. they had built roads and fortifications at Manchester, Ribchester, Kirkham, Lancaster, Burrow-in-Lonsdale and Castleshaw. The Romans continued to consolidate their position and by about 84 A.D., most of Lancashire was under their governance. They came as conquerors but also brought with them new technologies and better ways of living. Here’s a list of some of the more important advances the Romans made:
- The Julian calendar
- The census – the counting of a population
- A superbly built road network/paved streets
- Central heating/heated baths
- Aqueducts (bridges with a channel to carry water)
- Indoor plumbing/sewers /sanitation
- Public libraries/notice boards
- A fire and police service
- Stinging nettles
On the river Ribble, probably known to the Romans as Belisama Fluvius, the two main area’s of occupation were at Walton-le Dale (Preston) and the more well-known Ribchester. Any other area’s of Roman activity, after they gained control of the area, seems to have been casual i.e. the passing of troops or the movement of supplies etc. There was a suggestion of Roman habitation at Penwortham (tidal stretch below Preston), on the site of the Norman Motte castle in St. Mary’s churchyard, but there is no written or physical evidence to support this.
It seems the Roman presence at Walton-le-Dale was for a military depot (location shown below) and from evidence uncovered during excavations in the 1980’s, it has been suggested that there were many workshops involved in the production of military equipment for distribution throughout the area. Evidence points to a large settlement nestled between the rivers Darwen and Ribble; this clip from Google earth shows the geographical advantages of this position.
Location of Roman military depot and settlement.
Courtesy of Google Earth.
Due to a fortunate meander of the Ribble and Darwen, the camp was protected on three sides by water and the narrow gap before the land opens out again, much easier to defend. The Romans were no fools!
At Ribchester, which the Romans named Bremetennacvm Veteranorvm, the fort was large enough to house 500 soldiers and a well-ordered settlement, the layout of the roads remaining the same today. This was an important crossroads for the movement of troops and supplies, the roads connecting to the other major settlements and towns.
Roman Museum – Ribchester.
There are several superb finds in the Roman Museum like the Roman parade helmet (above), a Roman alter, a tombstone, Roman coins, a nit comb, tent pegs and other artefacts, these are being added to as more are discovered. There’s the foundations of a Roman bath house and other interesting features to be seen, when I get the chance I’ll photograph these for a future post.
When the Romans invaded Britain in 43 A.D., the resident population was of the pagan religion, it was not until about the second century A.D. that the first signs of Christianity began to appear. Part of a storage jug or vase called an amphora was found at Manchester, the Latin words “Pater noster” were inscribed upon it as an anagram. The words translate to “Our Father” – the beginning of the Lords prayer but the time-scale of the actual conversion of the Britons to Christianity is a little vague though.
The Romans ruled Britain until about 410 A.D. when the last Roman soldiers and officials left our shores but significantly, had vacated northern and western regions of England by about 383. The Roman empire was in serious trouble and could no longer support Roman occupation in Britain and elsewhere. The Empire finally collapsed in 476 A.D. and this was the beginning of the Middle Ages or Medieval period in Europe (also called the Dark Ages). However, it could be argued that the Medieval period began a little earlier in Britain with the departure of the last Romans in about 410 A.D.
Just to clarify things a little; the term “Dark Ages” not only refers to the initial decline in the standard of living when the Romans left, but probably refers more to the fact we have very little written or archaeological evidence from this time period – especially the first two hundred years after the Romans departure.
With the departure of the Romans and the protection they afforded, Romano-Britons faced trouble from the north in the form of invading Picts (Scottish Celts) and Scotti (questionably, Celts of Irish decent), who crossed Hadrian’s Wall, executing violent raids into England. About the same time, Germanic tribes including Saxons, Angles, Frisii, Jutes and Franks, generally termed Anglo-Saxons, invaded or migrated here and eventually formed and ruled kingdoms which later became known collectively, as England….
There were many Kings of the Anglo-Saxon era, an extensive list can be found here and may provide a good start for any research involving this period in history:
The Anglo Saxon Kings.
The Alfred Jewel – late 9th Century. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Although the Roman emperor Constantine the Great (272 – 337) and St. Augustine of Canterbury (no date – 604), both furthered the cause of Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church, it wasn’t until the mid-7th Century that increasing numbers of Anglo-Saxons/Britons were converting to the ‘new’ religion.
Commissioned by Alfred the Great and made from enamel, quartz and gold, The Alfred Jewel is thought to have been attached to a wooden rod used for pointing when reading a book. Alfred had one sent to each bishopric, accompanied by his translation of a book by Pope Gregory the Great and called “Pastoral Care”. One of the finer pieces of Anglo-Saxon Jewellery.
Importantly, it is from the spoken and written word of the Anglo-Saxons that our language of “Old English” developed. The language was derived from mainly western Germanic tongues and had some similarities to Latin, Icelandic and German, it originated in the 5th Century A.D. and was used until just after the Norman conquest.
St. Wilfrid’s Church – Ribchester
As Christianity gained more ground, Anglo-Saxons churches were being built up and down the country and Ribchester was important enough to merit one being built here. Before St. Wilfrid’s was constructed however, it’s thought that a small wooden church type structure stood from about the 6th Century until a small stone building replaced it by the middle of the 7th.
St. Wilfrid, who was the Saxon Bishop of Ripon and Archbishop of York, ordered the construction and although extensions and additions to the church were made over the years, this was the humble beginnings of the Church of St. Wilfred.
Danelaw – area of England where Viking laws prevailed over Anglo-Saxons. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
In 793 A.D. the Vikings raided the island of Lindisfarne and plundered the church located there, this was the beginning of another period of change in Britain. After many more raids and conquests, increasing numbers of Vikings began to stay in Britain and integrate with the population, large settlements developed at York and Dublin (among other places) and there was constant boat traffic between NW England and Ireland.
The most direct route from York to Ireland and one that was used almost exclusively, was down the river Ribble valley. The Vikings would have boarded their ships as soon as the river was navigable and sailed straight down to the estuary and out into the Irish sea. There is evidence to support this in the form of place names like Clitheroe and artefacts including the famous Cuerdale Hoard (which I’ve mentioned in other posts), a monumental Viking treasure found in 1840 and located on the south bank of the river at Cuerdale, just upstream from Preston.
The treasure consisted of about 8,600 silver items incorporating coins, jewellery, scrap and ingots and remains one of the UK’s biggest and most important finds. The hoard was buried about 905 A.D. and there are many theories as to the reasons of why and who buried it there, one being that it was a war chest belonging to Irish Norse exiles who buried the silver to fund a return to Dublin after being expelled in 902 A.D.
Another theory suggests it was buried for safe keeping by its owner as they were living in unpredictable and turbulent times. For what ever reason though, the ‘owner’ of the treasure was unable to retrieve it and considering how much it must have been worth, meant there must have been a compelling reason as to why not.
This period in history lasted until about 1,000 A.D. and truly ended in England when the William the Conqueror became King of England, crowned on Christmas Day 1066.
Part 3 will continue with the Normans, the reasons behind the Norman conquest and their activity in north-west England; they were a people of Viking blood and their reign brought about some interesting developments in England – developments like The Doomsday Book…..
Until then, have a good week and take care.
Regards, James :)