ELHAS Meeting Report - March 2016

Meeting Report March 2016

A large audience gathered in March to welcome popular speaker Professor Joyce Hill who gave an illustrated talk entitled "The Vikings in Yorkshire". Joyce, emeritus professor from Leeds University delivers a variety of talks, but specialises in the Early Middle Ages. Having heard Joyce speak before we were looking forward to the Viking talk, and she did not disappoint us.

She began by ensuring that all of her audience were aware that the horned Viking helmet so often portrayed in films was a Victorian invention and that Vikings never actually wore such helmets. A fact she reminded us of several times during her talk. She explained that Viking raids on Britain occurred over many centuries beginning in 787 on the south coast. To back up her claim that the Vikings were superb seaman, she showed us the Gokstad ship dating from 890 and found in 1880. This ship was 24 metres long and carried 32 oarsmen. A replica of the ship was sailed from Norway to the USA in 1893 thus proving the seaworthiness of the vessel.

Joyce explained that a regularly used Viking strategy when invading was to target monasteries. This was because they were usually in isolated places and not well defended. But the main reason was that they possessed many easily taken spoils. The monastery at Lindisfarne was attacked so many times over the years that eventually the monks relocated to Durham. Over the years an uneasy peace was established in Britain with the country divided by the Danelaw, agreed in 878, which allowed Viking rule above a diagonal line from Chester to London and Anglo Saxon rule below. However this did not prevent further raids and in 991 Ethelred the Unready attempted to appease them by paying Danegeld, amounts of silver which varied in weight over the years from 10,000 lbs to 36,000 lbs.

The final Viking invasion was repelled in 1066 by Harold Godwinson at the battle of Stamford Bridge. However this only resulted in Britain being invaded by the Norman King William the Conqueror when Harold was defeated shortly after at the Battle of Hastings.

Joyce told us that our knowledge of the lives of Vikings in Yorkshire had been greatly enhanced by the Coppergate Dig in York which took place from 1971 to 1981. She explained that because the site was waterlogged many more artefacts had been preserved, and so we are able to see such items as textiles which do not normally survive.

She ended her talk by stating that we can trace the legacy of the Vikings in our place names and the many Viking words which survive in our language today. We had thoroughly enjoyed Joyce's fact filled talk and our knowledge of the Viking influence in our part of the world was greatly enhanced.

The next meeting on Monday 25th April 2016 will be an illustrated talk by Dr George Ingle "Trouble at t' Mill" describing attacks by hand loom weavers on Yorkshire mills. This will be followed by our annual pie and pea supper.