WHAT THE MAP REVEALS about the history of West Norfolk.
I have written before about what we can tell of our history from old maps; this time I wish to say what can be learnt about the distant past by reading up-to-date maps. We can see an example near where I live in Norfolk. Beside the road leading into the village of Attlebridge is Walsingham Plantation. This probably dates from the period from 1061 to 1536 when the shrine at Walsingham attracted pilgrims from all over England and beyond. The A1067 road through Attlebridge was known as Walsingham Way in the middle ages. This was because it was the route taken by pilgrims from the south. Half a mile away, also on the A1067, are the vestiges of another ancient wood. This is Poll Tax Plantation, reminding us of the highly unpopular tax which led to the Peasants Revolt of the fourteenth century.
Bloodgate Hill is an Iron Age fort in South Creak in rural North West Norfolk, but my interest in this place has nothing to do with pre-Roman times. The map may well give us hints about such distant history but my focus is on a time rather more recent but still a long time ago. It is to do with the name Bloodgate. All places ending with the letters gate have Danish origins and therefore come from after 800 AD. Unlike the five* other places in East Anglia which begin with the ominous syllable Blood, and which have legends associating them with battles between the Danes and Saxons, there is no remaining legend at South Creake. Luckily there is no need for a legend to reveal its connections; the name itself does this. Gate is the Danish word for way, and Blood strongly suggests a battle between the local Anglo-Saxons and the invading Danes.
I also think I can date the name quite precisely to the last quarter of the 9th century. Another place with Blood in its name is Bloody Point on the estuary of the river Stour at Shotley in Suffolk. This too has a legend which associates the name with a battle between the naval forces of Alfred the Great and the Danes. This is not just a legend; it is backed up by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which records this battle just off the Suffolk coast in 885. This shows that the word blood was used in the 9th century to name the site of a battle, and this is also suggested by legends attaching to the other places I have referred to.
Although they made occasional raids since 800, the Danes did not begin to do battle with the English before 865 and they were defeated in East Anglia by 918. That leaves a period of about 50 years to fit this name’s origin into. The Danes did not attack this part of England again for nearly a century when, in theory, the hypothetical battle of Bloodgate Hill could have occurred. However I think the name Bloodgate dates from the earlier period. Why do I think this? Well, for a start, South Creake is not the area where these later Danes attacked the English. In the 10th century they sailed up the river Yare to Norwich. Under their king Sweyn Forkbeard they then moved south and defeated the English at the battle of Ringmere Heath. Although the exact location of Ringmere Heath has been lost it was somewhere on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, miles away from the Creakes.
Near Bloodgate Hill I can however trace evidence of the presence of the Danes from the earlier period before 880, when they were still pagans. A few miles away from Bloodgate Hill there is another name that suggests Danish activity, and this places it very much in this earliest time. This is Normans Burrow Wood. I have mention this wood in an earlier blog. It lies in the East Raynham and Whissonsett area, and stripped of its suggestions of rabbit burrows and William the Conqueror it means Norseman’s barrow wood. A barrow was a pagan burial mound. The implications of these names shows Christian/pagan animosity and bloodshed. This time of the earlier enmity soon passed and the Danes too became Christian and ceased to bury their dead in barrows. Anglo-Saxons and Danes quickly began to mingle. This can be deduced from the appearance of families where brothers had both Danish and English names. The same effect may be seen in the so-called Grimston hybrid place-names, where English and Danish elements both occur in the same word. In the case of Grimston itself the Danish element comes first while in nearby Horningtoft the Danish part of the place-name comes second. Both these places are near Normans Burrow Wood and Bloodgate. This is an area of Norfolk with an exciting past. These immigrants were certainly unwanted to begin with, but they were soon completely integrated into the host community. By the time the second wave of Danish invaders came the original Danes were entirely on the side of the English and fought with them against the interlopers.
It is fascinating how much of the distant history of Norfolk may be suggested by studying the Ordnance Survey map. I could go even further into the topography of West Norfolk and what it reveals about the Saxons and Danes, but as this involves things which do not appear on the maps I will leave these consideration to a later blog.
My intention in writing my pieces on the towns and villages of East Anglia has been to relate a sense of place with a sense of the past. Maps are the best way of integrating geography with history.
* The other places are, besides Bloody Point, Bloody Field (Martlesham Heath) and Bloodmoor Hills (Carlton Colville) in Suffolk and Blood Hill (Somerton) and Bloods Dale (Drayton) in Norfolk.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA