Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Border Country

I have a lovely drive to work.  If I ignore the temptations of the A14 I'm effectively driving through rolling countryside the whole way - the gently rolling, lovely countryside of Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.
There are a few nearby battlefields - Naseby, of course, where the nasty roundheads beat the useless Charles, while the gallant and equally nasty and useless Prince Rupert rode around at random, and then atrocities were committed on the innocent wives of the Welsh archers.  And then the Bosworth Field is just the other side of Leicester.
But the countryside holds the memories of a much older series of conflicts.  And the place names give it away.  Because 1200 years ago, this was border country.  Round Wellingborough, the placenames are mostly English - Irthlingborough, (Earls) Barton, Harrowden, Orlingbury.  But even here there's the odd Norse name such as Wilby or Thorpe Malsor.  And as you head into Leicestershire the Norse names gradually become increasingly prevalent - Beeby, Barkby Thorpe, and the lovely Scraptoft. But even here the Angles never quite gave up their place names - Keyham, Hungarton, Syston.  Who knows how many minor scraps established that the Angles kept Nosely while the Danes named Goadby?  It's a fascinating history of the area laid out in the language of the places - place names we never normally give a second thought to.

A propos nothing, really, but it's a thought that 1200 years ago the Saxons were probably saying to each other "All those Danes - where are they all coming from?"


Steve Borthwick said...

Paf! what have the Danes ever done for us? :)

Makes you think what being "English" really means, a complete "mash up" would probably be the trendy thing to describe it as.

G said...

Hi Steve!

Not being all that adventurous, I've always lived fairly close to the A5 Watling Street, which was the Danelaw's "official" border. Down near Dunstable it was all Angle, but Castlethorpe is probably the first "Danish" name, and after you go past Northampton it's about 50:50. It's a fascinating thing, and of course survives only in the names. The differences have long gone in the people (apart from that place near Tur Langton where they're all blond and have horned helmets, perhaps...)