Anglo-Saxon & Viking Scrooby

Heidi Robbins

What happened to the British people living in the fields and enclosures at Scrooby Top when the Anglo-Saxon migrants arrived in the fifth century? A previously busy and populated landscape seems to have become empty. Most probably Roman belief systems and administrative structures gradually fragmented and the indigenous British people intermarried with second and third generation Anglo-Saxons. The archaeology of this period is largely invisible in north Nottinghamshire, suggesting a low population. Settlement shrunk, woodland and heathland were created in place of arable fields, and there was more animal husbandry.

By the sixth century north Nottinghamshire may have belonged to a group called the Bernet-seatte, inhabitants of burnt land, a description which transmuted into the eleventh century name of the wapentake (the name for an administrative area in the Danelaw which had its own court) which covered north Nottinghamshire, Bernesedelaue, or Bassetlaw. What does the description of â??burnt landâ?? indicate? The Sherwood sandstones, an area of woodland and heath at this time, are a dry soil. Summer droughts or possibly seasonal burning of scrub and gorse to maintain the pasture could explain the name.

Viking raiders began to trouble the English and the rest of western Europe at the end of the eighth century. Two peoples were involved: the Danes and the Norwegians (viking actually means â??pirateâ?? and is applied to both groups by the victims). The Scandinavian attackers were not Christian, but they were keen on plundering wealthy English churches and monasteries. Two generations later they were bent on a different enterprise â?? the capture of land. In 865 the Danish â??Great Armyâ?? landed in East Anglia. After a few months it turned north into what was then the Northumbrian kingdom and captured York in 867.

The English King Alfred famously resisted the Danes in south-west England and in Mercia, but could not recapture the rest of the country. The Danes continued to carry out raids into south and west England on a regular basis. In 886 a treaty was signed between Alfred and Guthrum, a Danish leader, defining the boundary between their kingdoms as â??Up the Thames as far as the river Lea, then up the Lea to its source, and then straight to Bedford, and then up the Ouse to Watling Streetâ??. East Anglia, the East Midlands and Northern England lay within the area controlled by Danish lords â?? this area is know as the Danelaw.

There was no cataclysmic disruption when the Danes arrived, but rather it was a case of progressive social change. It is largely the place-name evidence which has been used to indicate the presence of Danish speakers. The number of Scandinavian place-names in north Nottinghamshire may suggest that the area had a low population and that some new settlements were formed at this time by Scandinavian immigrants. There are 21 settlements in Nottinghamshire with the place-name ending â??by, usually compounded with personal names to make the settlement name (â??by means simply â??farmsteadâ?? or â??villageâ??). Scrooby is likely to be one of these new Danish settlements, the first part of the village name being a personal name (check place-name book).

The impact of the Danes on the English population is much debated. The actual scale of settlement by immigrant Scandinavians is unclear. There is, however, one remarkable find less than 20 miles north of Scrooby at Adwick-le-Street near Doncaster. In 2001 a pipeline excavation uncovered the grave of a woman buried with a distinctive set of brooches used by Norse women to pin their dresses, a key and bronze bowl. These finds, very rare in England, can be seen at Doncaster museum. The finds date from 860-900 AD and skeletal analysis revealed that she grew up on the Norwegian coast. This is the clearest possible evidence that there were Scandinavian migrants living in the area .

Such direct evidence is extremely rare. Apart from the place-name evidence, 900 words or so of Danish origin in the English language (e.g. egg, window, dirt, ill, die, sky, take), and the use of Danish-style surnames ending in â??son, there is not much direct archaeological evidence in most of the Danelaw. Probably the Danish settlers very quickly adapted themselves to local ways. Guthrum, the Danish leader who made the treaty with King Alfred, converted to christianity and generally established his lordship on the English model.

The Danelaw was eventually taken back into English control by the mid-tenth century and became part of a united English kingdom. From this period there is an important Anglo-Saxon charter in which the English King Eadwig and his brother King Edgar gave grants of land to Archbishop Oskytel of York (Archbishop 956-71). Nottinghamshire, which was already an administrative territory by this time, was given to the Archdiocese of York, and then multiple estates at Southwell are also granted. These grants were clearly politically motivated by a desire to strengthen the hold of the church in the north and confirm the dubious allegiance of the Danes beyond the Trent. The first grant in 956 gave the archbishop a vast estate in and around Southwell, which already had a Saxon church. A second grant in 958 bestowed an area in the north of Nottinghamshire between the river Ryton and the Idle, including Sutton, Scrooby, Lound, Torworth, Ranskill, Mattersey, Barnby Moor and Bilby.

At the time of the charter Scrooby is referred to as Scroppenthorpe, although by the time of the Domesday book the name had changed to a â??by ending. G.T. Davies has tried to plot out the places named in the charter. The combined stream which forms the boundary between Scrooby and Mattersey is probably the fulan broc mentioned in the boundary clause. Davies suggests that Roman Bank, an earthwork along the western side of Scrooby parish, might be the route of a â??great streetâ?? mentioned in the 958 charter. He notes a licence (c.1199) for Matilda de Mules to â??have a ditch cut between her wood of Serlby and the fieldâ??. This shows the Roman Bank is at least in part medieval; it also reveals that the area to the east of it was known as â??the fieldâ??. This suggests an identification with the lands of Bishopfield Farm.

So from this reading of the charter the area was heavily wooded around Torworth and along the river Ryton, but there was an open area or â??fieldâ?? once the â??streetâ?? reached the south-western corner of Scrooby (put map in text from Davies paper).

The Domesday Book, compiled in 1086 as the Norman conqueror William attempted to catalogue his realm, gives a snapshot of England at the time of the conquest in 1066. In Sutton (by Retford) and the outliers Scrooby and Lound, 1 carucate and 6 bovates of land taxable. Land for six ploughs. Archbishop Thomas has two ploughs in the lordship and 14 villagers and 6 smallholders who have six ploughs. Meadow 7 acres, woodland pasture ?½ league and 8 furlongs long and 81/2 furlongs wide. Values before 1066 ?£8, now the same.

In most Danelaw counties, public obligations were assessed in carucates (caruca, Latin for plough) and bovates (bos, Latin for ox). A standard plough team contained eight oxen, and a carucate contained eight bovates. The terms are all derived from agricultural practice at the time. 1 carucate and 6 bovates of taxable land equals 1680 acres. Land for six ploughs equals roughly 720 acres of arable. Clearly there was also a considerable amount of scrubby woodland grazing at that time.


Davies, G T 1983 The Anglo-Saxon boundaries of Sutton and Scrooby, Nottinghamshire Transactions of the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire 87: 13-22

Hadley, D 2002 Invisible Vikings British Archaeology 64

Sawyer, P H 1971 The Age of the Viking 2nd edition London: Edward Arnold

Bishop, M Anglo-saxon Nottinghamshire

Domesday Book