According to Ancient Custom: Research on the possible origins & purpose of Thynghowe

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According to Ancient Custom.

ACCORDING TO ANCIENT CUSTOM Research on the possible origins and purpose of Thynghowe in Sherwood Forest. Presented by Stuart C. Reddish and Lynda Mallett Paper presented at the National Museum of Iceland, Reykjavik, in collaboration with Thingvellir National Park March 9, 2012

We have a bit of an historical problem, the romantic story of Robin Hood. Around the world the story of Robin and his band of outlaws is what everyone associates with when they hear the name of Sherwood Forest. Robin and his merry band are a great attraction and evoke a by-gone age but the story has taken over and diverted attention away from any real history. But now from the depths of Sherwood Forest a hidden history, one that has only recently been discovered, is beginning to emerge. In 2004 we acquired a number of old documents. Among them was an original account of the 1816 Lordship of Warsop Boundary Perambulation1. This document described how a number of local people and jurors, walked the boundary of the Lordship and engaged in marking it in different ways to make it memorable. Included in this account was a simple reference, 'according to ancient custom', describing the act of historical assembly on a place called Hanger Hill. This assembly of the people of Warsop included the 'drinking of ale and the eating of bread and cheese brought from the village; and the running of races'. The document also identified the special significance of this particular place by mention of three stones on the summit, two boundary stones and an unmarked standing stone. In 2005 we relocated this 'meeting' place and could identify it by the presence of the stones as recorded in the perambulation document. At that stage the site had been absorbed into the middle of dense forest, and lost to community memory. When we searched the archives and records we discovered that this site, up until the early 1600's, had been called 1. 1816 Lordship of Warsop Boundary Perambulation, Original Manuscript, Private Collection, Stuart Reddish & Lynda Mallett.


According to Ancient Custom.

Thynghowe, and the unmarked stone was called the Birklands Forest Stone2. Thynghowe then seems to have had its name changed as on all future maps it became Hanger Hill. This appears to coincide with estates around Sherwood Forest passing from Crown ownership to ducal ownership and Hanger Hill is therefore the name by which it is known today. Hanger Hill is also significant as being a possible derivation of 'haugr' meaning in Old Norse (ON) a mound or barrow, or a 'hangra' a steeply wooded declivity. Realising the significance of a Thyng (or Thing) as a Viking assembly site, we knew we were looking at a possible Danish Viking or Dane-law assembly site in Sherwood Forest. This was a part of the forest history that had never been recorded before. Also, this site appeared to have undergone little change over time apart from being reclaimed by the forest. We have from the start included local people in all aspects of the research. Recognising the significance of the site and the part it had once played in the cultural history of the local communities we invited a group to accompany us to Thynghowe to decide how we could protect it. We formed a Friends group from the three local history groups and began to survey, research and record all that we found. Our members have also created a Thynghowe Trail with way-mark posts and accompanying leaflets. To support this ongoing work we developed a website and now use social networking through a 'blogspot' and a presence on 'facebook'. Throughout the landscape research of the site we have been supported by the Forestry Commission who manage Birklands, this part of Sherwood Forest, on behalf of the Welbeck Estate. We benefited in our early days by being involved with the Sheffield Hallam University project to develop The Heritage Woodland Manual3. Our site became one of eight case-studies and our members received training in landscape investigation and interpretation as part of the Woodland Heritage Champions Project. We have linked with various other organisations and projects to network and gain as much knowledge as we can about 'Thing' sites throughout Northern Europe and Scandinavia. Through our association with the international THING project 4 2 1609 Sherwood Forest Survey. Original PRO Kew, Copy Nottinghamshire Archive 3 The Heritage Woodland Manual, A Volunteers' Guide to Investigating Ancient Seminatural Woodlands in England. Wildtrack Publishing 2007 4 THING project. Northern Periphery Progamme 2009-2012


According to Ancient Custom.

we have given presentations in Shetland and Orkney5 and the Faeroe Islands6, and also visited the Gulatinget site in Norway. We have then linked information and opinion back to our Thynghowe site. Through networking at the THING conferences we were able to collaborate with the University College London's research on The Landscapes of Governance who carried out an acoustics and magnetometer survey of the site. We were also supported by Nottinghamshire County Council funding, and the County Archaeologists and Friends of Thynghowe members carried out a topographical survey in January 2011 7. This revealed some very interesting and exciting anomalies which we are still researching. The perambulation document enabled the re-discovery of a significant number of ancient Forest stones and parish boundary markers, many boundary features were discovered deep in the undergrowth. It was through re-engaging with the significance of the site and its relation to boundaries that a further consideration had to be made to its topographical situation with regard to Kingdom boundaries. At various times in history the boundaries of Northumbria and Mercia had been disputed through the area. The battle now thought to have been fought at Cuckney (Hatfield) between King Edwin and Penda is testimony to this. Also, the border between the Kingdom of York and the Five Boroughs of the Dane-law could have been here. The site itself is at the point where three boundaries meet; the Parish of Edwinstowe, the Lordship of Warsop and the Township of Budby. Researching the archives, libraries and private collections has provided the earliest record of Thynghowe we have found (so far) to around 1251. In this Forest Book it records a Royal Survey and perambulation in Birklands8 identifying the name and the hilltop in relation to other recognisable topographical features recorded along the boundary of Sherwood Forest. The significance of the status of a royal hunting forest plays a part in 5 Viking Assembly Site Discovery in Sherwood Forest. Stuart Reddish & Lynda Mallett. Conference Proceeding: 04/2010; In proceeding of: Northern Periphery Programme THING project 6 Viking Law Thing Discovery in Robin Hoods Sherwood Forest. Stuart Reddish & Lynda Mallett Conference Proceeding: 10/2010; In proceeding of: Thing Sites International Networking Group 7 A Topographic Earthwork Survey of Thynghowe Hanger Hill Nottinghamshire. Andy Gaunt Community Archaeology Nottinghamshire County Council 2011 8 Forest Book, Bromley House Library, Nottingham


According to Ancient Custom.

the recording of the laws and practises of the Forest and the importance of deer management within its boundaries. It also explains why the site has not been subject to normal farming development since the time of the Norman Conquest. An adjacent deer park at Kings' Clipstone, used often by King John, ensured its desired use for future centuries. We are fortunate to have discovered maps containing details showing the significance of the site both as Thynghowe and more recently as Hanger Hill. A map of Nottinghamshire in the 14th century, from the archives of the Duke of Rutland, clearly shows the King's deer parks and Thynghowe, giving Thynghowe more status than nearby villages which are not recorded9. Various Royal Forest Surveys have recorded landscape places and features. The 1606-1609 survey clearly shows Thynghowe, the Birklands Forest Stone and the Warsop Lordship Boundary as it still is today. Thynghough Assarts are clearly shown on 17th century estate maps. There was then the renaming on maps to Hanger Hill, but still, it was recorded in preference to some nearby village names. The name ‘Sherwood’ was first recorded in 958AD when it was called Sciryuda, meaning ‘the woodland belonging to the shire’. It became a Royal hunting Forest after the Norman invasion of 1066. It was popular with many Norman and Plantagenet kings, particularly King John and Edward I. The ruins of King John’s hunting lodge can still be seen at the village of King's Clipstone only 3 miles from Thynghowe. This site is also under current research and may reveal new information in the near future. Many of the place names that are recorded in the landscape of the area of Sherwood Forest are of Scandinavian origin. There was a period of initial conflict that took place in Nottinghamshire between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings. It may have begun with Ivor the Boneless in 846, who fought a battle where Nottingham now stands, and continued when land in the Sherwood area was given to 1,500 Viking militia to create homesteads10. The creation of a Wapentac (wapentake) would have been likely in order to accommodate the development of communities whilst populating the area and dividing up the land. Whilst previously, local historians felt there may have been 9 Duke of Rutland Archive Belvoir Castle 10 Anglo-Saxon England Sir Frank Stenton


According to Ancient Custom.

an Anglo-Saxon Moot at this site, there is now the consideration to be made to the indication that the Viking Danish WarriorFarmers, may have chosen the area of Sherwood Forest because of its geology, and were the first to create an assembly here. Bunter Sandstone was regarded as marginal farming land and was therefore sparsely populated. This decision for the Viking Danish settlement in this area could have been a deliberate choice to limit the Viking Danish settlers from coming into direct conflict with Anglo-Saxon farmers. The Anglo-Saxon's had already developed farming communities along the fertile Trent River Valley. It is therefore unlikely that a major moot would have already existed on this site before the arrival of the Viking Danes. The Viking site of Thynghowe could have evolved later into a Kingdom boundary assembly or developed as a Shire-moot in Shirewood as part of the 'Hundred' system. The Dane-law was established in Nottinghamshire probably from the late 800's onwards to its formal recognition in the early part of the 11 th century11, the Five Boroughs of the Danelaw, which included Nottinghamshire, being recognised as a separate administrative area. Our conjecture is that Thynghowe was a significant meeting and assembly place during the period of Viking Danish settlement. The site may also have continued in use for assemblies under the Normans as part of the Royal Forest administration. There are references to the resistance of the local free peasantry to the implementation of Norman Forest Law over the freedoms of the Sokemen of the area and that may have provided many causes of dispute that were arbitrated at an assembly. The need for a continuing assembly may be acknowledged, as Thynghowe is recorded as being on the Forest boundary in 1251 four hundred years after the first possible Viking Danish occupation of Birklands. Thynghowe is marked significantly on a 14th century map of deer parks in northern Nottinghamshire, and again four hundred years later in 1609 during a further Forest survey. Thynghowe probably enjoyed continued use as meeting place until at least our last written record in 1816. Soon after that date Enclosure or Inclosure Acts changed the use of the landscape and forest management intensified. The Welbeck Estate and the 4th Duke of Portland began a complete re-planting of Birklands in 1823 to create much 11 Anglo Saxon England Sir Frank Stenton


According to Ancient Custom.

of the layout of the forest as we see it today12. The Friends of Thynghowe were awarded ÂŁ50,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2011. This recent project undertook a LiDAR survey of the forest to try and capture data that would possibly reveal more archaeology around the site of Thynghowe. Again, it is the priority of the research to involve as many members of the community as possible by undertaking workshops and training with local people and to introduce them to this new history of Sherwood Forest. There is also a commitment to a full program of dissemination of the research in all forms of media. This will include upgrading the website, extending social media access, publishing educational materials, promoting the cultural heritage through talks and displays, and compiling an academic report. Each historical feature is, and will be, plotted and recorded bringing together a better understanding of the forest. All the initial survey work was undertaken by local volunteers and will be added to by others recruited during the Heritage Lottery funded project. This includes the full extent of the Birklands forest and includes recording the possible site of a 13th century chantry for King (Saint) Edwin of Northumbria, who died in battle locally in the 636; a 19th century water meadows scheme developed by the Duke of Portland; centuries of woodland management features; and Ministry of Defence World War II archaeology. The topographical survey undertaken by the County archaeologists gave us the opportunity to look at Thynghowe in relation to the surrounding landscape and define the area from which Thynghowe would have been clearly visible. When cleared of tree cover Thynghowe could have been seen from many miles away especially towards the old Roman river crossing of the Trent at Littleborough and the Viking Danish winter camp at Torksey (winter 872-3) also on the River Trent. The summit results show a number of raised features. The hilltop has been steepened. Two of the three boundary stones which once stood at the summit have been moved. The much older Birklands Forest Stone still appears to be in its original place but the hilltop site may have used a large existing evergreen holly

12 William Speechley: the planting of Birklands Sherwood Forest. Stuart Reddish Forthcoming.


According to Ancient Custom.

clone13 as a landmark feature14. The mound can be seen to dominate the skyline and is a prominent feature when viewed from its surroundings. The wider occupation of this area dates back to the Bronze Age and this hill top would have been a prominent feature then. Our recent topographical survey also shows other earthwork features on the site. When taken together some of the features could suggest an outline of a 'Court Circle' which is adjacent to the raised mound or possible 'Law Rock'. These underlying features could be much older and possibly date from the Bronze Age. Our current project will supply LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) data at half metre detail. This will assist in the location of features previously unknown and unrecorded such as the possible relationship between the Court Circle and a distinct enclosure at the side of Thynghowe and a wider Iron Age landscape and field system. We will be also be examining the wider site for the presence of 'booth's' (or buรฐs in Icelandic Norse) found alongside Thing sites such as at Thingvellir in Iceland. The name of the township boundary of Budby or Buรฐby at the Thynghowe summit indicates the farm of the booths in Icelandic Norse. Our project includes a final celebration event in May 2013 and will be a Viking Living History Camp in Sherwood Pines a large forested venue close to Thynghowe. We will recreate a Viking Spring Thing assembly and wapentake to show what such an assembly might have looked like, with displays and demonstrations. We want to recreate the sounds, sights and smells of a Viking settlement under the Danelaw in Sherwood Forest in order to convey some of the intangible cultural heritage of the area. We all love the famous Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest, and the image of an outlaw helping the poor stand up to their oppressors, is a stirring and inspiring story. But, what we have uncovered in the last few years is a story of Sherwood Forest that is indeed real. Thynghowe is a place of assembly and a place of territorial organisation, but also it is a place of dispute resolution. In Sherwood Forest over 1000 years ago there was the possible beginnings and extension of democracy in England. The Danelaw was recognised as being different and inclusive of a free 13 Ilex aquifolium 14 Significant Trees Of Birklands Lynda Mallett Forthcoming


According to Ancient Custom.

peasantry and that may have given cause for democratic influences to go far beyond our own shores. Because of this, like the stories of Robin Hood, the history of Thynghowe is stirring and very inspiring.

Copyright Public Information Research Organisation 2012