Tribal People in Lincolnshire


Tribal People in Lincolnshire


It is to Scandinavia and Denmark mainly that we must look for any gleams of light in reference to the successive settlements of tribal people in Lincolnshire.

This county was the country of the Old English tribes known as the Lindisware, or the Southumbrians, the Gainas and the Gyrwii, or Marshmen. There appears to have been much that was similar in the settlement of Norfolk and Lincolnshire. There is a similarity in their coast, with the same sand-dunes and gently-sloping reaches. As we stand on the cliff at Hunstanton on a clear day we see far as the eye can reach the low sand-hills stretching away towards thof thee north-east. These coasts must have appeared to the ancient Angles and Danes very homelike, and similar to those they had left behind them in parts of Denmark. The country was open to them by the wide estuary of the Humber on the north, giving access to the valley of the Trent, and by the Wash, past Boston and Lynn, to the great fens. The physical features of the coast must have been attractive to a people who had been accustomed to similar surroundings in their old homes, and who would be able to make settlements with environments resembling those Danish lands they had left. Fen, heath, and forest made up a large proportion of the area of Lincolnshire at the time of the coming of the Angles and Danes. The great freshwater swamp formed by the confluence of the Don, the Went, the Ouse, and the Trent, in which the Isle of Axholm rose like a beacon, was the barrier that divided it from Northumbria.(1) Lincolnshire was the early Southumbria of Anglo-Saxon records, and is mentioned by this name in 702.(2)

On the south was the great fen that reached from the coast along the course of the Witham almost as far as Lincoln, also westward almost to Sleaford, and from the north, near Horncastle, southward into Cambridgeshire. West of this was the great heath between Sleaford and Lincoln, on which no ancient settlement could be made owing to the poverty of the soil, and on which, in later centuries, it was a pious work to erect a land lighthouse to guide travellers at night across it. Lincolnshire was not wanting in woodlands and forests, a necessity for all primitive settlements. That of Brunswald covered a large extent of country south of #bourn, and part of the south of the country was also called the Forest of Arundel as late as the time of king John.(3)


In our endeavour to trace the character of its early colonization, careful attention must be given to the fact that Lincolnshire is pre-eminent among the English counties as the land of the –bys and the –thorpes. These –bys were not domains of lords with their serfs, but were the characteristic communities, in their origin at least, of freemen come from Northern lands, living under tribal conditions similar to those they had left behind them. The –bys place-names in Lincolnshire end where the old fens began. The settlement of this county is typical of settlements of people of the Old Anglian, Danish, and Northern races. Some Saxons and Frisians there must have been among them, as the old place-names indicate, but the villages which the danes established were clearly part of a state or states in which the prevailing type of settlement was Scandian and not Germanic. Nothing is more remarkable in considering the evidence wich the Domesday Book affords of the different classes of tenants who cultivated the land on which they lived than the far greater proportion of freemen or socmen settled within the old Dane-law, as compared with those parts of Mercia to the west of it or with Wessex. The –ing place-names which are characteristic of the Saxon State are not conspicuous in Lincolnshire, but the –bys and the –thorpes abound. These –bys apparently mark the Old English homes of men among whom the German system of village life was not the prevailing one, and on looking for their analogies in Continental lands, we must turn to Denmark and the Scandian peninsula. As already mentioned, the ancient kingdom of the Danes about A.D. 880 included the provinces of Skane, Halland, and Blekinge.(4) It will be seen, therefore, that emigrants from these provinces who in the ninth century would be called Danes were probably also called by their tribal names.

If we study the settlement of England by the light of the very scanty historical records alone which have come down to us, without reference to that which maybe derived from the archaeology and anthropology of the districts from which our forefathers came, we shall not be able to arrive at any conclusion mars satisfactory than that which satisfied the chroniclers who copied from Bede. They tell us nothing of runes or of the parts of the Continent where the people lived who wrote in these old characters, and where they did not, which we now know from archaeological inquiry; nor do they tell us anything of the different shapes of the skulls or the complexion of the Anglo-Saxon people in various parts of England, but we now know from anthropological discoveries that there were important difference. We gather very little from the chroniclers concerning the Anglo-Saxon courts and judicial procedure, but we can learn much more about these from the codes or collections of primitive laws which have been preserved, and by a comparison of them with those that have come down to us in other countries from which some of the Old English came. Similarly, the local customs which have survived on many manors, and in some cases in wide districts, are legal curiosities until they are compared with similar systems of local jurisprudence elsewhere, in the Continental countries from which our remote forefathers came. It is by such a comparison we should study the Lincolnshire –bys. These –bys place-names are commonly regarded as Danish, but they are also Northern Gothic, as the numerous place-names ending in Swedish Gothland prove. This shows that some of these places may have got their names from so-called Anglians. The strongest evidence as to what these –by places really were is found in ancient Gothland, the old country from which we derive so much other information that throws light upon the origin of the Anglo-Saxon race.

The oldest legal code of any part of Sweden which has been preserved is the westgota-lag, and this contains some references to the administration of local law in the early time among the Goths. It has really been pointed out that Anglo-Saxons legal procedure was local, that the Hundred Court was a very important institution, and that the right of proof between litigants, as to which of them it might be given, was a most important advantage. If the disputant to whom the right of proof legally belonged could bring forward the required number of oath-helpers, to declare an oath that they believed in his oath and the just of his cause, he won his case. This right of proof is mentioned in the Westgota-lag under the name of the `vita.` This old gothic legal code contains much information concerning the parties to disputes, and to which of them by ancient custom , apparently from time immemorial, the right of proof belonged. Thus, in a dispute between the Bishop and a bondi, or peasant proprietor, the right of proof belonged to the bondi. He had also the right of proof in any dispute between himself and the King, which circumstances may perhaps be explained by the fact that the bondi as a class existed before Bishop or King.(5) The value of this ancient local code in considering the original nature of the different kinds of English villages is in its reference to the by, the primitive village or rural community of Gothland. Between the bondi and anyone else, the bondi had the fright proof. This points to the ancient rights of the people, to an old democracy. Disputes might, however, arise between communities. Between the haeraed, or hundred, and the by, the hundred had the right proof; Between the by and the thorp, the by had this right, a circumstance which leads to two conclusions-viz. :

(1)That the right of proof given to the by was assigned practically to a number of freemen acting collectively as a community; and

(2)That the community of the by, having the right proof in a dispute with the thorp, was the most important, and probably the earliest institution.

All this is both interesting and important in considering the settlement of bys and thorpes in England, and more especially in Lincolnshire and the East Riding. The people of Lincolnshire came from Anglian, Danish, and Scandian lands, where communities of this kind existed. They established settlements which they called bys and thorpes on English soil, after the types of rural life to which they had been accustomed in their old countries, and unless we are to believe that the English bys and thorpes were different from those of West Gothland-and of this there is no evidence-we must arrive at the conclusion that a by was a community, and a Thorpe a member of it or an offshoot from it or some similar community. We must remember also that it is not to the Saxon laws of Wessex, or even to the laws of Kent, that we should naturally look to find the early prototype of some ancient institution in Lincolnshire, but to the laws of Danish or Scandian lands, such as the ancient laws of West Gothland, which, happily , have been preserved. In these laws the vita, or right of proof, belonged as here stated:

(1)Between the asserter of common proprietorship and asserter of individual ownership, to the former.

(2)Between the King and the Bishop, the Bishop.

(3)Between the laender (occupant of the spare lands of the by) and the Bishop, the laender.

(4)Between the bondi (or peasant proprietor) and anyone else, the bondi.

(5)Between the by and the thorp, the by.

(6)Between the alleged heritor and the alleged purchaser, the heritor.

(7)Between the owner of the bol (homestead) and the owner of the utskipt (close), the owner of the bol.

(8)Between the land (the province) and the haeraed (hundred), the land.

(9)Between the haeraed and the by, the haeraed.(6)

It should be noted also in reference to these rights to having proof that the disputant who asserted the common proprietorship of anything in dispute had the right of proof before the asserter of individual ownership of the same. The rule in regard to communities, large and small, was in the following order :

(1)The province;

(2)The hundred;

(3)The by or village;

(4)The thorp.


In Lincolnshire there were all these organizations. Lindsey, Holland, and Kesteven were its province; its hundreds and wapentakes were numerous within these larger areas. In Domesday Book we find some of the hundreds, such as Hazebi, Alesbi, fenbi, and Walesbi named after of the bys, apparently from the places where the Hundred Courts met. We find also in the Domesday account of Lincolnshire instances in which wapentakes are mentioned, and also the hundreds contained within them.

The –bys are much more common than the –thorpes in the wold district-a circumstance which appears to indicate that the open parts of the county were first settled, the thorpes having probably had their origin as offshoots from the bys.

Lincolnshire contains about sixty places whose names have the –bys termination and are of Scandinavian origin, but it also contains fifty-six places(7) whose names have the –ham ending, and these must be traced to Anglian and Frisian or other Germanic settlers. It is probable that the early place-names ending in –burgh, -berh, and –berge denoted places where people had common rights and privileges; i.e., the places where folk villages, more or less free, rather than estates belonging to a lord, and the inhabitants more or less subject to him. A curious survival of the early burh has apparently come down in the name burley-men, or by-law-men.(8) The burley-men were inhabitants of certain manors who were appointed annually, with the object of settling disputes among the inhabitants. In some old records the name is spelt bye-law-men, and they existed in various places in Yorkshire in the seventeenth century. The ancient by-law was derived from the old common-law power to make by-laws that belonged to parishes and manors. The difference between burly and by-;aw, says skeat, `is merely one of dialect. In Iceland people say baer, in Norway bo, in Sweden and Demark by. Thus, burly-men are etymologically identical.`(9) As the –by place-names in the Danish districts of England must be regarded by their parallelism to the bys of ancient Gothland to have been folk villages, we may reasonably conclude that those places known by the equivalent names berh, berge, etc., had similar common privileges. In Lincolnshire, at the time of the Domesday Survey, there were 11,503 socmen to 7,723 villeins. This very large number of socmen points to the existence of folk villages in that county containing numerous freemen. As regards the people at the present time, the broad fact at which we can arrive connected with the settlement of this county is that they are in complexion fairer than those of Leicestershire and Northampton.

If we were to continue our attention in Lincolnshire to the historical name Angles, that of the people by whom the county is usually supposed to have been originally settled, we should necessarily look only for traces of these two nations or races. If, however, apart from these names and the history, more or less traditional, connected with their invasions, we proceed on inductive lines, and consider the old topographical names of the county, we shall have no difficulty in finding about a dozen groups which are apparently tribal or national names, and these neither Anglian nor Danish. It is very likely, indeed, that the people of various tribes or nations migrated to Lincolnshire came under the general names of Angles in the former period and Danes in the latter, but they gave their tribe names or personal names derived from their tribes, in many cases, to the new homes they formed. Domesday Book tells us of a group of three names-Frisebi, Frisetorp, and Fristune. These evidently refer to Frisian settlements. Among the Frisian pagi, or tribes, were the hunsings, and the Domesday account of Lincolnshire tells us of places named Hunbia, Hundebi, and Hundintone. Among the Frisians were the Chaucians, also called the Hocings; and at the time of the Norman Survey we find there were places in Lincolnshire called Cocrinton, Cocrintone, Hoctun, and Hochtune, probably after individuals who bore such names. Among the Frisians were also the Brocmen, or East Frisians; and among the Domesday names of Lincolnshire are Broxholm and Brochelesbi, as if apparently named after a people of this tribe. That there were brown people of some race settled in this county appears probable from the names Brune, Brunebi, Brunetorp, Dunesbi, Dunebi, Dunestune, and Dunetorp. There are seven entries in Domesday Book if places called Normanebi, three of Normanesbi, and others of Normaneston and Normanton. These must refer to northmen, and not necessarily to either Angles or Danes. In the Lincolnshire Domesday record, we find also eight references to a place or places called Osgotebi, and two to Osgotesbi. It is difficult to understand to what people these can refer, except to persons or families so called because they were of the Eastern Goths from that part of Sweden east of Lake Wetter. Some settlersSkane, on the Scandinavian mainland of old Denmark, are probably indicated by the Domesday names Scantne and Scantone.

The Sweons or Swedes are perhaps names Suauitone, Suinhope, Suinhamstede, and Suinhastede. In the Orkney nomenclature, Suin or Swin is a form of Suin or Sweon. The name Svin Kunugri for one of the Kings usually called Swein occurs in early northern literature.(10) People of Saxon descent are probably represented by the Domesday names Sassebi, Saxebi, and Scachetorp, and the swaefas by Svavintone and Svavetone. When we look among the Domesday names in the county for some evidence of people of Wendish descent, we find Wintingeha and Wintrintone, of which there are four instances; the tribal Goths are apparently also to be recognized by the people who named their settlements in Lincolnshire after the city of Lund in the South of Sweden. Of these Domesday names, there are Lund, Lund alter, Lundertorp, and Lundetorp. These names suggest, at any rate, that the Lincolnshire people at the time of the Norman Survey must have been a more mixed race than is usually supposed. Lund, in Sweden, is a city of great traditions. It is called also by the Latin name of Lundinem Gotherum, and is said to have been so great asto have had 200,000 inhabitants. One of the traditions relating to its antiquity is that when Christ was born Skanor and Lund were already in harvest, meaning that they were already prosperous. Lund was called the Metroplis Daniae, and was the place of residence and coronation of many Kings(11) of early Denmark.

We must bear in mind the words of King Alfred in describing the voyage of Othere from the Cattegat into the Baltic, when he had Denmark on the Baecbord (the left), and the Danish Isles and Jutland on the starbord (the right). `In these lands dwelt the Angles ere they to the land came.` The Lund people from Southern Sweden may have been genuine Angles; the Wends, Wilte, Frisians, Hunsings, Brocmen, Chaucians, and Saxons of Lincolnshire could not have been, strictly speaking, either Angles or Danes. If we know the many alternative names, ekenames or nicknames, employed by our remote forefathers to designate people of various races and tribes, or to distinguish persons, we should probably be able to read more of the settlement of Lincolnshire in the early names of its –bys and –thorpes. This much we do know, that some of the –bys, -hams, and –tons had –thorpes presumably named after them as local colonization went on. Thus we find among the Domesday names Alesbi and Aletorp, Endreby and Endretorp, Fresebi and Fristorp, Saxebi and Scachetorp, Berchela and Berchetorp, Barnetone and Barnetorp, Lund and Lundetorp.

It does not appear unreasonable to adopt the view that many of these ancient place-names came into use through settlements of families of people who, or whose heads, were known by tribal names. Even if the original place-name was derived in most cases from the name of a man, who bore some such name as Hun, Osgod, Suen, Saxe, or Broc, it is difficult to see how during the settlement the name became attached to the place, except through being that of a man so called by his neighbours because he was of the tribe denoted by his name. An ancient name for the Danish islands was Withesland and Withesleth,(12) and it is possible that such Lincolnshire names as Withern and others maybe traced to this source. There is certainly documentary evidence of the existence of a tribe in England in the early Anglo-Saxon period known as the Witherigga.(13) In reference to the –by names, there is one of more than ordinary significance still surviving in Lincolnshire-viz., that of Bonby, written in Domesday Book Bondebi. The name bondi for the yeoman or peasant proprietor still survives in Norway and also in Gothland, where his ancient legal status is shown in the old laws of west Gothland, already mentioned. Lincolnshire contains also some old place-names of much interest relating to fields, such as the old name Waringwang,(14) wang being an oldNorhtern name for field or plain. The name Waring may have been that of a man of the Waring tribe.

The Trent name, whose Wendish significance has already been stated, found in Lincolnshire close to Winterton and Winteringham, is remarkable. The name of this river probably had its origin in its lower course. The name Wintringa-tun, which occurs in a Saxon charter, if of more than ordinary interest. It is similar to many others, such as Billinga-tun (the town of the Billings) or Waeringawic (the wic of the Waerings). Wintringatun is thus a word made up of Wintringa, gen. Plural (of the Wintrings), and tun, the town-i.e., the settlement of the sons or descendent of Wintr; and Wintr is the old Danish word for Wends. The modern name is Winterton, but the old form of the word shows that it was derived from people. The district in which it is situated was subjected to great Scandinavian influence, and the old Norraena dialects were spoken by all the Scandinavian races-Norse, Swedes, Danes, and Goths(15)-and this name its use by Northern Goths, as well as by Norse, Swedes, or Danes. As already mentioned, it survives in the form of Winter in several English counties, notably Dorset and Wiltshire, where we know Gewissas or the confederate tribes settled; and among these were numerous Northern Goths or Jutes, or others of northern speech

In Lincolnshire, also, the custom of inheritance by the youngest son survives at Long Bennington, Thoreby, Kirton-in-Lindsey, Keadby in the Isle of Axholm,(16) and other places close to Winterton-a relic, probably, of an old Wendish custom brought in by this race among the Danes or Angles.

Lincolnshire people have always been regarded as more distinctive than other those other parts of England in regard to their Danish descent. All the people who in ancient time were called Danes did not, however, come from Denmark, nor even that greater Denmark which included part of Sweden. There were so-called Danes in the Danish hosts who did not come from either from Scandinavia or Denmark and its islands, as the evidence already brought forward shows.

Bearing these facts in mind, it will not be surprising to note that, according to MacKintosh`s ethnological observations in Lincolnshire, the Danish type there appears to present two varieties; the Dane with convex profile and prominent mouth, and the Dane with sunken mouth and prominent chin. Both have high cheek-bones and a sinking in above the cheek-bones at the sides of the fore-head, long face and high nose, ruddy complexion, and red or sandy hair, the skull being rather narrow and elongated, the body tall, and the figure rather loosely made, with long legs and arms.(17) Beddoe tells us that in Lincolnshire, as far as the borders of the fens, the Danish element in the physical appearance of the people is particularly strong.(18)

The Roman road, which is part of Ermine Street, passing through the length of the county from Stamford in the south to Winteringham on the Humber, affords evidence of the manner in which part of that county was originally settled, and we can scarcely see so good an example in any other part of England. It is interesting to observe in connection with this ancient road that there are very few villages actually on it, but that there are many near to it on either side. When the Angles and their allies, whoever they were, first came to Lincolnshire, this road was in existence. The roads running irregularly in a north south direction, which connect the chain of villages and extend more or less parallel to this old Roman way, are evidently of a later date. Their irregularity shows that they were originally made for local communications to connect villages with each other, but in time became more or less continuous. Almost all these villages to the Roman road, which thus appears to have been used as the main highway by the original settlers.


1 Pearson, C., `Historical Maps,` p. 3.

2 Freeman, E., `English Towns and Districts,` p. 198.

3 Saunders, J., `History of the County of Lincolnshire,` p. 281.

4 Otte, E. C., `Denmark and Iceland,` p. 69.

5 Jenks, Edward, `The Problem of the Hundred,` English Hist. Review, xi. 512.

6 `The Westgota-lag,` quoted by Jenks, English Hist. Review, xi. 512

7 Peacock, E., `Scotter and its Neighbourhood,` p. 6.

8 Smith, L. Toulman, Athenaem, August 9, 1879, p. 176.

9 Skeat, W. W., `Etymological Dictionary.`

10 Memoires de la Soc. Royale des Antiq. Du Nord, 1850-1860, p. 405.

11 du Chaillu, P. B., `Land of the Midnight Sun,` ii. 463.

12 Latham, R. G., `Germania of Tacitus,` Epileg. Cxxv., quoting Chron. Erici.

13 Cart. Sax., edited by Birch, i. 146.

14 Streatfeild, G. S., `Lincolnshire and the Danes,` 152.

15 Cleasby and Vigfusson, `Icelandic Dictionary.`

16 Peacock, E., `Glossary of Words in the Wapentake of Manley,` p. 66.

17 Mackintosh, D., Transactions Ethnological Society, i. 220.

18 Beddoe, J,. `Races in Britain,` 252.

Taken from the book = `Origin of the Anglo-Saxon Race.`

Author T. W. Shore.