Anglo-Saxon Lancashire

Anglo-Saxon Lancashire

The Anglian Settlement

Archaeology has been able to discover little about the settlement of the Angles in Lancashire. Celtic writers were too vague and general to be of much help, and the Anglo-Saxon chroniclers, so informative about busier and more important areas, make few references to the area which became Lancashire. However, place-name and fortunately this is strong enough to form a reasonably clear picture of what took place.

The Angles came into Lancashire from the east, from Yorkshire (Deira) and from Northumberland and Durham (Bernicia). About 570 A.D., small family groups began to cross the Pennines, and settle on fairly high ground in the Lune and Ribble valleys, and so isolated sites clear of the marshland on the coastal plain. The ‘inga’ place-names such Billing, Melling, Billinge, these are places early in the period, Melling is the place-name where the followers or family of Mealla settled; Billinge, an early name but not necessarily ‘inga’ in form, means either the home of Bylla’s family, or the home of the people on the hill, or, simply the place on the hill. The ‘ingaham’ names such as Aldingham, Whittingham, Padiham suggest a second wave of settlement about 600 A.D. Most likely both these settlements were peacefully made. But with King Ethelfrith of Berncia, the conqueror of Deira, came war. He made two armed thrusts westwards. The first probably came down the Lune valley towards Morecombe Bay and ended in 603 A.D., with victory for the Angles at Degsaston, an undiscovered battle-site. The second crossed the Pennines further south, and drove through Manchester area and across the Mersey before achieving a triumphant climax in the decisive defeat of the British at Chester in 615 A.D. A third wave of Anglian colonists followed on the heels of this military conquest. The ‘ingaton’ names such as Pennington, Eccleston, Warrington, Whittington indicate some of their places of settlement. From that time until the eleventh century the Angle population in Lancashire steadily increased. It is not possible to say how many settlements they made. More than two hundred ‘tun’ names of this later period have been identified with certainty, but many more must have been obliterated by Norse and Danish names in the following centuries.

It is hard to discover whether the Angles and Romano-British inhabitants of Lancashire lived peaceably together or not. Gildas a Celtic writer, described the Anglian invasion as ‘a fire from the East which burned sea to sea’ and ‘did not die down until, consuming almost all the island that stood above ground, it licked the Western Ocean with its red tongue’. Even Bede the Anglian historian wrote of Ethelfrith’s conquest as ruthless, and told how the Angles viciously attacked a large group of non-combatant priests who accompanied the British soldiers at Chester. On the other hand certain facts suggest that the angles at least tolerated the Britons. Some codes of Anglo-Saxon law gave the British a lowly but recognized standing; some Angles of leading families were given British personal names, a fact which suggests intermarriage between the Angles and British; and the revival of Celtic art after the Anglian invasion shows that British craftsmen were able and probably encouraged to continue their work.

In Lancashire more than fifty British place-names have survived. Almost all of them are found south of the Ribble, centred round Wigan and Manchester. There are none at all in the Lune valley which the Angles made a principle area of settlement, and, with the exception of Ince Blundell, none in the coastal area of south Lancashire, which the Norse later occupied in force. Wigan is derived from a British personal name, ‘Treales’ from a British habitation name, and ‘Makerfield’ from a British district name, but most of the others are topographical manes, embodying such British words as ‘pen’ (hill), ‘cet’ (wood), ‘ince’ (island in the marsh), ‘ecles’ (church) or ‘cader’ (hill-fort). These topographical names were often accepted by the Angles, not always with full understanding of the meaning of the British word. Thus to ‘pen’ they added their own name for ‘hill’ to produce Pendle, and later generations even added a third ‘hill’ to give us ‘Pendle Hill’. Similarly to ‘cet’ was added ‘wood’ to give ‘Cheetwood’, now an area in Manchester. The Angles and Norse distinguished isolated British communities with such names as ‘Walton, Ulnes Walton and Brettargh Holt. In those areas there could not have been any British settlements, or else such a designation as ‘Walton’, ‘the settlement of the British’. would have no point.

The Celtic Britons could not prevent the English from steadily making themselves masters of the area between the Mersey and Morecombe Bay, even though they managed eventually to convert their new masters to Christianity. By 900 A.D., English control was strong enough to subdue the many new Scandinavian settlements in the area.

Apart from several small finds of Anglo-Saxon coins, three hoards have been found in Lancashire; one at Little Crosby near Liverpool in 1611, one on Halton Moor near Lancaster in 1815, and one at Cuerdale near Preston in 1840. The last contained no less than ten thousand silver coins and almost a thousand ounces of silver ingots, all packed into a leaden chest. The treasure is thought to have been hidden away by the Danish army in its flight before Edward the Elder in 911 A.D. most of the coins were Danish and had been minted in York, but among them were almost a thousand coins of Alfred the Great and about fifty of Edward the Elder.