The Vikings- Swedes and Turnips and T'ings
For almost a century before 866, the Vikings were raiding the coasts of Britain.
An old chronicle tells us that there were “exceptional flashes of light and fiery dragons seen flying in the air”.
The Viking horde, known as the Great Heathen Army, landed and wintered in East Anglia before moving north across the Humber to take York in 866.
The crossing of the Humber and the taking of York is widely accepted as being the start of the Viking age in Britain. The heroic Viking brothers - Ivar the Boneless, who was reputed to be untrappable, like an octopus, Halfdan Ragnarsson, Björn Ironside, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye and Ubba - wanted revenge against the king of York for the death, by snake pit, of their father Ragnar Lodbrok, aka Ragnar Shaggy Britches.
The Vikings took York on All Saints Day, 1 November 866. Alcuin of York, an English scholar and clergyman, documents an omen, a rain of blood dripping from the roof of St Peter’s in York.
There had already been famine in the north and it was widely believed among Christians that the biblical apocalypse would occur towards the end of the first millennium.
Alcuin quotes Jeremiah 1:4 - “Out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land”. The Vikings divided Yorkshire into thri-things (three things) the North, East and West ridings. Each represented a third of the thing, a shire court which met at York.
Thing became a hus-thing (hustings) for when meetings started occurring indoors, in a house (hus), rather than a meeting outdoors for the other administrative gathering of the wapentake(Weapon-grasp) for people to meet to grasp the weapon of the king’s representative, to show loyalty.
Meetings held inside were made important by decoration and adornment of the interior. For meetings held outside, the right choice of location and a sense of place was essential. The wapentake courts met at the long-established sacred places of the ancient Britons, such as sacred hills, wells, trees, and bridges.
These places gave their name to the wapentakes, names such as the Skyrack, Ewcross and Hallikeld, an ancient tree, a cross and a well.
An old field maple tree outside of Thirsk was used for councils. Smaller courts or things have left their names in the landscape such as Thingwall outside of Whitby, Thing Howe (now Fingay Hill), Tinghowedale near Guisborough and Tindall Holme near Scarborough.
Langbargh wapentake in Cleveland is named after Langbargh Ridge, the long hill on the flats outside of Great Ayton. It is at the centre of the wapentake and has since been divided along the axis of the hill into the smaller, more manageable parishes ofEast and West Langbargh.
Langbargh Ridge was created by the Cleveland Dyke, a volcanic intrusion of crystallised magma that runs through Cleveland and the North York Moors from the Isle of Mull. It terminates at Blea Hill Rigg on Fylingdales Moor. At Langbargh Ridge, the blue basalt rock and its long hill features sticking out of a flat landscape would have held special meaning to those using it as a place to hold an outside court.
The ancient Scarborough market stone was a piece of blue stone perhaps quarried at the Cleveland Dyke. The Market Stone, or Great Blue Stone, was a meeting place for speeches, deals and declarations.
Around the same time as the Langbargh wapentake was being established by the Vikings in Clyveland (Cleveland), they were establishing a similar type of location in Iceland.
On Iceland’s main geological fault line, where the two tectonic plates called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge meet, creating a volcanic fissure, a great meeting place was established, called the Althing.
A rock along the fissure wall, which the fault had split in two, became a law speaker’s rostrum for a candidate to recite Icelandic law to a selective gathering. The Althing is now the name of thenational parliament of Iceland; it is the oldest parliament in the world.
Viking Yorkshire was a diverse and eclectic place. In the fields, markets towns and in the city of York you would hear the traditional language of Old English, as well as Old Norse and Latin. They would vary with the different dialects of West Saxon or Old Icelandic, Old West Norse and Old Danish.
The Vikings enjoyed meat, fish, fowl, vegetables, wild greens, bread and fruit. They introduced imported spices, drinking ale and mead, a strong, fermented drink made from honey.
The yellow turnip, or rutabagga, depending on your regional persuasion, is often called a swede because it was introduced into this country from Sweden. It was also called a Swedish turnip.
Unlike swedes, white turnips can be traced back in early history and perhaps imported to Britain in the time of the Romans. The swede or yellow turnip is a much later edition. Perhaps this is why a swede is called a turnip by those whose family roots are from the wapentakes and things established by the Vikings and why the yellow turnip is called a swede by others who are not?
Thus, the swede is a turnip in Walsgrif and Nordfeld (Falsgrave and Northstead), land previously held by Tosig Goodwinson prior to the battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings, which marked the official end of the Viking era in Britain.
If Scarborough was not a Scandinavia settlement prior to 966, for those living east of the Sainsbury’s traffic lights, the correct term for a yellow turnip is a swede.
Today we enjoy free movement between the ancient boundaries in this country and live in tolerant communities where we can openly say swede and our neighbours can say turnip without fear of reprisals.