Saturday, 12 September 2015

A great host of captives? A note on Vikings in Morocco and Africans in early medieval Ireland & Britain

The following short note is based on a narrative preserved in the eleventh-century Fragmentary Annals of Ireland that tells of a Viking raid on Morocco in the 860s. This raid is said to have led to the taking of 'a great host' of North African captives by the Vikings, who then carried them back to Ireland, where they reportedly remained a distinct group—'the black men'—for some considerable period of time after their arrival. The narrative in question runs as follows:
At this time came the Aunites (that is, the Danes) with innumerable armies to York, and they sacked the city, and they overcame it; and that was the beginning of harassment and misfortunes for the Britons; for it was not long before this that there had been every war and every trouble in Norway, and this was the source of that war in Norway: two younger sons of Albdan, king of Norway, drove out the eldest son, i.e. Ragnall son of Albdan, for fear that he would seize the kingship of Norway after their father. So Ragnall came with his three sons to the Orkneys. Ragnall stayed there then, with his youngest son. The older sons, however, filled with arrogance and rashness, proceeded with a large army, having mustered that army from all quarters, to march against the Franks and Saxons. They thought that their father would return to Norway immediately after their departure.
     Then their arrogance and their youthfulness incited them to voyage across the Cantabrian Ocean (i.e. the sea that is between Ireland and Spain) and they reached Spain, and they did many evil things in Spain, both destroying and plundering. After that they proceeded across the Gaditanean Straits (i.e. the place where the Irish Sea [sic] goes into the surrounding ocean), so that they reached Africa, and they waged war against the Mauritanians, and made a great slaughter of the Mauritanians. However, as they were going to this battle, one of the sons said to the other, ‘Brother,’ he said, ‘we are very foolish and mad to be killing ourselves going from country to country throughout the world, and not to be defending our own patrimony, and doing the will of our father, for he is alone now, sad and discouraged in a land not his own, since the other son whom we left along with him has been slain, as has been revealed to me.’ It would seem that that was revealed to him in a dream vision; and his Ragnall's other son was slain in battle; and moreover, the father himself barely escaped from that battle—which dream proved to be true.
      While he was saying that, they saw the Mauritanian forces coming towards them, and when the son who spoke the above words saw that, he leaped suddenly into the battle, and attacked the king of the Mauritanians, and gave bim a blow with a great sword and cut off his hand. There was hard fighting on both sides in this battle, and neither of them won the victory from the other in that battle. But all returned to camp, after many among them had been slain. However, they challenged each other to come to battle the next day.
      The king of the Mauritanians escaped from the camp and fled in the night after his hand had been cut off. When the morning came, the Norwegians seized their weapons and readied themselves firmly and bravely for the battle. The Mauritanians, however, when they noticed that their king had departed, fled after they had been terribly slain. Thereupon the Norwegians swept across the country, and they devastated and burned the whole land. Then they brought a great host of them captive with them to Ireland, i.e. those are the black men [literally 'blue men' but with the sense 'black', see further here]. For Mauri is the same as nigri; 'Mauritania' is the same as nigritudo. Hardly one in three of the Norwegians escaped, between those who were slain, and those who drowned in the Gaditanian Straits. Now those black men remained in Ireland for a long time. Mauritania is located across from the Balearic Islands. (J. N. Radner (ed. & trans.), Fragmentary Annals of Ireland (Dublin, 1978), FA 330, pp. 120–1)
This is, of course, a most intriguing account, but two points in particular need to be noted. First, the text only survives in five fragments transcribed in the seventeenth century and appears to have its origin in the eleventh century, perhaps being composed during the latter part of the reign of Donnchad of Osraige (r. 1003–39), who was a descendant of the chief hero of the Fragmentary Annals, Cerball mac Dúnlainge of Osraige (r. 842–88). Second, the narrative preserved in the Fragmentary Annals not only probably dates from more than a century and a half after the events it purports to describe, but the FA moreover cannot be treated as a simple, reliable chronicle of events. Rather, it appears to be a composite text that derives from a number of pre-existing sources, including a derivative of the lost early to mid-tenth-century ‘Chronicle of Clonmacnoise’, a pseudo-historical narrative concerning the deeds of Cerball, and a handful of other sources including a Hiberno-Norse version of the legend of Ragnarr Loðbrók, with the African expedition believed to have its origins in the latter source.

The final section of FA 330, detailing how the Vikings brought a 'great host' of North African captives back to Ireland, from O'Donovan's 1860 edition of the text; click the image for a larger view (image: Internet Archive).

In light of the above, the account in the Fragmentary Annals has been viewed with some suspicion. Nonetheless, the suggestion that Vikings might have raided along the coast of North Africa and even perhaps captured and enslaved people from this region is supported, to some degree, by other historical and archaeological evidence. Of particular importance in this regard is the fact that medieval Muslim writers also refer to Vikings (Majūs) having raided along the North African coast in the mid-ninth century. For example, the Andalusi geographer Al-Bakrī in his Kitāb al-Masālik wa-al-Mamālik ('Book of Roads and Kingdoms'), completed c. 1068 but based on earlier materials, records the following:
Majūs [Vikings]—God curse them—landed at Nakūr [Nekor, Morocco], in the year 244 (858–859). They took the city, plundered it, and made its inhabitants slaves, except those who saved themselves by flight. Among their prisoners were Ama al-Raḥmān and Khanūla, daughters of Wakif ibn-Mu'tasim ibn-Ṣāliḥ. [The emir] Muḥammed ransomed them. The Majūs stayed eight days in Nakūr.
The same basic tale is recorded by a number of other writers too, including the tenth-century Andalusi historian Ibn al-Qūṭīya and the later authors Ibn Idhārī and Ibn Khaldūn, and a version also appears in the late ninth-century Christian Chronicle of Alfonso III, where it is related that the 'Northman pirates... sailed the sea and attacked Nekur, a city in Mauritania, and there they killed a vast number of Muslims.' Needless to say, the above is of considerable interest in the present context, and the reality of Viking activity in the region of Morocco is further supported by a recent analysis of bones of ancient mice recovered from the Portuguese island of Madeira, located off the coast of Morocco, which indicates that this island was probably visited by Vikings from Scandinavia/northern Germany in the tenth or early eleventh century, at least four centuries before the medieval Portuguese colonisation of the island.

Map showing the territories and voyages of the Vikings, with dates for key settlements and expeditions (image: Wikimedia Commons).

It would thus seem clear that the Vikings were active in the area of Morocco (ancient Mauretania) in the ninth and tenth centuries, just as the Fragmentary Annals claims, and that they moreover undertook a significant raid on the coast of Morocco—at Nakūr/Nekor—in the mid-ninth century that resulted in a significant number of slaves being taken. Indeed, in this light it might well be wondered whether the above raid on Nakūr/Nekor in 859 doesn't actually underlie the story of a mid-ninth-century North African adventure related in the Fragmentary Annals, as Janet Nelson has suggested. Of course, if the Viking raid on Morocco and the subsequent taking of captives there as described in the FA therefore has a good context in the real events of the 'Viking Age' and might even reflect a partially legendarised version of the raid on Nakūr, what then of the claim in the Fragmentary Annals that the North African captives were subsequently carried by the Vikings to Ireland and remained there 'for a long time'? Certainly, Ann Christys has noted that there is nothing inherently implausible about this final aspect of the FA's tale, especially given that other elements of the account appear to be historically credible and may derive from one or more real events. However, whilst other more reliable texts also mention Viking raids on the Moroccan coast and slaves being taken by them, none mention what happened to the non-royal prisoners that the Majūs (Vikings) captured in North Africa, only that the Emir of Córdoba ransomed the royal daughters of Wakif ibn-Mu'tasim ibn-Ṣāliḥ who were taken when the inhabitants of Nakūr were enslaved in 859. On the other hand, although external textual support for the final part of the account in the Fragmentary Annals may be lacking, there is nonetheless some archaeological evidence which, whilst not conclusive, is at the very least suggestive.

The archaeological evidence in question consists of three burials from early medieval Britain that have been identified as those of African women on the basis of an examination of their skeletal remains. One of the burials in question was discovered in 2013 at Fairford, Gloucestershire, and has been described as being that of 'a woman, aged between 18 and 24, from Sub-Saharan Africa', with radiocarbon analysis indicating that she very probably died at some point between AD 896 and 1025. Another was found in a Late Saxon cemetery at Norwich. And the third and best known is that of a young African woman buried c. 1000 in the Late Saxon cemetery at North Elmham, Norfolk. This last is discussed in detail in Calvin Wells' and Helen Cayton's contribution to the East Anglian Archaeology report on North Elmham, published in 1980, and also in Helen Cayton's 1977 PhD thesis, and whilst the identification was made from skeletal evidence alone (DNA analysis of the North Elmham woman's bones was planned in 2009, but was never carried out due to the relocation of the researcher), it is said to 'leave little doubt' and be 'incontestable'. Needless to say, if the identifications can indeed be relied upon, then these three burials are obviously of significant potential interest: although they were found in Britain, not Ireland, they do indicate that at least some people from Africa or of African descent were living and dying in rural and urban communities in the British Isles during the 'Viking Age' (eighth to eleventh centuries). Even though it is impossible to know quite how these specific women ended up in Britain, slavery has frequently been cited as a potential mechanism, and their presence would certainly seem to suggest that the claim that North African people taken captive by the Vikings ended up in the British Isles could have had some basis in reality.

Ruins of a Norman chapel located on the site of the Late Saxon church and cemetery at North Elmham, Norfolk (image: Wikimedia Commons).

The above is about as far as we can go at present. All told, whilst the eleventh-century Fragmentary Annals of Ireland is relatively late in date and often viewed with a degree of suspicion, it seems clear that some elements of its narrative of a Viking adventure in North Africa may well have a basis in real events. There is certainly good evidence to suggest that there was a significant Viking attack on Nakūr, Morocco, in 859 that saw the inhabitants of that city enslaved, and the notion that captives taken by the Vikings from North Africa were carried to Ireland, as the Fragmentary Annals claims, ought not to be summarily dismissed. Not only is there nothing inherently implausible about the notion, especially if we accept that the other aspects of the narrative have a basis in history, but there is also a small amount of archaeological evidence indicative of the presence of Africans in Viking-era Britain, at least, something that is of considerable potential interest in the present context.

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2015, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

The Great Wash City & Woldsea: two failed schemes for building new cities on the Lincolnshire coastline

The following is just a very quick post offering some details and images of two ambitious twentieth-century plans to build cities on the Lincolnshire coastline that in the end came to nothing. There is little to be found online about either plan, but if they had come to fruition they would have entailed major changes to the landscape and ecology of the Lincolnshire coast, and they are fascinating examples of two very different types of twentieth-century town planning.

Harry Teggin's suggested plan for how the Wash might be reclaimed and developed (plan from Teggin's proposal, via Robinson, 1981)

The question of what to do with the Wash, that great bay with tidal marshes and mudflats into which the rivers of the Fenland and southern Lincolnshire pour, has long occupied people with dreams of its drainage and reclamation. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in particular saw significant 'new lands' recovered from the sea all along the edge of the Wash by these means, but some wished to go much further and alter its character almost entirely. One of the most recent of these dramatic coastal engineering schemes was proposed by the architect Harry Teggin on the BBC's Network Three (now Radio 3) in 1966 and in two subsequent studies published in 1969 entitled City of the Great Wash: A Theory of Cumulative Gain and Britain's Europort: the Real Treasure in the Wash.

Teggin argued for the construction of a massive 'Great Wash City' of 750,000 people on reclaimed silt and sand banks just to the south of Skegness, with an attendant new national freight airport, a vast deep-water 'Europort', extensive reclaimed farmlands, and huge freshwater reservoirs—his plan showing how these resources might be placed within the Wash basin is included above. Although none of these elements were considered to be individually viable, Teggin maintained that the cumulative economic and social benefits of constructing all of them together meant that the scheme was workable, desirable and cost-effective at the estimated price of around £1 billion. Indeed, it was argued that not only would the scheme bring major economic development to an area of England that was 'underdeveloped, underpopulated, and unexploited', whilst also relieving pressure on London and the south-east, but it would ensure effective flood control, improved navigation, and the creation of some of the richest agricultural land in England! Needless to say, the impact on Lincolnshire if Teggin's scheme had gone ahead would have been dramatic, and not simply from an economic standpoint: at a stroke, the county would have lost half its seaboard, along with all the wildlife that currently frequents it.

Looking across the salt marsh to the Wash at Friskney, Lincolnshire, with the top of a grain storage tower on the opposite side of the Wash at King's Lynn visible on the horizon; the wreck was a target for the former RAF Wainfleet bombing range and the object in the foreground is a navigation marker resting on the saltmarsh (image © Mat Fascione, via Geograph, CC BY-SA 2.0).

The proposed layout of Woldsea on the Lincolnshire coast, centred on Huttoft Bank, from the 1908 prospectus; click for a larger version of the image.

The second scheme to be mentioned here was perhaps more plausible than Teggin's fantastic vision of a new metropolis rising from the sand and silt of the Wash, and was presumably inspired by the success of the onshore developments of Cleethorpes and Skegness in the nineteenth century. Published in 1911 by the Woldsea Freehold Town Planning Syndicate Ltd under the title of Woldsea—The First Garden City by the Sea and summarized in The Times that year, it offered a plan to develop a new 'garden city' on a largely unexploited expanse of the Lincolnshire coastline around Huttoft Bank, just to the south of Mablethorpe, Sutton-on-Sea and Sandilands. The town was to have a two mile sea frontage with 'magnificent sands', its own railway station (on the Great Northern Railway, which ran close to the site), and a town entrance in the form of a pseudo-medieval gateway. The sandhills along the shoreline were to be planted with flowering shrubs and trees to enhance their charm, the existing golf course behind the dunes—which was laid out in 1901—was to be supplemented by a large 'Pleasure Gardens' with a band stand and cricket ground, and the 'garden city' townscape inland of these was to be filled with Mock Tudor hotels, houses, bungalows and villas, suggestive of a sort of Woodhall Spa-by-the-Sea.

Illustration of a pair of houses at Woldsea from the prospectus, the proposed cost of which would have been £1,200.

Suggested look of The Green, Woldsea, from the prospectus.

Certainly, the planners were determined that this should be a town very different from the other resorts of the early twentieth-century Lincolnshire coast. Unlike Skegness, Sutton-on-Sea, Mablethorpe and Cleethorpes, which were scornfully derided as populist resorts, this was to be a place designed solely for the upper classes and 'the better middle class', who were said to be poorly served along the east coast up until this point. It was thus to have no fashionable pier or promenade, but was rather planned along 'modern lines' with 'artistically designed walks of natural appearance', ample garden surroundings full of rural charm, and a tight control over development to prevent the sort of 'freak building' and 'jerry-built lodging-houses' that apparently offended the eye along much of the Lincolnshire coast. Furthermore, the site was sold as being perfectly positioned not only close to the sea, but also near to the Lincolnshire Wolds (hence its name), with Hubbard's Hills at Louth being promoted as a potential woodland park 'resort' for the future inhabitants of Woldsea via the GNR railway line north from Huttoft to Louth.

Although the project appears to have attracted considerable interest, with the well-to-do and soon-to-retire colonials coming up to inspect the site and consider plans for picturesque thatched cottages and Tudor villas (the latter priced at £2,000 each), the dream of an upper- and middle-class garden city on the Lincolnshire coast eventually came to naught, perhaps largely due to the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. The only tangible remains of the scheme are the golf course that still runs behind the sandhills from Sandilands down to Huttoft Bank, the Grange & Links hotel in Sandilands—whose style and name seem to recall The Links hotel that was proposed as part of the Woldsea development—and perhaps the design of some of the larger houses in that village too. As to the name of the Lincolnshire seaside resort that never was, this was not entirely forgotten either, although it's survival is only very minimal, being preserved as it is in the name of the isolated Woldsea Farm, Huttoft.

The beach today at Huttoft Bank, which would have lain at the centre of the Woldsea seafront if the project had reached fruition (photo: C. R. Green).

A planned hotel at Woldsea, as shown in the prospectus.

Needless to say, the above two schemes were not the only developments proposed for the Lincolnshire coastline that failed to reach fruition, but they are amongst the most intriguing and most fully thought out. Woldsea in particular might well have been built if World War I had not intervened, and the Great Wash City certainly had a degree of support and was mentioned positively in the House of Commons. Of the two, the Great Wash City perhaps had the greatest transformative potential for the region, both economically and environmentally. Whereas Woldsea was merely envisaged as a rural utopia for the upper and 'better' middle classes, where they could enjoy the Lincolnshire coast away from the horrors of 'day-trippers' and the like, Teggin's vision of massive city and Europort rising from the sea would have provided a new economic hub for the whole East Midlands. In the end, however, it proved simply too ambitious and expensive a project for the government to countenance. Of course, Teggin's proposal would also have wreaked havoc on the ecology of the Lincolnshire coastline to a far greater degree than Woldsea ever could have, but it is worth remembering here that it was not the first nor the last proposal to risk this. Indeed, a generation before only the economic difficulties of the 1930s had intervened to prevent the Wash saltmarsh and coastal zone from Gibraltar Point to the mouth of the Witham being made into the proposed 15 mile long Wash Speedway track with an accompanying 4 mile long grandstand, 12 mile long TT track, motor boat speedway, aerodrome and amusement park, the whole project having the support of Sir Malcolm Campbell!

The proposed Wash Speedway of 1930; click for a larger version of the image.

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2015, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.