Dr Derek J. Ripley on Lancashire’s early Norse immigrants
PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 September 2015 | UPDATED: 17:58 19 January 2016
Just why did the Vikings come to Lancashire, asks Dr Derek J. Ripley. Was it for the black pudding and chips?
I had the good fortune to spend my holiday this year at a caravan park near Knott End. You may think this an unusual choice for a holiday destination given the unreliability of the British weather, not to mention the proximity of the fleshpots of Blackpool, Morecambe and Pilling. But the older I get, the more I appreciate the charms of this sedate village on the southern edge of Morecambe Bay.
Knott End occupies a very special place in my heart: I owe my successful career as a part-time Lancashire County Council librarian and renowned local historian to the many holidays I spent there as a child. I cannot, in truth, say they were happy holidays because in the 1950s and 60s there wasn’t much to do. I often sat on the slipway looking longingly across the River Wyre at the bright lights of Fleetwood wishing I could stow away on the ferry.
I spent most of my time in the local library reading books about the area. This not only led to my love of books, it also helped me develop a vivid imagination, which some people say is not particularly well suited to the scientific approach required of a local historian. I disagree.
One book I vividly remember reading was The Boys Book of Exciting Holiday Adventures In Knott End, Preesall and Hambleton by Capt. WD Forte. From this I learnt that the best way to deal with a jellyfish sting is to urinate on it. Easier said than done. Every time I got stung, the jellyfish managed to get away. Another helpful tip was how to catch crabs with chicken legs and wings. Fortunately the only crabs I ever saw were completely normal. Had I seen such a terrifying creature I’m sure I would have run off.
But the most exciting thing I learnt about was Haakon’s Mound, which, according to local legend, is the burial place of an early 10th century Viking called Haakon who sailed up the River Wyre like some real life Noggin the Nog and established a settlement at Hakensall Hall just inland from Knott End. The burial mound is now the site of Preesall’s war memorial, which stands on top of the mound opposite St Oswald’s Church on the B5270.
Why, I wondered, would Haakon have sailed up the River Wyre to Knott End and why, despite substantial evidence of widespread Viking settlement of North West England, is there no trace of any battles having taken place in Lancashire?
We know that Vikings came to Lancashire from Dublin in the 10th century. But why? One possible reason is that they came to trade. Contrary to popular belief, Vikings didn’t just rape and pillage. They were also expert traders - early medieval small businessmen, if you like, (probably 5’ 8” and under).
On the Wirral they were met with fierce resistance from the hostile natives and fought many pitched battles. In Lancashire, on the other hand, they were welcomed with open arms by the hospitable, warm hearted natives who, even 1000 years ago, were keen to embrace diversity. They sold patterned woollen sweaters, clogs, dairy produce, bacon and flat pack furniture on the beaches during the summer season while locals found the Vikings ready buyers of the county’s staple products of tripe, black pudding and chips.
While younger Vikings would have been attracted to livelier places such as Blackpool and Southport, older Vikings would have preferred the more sedate charms of places like St Annes and Knott End.
This is, no doubt, why Haakon sailed up the River Wyre in his longboat. If he was looking for a retirement home away from the hustle and bustle, Knott End would have been perfect, a decision no doubt influenced by the proximity of the Knott End Golf Club. Maybe he established the first ferry service across the Wyre in his longboat. But why he is buried under the Preesall war memorial, we will probably never know.