Friday, November 27, 2015

Mrs Gaskell's Tower Part I - Historical Trails & Serendipity

By Annie Whitehead

I'm fortunate to live in a part of the world which gives me easy access to many areas of outstanding natural beauty. And I tend to veer away from the obvious spots in the English Lake District to see what else is on my doorstep.

On the northern edge of Morecambe Bay lies a little place called Silverdale, and it was here, at Lindeth Tower, that Elizabeth Gaskell, novelist and biographer of Charlotte Bronte, used to come for her holidays.



As an historian and an author, I love to go wandering along a trail, be it metaphorical or geographical. Mrs Gaskell's Tower had given me a starting point, but she is a literary, rather than historical figure. Little did I know that what started as a 'Victorian' day, would become a day when I got tantalisingly close to the Anglo-Saxons ... 

A pleasant walk down a lane strewn with autumn colours took me down to Jenny Brown's point, where a chimney stands as a reminder of this area's industrial past:



Walking back from the point, I found an old lime kiln which has been reconstructed, fenced off, and given a little placard explaining the history and uses of lime-burning. I also discovered that there was a shipwreck in the area in 1894, when a pleasure yacht, The Matchless, foundered off Jenny Brown's point with the loss of 25 souls.

The English poet Gordon Bottomley (1874-1948) lived in the village and was visited often by his friend, the artist Paul Nash.
Silverdale is noted for its wells, which used to serve the village, and Woodwell is situated, as one might guess, in an area of peaceful woodland.
photo by Zephyrine Barbarachild

It was a wonderful walk, despite the typical northern weather that day, but I left feeling that I hadn't uncovered everything that Silverdale knew ...

And then I remembered that a while ago I'd read in the local paper about the Silverdale Hoard. Now, I'm an Anglo-Saxon-ist, rather than a Viking-ist, so the Silverdale Hoard didn't initially get my pulse racing in the way that the Staffordshire Hoard is apt to do. And yet, and yet ... something drew me to investigate.

2oo pieces of Viking silver were found by a detectorist in 2011 and have been dated to around the year 900. Of the 27 coins, some are coins of Alfred the Great and some of the Danish king of Northumbria. As with the Staffordshire Hoard, it is assumed that whoever buried this stash was unable, due to the turbulent nature of the times and probably due to loss of limb, or life, or both, to come back and retrieve their retirement fund.



It's no thing of beauty compared with the ornate goldwork of the other afore-mentioned hoard, but this cache contained a silver bracelet with an unusual combination of Irish, Anglo-Saxon and Carolingian style decoration. Other pieces of jewellery were found as fragments, having been cut up to be used as 'hacksilver', an alternative form of coinage.

One coin in particular was considered note-worthy, inscribed as it was with the name AIRDECONUT, which has been translated as Harthacnut. Since the coin also bears the inscriptions DNS and REX, it has been suggested that this might identify a hitherto unnamed Danish king of Northumbria. The historian in me was interested.

Another coin, a silver penny, was inscribed  ALVVADVS, translated as Aethelwold. The author in me was excited ...

Aethelwold was the son of Alfred the Great's elder brother, King Aethelred. When Alfred died in 899 Aethelwold made a bid for the throne, taking a nun hostage (why? Don't ask me) and holing up in Wimborne, Dorset, where his father was buried, as if to establish that he, and not Alfred's son Edward, had the stronger link to the West-Saxon line of kings. From Wimborne he went to ally himself with the Northumbrian Danes, who acknowledged his claim to the kingship of Wessex. Confident of eventual victory, he must have proceeded to order coins minted in his name. He eventually met his cousin Edward in a remote part of of East-Anglia in 902, at the Battle of the Holme. The rarity of the coin bearing Aethelwold's name perhaps tells you what you need to know about the outcome.

So, from a tower favoured by a Victorian writer, via industry and shipwreck, and an interesting but not initially fascinating buried treasure, I had come, unplanned and unconsciously, to a person whom I feel I 'know' rather well. For you see, a year before this hoard was discovered, I had written a story. It's called To Be a Queen, and it features Alfred the Great, his daughter, her brother, Edward, and their cousin, one Aethelwold, or as I call him, Thelwold.

Those among you who write, and have a penchant for digging, either literally or figuratively, will understand how satisfying it was for me to find out about that tiny little silver penny.



And as for Mrs Gaskell? Well, she got me thinking, too, and Part II of my Silverdale 'wanderings' will be live on this blog on December 27th.


Annie Whitehead is an historian and author of To Be a Queen, which tells the story of Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of Alfred the Great. She writes regularly for magazines and will be releasing her second novel, also set in 'Dark Ages' Mercia, in the New Year.

Find her book at AMAZON and BOOK DEPOSITORY
and find Annie on her BLOG and FACEBOOK PAGE

4 comments:

  1. Wonderful post, Annie! I am in the U.S. and, though I've been to England, I've never had a chance to see any of this scenery. Thank you for the lovely virtual tour :)

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    1. Glad you liked it Mimi - there are some real hidden treasures (sometimes quite literally!) around this part of the world :)

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  2. Very nice. Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my favorite 19th century writers. I adored Cranford.

    Tam

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    1. Thanks Tam - sorry there wasn't too much about Mrs Gaskell here; we wanted to go into the tower but were unable to on that day. My next post is inspired by one of her books; it will be published here on 27th Dec

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