Vikings in South Derbyshire

Most people with an interest in archaeology, or who have been watching ‘The Last Kingdom’ on the telly, will have heard of the Viking Great Heathen Army which ravaged England in the ninth century. Fewer people may know that the Army overwintered in South Derbyshire, at Repton, in A.D. 873-4. It is unlikely that all the Vikings will have stayed in the camp all winter, as foraging parties would have been sent up and down the river Trent, and they will have wanted to keep an eye on the approaches to Repton to warn of any possible attacks.

One of the sites which I have been metal detecting on is a few miles upstream from Repton, on the opposite side of the river from the Anglo-Saxon site at Catholme, near to a place where the river is shallow enough to be forded, and from which there are good views of the Roman road where it crosses the river at Wychnor Bridge, and from which, on a clear day, you can see Tamworth. These factors would make it a good place for lookouts to be stationed.

So might this 8th century Arabic coin (PUBLIC-458D27) that I found on the site have been dropped by one of Ivar the Boneless’s lads?

Dirham of the Umayyads dating to AD 741-742
Dirham of the Umayyads dating to AD 741-742 (PUBLIC-458D27). Copyright: Roger Thomas. License: CC BY.


I’d like to think so.

The coin is currently on display in Derbyshire Unearthed, an exhibition at Derby Museum and Art Gallery about Treasure and the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Districts of Derbyshire: South Derbyshire

South Derbyshire is a local government district of Derbyshire. The area contains one third of the National Forest, which is a scheme designed to increase woodland cover to about a third of all the land within its boundary. Within the district are also the towns of Melbourne and Swadlincote, and the villages of Repton and Ticknall.

Archaeological finds show that the area has been inhabited since at least the Mesolithic period. This flint blade (DENO-2CBE33) was formed using a soft hammer (perhaps made of bone, wood or softer stone), which is evident from the shallow ripple marks on the surface. It dates from the period 8,300 – 2,100 BC.

Mesolithic flint blade (DENO-2CBE33). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY-SA

Occupation continued into the Bronze Age as shown by this Middle Bronze Age axe (DENO-B7AB01). This is an incomplete example of a palstave axehead, as shown by the tell-tale flared sides or flanges. This example dates from c. 1,500 – 1,150 BC and was found near Drakelow.

Bronze Age palstave axehead, (DENO-B7AB01), Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY.

Finds from the Iron Age appear quite rare in this area. However, archaeology does show that people were settling and there is evidence for the building of hillforts in the surrounding areas. This object is an interesting one (DENO-D4EF33). It is a complete strap junction and dates from c. 100 BC – AD c. 100, so it crosses into the Roman period. It has been designated a find of note due to its rarity in the region and the fact it is complete.

Iron Age Strap Junction (DENO-D4EF33) Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY-SA

By the Roman period South Derbyshire was a bustling place to be, with lead mining beginning in the Peak District and trade booming in the surrounding areas. This Colchester derivative Polden Hill type brooch, dating from AD c. 75 – c. 175 suggests that trade was successful in the area (PUBLIC-4289AD). This type of brooch is more common in the West Midlands and Staffordshire, and to see one here suggests a movement of people during this period and possibly good trade links between regions.

Roman Colchester Derivative (Polden Hill) Type brooch (PUBLIC-4289AD), Copyright: Roger Thomas. License: CC BY-SA

During the Early Medieval period, Repton became a vitally important place. Christianity was reintroduced to the Midlands here and it is where some of the members of the Mercian Royal family, descendants of Peada, were baptised and buried. This object (DENO-08BD33) is known as a sword pyramid. These would have been attached to the scabbard with a piece of string, the string would then be used to tie the sword into the scabbard. This process ensured that the wearer would be unable to draw his sword in anger or during an argument, thus preventing the beginnings of a blood feud. This object is a simpler version of similar objects found with the Staffordshire Hoard. It dates from AD 600 – 650 , contemporary with Repton Abbey and with parts of the Staffordshire Hoard.

Early Medieval sword pyramid (DENO-08BD33) Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY-SA

Many Medieval finds have been discovered in South Derbyshire, including a sterling imitation long cross penny of John II of Avesnes, Count of Hainault (WMID-6975D9). However it is always exciting when a find comes in that is instantly recognisable, like this one (WMID-68F235). This is a key and it dates from AD c. 1150 – c. 1400. This kind of object can show that not much has changed between then and now.

Medieval key (WMID-68F235) Copyright: Birmingham Museums Trust. License: CC BY-SA

The final object dates from the Post Medieval period, AD c. 1500 – c. 1700 . It is an intriguing object (PUBLIC-6FF674), it comprised of 3 objects, a seal, nut cracker and a pipe tamper. This object shows the industrious nature of the Post Medieval peoples and their need, like ours, for efficiency and quick solutions to problems.

Post Medieval seal matrix (PUBLIC-6FF674) Copyright: Roger Thomas. License: CC BY-SA