A History of the County of York: the City of York. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1961.
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ANGLO-SCANDINAVIAN ANTIQUITIES (fn. 1)
Buildings, Carved Stones, and Miscellaneous Objects
Few antiquities have survived from the York of the 5th or early 6th centuries. From the Mount, however, comes a perfect bowl of fluted bluish-green glass with a thread ornament. This belongs to a recognized continental group of the migration period —late 5th or perhaps early 6th century—and was probably imported from the Rhine-Meuse region. An almost exact replica of it has in fact come to light in Germany and its presence in York may very possibly indicate oversea trade in luxury goods at an early period. The same period is represented by a bronze bowl found in the castle yard. It has escutcheons of swan-like form and resembles bowls found at Bishop Wilton (E.R.) and at Hawnby (N.R.). They were all designed for suspension but served some unknown ceremonial purpose and belong to a type found as tomb-furniture. (fn. 2) Perhaps owing to the burning of the minster in 741, no examples of 7th- or early 8th-century Anglian sculpture are known to derive from York (fn. 3) —a disappointing fact in view of the recorded activities of Wilfrid's artists.
A building which may have been an outstanding architectural and artistic achievement of Alcuin's York in the 8th century has given rise to much controversy. The problems immediately arising are those which surround the reconstruction of the minster after the fire, (fn. 4) a process only imprecisely described in Alcuin's poetic masterpiece. The writer first speaks of the magnificent furnishing of the altars by Archbishop Æthelberht, who acceded in 767, a quarter of a century after the fire. (fn. 5) His detailed description of the altars and their decoration is immediately followed by the words:
Ast nova basilicae mirae structura diebus
Praesulis hujus erat jam caepta, peracta, sacrata.
Haec nimis alta domus solidis suffulta columnis,
Suppositae quae stant curvatis arcubus, intus
Emicat egregiis laquearibus atque fenestris,
Pulchraque porticibus (fn. 6) fulget circumdata multis,
Plurima diversis retinens solaria (fn. 7) tectis,
Quae triginta tenet variis ornatibus aras.
Hoc duo discipuli templum doctore jubente
Aedificaverunt Eanbaldus et Alcuinus, ambo
Concordes operi devota mente studentes.
Hoc tamen ipse pater socio cum praesule templum,
Ante die decima quam clauderet ultima vitae
Lumina praesentis, sophiae sacraverat almae. (fn. 8)
The passage is difficult to interpret. Was the Alma Sophia, as most recent writers have supposed, a rebuilding of the damaged St. Peter's? If, however, it was a separate building, where was it situated? And why, after this single reference, does a church of Alma Sophia never receive further attention? The problem cannot be discussed here in its full complexity. (fn. 9) It seems extremely unlikely that the building was a church for the canons of Christ Church— later Holy Trinity Priory. (fn. 10) The view that the new church was a rebuilding of St. Peter's has much more in its favour. St. Peter's is once again mentioned by Alcuin himself in 793 and by Symeon of Durham (embodying early Northumbrian annals) sub anno 796. The furnishing of altars might first have taken place in the patched-up old church, and then an architectural reconstruction might have followed. On this basis Alma Sophia might be dismissed as a temporary change of dedication; but dedications were then taken very seriously and this seems unlikely. It might be easier, though still dubious, to dismiss Alcuin's phrase as mere poetic licence rather than take it at its face value as the record of a formal dedication.
It has been suggested, however, that Æthelberht built a new structure. John Browne, the 19th-century historian of the minster's architecture, was one of the first to attack the theory that the building was Holy Trinity Priory. (fn. 11) He took Alma Sophia to be a rebuilding of the minster and in 1863 suggested as its foundation the extensive concrete platform which he had then recently found in the crypt of the minster. A recent examination of this platform suggests, however, that its width is more appropriate to the Norman rebuilding and the site of the new building—if, indeed, there was one—is still very uncertain. (fn. 12) Of the suggestions that have been put forward for its position, the one which involves the least difficulty is that which supposes Alma Sophia to have stood in the close vicinity of St. Peter's somewhere on the site of the present minster. It may be surmised with some probability that its foundations lie under, and perhaps a little to the west of, the present nave.
The intellectual vitality of Alcuin's York thus appears to have been matched by an outstanding architectural achievement and one which the surviving stones of the period can but remotely suggest. The period between the early 8th century and the coming of the Danes has left in York several characteristic, though scarcely any first-rate, examples of Anglian sculpture. (fn. 13) From St. Leonard's Place come two carved stones; one, the end of a crossshaft, retains the inscription ad memorium sanctorum; (fn. 14) the other, also part of a late Anglian cross-shaft, has good vine-scroll ornament, on one side intertwined with two animal-figures, probably an early example of the hart-and-hind motif. (fn. 15) The tower of St. Mary's, Bishophill, Junior, incorporates two Anglian carved stones, (fn. 16) while a third was taken from the south wall of the chancel in 1913 and placed in the church. This last is a striking, if debased, late Anglian shaft fragment. (fn. 17) Also from this church came part of a cross-shaft showing on one side a dragon with interlacing of late Anglian type, on the other two human figures, ostensibly those of sophisticated 9th-century Anglian gentlemen. (fn. 18) A fragment of a once-beautiful cross-head was found on the city wall on the site of the archway now leading to the old railway station. (fn. 19) Another cross-head, probably but not certainly local, is of Ripon or Tadcaster stone and seems 8th-century in type. (fn. 20) The other two Anglian stones, found in the excavations preparatory to the building of Parliament Street, are both grave-covers of sandstone marked with plain crosses. (fn. 21)
Sculptured stones deriving from the period between the Danish and the Norman Conquests are naturally more plentiful at York than those of the Anglian period. The scarcity of stone in their own country nevertheless made the incoming Danes mere learners in the sphere of architecture and monumental sculpture. Though they were not long in acquiring a certain rude charm of their own, they never achieved the delicate spirituality of the best Anglian crosses, which had depended not solely on native ingenuity but on a contact with the Mediterranean fountainhead. (fn. 22)
The earliest stones are all in the Yorkshire Museum. First in time is part of a hog-back, (fn. 23) a form of recumbent monument developed by Danish originality, though in this case with scrolls inspired by Anglian models. It was found in the wall of St. Mary's, Bishophill, Junior. A flat grave-slab from St. Denys's churchyard (fn. 24) shows curious bifurcated plaits and the dragon-motif which dominates Scandinavian sculpture. More spectacular is the coped stone found near the south wall of St. Denys's and showing a confused tangle of bears and dragons, possibly also an elephant, carved in flat relief. (fn. 25) These two belong to the age of the viking kings, but stones attributable to the 10th and early 11th centuries are much more numerous. Part of a cross-shaft was found in Parliament Street at some distance from the site of any known church. (fn. 26) A stone rudely carved with two dragons, apparently a vertical feature from some church building, comes from Clifford Street. (fn. 27) Part of a 10th-century wheel-head cross said to come from St. Mary's, Castlegate, (fn. 28) may possibly indicate a church on that site even earlier than that represented by its dedication-stone (see below). The fragment, probably of a cross-shaft, in the porch of Holy Trinity, Micklegate, has been conjecturally dated c. 1000. (fn. 29) Of more pronouncedly 11th-century style are three stones: (a) an unusual cross-head with an ingeniously carved beast, perhaps the lion of St. Mark; (fn. 30) (b) a somewhat roughly designed finial cross found in the north wall of the nave of St. Crux; (fn. 31) (c) a cross-slab grave-cover built into the porch of St. Mary's, Bishophill, Senior. (fn. 32)
The mutilated and headless, yet still beautiful, Virgin and Child in the crypt of the minster does not belong to this series and has indeed no very close parallels in either pre-Conquest or post-Conquest English sculpture. It bears strikingly close resemblance to certain figures of the Byzantine school of the 10th and 11th centuries, a school which extended into Italy and possibly even into Germany. (fn. 33) Whether the work is regarded as an importation or as representing the influence or actual presence of foreign craftsmen, its appearance at York involves interesting possibilities. The figures are in relief and possess a truly Romanesque grandeur; the complex draperies, markedly metallic in character, yet executed with an easy command of the material, have led observers unaware of its Byzantine affinities to link it with French Romanesque work of the 12th century. The preponderant weight of evidence is nevertheless for the earlier date and there is reason to suppose that work of this technical excellence and iconographic character might then have been produced in England. (fn. 34)
The dedication stone of St. Mary's, Castlegate— if this is indeed what it is (fn. 35) —is not easy to date with precision. It says, in a mixture of English and Latin, that the church (mynster) was built by [? Ev]rard, Grim and Æse, but where the date of consecration was carved the stone has been broken away. (fn. 36) 'Evrard' seems a not unreasonable conjecture—the name is common in York in the 12th century. (fn. 37) Although two Grims occur about 1050 in a list of the 'festermen' for a certain Ælfric, preserved in the York Gospels, (fn. 38) the name must have been very common in York from 867 onwards; indeed, it continued so in the 12th century. (fn. 39) There seems every reason to suppose that long after the Conquest native builders were displaying conservatism and foreign builders sensitivity to local influences. (fn. 40) The St. Mary's dedication might well represent, say, a rebuilding after the disasters of 1069. That most impressive architectural survival of 11th-century York, the tower of St. Mary's, Bishophill, Junior, is probably of pre-Conquest date and shows close affinities with the so-called 'Lincolnshire group'. The tower arch, opening into the nave and recessed with two square orders, (fn. 41) has been classed by an eminent authority with the finest examples of its type, those at Barnack (Northants.) and at St. Benet's, Cambridge. (fn. 42) A stone in the wall of Holy Trinity, Micklegate, which shows a Scandinavian dragonesque motif with more than a suggestion of Norman workmanship may be dated round about the Conquest. (fn. 43)
Miscellaneous objects reflecting the daily life of Anglo-Scandinavian times have frequently come to light in York. (fn. 44) In 1884 a remarkable miscellaneous hoard was found near Castlegate. Bone combs (fn. 45) in various stages of manufacture indicated the proximity of workshops, an impression strengthened by the presence of amber, both unworked and wrought into rings, ear-rings, and beads. Other objects included pottery with finely interlaced handles, a loom weight, wooden spoons (one with interlaced patterns and runes), spindle-whorls, knives, prickers, whetstones, wooden hammer-heads, and ornamented deer-horns. (fn. 46) Both here and in Goodramgate have occurred glass roundlets thought to have been intended for smoothing linen. (fn. 47) Various draughtscounters from both Clifford Street and Coppergate and several bone skates probably also dating from this period are extant as reminders of the well-known viking love of games. A chessman (see plate facing p. 333), possibly of this date, was found in Nessgate. (fn. 48) Contemporary metal objects from York and its immediate vicinity include silver and pewter brooches, (fn. 49) and two swords with the characteristic semicircular pommel and straight guard. (fn. 50) A particularly fine bronze scabbard-chape is so similar to another found in Jemtland, Sweden, that it has been thought to come from the same mould. (fn. 51) A rough coffin hewn from a tree-trunk, containing a male skeleton and a wooden paddle, was found on the site of Salem Chapel in St. Saviourgate. (fn. 52) Similar coffins were reported from Parliament Street (fn. 53) and another paddle from Coppergate near the scabbard-chape and other viking objects, though the association of these last objects one with another is disputed. (fn. 54) On the Coppergate site the most unusual finds were leather boots, gaiters, and fragments of leather sheaths. The sheaths have floral scrolls similar to patterns found in Scandinavia; they lack the usual animal-designs. (fn. 55) Bone was also a favourite material in the workshops of York. A trial-piece, probably of 10th-century date, came to light near the castle in 1938. (fn. 56) Two curious whale-bone implements, one found probably in Ousegate and the other in Hudson (now Railway) Street, are carved with patterns characteristic of the period, though their purpose remains far from clear. (fn. 57) Perhaps the most attractive of all discoveries of the viking age is the golden dragon pin encountered during an excavation near St. Mary's Abbey (see plate facing p. 333). Though it lay so near the site of Siward's palace, its style places it well before his time: almost certainly before 950 and conceivably before 900. (fn. 58)
Coins (fn. 59)
The earliest post-Roman coin to be found in York is a gold thrymsa of the 7th century; it was possibly struck in the city. (fn. 60) The silver sceat found at the same time and hitherto described as of the 7th century is now thought to be of later origin. (fn. 61) The earliest known coins certainly produced by the York mint are silver sceats of the period c. 750-90. The coins previously attributed to Ecgfrith (fn. 62) are to be regarded with the greatest suspicion—those found at Heworth may even be 19th-century fabrications, and none of his coins in fact occurs in the 9thcentury hoards from Bolton Percy (W.R.) and elsewhere. The rare coins hitherto attributed to Ealdfrith (fn. 63) are now believed to belong to the very end of the 8th century. (fn. 64)
The coins of the late 8th and the 9th centuries have survived more abundantly, however, and reflect not only the productivity of the York mint during the period but the rise of internal trade. The two largest Yorkshire coin-hoards, those of Bolton Percy and St. Leonard's Place, York, alone account for some 16,000 coins; both were apparently deposited at least a decade before the Danish invasion of 867. Eadberht (737-58) is adequately represented by a silver sceat coinage which continued until about 790; some sceats were also issued in the joint names of Eadberht and Archbishop Egbert. Silver was never plentiful in the north and a copper coin, usually but incorrectly called a styca, predominates from about 830 until, at the latest, 855. (fn. 65) Moneyers' names appear on the reverse of most types, so yielding useful information on personal nomenclature. Eanred may have employed about 35 moneyers, Æthelred II (841-50) over 40. (fn. 66) Their work shows little standardization; each king has an assortment of styles and spellings. The legends are not infrequently retrograde or otherwise blundered. Almost the only impressive early York coin is a unique gold solidus of Archbishop Wigmund (837-54), copied from a coin of Louis the Pious. (fn. 67) With this quasi-Frankish exception, it may scarcely be claimed that the York mints were worthy contemporaries of Alcuin.
York coins of the late 9th century have also survived abundantly. The great hoard discovered at Cuerdale near Preston (Lancs.) was apparently deposited soon after 900 and includes over 3,000 pennies bearing the names of two (?) Christian kings, Cnut and Siefred. (fn. 68) These two names may relate to the same person; the coins are of closely similar type and both use on their reverses phrases from the liturgy: Mirabilia fecit and Dominus Deus Rex. Some are even struck with the legend of Cnut on one side and that of Siefred on the other. (fn. 69) All the 'Siefred' coins showing a minting place were struck at York. The 'Cnut' coins come both from York and from Quentovic, the ancient port in northern France. (fn. 70) The two coinages overlap but the 'Cnut' coins seem in general to be later than the 'Siefred'; the coinages lasted from about 895 until, at the latest, 905. (fn. 71) Siefred is probably identical with Sigeferth piraticus de Northymbriorum recorded in Æthelweard's chronicle (fn. 72) as ravaging the coasts in 895.
The increasing commercial prosperity of the city indicated by these coinages must have advanced steadily throughout the unsettled reigns of the Danish and Norse kings. It is reflected not only in the sagas but in the continuity of the Norse coinage in the midst of political instability. (fn. 73) And it was during the troubled years of the early 10th century that a 'memorial coinage' of St. Peter made its appearance. (fn. 74) The viking world to which York now belonged was one of trade. At Kildale in the North Riding one of the viking burials is significantly accompanied not only by a sword but by a set of scales, (fn. 75) and these joint symbols recur both in Dublin and in Norway. The vast scope of this trading world is illustrated by the Goldsborough coin-hoard, which includes items struck by 9th- and early 10thcentury rulers in Tashkent, Samarkand, and other oriental cities. (fn. 76) Doubtless the York vikings met in the Baltic their compatriots who had traversed Russia. In York itself they replaced the Anglian copper stycas by a silver coinage often based on Frankish types to the extent of bearing the Carolus monogram. (fn. 77) Nor, of course, did trade cease with the downfall of the Norse kingdom; both Athelstan and Edmund issued coins from the York mint and the coinages of the Wessex kings soon became current amongst the northern traders. (fn. 78)
The Survival of Scandinavian Names
Viking York has been commemorated even more strikingly than by its coins. The great majority of the medieval street-names—many of which have survived today—are of Scandinavian origin. (fn. 79) Only a few of them may be tentatively ascribed to particular phases of Scandinavian influence. 'Divlinstones', a lane that probably led from North Street to the river comes from O.W.Scand. Dyflinn (Dublin), and must have been coined by vikings from Ireland. King's Court appears in the 13th century as 'Kuningesgard', a name we might reasonably connect with the Konungs-gardr of Egil's saga referring to the residence of Eric Bloodaxe in York. Both this name and its parallel Coney Street (12th century, 'Cuningestret') are indeed probably Danish and could antedate the Norse kings. (fn. 80) The 12th-century 'Brettegate' (later Jubbergate) is thought to derive from O.Scand. Bretar (Britons) and hence, though a later origin is possible, it may refer to the Cumbrian Britons who accompanied the Irish vikings. (fn. 81) Since the names of many eminent citizens of later 11thand 12th-century York are known, place-names based on unrecorded personal names are likely to belong to an earlier period. Goodramgate (12th century: 'Gutherungata') is a survival of this type; similarly in medieval times we find 'Golmanlythe' and 'Galmanhowe' attached respectively to a gate in Bootham and the high ground near St. Mary's Abbey. One of the oldest York street-names may be Hartergate (12th century 'Hertergate'; 16th century 'Hatterlane'; now Friargate), which derives from either hjartar ('hart's street') or from the personal name Hojrtr, and in any case contains a genitive form which became obsolete in England at a very early date. The word gate, so common for 'road' or 'street' throughout the Danelaw, is of course the normal Scand. gata. More specifically Norwegian is geil, used extensively in medieval York for lanes, alleys, and narrow passages. Even as late as the 12th century geil seems a current term, for it was then probably applied to 'Fotlousgeyle' (i.e. 'Footless Lane')—the place where the Master of St. Leonard's Hospital kept the crippled poor from about 1100 onwards. (fn. 82) Geil may, however, have retained its currency in popular speech without compelling us to believe in the existence of a very large Norwegian population or further Norwegian immigration after the Norman Conquest.
The Scandinavian place-names of York cannot be ascribed more precisely than generally to the late 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries. The Conquest itself may not instantly have diminished intercourse with Scandinavia, yet since the suburban names 'Munecagate', 'Walbegate', and 'Fiscergate' (Monkgate, Walmgate, Fishergate) appear already in a document of about 1080, (fn. 83) most names in central York were presumably also established by that date. Some typical surviving names of Scandinavian origin are Stonegate (12th century, 'Steingate' from O.W.Scand. steinn gata, stone-paved street), Skeldergate (shield-makers' street from O.Scand. skjaldari), Coppergate (joiners' street, O.Scand. koppari), Blossom Street (13th century 'Ploxwangate' from O.Scand. plógr sveinn, ploughswain) and perhaps Blake Street (probably O.Scand. bleikr, white). The medieval 'Ketmangergate' comes from O.Scand. kjotmangari, fleshmonger. Bootham provides an example of the difficulties of interpreting the placename evidence. The termination -um found in all its early medieval occurrences has led the whole word to be tentatively connected with O.W.Scand. búdum, the dative plural of búd. It has been suggested (fn. 84) that it derives from some such expression as farmanna búdum—'merchants' booths'—and thus has its origin after 1089 when St. Mary's Abbey was founded and the abbey's weekly market developed there. But a more ancient market may well have developed in this suburb, as markets certainly did in the eastern suburbs. Moreover búd is a term of wide application and may refer to almost any kind of dwelling or building and has no necessary connexion with merchants' booths. Similar caution has to be observed in other cases, but in general it is clear that York's place- and street-names are more pronouncedly Scandinavian than those of any other major town in Britain.
The names of the York moneyers, as recorded on the coinage of the 10th and 11th centuries, yield further evidence of the Scandinavian character of York. (fn. 85) Under Edgar (957-75) 2 Scandinavian names appear amongst a total of 9; under Æthelred (978-1016) over 30 Scandinavian names are found against only a dozen or so English; under Cnut (1016-35) the Scandinavian outnumber the English by about 29 to 15; under the Confessor (104266) by about 23 to 9 and under Harold all 10, with one or two possible exceptions, are Scandinavian. Thus between 979 and 1066 nearly two-thirds of the York moneyers had Scandinavian names. Many of them occur in a slightly Anglicized form: 'Osgod' for O.Scand. Ásgautr; 'Fargrim' for Fargrimr; 'Thurgrim' for Thorgrimr; 'Toka' for Tóki; 'Scula' for Skúli; and so forth. A few, though quite certainly Scandinavian forms (Sneborn, Swartcol, Winterfugel) do not appear to have been recorded in Scandinavia itself.