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When the Vikings Ruled Lincoln

THOR’s Tipi Bar will arrive in Lincoln for Christmas 2018, so we asked historian Dr Erik Grigg to explain Lincoln’s Viking history.

Vikings Takeover

The Great Heathen Army of Vikings arrived in England in 865 - gradually overrunning the kingdoms of East Anglia, Northumbria and Mercia - including Lindsey, the region that Lincoln was located in.

This Viking army is specifically mentioned as having wintered in Torksey in 872/3 where the Mercians made peace with them. In 876, they are recorded as dividing up Mercia, taking over as landlords of the estates.

The Vikings who moved into Lincoln were not marauding warriors, but traders. The crumbling Roman ruins of Lincoln were an ideal spot for a Viking town and Lincoln became a very important Viking trading settlement.

By about AD 900 Lincoln was a small trading settlement with the population concentrated mainly in the south-eastern corner of the lower part of the Roman city (near where The Collection is situated today), numbering about 600.

When the Vikings Ruled Lincoln

Clues in the Names

Comparatively few distinctively Viking artefacts have been recovered from the city. However place names likes Danesgate suggests that some people were from Scandinavia: ‘gate’ comes from the Viking word ‘geat’ meaning street; so Danesgate is the Street of the Danes.

Street names like Flaxengate (the street where flax, the component of linen, was worked) suggest clothing was made in the city although signs of textile manufacture are hard to find. Anglo-Saxon style metal hooked tags (the sort used to tie loose clothing) were mass-produced in the city and they have been found across Lincolnshire.

The name Saltergate suggests salt was being brought up the Witham to Lincoln for trade. There is evidence of glass-working in Viking Lincoln, usually making glass beads either out of reused Roman glass or new glass using techniques from Eastern Europe. There is also evidence of comb making and metalwork from the city including brooches made in a Scandinavian style.

Surrounding villages also point back to the Viking period: -by meaning farmstead and -thorpe meaning hamlet. Look out for Whisby, Bransby, Wragby, or Skellingthorpe.

By the mid-10th century a new suburb, Wigford, was laid out south of the river and the overall population probably reached about 1600. Further downstream from the Brayford, the north riverbank was also converted so larger boats could tie up and unload goods for trade.

When the Vikings Ruled Lincoln

Viking Development

We know of Viking kings in York, but who ruled Viking Lincoln is not known; Viking coins from Lincoln do not mention a king. They do however have St Martin on them, the patron saint of Lincoln at the time of the Vikings, as the market was held next to St Martin’s Church at the top of today’s High Street.

England was united under the West Saxon kings when the last Viking king of the north, Erik Bloodaxe, died in 954. In 1066 the Normans, descendants of Vikings who had settled in Northern France and led by William the Conqueror, captured the country.

Norman sources like Domesday Book (1068) suggest that Viking Lincoln had attracted a very mixed population. It records Scandinavian names like Svertingr son of Harthaknutr and Svartbrandr son of Ulfr, as well as English names like Wulfbert, Leofwine, and Godric son of Eadgifu.

These residents will have seen the next developments in Lincoln, commissioned by King William himself: the building of Lincoln Castle and Lincoln Cathedral atop the hill.


You can see Viking artefacts head to The Collection museum where you can see Viking coins, axes, combs, a sword and even Viking ice skates used to skate across the frozen Brayford in winter.

Illustrations: David Vale. This article was written in November 2017.

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