1 June 2013

Morthen

Morthen before the motorways came
Some things get lost. The history of England is written in the field patterns, the ancient tracks, the tumuli, the earthworks, old documents, oral legends and in the stone remains of bygone ages and yet still some things get lost.

Yesterday - another beautifully sunny and clear day - I was walking in an area just east of Sheffield. The walk brought me to the agricultural hamlet of Morthen. It was the first time I'd been there. It's off the beaten track and there's not much to see but its name is tantalising.

Close by there are two larger villages called Laughton-en-le-Morthen and Brampton-en-le-Morthen. And it seems that in medieval times some other villages in the area were appended in the same manner. Morthen? What could it mean?

Here are three suggestions from "Rotherham - The Unofficial Website":-
  • Morthen may derive from the Old Norse term morthyng meaning moorland district with a common assembly.
  • It is also possible that Morthen was part of the site of the Battle of Brunanburgh around 936. A Saxon cross still stands at Morthen which is said to commemorate those slain at the battle where 50000 warriors are reputed to have died. It would therefore mean the field of slaughter.
  • Morthen possibly comes from the French 'morte' meaning death. Morthen being the place of death for the reason above or others.
Whoever wrote the above was perhaps unaware that there are other theories about Morthen. It is said by some that when the Romans departed these islands they left behind a political vacuum in which new Viking, Angle and Saxon kingdoms formed and that one of these small kingdoms was known as Morthen. Historical speculation surmises that each June for two hundred years or more, Viking elders and leaders would gather at a gentle moorland ridge between Morthen and Upper Whiston to parley, sort out differences and look to the future. Hence: "moorland district with a common assembly".That ridge is now cruelly dissected by the M1 motorway.

Who knows? As I say, some things get lost and maybe that's a good thing. There's too much dispelling of mystery. Too much rationality and too much science. It's nice to have an area called "Morthen", hiding its mysteries for ever more. And its nice to walk there on the same pathways that long dead men and women used so many years ago. Do we really need to know everything?
Entering Brampton-en-le-Morthen last autumn
Horse riders on York Lane, Morthen yesterday afternoon

3 comments:

  1. The Romans pretty much did what we keep doing in the Middle East. Lucky for Great Britain it was the Vikings and not the Taliban left in charge.

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  2. I love maps. I used to get the inch to the mile, now 1:50,000 series and just explore. What I really liked to do was get an old map and look for the buildings that were NOT there anymore. Why did they disappear? When did they disappear? How long had they been there? What was the story? Who lived there? What happened to them? I spent hours in ancient pubs finding the answers to all these questions and more.

    The fields around my late father's old place still bore the scars of medieval ridge and furrow plowing.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Or maybe whoever named it Northern had a speech impediment?

    ReplyDelete

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