Wirhalh Skip Felagr at Storeton Woods

On Saturday Wirhalh Skip Felagr, or the ‘Wirral Ship Fellowship’ as translated into English and Wirral Vikings held an event at Storeton Woods to recreate the Viking encampment deep in the woods that would have been in place before the Battle of Brunanburh which took place in the tenth century.

It is not known for sure where the Battle of Brunanburh took place but it is thought that the area between Storeton Woods and Brimstage Hall was the location for the battle which led to England becoming one nation as the Vikings were driven out of the lands.  Historians contend that 2017 marks the 1080th anniversary of the battle.

The event was run in conjunction with the Friends of Storeton Woods with the aim of explaining how the Vikings lived in their encampment by way of ‘living history’ and informative talks.

The Wirhalh Skip Felagr group love to demonstrate everyday life of the Wirral Vikings and how they lived locally.  The group look to demonstrate skills, techniques and ideas in as real a situation as possible.

The Skip Felagr focuses primarily upon the Hiberno Norse Vikings who settled the Wirral from Ireland in 902 AD.  The group offers a range of educational experiences to suit all requirements from talks and living history displays.

The Battle of Brunanburh was fought in 937 between Æthelstan, King of England, and an alliance of Olaf Guthfrithson, King of Dublin; Constantine, King of Scotland and Owen, King of Strathclyde.  Æthelstan had invaded Scotland unchallenged in 934.  The Scottish kings had therefore made an alliance with the Vikings and an allied force was formed.  In August 937 Olaf and his army crossed the Irish Sea to join forces with Constantine and Owen but the invaders were routed in the battle at Brunanburh by Æthelstan.

Æthelstan’s victory brought English unity.  The tribes consolidated, peace reigned and there was abundance throughout the nation.  Historians have said that Brunanburh was the greatest single battle in Anglo-Saxon history prior to the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

The actual site of the battle is not known for certain and scholars have proposed many locations.  From the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles it is known that after travelling north through Mercia, Æthelstan, his brother Edmund, and the combined Saxon army from Wessex and Mercia met the invading armies and attacked them in a battle that lasted all day where the Saxons triumphed and the invaders were forced to flee.

Olaf fled and sailed back to Dublin with the remnants of his army and Constantine escaped to Scotland. Owen’s fate is not known.  Among the casualties were five kings and seven earls from Olaf’s army and Constantine lost several friends and family members in the battle, including his son.  A large number of Saxons also died in the battle including two of Æthelstan’s cousins, Alfric and Athelwin.

The case for the battle having taken place in Wirral has wide support among many historians.  Charters from the 1200s suggests that Bromborough was originally named Brunanburh which could mean “Bruna’s fort”.  The nearby River Mersey was a commonly used route by Vikings sailing from Ireland.  Additionally, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle states that the invaders escaped at Dingesmere, and Dingesmere could be interpreted as “mere of the Thing”. The word Thing (or þing, in Old Norse) is a reference to the Viking Thing (or assembly) at Thingwall a short distance away from Bromborough on the Wirral. More lately a landscape survey carried out in 2004 has suggested a likely position for Bruna’s burh placing the burh at Brimstage.

It should be noted that other historians have suggested other possible sites including Burnley in Lancashire, as well as several areas in Yorkshire, Durham, and southern Scotland.  However I think the weight of expert opinion seems to recognise Wirral more than any other area.  Also I am told that internationally respected author Bernard Cornwell has recently come out strongly in favour of Wirral in his latest novel: ‘The Empty Throne.’

Whatever the truth today’s Wirral Vikings have shown how they might have lived on this site over a thousand years ago.

…in perpetuity

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Richard Henry Hooper (known as Harry) Hooper was born 1865 and was a successful local business man who lived in the large house known as ” Knollwood” in Gayton.  We don’t know much about Mr Hooper but a sign passed by hundreds of motorists everyday between Barnston Road and Brimstage Road advises us that in 1930 he presented the pinewoods at the Gayton roundabout to the parish of Gayton ‘for the use of the public in perpetuity’.

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His house at “Knollwood” in Well Lane Gayton is still standing today; a local landmark for its very fine entrance gates which are from the former Birkenhead Woodside Railway Station which closed in 1967.

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Mr Hooper was clearly a keen golfer as he was Captain of Heswall Golf Club in 1912.  He died on the 4th May, 1936.

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Today the pinewoods are maintained by Wirral Council as well as a local resident who tidies the area on a regular basis.  The woods are no longer solely pine woods with other deciduous trees now growing.

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The woods are an oasis of calm between two busy roads and have benches laid out for sitting on.  Many of the timbers have rotted on the benches and the local Rotary Club have replaced most of them.

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I wandered through them one very sunny late afternoon a few weeks ago when the bluebells were still in flower.

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Thank you Mr Hooper for leaving to the community to enjoy …in perpetuity.

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