Angles, Danes and Norse in the District of Huddersfield (1929) - Chapter 7

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Angles, Danes and Norse in the District of Huddersfield (1929) by W.G. Collingwood (2nd edition)

  • Preface (page 3)
  • Chapter 1 : The Anglian Occupation of Yorkshire (page 7)
  • Chapter 2 : British Loidis and Elmet (page 9)
  • Chapter 3 : The Anglian and British Map of the Huddersfield District (page 13)
  • Chapter 4 : The Anglian Abbeys (page 17)
  • Chapter 5 : Anglian Monuments (page 19)
  • Chapter 6 : Dewsbury (page 24)
  • Chapter 7 : Thornhill (page 33)
  • Chapter 8 : Walton and Rastrick Cross-bases (page 37)
  • Chapter 9 : Kirkburton and Kirkheaton — the Danish Settlers (page 40)
  • Chapter 10 : High Hoyland and the Norse Settlers (page 46)
  • Chapter 11 : Domesday Book an the Norman Conquest (page 50)
  • Chapter 12 : Mirfield, Cawthrone, Penistone and Skelmanthorpe (page 55)
  • Summary (page 60)
  • Bibliography (page 61)


Within Dewsbury’s ancient parish, and indeed only on the opposite side of the Calder valley, there is another group of contemporary monuments at Thornhill. We have to enquire whether this was a rival minster, or what was its relation to the great centre we have just described. In the absence of other evidence, perhaps the monuments themselves may give us a hint.

The stones are preserved on a shelf in a corridor near the vestry door of the church, and are famous for their inscriptions.

Two parts remain of a large grave-slab, properly the cover to a stone coffin. Coffins of stone were used from Roman times onward but naturally for important personages only. At Heysham, near Lancaster, there are graves cut in the rock, and these would have had stone covers, now lost. Later on, the grave-slab very common in medieval churches was set over a grave sunk in the church floor, without the stone coffin; and it is possible that this may have been done sometimes by the Angles. But Anglian grave-slabs are rather unusual, and this adds to the probability that this relic at Thornhill means an interment of some particularly notable person. The question arises at once – Why not at Dewsbury?

One of the fragments gives an inscription which can be restored in everything but the name of the person who dedicated the monument:- "Sound so sett]ae aeft [aer] Osber [ch]tae bec [nofe]r ber [gi: gebiddad daer saule]" – So-and-so set this in memory of Osberht, a monument over his grave. Pray for his soul. There is also a fragment of the interlaced ornament of this slab matching its thickness. The carver bungled the design, as is not very uncommon in late Anglian; but it may be restored tentatively as herewith. The model by Mr. Lockwood in the Museum is coloured, to show the manner in which all these crosses were no doubt painted.

This slab was supposed, by the late Rev. Daniel Haigh, who studied relics of this class with great attention but with less information than is available now-a-days, to be the actual tombstone of King Osberht, killed by the Danes of York, March 21st, 867. As far as the ornament and lettering go to date it, the stone is certainly of that time. Osberht, however, was not a rare name, and one does not at first see how even a king who fell in a great fight at York, against overwhelming and violent foes, came to be interred with splendour at Thornhill. It is just possible that the Danes were not always so devastating as their enemies’ accounts make out. We have seen that the Archbishop escaped to Wharfedale, and it ma be that other clerics of York made their way to Calderdale, carrying with them the body of the king, and settling – not at Dewsbury, where, perhaps, there was no room for them – but at this neighbouring place, where they could build an abbey under the protection of their friends. And assuming that Haigh was right in his conjecture, we might even suggest the restoration of the missing name; for it is supposed that a certain Oswald, who is mentioned in charters a little later as the "son of the king" was Osberht’s son, and it would be he who "set this monument." But the inscription does not say, as one would expect, that this Osberht was a king; and the guess, though it cannot be passed over in silence, must not be taken for more than it is worth.

(c, efg) Parts of a cross-shaft and cross-head enable us to restore the monument (frontispiece), of which a full size model by Mr. Lockwood is in the Museum, intended to show a sample of these late-Anglian crosses at Thornhill as they looked when they were complete. The inscription is in Anglian runes, the first letter rather doubtful :- "+ [?G] ilsuith araerde aeft Berhtsuithe, becun [?on] bergi. Gebiddath thaer saule.": Gilsuith reared [this cross] to Berhtsuith, a monument [on] her grave. Pray for her soul. Berhitsuith and Gilsuith were Anglian ladies otherwise unknown. The cross has similar figure-of-8 pattern on the back of the shaft, and a simple plait on its edges. On one side of the head the pattern has been bungled by the carver, but was no doubt as given in the model. The date must be in the later part of the ninth century.

(b, h) Two fragments of another cross, of which neither gives the head, but one bears an inscription in Anglian runes:- "+ Ethelberht settaefter Ethelwi[ne?] O[ra?]" – Ethelberht set up [this cross] in memory of Ethelwini. Pray [for him]. The spelling is curious, E for AE and "settaefter" run into one word.

(d) Part of a third cross has the inscription in Anglian runes: "+ Eadred sete aefter Eate eonne"; Eadred set [this cross] up to Eata [-?]. The last word has been much discussed; but all we can say is that it cannot mean the hermit of Craik, as Haigh suggested, for that Eata died at a distant place, more than a hundred years before the date of this cross, which must be late ninth century. This inscription again is incorrectly cut, for the last letter of "aefter" is omitted. The Thornhill carver was not one of the greater masters of the craft. The rather clumsy knot-work, and the pair of dragons on this last, indicate that it must be placed towards the end of the Anglian series; but the dragons are not Danish – they are much too tame.

(i) This is a fragment of the Osberht slab.

(j, k, l, m) The "neck" or junction of head and shaft of a small cross, with sharp-angled and irregular plaiting, shows the decadence of Anglian style. Probably early eleventh century.

(n, o) The side and edge of a cross-shaft with a very simple plait and Anglian mouldings which suggest late tenth century.

(p, q, r) The last stone may be part of a base for a small cross, or an unusually tapering shaft. On the first side it has a scroll of the latest Anglian kind, bordered by an angular twist. On the next side are plain Anglian mouldings. On the third side is a tree-pattern like one already seen at Dewsbury – so like as to suggest that it was the work of the same carver. The date is probably somewhat earlier than the Walton cross, on which we shall see the tree-pattern in a further state of decadence.

The monuments at Thornhill, therefore, cover the period from about 870 to 1000 and later. A church remained here and was in existence in 1086.