Viking Cumbria: The Ormside Bowl

Whilst on my travels in York recently (I do leave Cumbria occasionally) I came across this in the Yorkshire Museum.

The Ormside Bowl, from Great Ormside, Cumbria

The Ormside Bowl, from Great Ormside, Cumbria

The Ormside Bowl was found near St James’ Church in the village of Great Ormside in the Eden Valley in the early 1800s. The circumstances of its discovery aren’t clear; it was long assumed it was found buried, but at least one archaeologist1 has suggested that the condition is too good for that to be the case.

It’s really two bowls fastened together. The outside, the oldest part, is made of silver-gilt and dates to the mid 8th century. The inner part Continue reading

The Crosby Garrett Roman Helmet – The One That Got Away

In May 2010,  a metal detectorist from Peterlee in the northeast of England was in a field near Crosby Garrett in the Eden Valley  in Cumbria. He found 68 pieces of folded metal, carefully placed on a face-shaped mask.

Crosby Garrett Helmet at the sale (Flickr)

Crosby Garrett Helmet at the sale, photo copyright Daniel Pett

At first, the detectorist had no idea what he’d found. He’d discovered a handful of Roman coins on the site before – not too surprising given that the field is close to a Roman road – but there was no official record of previous habitation thereabouts1. The detectorist decided that the metal pieces were some sort of Victorian ornament. Continue reading

Owain map Urien, King of Cumbria c.590-597CE

The name ‘Owain’ resonates in Cumbria, especially in the Eden Valley. If you ask someone, they might mention that he was a great warrior. They’ll say that they think there’s a connection to King Arthur, and that he’s buried at the Giant’s Grave in Penrith (although the evidence leans towards it being the grave of a different Owain1).

In reality, like all these early medieval kings, facts are had to come by. Owain was the son of the famous Urien of Rheged, and he inherited his father’s kingdom, and his father’s wars. Continue reading

Urien of Rheged: Not Cumbria’s Arthur

So, this is my 22nd post on this blog, and I’m only just attempting Urien. The reasons for this are several: firstly, it’s so long ago that sources are thin on the ground; secondly, so many people have decided that they’d like him to be King Arthur that it all gets rather tired and emotional; and thirdly, a Certain Local Tourist Attraction.

Yr Hen Ogledd (The Old North) c.550- c. 650: peoples and sites in Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, John T. Koch, ed. (2005), isbn 9781851094400.

In reality, it goes likes this. Sometime in the early 6th century, Urien was born. He was  a brythonic (a form of old Welsh)-speaking Briton, and he ruled over a small kingdom called Rheged. Urien had a court bard, Taliesin, who recorded Urien’s wars in a series of poems which became very popular in Wales in succeeding centuries. Continue reading

The Luck of Edenhall

Cumbria is home to a number of ‘lucks’, or drinking vessels that are believed to protect a home and its residents from ill fortune. Perhaps the most famous is the Luck of Edenhall.

Edenhall is a small village near Langwathby in the Eden valley, and it was the seat of the Musgrave family for several hundred years.

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The Luck of Edenhall, 13th century V&A Museum no. C.1 to B-1959

The Luck is a glass beaker, with blue, green, red and white enamel and gilding, in a case bearing the initials, ‘IHS’ – the Greek rendering of Jesus. The glass is believed to be of Syrian or Egyptian origin, and it was made some time around the 13th or 14th century; a similar one was gifted to the Cathedral of Douai in 1329. The combination of location and date strongly suggest that the glass was brought back from the Crusades. Continue reading

Beastly goings-on at Renwick…

Move over Harry Potter: Cumbria has its own basilisk story. The basilisk, or cockatrice, was a feared mythical beast much talked-about from medieval times until the eighteenth century. Descriptions varied; they almost always had some cockerel body parts (unlike JK Rowling’s snake-like version), with a lizard’s, or dragon’s tail, andBasilisk: woodcut by Aldrovandi, published 1642 Copyright expired optional wings. They killed their victims with poisonous venom or by turning them to stone with a glance. Continue reading