Anglians and Vikings

The Founding of ‘Seton

For the location-specific information on the Anglians, we are indebted to  June Sheppard who studied the area in her 1956 PhD ThesisThe Draining of the Marshlands of East YorkshireOther sources include the Domesday Book.
Click on any photo or map to enlarge and scroll through them all.

Sometime in the centuries after the departure of the Romans, the Angles arrived (as the northern cohort of the Anglo-Saxons). It is now believed (based on DNA evidence from cemeteries) that there was a substantial influx of new peoples from the continent rather than just cultural changes. Throughout the country, this DNA evidence also shows that the Anglo-Saxons mixed with and intermarried the older population of Britains.

The Angles took over York in the late fifth century and renamed it Eoforwīc. The Angle presence in our immediate area is shown in the naming of the settlements and villages of the area (map below). The ending of the names identifies the founders: e.g. -ham and -ton  are Anglo-Saxon and -by-thorpe and -with are Viking.

This area was largely unpopulated when the Angles arrived. Like the iron age peoples and others before them, they settled on the higher sandy areas where natural conditions of drainage, though poor, were better than elsewhere in the Vale. The banks of river valleys, where sand formed the surface layer, were favourite sites – especially both banks of the Derwent, the Bielby Brook and the Foulness. Laytham is a notable exception, being on a slightly raised part of the claylands.

Identification of settlements is from Sheppard (1956) based on the endings of each name (see text) drawn on a map from and used with permission

Early settlements were usually close to rivers and Roman roads – in the case of Seton (Seaton Ross), the one running from Brough to York. The only ‘early’ – i.e. fifth/sixth century Anglian name nearby is Everingham (the Anglo-Saxon name ending -ingham shows this). Later settlements, such as Seton arose in the seventh and eighth centuries. 

The Angles brought with them a new technology – the mould-board plough – which, for the first time, made it possible to farm on the clay soils to the west of Seaton Ross. Forest and marsh no doubt still separated many villages and stretched back away from the cultivated strips on the higher well-drained land near the rivers. Where the carrs were cleared, they provided good pasture for livestock.

THE MOULD-BOARD PLOUGH: Ploughmen – facsimile of a miniature in a very ancient Anglo-Saxon manuscript published by Shaw, with the legend “God Spede ye Plough, and send is Corne enow”

The location of the Anglian settlement on the sandy bank around Seaton Ross is uncertain – it could have been in the same location as the Iron Age/Roman settlement south of the village but this would probably have disappeared into the vegetation after several centuries of abandonment. It seems more likely that the Anglian village of Seton was closer to the centre of the current village – near the current church which is at a high point in the village.

The name Seton means – ‘Farm with a pool’ according to the English Place Name Society. This most likely refers to the shallow lake(s) and wetlands of Everingham Carr.

Significantly, the Angles started to drain the marshy claylands to the west of Seaton Ross – in particular they dug out the Foss dyke which is the western border of the modern parish and is a significant channel. It would have taken decades for this to have had any significant effect on the surrounding marshy clays.

Anglian Yorkshire was part of the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria and was overthrown by Viking invaders in about A.D. 866/7. The Viking capital of the new Danelaw was at York (Jorvik). In the immediate area, some Vikings settled on the marginal lands – mostly marshy claylands – that had been left vacant by the Anglians (see the map above).  Under both Anglian and Viking rule, the population of Seton would have been under the protection of regional earls.

The state of reclamation and improvement by the Angles and Vikings prior to 1066 is confirmed by the Domesday Book, which shows that a number of prosperous manors were in existence at that time. Seaton Ross was under the control of Earl Morcar who was associated with up to 263 places before the Conquest (Domesday Book), however Gamal (son of Karli) is also mentioned. Domesday is rather unclear about Seaton Ross unfortunately – several other settlements are pooled with it. This period of our history ended with the Norman invasion of 1066 with its very unpleasant aftermath in the North.

The image at the top of the page is an artist’s impression of the 6th-century Anglo-Saxon village excavated at Cowdery’s Down, Hampshire by Mike Codd


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