Norwich the Old City A History of Norwich Page 3

The Saxons & Vikings

As the Romans prepared to leave East Anglia, the Saxons were already starting to establish themselves. For a few years there was conflict between the Saxons and the Iceni. But eventually the Saxons settled along side the Iceni. At this time several streams (locally called cockeys) which had helped form minor valleys during the glacial period, still flowed into the Wensum.
The occupation of the area was at that time concentrating in four areas - Norwic, Coslany, Westwic, & Conesford, all close to the river - but there were also other settlements spread out over a much larger area.
It was an ideal area for settlement. The soil was good, there was still plenty of timber, there were several streams supplying fresh water, and the river, which gave them access to the sea, both for the herring fishing & access to Europe
The villages were soon establishing industries such a pottery and metal working as well as the common ones of farming, weaving & fishing. Everything was expanding nicely. Then along came the Vikings...

Just like the Saxons before them, the Viking ships made their way up the river Yare and made raids on settlements. At first, just isolated raids, but finally in 866 the Vikings invaded East Anglia. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles recalls the event - "and the same year came a large heathen army into England, and fixed their winter-quarters in East-Anglia, where they were soon horsed; and the inhabitants made peace with them."

Having consolidated their position, a year later the Viking army rode off to attack York, not returning until 870 - "This year the army rode over Mercia into East-Anglia, and there fixed their winter-quarters at Thetford. And in the winter King Edmund fought with them; but the Danes gained the victory, and slew the king; whereupon they overran all that land, and destroyed all the monasteries to which they came."

The Vikings control of the area was however short-lived, as East Anglia fell to King Edward the Elder in 917. But many Vikings remained in the area. Their names recorded in the many references to East Anglia in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.
The Viking influence is still with us today in the names of many streets in Norwich, and the names of countless villages around East Anglia.

By the start of the 8th century the Saxons had established 5 or 6 villages within the area that was to become the medieval city, as well as several settlements just outside the area. The Saxon villages, one of which was called Norwic, were slowly merging together to form Norwich.
The earliest found reference to the name Norwic is on a silver coin from the reign of King Athelstan c930. As mints could only be sited within a fortified place with a market, it can be assumed that by then the village had become a small defended town. Excavations have shown a Saxon defence ditch following the line of St George's Street, north of the river. It is assumed that the defensive line wrapped round at the end of St George's, and continued along the line of Cowgate and returning to the river at Whitefriars.
But by the end of the 8th century, the settlements south of the river, not restricted by such massive defences, had expanded to cover a much greater area. No doubt part of that expansion was due to those of the invading Danes who decided to settle alongside the Saxons. The Saxon town whose name was to be based on that on the coins, had moved south of the river.

Tombland became the focal point for the town. Situated at an ancient crossroads, it became the main market place, and also the seat of power with the Earl's Palace being built there.

The Vikings however, had not finished with the area, and continued to raid. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records for the year 1004 AD.. " This year came Sweyne with his fleet to Norwich, plundering and burning the whole town."
The town was rebuilt, and was just getting back to a normal way of life when along came the Normans...


History Index Iceni & Romans Normans


Copyright © Ken Ward 2004
Last Updated: 28 November 2006


Time Line
410 - 425Saxon invasion of East Anglia.
500 - 550Early Saxon settlements come under control of the first East Anglia kings of the Wuffing dynasty.
840Danish invasion of East Anglia begins.
870Death of King Edmund as the Danes conquer East Anglia.
917Edward the Elder recaptures East Anglia from the Danes.
924Athelstan becomes King of England.
925Earliest mention of Norwic on coins
970First known written reference to Norwich (in Liber Eliensis).
1004Norwich first mentioned in the Saxon Chronicles as King Sweyn burns Norwich and captures the area.

Suggested Visits

The Anglo-Saxon Village at West Stow, Suffolk.

Sutton Hoo,
near Woodbridge, Suffolk.

The Anglo-Saxon Gallery at Ipswich Museum.

The Anglo-Saxon & Viking Gallery at Norwich Castle Museum.

See the
Attractions pages.