Everything you need to know about Suffolk's Vikings

Suffolk historian and author Charlie Haylock

Suffolk historian and author Charlie Haylock - Credit: Charlotte Bond

East Anglia's landscape has been shaped over the course of history by settlers who've travelled across oceans to stake their claim to our wide open spaces and big blue skies.

Suffolk has been occupied by the Romans, the Anglo Saxons, and eventually the Vikings who made their descent towards the end of the 8th century.  

“The English shores were constantly attacked and raided by the Danish and Norwegians from 789AD onwards, including the coastline of the kingdom belonging to the East Angles,” explains local historian and author Charlie Haylock.  

The Scandinavian seafarers spent many decades raiding our coasts, and by 869 eventually made their way inland via a number of our region’s rivers including the Waveney, the Stour and the Orwell.  

Shotley Peninsula (pictured) was once the scene of a bloody battle between the Danes and the Saxons and Angles

During the Viking invasion of Britain, the seafarers made their way up the coast towards Suffolk. Shotley Peninsula (pictured) was once the scene of a bloody battle between the Danes and the Saxons and Angles - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

“They started to attack inland and then branch out over land. Thetford was taken in 869, and in the same year King Edmund was captured and martyred in Hoxne.” 

Evidence of the Vikings in these settlements can be seen to this day. For instance, there is a memorial dedicated to King Edmund in the village of Hoxne which marks the spot where he was slain. 

St Edmund's monument at Hoxne

St Edmund's monument at Hoxne - Credit: Bob Kindred

“And by the end of that year, Suffolk had succumbed to the Great Army of the Danes, and became part of the Kingdom of Guthrum.” 

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According to Charlie, Guthrum translates from an Old Norse warrior nickname for ‘battle snake’, and is the derivation of the East Anglian surnames Gooderham, Goodram, Gutheram, and a number of other variations.  

“Gutherum’s kingdom would include the previous territory held by the East Angles (Norfolk and Suffolk by 869, and Cambridgeshire was taken by 874), plus the territories held by the East Saxons (which is now present-day Essex).” 

Charlie adds that the Vikings gradually pushed all the way down to the Somerset Levels in the West Country. 

“The West Saxon (Wessex) king Alfred the Great somehow managed to raise an army made up of a Saxons and a large number of Angles – so much so that Alfred called his army ‘English’ rather than Saxonish, and were able to push the Danes back.”

And in 885 off the coast of the Shotley Peninsula coastline, Alfred won a very bloody sea battle. Many lives were lost on both sides, but the Danes retreated. 

“That’s why today there’s an area on the Shotley Peninsula known as ‘Bloody Point’,” adds Charlie.  

Also, Shotley Primary School’s logo is a Viking longboat – paying homage to the Scandi tribesman from years gone by. 

“After this battle, King Alfred negotiated with the Danes, and in 886 Danelaw was agreed.” 

Danelaw refers to the area of England which the Danes ruled, dominating the Anglo-Saxons. It contrasted West Saxon law and Mercian law.  

“A rough line was drawn from the Essex side of London and zig-zagged north west across the country to north of the River Mersey. Everything south of that line would be controlled by the English, and everything north of that line was controlled by the Danes. And Suffolk and Norfolk were to be ruled by the Danes for even more decades to come.” 

However, some 50 years later, Anglo-Saxon king Æthelstan disregarded Danelaw, and united the whole of England under English rule.  

“By 937, he ruled the whole of the British and Irish Isles, and Suffolk was back under English rule.” 

The Shotley Peninsula viewed from the banks of the river Orwell

The Shotley Peninsula viewed from the banks of the river Orwell - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

But in 1016, the Danes, under King Cnut (anglicised to Canute), got their own back – and the whole of the British and Irish Isles were under Danish rule. This continued even after King Cnut’s death in 1035.  

Danish rule ended in 1047 however once Edward the Confessor took the throne. The son of Æthelred the Unready and Emma of Normandy, he re-established the House of Wessex.  

“And it has been reckoned by some historians that he was the first king of England with Norman connections,” adds Charlie.  

Edward the Confessor died in 1066, and during that year, England had four kings on the throne - with the last being William the Conqueror who was crowned on Christmas Day.  

“During the period between 869 and 1047, Suffolk and Norfolk were under Danish Viking rule for around 100 years. And it’s no wonder that East Anglia has many place names with Viking roots. A number of regional dialect words also derive from Old Norse, the language of the Vikings, too.” 

Eyke's village sign, which depicts an oak tree on the left-hand side.

Eyke's village sign, which depicts an oak tree on the left-hand side. The name 'Eyke' comes from the Old Norse 'eik', which means 'oak' - Credit: Geograph

9 Suffolk dialect words and place names with Viking origins  

- ‘Dag’, which means ‘the dew’, and comes from the Old Norse word ‘dagg’. 

- ‘Dinje’, which means ‘to rain mistily’, or ‘drizzle’. This comes from the Old Norse word ‘dyngja’, which means ‘to rain’. 

- ‘Eyke’ in East Suffolk, comes from the Old Norse ‘eik’, which means ‘oak’. This placename could be in reference to nearby Staverton Forest, which is comprised mostly of oak trees. 

- The ‘beck’ in ‘Gosbeck’ comes from the Old Norse ‘bekke’, meaning ‘a stream’. 

- ‘Hulver’, which is a holly tree or bush, and comes from the Old Norse ‘hulfr’. 

- ‘Kirkley’ near Lowestoft means ‘church by woodland’ clearing and comes from the Old Norse word ‘kirkja’ (‘church’) and the Old English word ‘leah’ (‘clearing’). 

- ‘Marram’, which is a type of grass or seaweed found on the shores here in Suffolk. This comes from the Old Norse word ‘maralmr’, which is a compound of marr (‘sea’) and halmr (‘straw’, ‘reed’). 

- ‘Rucks’, which are deep ruts made by carts, comes from the Old Norse ‘hrukka’ which means ‘wrinkle’, or ‘crease’. 

- ‘Thwaite’ means ‘woodland’ clearing and comes from the Old Norse ‘thveit’ which means ‘woodland clearing’.