St. Wystan's church, Repton Derbyshire
Monday 28th August 2023 (updated: Wednesday 30th August 2023)
Not much to do on a bank holiday Monday so I took myself off to Repton to (finally) go and see the 7th century church of St. Wystan.
I'd always been fascinated by the fact that the Vikings had raided and laid waste to much of the place, but ultimately there's so much more to the church and the settlement of Repton in general.
Repton is situated in the heart of the ancient kingdom of Mercia. As many notices around the town will tell you it was, in fact, the kingdom's capital. But that all changed following the arrival in 856AD of the Great Heathen Army who ultimately found their way to Derbyshire and spent a number of winters in the region.
The Vikings' motivations for settling in Repton were likely a combination of several factors:
Strategic Location: Repton is located near the confluence of the River Trent and the River Dove. This strategic location provided the Vikings with access to both inland waterways and the surrounding land, making it a suitable site for trade, transportation, and defense.
Riverine Trade and Raiding Routes: Rivers were important transportation routes during this time period, and settlements along rivers often served as trading hubs. The Vikings could have used Repton as a base for raiding neighbouring areas and conducting trade along the river routes.
Agricultural Resources: The fertile land around Repton would have provided the Vikings with agricultural resources, enabling them to sustain themselves through farming in addition to their traditional activities like raiding and trading.
Existing Settlement: Repton was not a completely new settlement for the Vikings. It had been a significant Anglo-Saxon settlement before their arrival. This might have made it an attractive target for the Vikings to conquer, control, and utilise for their own purposes.
Political and Social Factors: The political landscape of the time also played a role. Repton was part of the Danelaw, an area of England where Danish law and influence held sway. The Vikings' control over this region would have facilitated their presence in Repton.
Defence and Security: The natural geography of Repton, with its rivers and surrounding terrain, could have provided defensive advantages against potential enemies. This would have been an important consideration for establishing a settlement during a time of conflict.
Ivar the Boneless, legendary Viking leader and key figure in the Great Heathen Army, is mentioned in historical sources like the "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" and the "Sagas of the Icelanders," but these sources don't provide detailed information about his burial location. Much to my frustration.
Although Ivar's burial place is not definitively known, various sources have suggested his remains lie in or around Repton.
In some Norse sagas, it's suggested that Ivar was buried in a place called "Ivar's Howe," possibly located in present-day Derbyshire. But of course we don't really know and most likely will never know. But that didn't stop me from being nerdishly fascinated by the fact that I was potentially treading the same ground as such a key Viking figure.
Wherever Ivar's remains are located, the town of Repton is a true throwback and a pleasure to visit for its rich history. Next time, and with a little more time, I will make my way to the Bull's Head for a true taste of Olde English.
I took some photos that you can see on my photos page.