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We’re all going on… a Summer Holiday

If the title of this post has induced horrendous visions of being stuck on a bus with Cliff Richard singing, have no fear, this is actually about something far less terrifying; a long hall full of armed and marauding vikings. At the beginning of August our society held its annual weeks holiday at Murton Park. The group has attempted to hold a week-long event there since the first one in July 2004, 10 years ago, and also during the event we had our 11 year anniversary as a society and celebrated it in our own unique way as you will see.

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We stopped in another house this weekend, as our is still undergoing some work on the roof and daub, and with the kids along, it was much easier to simply stop elsewhere.This is a picture of the house we stopped in on the first holiday, and you can see how long ago it is, as there is a rare straw bale, the house didn’t have a porch yet, and most importantly, Anlaf still had hair!

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Here is the same house now, which you can see has a convenient porch and deck outside, which is very useful with the kids.

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We brought a lot of things to stop the full week, and set out the inside as best we could.

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There is something quite satisfying about stopping in these places for a longer period, as you get the opportunity to slide into a more natural pattern of eating and sleeping and it becoming ‘normal’. The only problem is, as with most holidays, just as you are getting used to it, its time to come home again.

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Either way the kids enjoyed the week in their usual fashion, Hakon spent a lot of time fighting and joking around.

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Ragenleif… well she did her own thing as usual

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We got on with a few jobs on the village, such as shingling the backside of our house, fitting the remaining shutter, and Al gave us a great hand by building out and trimming the eaves on the front of the house. Osric and Snorri also got a lot of daubing done inside Snorri’s house, and on the side and front of our house, Osric being watched here by Hakon and Ragenleif.

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During the week Odin also got a bit of a haircut of salad leaves, like a larger version of an cress-haired egg-man!

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We also get more opportunity to wear many of the different and elaborate outfits we have made over the years. Here is Katla in her Viking style strap dress and accessories with Ragenleif.

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Here is Einar ad Hakon showing off their dress, Einar in a copy of the Viborg shirt, with linen trousers and winingas, with a belt and seax.

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However, where the real beauty and mystery of the village comes to life is at night, by the light of the fire.

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By firelight everything seems more enigmatic. One can put aside reality and be drawn a little into the atmosphere. The fire flickers, and shiny objects glitter and sparkle in the dark. The dark corners and shadows draw a veil over the dirt, dust, and any authenticity inaccuracies just like snow does, and the imagination and the senses seem much more alive in the dark.

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It is a wonderful place to take photographs, though with the low light it can be quite tricky. Any attempt to artificially light the place looks awful, flash or any lighting of any other kind can easily destroy the wonderfull shadows and the yellow glow. Yet there is precious little light to capture images without graining and blurring, and often I resort to putting liquid wax or oil onto the fire to produce a bright flare for a few seconds to allow me to use a slightly faster shutter speed. If you notice anyone a little dazed looking on the photographs; now you know why!

 

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We also tend to let the children stay up until they fall asleep, and often they will play viking and other ancient games, like Katla and Hakon here playing pick-up stones, a scene I can almost image all those years ago; a boy and his mum playing a game by firelight.

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After the cooking is done, everyone gets together for the evening meal. The cooking and the meals are a great opportunity to use known viking ingredients and suggested recipes and attempt to investigate some of the possible tastes of the tenth century: Lamb and onions with leaf salad and beetroot, onion soup and bread, bacon, boar, and barley, vegetable stew amongst other treats.

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Of course, in such an environment, it would be rude not to same some fine brewed ales and meads as well!

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I’d like to pick up a final point I mentioned briefly earlier, and it is a point I have also heard echoed by Professor Neil Price in his Messenger lectures at Cornell University about firelight and shiny things, notably metalwork. You can see on this picture of me, the effect the brass, tin, and silver of my belt buckles, strap ends, seax sheath fittings, and arm rings have in a dark hall. You can also see how the tin sheet on the Tating ware jug, and the tinned studs on the iron-bound box glow. To people in the 10th century, this would seem as enticing and enchanting as it does to us, perhaps even more so.

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I’d also like to introduce you to two new looks Einar and Snorri are trying, entitled ‘Blued Steel’

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These are a final few  shots of the village the last night before we left, with the sun slowly setting.DSC_0155

You can see the back side of our house finally shingled here, with the new shutter on the reverse side fitted.DSC_0150

Lastly a final shot of the house, with a little more of the roof finished, and the two daubed panels. Still quite a bit of work to go, but a good deal of progress made none the less. DSC_0175

It was a shame to leave, but we had a good trip, with more progress on the house, some good feasts and chats, and even a sneaky trip into the Yorkshire museum and the Jorvik centre to check out some of the real stuff again. We will be back again in early September for a birthday celebration, and another great banquet!

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Clothes, and boxes, and cups… oh my!

We have been busy over the last couple of weeks with some crafts projects and I’d thought I’d share a few of them with you all. We have the groups annual week-long holiday at the Danelaw village at Murton Park Museum of farming next week and we have been furiously getting things made and ready for the week ahead. This has included buying straw hats, sharpening and repairing axes, sourcing wicker baskets, waterproofing shoes, cleaning pans and cauldrons, making implements to cook with, planning food to cook, and making and repairing clothes to last the full week.

It was my wife’s birthday last week, and I decided to make her a present. Using some spare off-cuts we had I made her a jewelry box of her own to keep her Viking treasures in, as the one we had been sharing was getting a bit full!

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The box is not an exact copy but it uses elements of many exisitng finds, combined in what I feel is an appropriate period fashion. It has a lot in common with one of the boxes from the Birka cemetery, such as its small size, the handle, and general design. The Birka example uses decorative copper-alloy plates, but iron straps and brackets are common to many boxes including Cumwhitton and the boxes from the Oseberg ship, and the tinned nails are found on the Oseberg ship boxes.

 

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The handle and lock plate are pretty ubiquitous on most boxes from the period, and the exact design of the lock being is that of a verticle mounted type (as described here), found on many boxes, both Viking and Anglo-Saxon. On this last photo you can just see the bluey-purple tinge of the metal, which I heated and quenched to darken it.

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The key is not the final version, as I didn’t have any steel appropriate. But it serves to open the box for now. The two teeth and the handle can be seen, and how they reach round inside the lock, to depress the spring, then allowing the key to act as a handle, and slide back the locking pin. One very obvious thing missing, is the hasp that actually closes the lock, which I hope to make next week on the forge at York.

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I also turned a few more objects on the lathe, in order to reduce some of the wood pile in my garage before any wood worm gets at it. I made a few small early medieval cups out of birchwood, with the classic globular shape, and decorative grooves.

DSC_0024We have also been very busy making clothes, particularly linen garments in order to cope with the heat we are having at the moment. As well as a few tunics for the children, I have also made myself some linen trousers, in two distinct patterns. Viking age trousers are, by and large, guessed at from pictorial sources, and the patterns of finds from the preceeding period. There are a few tentative pieces from the Viking age, which do suggest some commonality with these earlier garments, but there is still a lot of guesswork involved. For a very good summary of the archaeological evidence this article is definitely worth a read.

The first trousers I made are a pair of shorter, wide waisted trousers, to a very simple design similar to those found at a much earlier site at Marx Etzel, and a number of mediterranean and continental sites from the first few hundred years AD. These trousers come down to my calves, a bit like long shorts, or cut offs, and I shall be wearing them with red linen hose or woven leg bindings. Thor Ewing’s ‘Viking Clothing’ book makes a interesting case for garments such as there, and after having a chat with him at the Midlands Viking conference earlier this year, I decided to try some variations on these, to asses their style and practicality. So far they do look very different, and given the evidence for this style of dress, there does seem to be a distince continental, particularly Carolingian feel to it, which makes a lot of sense to me. Given how popular Carolingian metalwork is, the idea that elements of continental clothing fashion creept into Denmark and Anglo-Saxon England too, including these hose and such linen garments is quite compelling. Certainly the volume of the trousers, combined with the tightness of the leg bindings, produce a remarkably similar profile to some of the baggier looking trouser on many period illustrations, indicating that not all may have been quite as baggy as the ‘Rus’ pants worn by reenactors, and clearly illustrated on some pictorial sources. The legs are slit up the back slightly, to allow a quite tight fit around the calf.

DSC_0025I also made myself a pair of linen trouser in the Damendorf/Thorsberg style, with narrower, full length, legs, and more sophisticated tailoring.

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Ultimately, because of the size of the piece of cloth I had, I ended up with a bit of a hybrid pattern between the two garments, with the crotch and back gussets more like Thorsberg, but with triangular inserts in between the legs and gussets, to allow more room for movement, and prevent embarrassing tears when squatting! I was really quite pleased with this hybrid design, as it felt very like another version of the sorts of tailoring and designs we often see in archaeological clothing remains, which often seem to hint at a variety of specific patterns, within and certain style and philosophy of tailoring.

DSC_0028Finally, I have begun to make myself a pair of red linen hose to wear as an alternative to leg windings (once again if you wish to read a decent summary of the evidence for hose, please visit here). Whilst there is some debate as to whether red linen is linked to hose specifically, as dyed linen does not seen to be very common in the period, there is a reasonable argument to be made for it. As the lower legs are very visible in Viking mens clothing, and even the tops of the Coppergate sock had a small red band around it, I decided that red linen would be very striking and a good way to spend a small amount of money on a small piece of material, that would be very visible. I shall be sure to take some pictures, when I have them done!

DSC_0026We now have a final weekend to put the finishing touches to the lat bits of clothing, and then we will be ready to head to York next Tuesday! If you are in the area in the week between Tuesday 5th and Monday 11th of August, then do drop by and say hi!

Breathing new life into old longhalls

In two weeks time, on the weekend of the 12-13th of July, we have a long weekend planned for the village at Murton Park, outside York. Our ambitious goal is to remove, and replace the roof of our house, and renovate the internal uprights, and replace one window, and reinstate two others with brand new frames and shutters.

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This is the view of the back of the house, and the place where this new shutter will be inserted. We don’t know a lot about Viking age windows and doors, but finds from York suggests that windows may have been quite small actually, and perhaps even have had small horn inserts. A window aperture was found in a house at Hedeby 32cm x 48cm, and also small lights cut into the wider stave planks. They are mentioned in literature, such as Njals saga and Grettis saga, the latter mentioning light shining through a window. However, one has to bear in mind that these are Icelandic medieval documents, and may not reflect viking age building techniques, nor indeed be representative of other parts of the viking world. Ultimately, however, we often have to spend a lot of time in these spaces, and light is important for us to see to cook, eat, and do crafts, and when one considered this is a museum with members of the public around and that fires and lamps cannot always be monitored, then shutters are a very sensible option.With the decision made, I think we have enough evidence to attempt some putative reconstructions of small shutters, around the size of the Hedeby one. I have therefore set about making some shutters at home, and glued and pegged them all, ready to fit on the weekend. To close them, I have taken a leaf from some of the simple wooden sliding mechanisms from Hedeby and other sites.

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Our house has an addition to one end lengthening the house by just over a meter, but the original end wall of the house is still present. This means that the outside door is central to the house, and the one in the partition is offset with a wood store to one side. Originally we did this to reduce the draughts and create the store as we had insufficient timber to do anything else, but now we have some bigger plans. The uprights in the original end wall are being left in place, but being strengthened by being clad in some substantial new carved and painted timber uprights. This will allow us to place a new tougher cross beam in higher up, remove some of the walling higher up, and reinstate the door in the centr, creating a larger and brighter space inside.

The posts are each being carved and painted differently, one has a Borre chain motif found on many items, notably the Gosforth cross shaft base.

In addition to this, I decided to use the form often found on viking age cross shafts and convert from a square post, to round, and integrate the knotwork from the round, into the square, using rings and knots on the corners similar to the moulding found at Kirk Levington.

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I decided to paint them Red, white, and black, as they seem to be frequent colours occurring on paint traces from viking wood work and stone sculpture (as well as yellow and blue) and we as a group often use it as common colour on our houses. I alternated the base colour of the ‘triangles’ to draw out the pattern and lead the eye to the underlying links, and then used the other two colours as borders. Overall I am very pleased with the complete effect.

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Finally, having been there for over 15 years, the roof could do with replacing. It does not leak as bad as some, but it does, and the straw coverings are proving hard work to replace and repair, particularly as the straw we have access to is not as good as it used to be, due to changes in local farming practice. As a result, we have prepared 650 clipped point shingles for fitting to the new roof. Shingles have been found archaeologically at many sites, from York to Trelleborg, but also are seen on stave church roofs, and covering the roofs of hogback monuments. I often believe that shingle and turf roofs are overlooked, particularly in the North of England and Scotland. Turf roofs as easy to maintain, and last a long time, and shingle roofs are inherently repairable and long-lasting, particularly if treated with pine pitch, and when no longer any use as a roof, their remains make good firewood. More importantly, for us, they suffer less from infrequent maintenance, particularly when treated with a modern ‘pine pitch substitute’.

imag0494.jpgHere is a last picture of the house not long after we first took it over. It will be a shame to see the shaggy mop go, but hopefully the work we get done over the weekend should mean that with a little luck and hard work, we should get another 15-20 years out of the houses yet! IF you are around York on the weekend of the 12th-13th of July, do pop along to Murton Park Museum of Farming and say hi for yourself!

 

June Weekend

June was one of our last normal weekend of the year, from here on in we have an Epic weekend where we hope to completely remove the roof of our house and replace it, with clipped point shingles, a full week long holiday, and a birthday celebration banquet. Mostly we just enjoyed the weather.

Hakon using his shield as a parasol!

Hakon using his shield as a parasol!

Ragenlief exploring the village

Ragenlief exploring the village

We did get a few tasks done. The edging board on Snorri house was rotten and had been removed, so we decided to paint up a new one as a repair.

Fixing up a new roof edge board

Fixing up a new roof edge board

Roarr also managed to get the rest of the Odin post at his shrine, carved and painted. unfortunately we only took pictures of the work inprogress, and didn’t get any finished pictures of the edge boards fitted, or the shrine painted up after carving, so we will have to take some next time.

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It was a nice weekend, but I for one am getting excited to start some serious building work on our house. We have most things ready for the re-roofing in July now, and I shall add a post soon with everything we have ready, and some of the things I have been preparing at home ready, and a few ‘before’ pictures for reference!

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Viking village pictures from the May bank holiday weekend

These are a few pictures from the Bank Holiday weekend we had at York at the start of May, enjoying the Jorvik sunshine. It is a little late going up, but as we are off to York again this weekend, I have managed to get it posted before it is superseded by a new set of pictures!

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Katla and Ragenleif outside our house

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Ragenleif exploring

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Snorri forging

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“Make it into a sickle,” we said. “@*%#,” he said.

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Ragenleif and Hakon outside the long hall

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The middle of the village, my favourite place

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Hakon showing off his tunic

 

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A wonderful Viking-age scene, until you realise what they are looking at… we have to lapse a little sometimes, we need a bit of quiet time, and they are still very young!

 

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Magnus’s turn to bend metal

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Furry hat time

 

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Nosey neighbours

It was a lovely sunny weekend, and the kids loved it. As I mentioned we shall be at Jorvik (based at the Murton Park Museum farming) this weekend 30-1st, though I’m not sure the weather will be quite so good, but nothing can suppress our fun! We will also be there on the weekends of June 14-15th and July 12-13th. You can see all the weekends we shall be there on the museums website here: http://www.murtonpark.co.uk/whats-on/

Pictures of the Danelaw Village many years ago

The last few post have been somewhat nostalgic, but that is primarily because I want to put some regular post up, and have been meaning to scan and post these pictures for some time, and figured now was as good a time as any. These ones were old print out from a 35mm camera, so once again some are a little fuzzy, and they are also quite old, though they have been kept in the dark and in an album, so haven’t faded too much. I haven’t cleaned them up with photoshop, as I haven’t had time, and it wasn’t really worth it, but they are quite fun none the less, particularly if you know the site, as there are a few small, but noticable differences, with most the buildings having been rebuilt, or so heavily modified or repaired they don’t look much like that any more.

I believe I was about 18 when I took these photos, which makes them about 17 years old, roughly, and it was my first ever reenactment event as part of the Dark Ages Society, the first group I joined.

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This was where I slept, the platform in the house next to the longhall, before it was rebuilt

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The second longhall door

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The Hall side of the village, looking at the back of magnus’s house

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The house next to the longhall

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some of the smaller houses, near the longhall, most of these have not been changed and are still the same as they were then

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What was to become Ulfar and Svanas, and finally Osrics house

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The house next to the longhall and the town bell

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The longhall

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The village from the road, I used to do odd collages like this with pictures to make panoramas

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Another view of the village

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The house next to the longhall

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Inside the house next to the longhall

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Looking down the village to the open area in front of the hall

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The little village

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Inside the longhall

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Another view of the outside of the longhall

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cooking in the longhall

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Looking back towards the main part of the village

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The gate and open area behind looking towards the hall

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A finally me in my first borrowed viking gear!

The making of Jorvikingi: The outtakes

Yesterdays post told a story of when and how the society started, but in todays, partly spurred on by some comments on facebook, I’ll put a few images of the more amusing things over that weekend. Firstly we should address my own claims that Jarl Ubbi and Einar’s army was all it was cracked up to be.

Some of the soldiers look a little young

Some of the soldiers look a little young

I'm not sure if these two are brothers or what?

I’m not sure if these two are brothers or what?

Einar taking his wife back to her fostri after a month as she is clearly faulty, all his brothers wives gave birth a month after marraige...

Einar taking his wife back to her fostri after a month as she is clearly faulty, all his brothers wives gave birth a month after marriage…

The famed banquet in beautifull surroundings, against a sunset backdrop also had its moments.

Their eating manners left somethingto be desired

Their eating manners left something to be desired

Magnus got so carried away he fell backwards off a seachest through a banner, without disturbing the banner

Magnus got so carried away he fell backwards off a sea chest through a banner, without disturbing the banner

Lastly... and don't spread this around... I have heard a few of them drank a horn or two of ale that evening

Lastly… and don’t spread this around… I have heard a few of them drank a horn or two of ale that evening

 

The making of Jorvikingi

It struck me that this year is the eleventh year that Jorvikingi has existed, having formed from a small group of participants in an event at an event at Helmsley castle in August 2003.

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Helmsley was a fun event, in a superb location, especially the after hours banquet, and for many of the participants from the Midlands and North, it seemed a good idea to try to set something up based more in the Midlands and North, rather than return to a largely southern centric reenactment circuit.

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Tent and Hall

The final piece of the jigsaw was fitted that September at an event at a facility we had been visiting for a yearly event for many years: The Danelaw Village at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming, offered many of us the opportunity to adopt houses there and use the facilities as a more semi-permanent site group. As this was by far one of the best events we all attended, and only a couple of hours from most of the members houses, we jumped at the chance, and Jorvikingi: literally the ‘People of Jorvik’ was born, largely from the Ostvikinga and Seavardreki warbands, led by Jarls Einar, Ubbi, and Anlaf.

Here are a few pics from that September 2003 event, some are a little faded.

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Some of the Ostvikinga, led by Jarls Einar and Ubbi

Jarl Ubbi

Jarl Ubbi

Yjontnagrim, Ubbis son

Yjontnagrim, Ubbis son

Ragenleif, Ubbis daughter

Ragenleif, Ubbis daughter

Seavardreki banner outside one of the houses

Seavardreki banner outside one of the houses

 

What was to become Magnus's house, before renovation

What was to become Magnus’s house, before renovation

The village from across the field

The village from across the field

What was to become Ulfar and Einars houses

What was to become Ulfar and Einars houses

What was to become Anlafs house

What was to become Anlafs house

Approaching the village, with Jarl Einar and Ubbis tents in the foreground

Approaching the village, with Jarl Einar and Ubbis tents in the foreground

 

Anneth adn Ragenleif, in from of the Ostvikings selling their wares

Anneth and Ragenleif, in front of the Ostvikings selling their wares

From this point on the Society existed, and though some members have gone, and others come along, the group has maintained between 3 and 5 houses for the Danelaw village, built a forge, and help thatch and repair other structures. You only need to see the before and after images of Magnus’s house to see some of the improvements made.

What was to become Magnus's house, before renovation

What was to become Magnus’s house, before renovation

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Magnus’s house, during renovation

It is however, even after 11 years, a bit like painting the Forth Bridge, and there is always something to do, particularly roofs, and we have plenty of plans to keep the houses in good condition. This year we hope to get another house re-roofed, and complete some final daubing on Magnus’s house, alongside countless minor repairs and upgrades, and are planning some larger improvements to the paths around the houses. Like the real Vikings of the tenth century, our work is never done and there is never enough hours in the day!

Thanks for reading

Einar

Images 9, 10, 11, and 12 were originally taken by Ulfar Vigufson, now of Svartland Living History Society