Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Blaec: Lost Hero of the North? (NZ283581)

On a small prominence at roughly the spot where the Bowes Railway meets the southern-most extremity of Eighton Banks lies, possibly, the burial site of a once mighty Anglo-Saxon warrior. For centuries known as Blackham, or Blackim, Hill, the nondescript piece of wasteland may well be the final resting place of Blaec, a warlord who seems at one time to have held sway over a rather large tract of what we now know as County Durham during the Dark Ages.

The word Blackham/Blackim (Hill) is derived, it is argued, from the Anglo-Saxon word blaecen, meaning ‘of Blaec’ or ‘belonging to Blaec’ – hence ‘Black’s Hill’. And until the Victorian times it seems that there existed a legend that a mighty warrior of this name was buried there. Texts mention the persistent rumour until as late as the 1880s … but nothing much seems to have trickled down to the present.

Despite its twentieth century fall from grace, the land hereabouts has given up signs of ancient human activity – most notably between the wars when shards of worked flint dating back to the Mesolithic age were found. It’s a prominent spot in the landscape, and it stands to reason that humans would have made use of the site through the centuries. Iron Age activity/settlement is certainly likely, the Romans passed by this way … so why not the Anglo-Saxons, too?

No one has any solid evidence as to who this Blaec chap may have been – or even when he lived. It can only be speculated that he rose to prominence during the yawning gap that is 400-1066AD – most likely after Northumbria’s ‘Golden Age’, which ended in the mid-eighth century. So we’re talking about 750-1000AD.

And evidence from maps suggests that his area of influence may have been substantial. One thirteenth century cartographer marked a huge inland tract of land stretching from the Tyne to the Humber as ‘Blachamoz’ – ‘the settlement of the people of Black’. Yet the question remains: if he existed, why was this man excluded from the royal lineages of Dark Age Northumbria? Perhaps he was just a very powerful, non-royal upstart.

Or is it all some woolly North Country myth?

More fascinating reading can be found at www.washingtonlass.com/BlackhamHill.html .

Why not come along to...

No comments:

Post a Comment