Repton4 min read

Places, The Archive

Description

Crypt of St Wystan’s Church, Repton. © Michael Garlick. (Source: Geograph.org.uk)

Repton, also called Hreopedune in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, is a village in Derbyshire, along the river Trent. Its history can be traced as far back as the Mesolithic and Neolithic, about 5,000 years ago.[1] In the early Middle Ages, it is one of the first places to accept Christianity. By the seventh century the Mercian royal family takes up residence here. When the family converts to Christianity, a church with a crypt for the royal family and a double abbey are built.[2] The Vikings destroy the latter by 874.[3] Though Repton has been a place of religious and political importance, it remains a quiet, quaint village today.

Viking Age Relevance

Saint Wystan

Around 850 CE, prince Wystan (or Wigstan, Wistan), a member of the royal family is murdered by his uncle and buried in the crypt. He is posthumously sanctified and the village becomes a place of pilgrimage.[4]

Great Heathen Army

Around 873-874 CE, the Great Heathen Army sets up their winter camp here:

“This year went the army from Lindsey to Repton, and there took up their winter-quarters, drove the king, Burhred, over sea, (…).”[5]

A decade later, Repton and surrounding area falls within the newly established Danelaw territories, and the Mercian royal family flees to safety.[6] That is all information about the Great Heathen Army at Repton known until 2016. A year later, a new excavation sheds more light on the sheer size of the Viking winter camps and the daily activities that took place there.

Excavations

The first laymen take an interest in the burial mound at Repton as early as the seventeenth century. Explorations follow, but the first professional excavation takes place in the 1970s with Martin and Birthe Biddle.They start east of St Wystan’s church and find the remains of about 250 people in the burial mound, in what appears to be a charnel house. Apart from the mass grave, another warrior grave with a sword is found outside the chancel wall. Most intriguing of all, is the discovery that the stone church was part of the Viking camp fortifications. From each side of the church a ditch runs to the river bank, effectively forming a D-shape.[7]

In 2017, Cat Jarman and Mark Horton from the University of Bristol excavate again near St. Wystan’s church (See also Viking Winter Camp at Repton). The original excavation by the Biddles’ is revisited and its data reassessed with new technologies available to the researchers now.[8] For example, bio-archaeological techniques to confirm the background of the remains in the mass grave.[9] Parts of this excavation were filmed and shown on the BBC tv show Digging for Britain, late November 2017.[10]

Important Finds in Repton

The Repton Stone. A broken Anglo-Saxon cross shaft. On one side it has a kilted warrior on a horse. Some believe this represents king Ethelbald of Mercia (died 757 CE).[11]

Further Reading

Repton Church – Barry Marsden on Viking Repton. About the 1970s excavation.
Steve Bivans. Wonderful analysis of the knowledge available after the Biddle excavation, but before the Jarman excavation.
Archaeodeath. Richly detailed on burial practices. Viking Archaeology.. In depth about various grave items.

Further Watching

BBC Four – Digging For Britain. Series 6, 22 November 2017.
Viking Archaeology Blog – Repton Overwintering Site. BBC series ‘Vikings: Who Were the They?’ Part 2.

References


  1. Repton History Group, “Repton Parish Heritage Register_4a: Repton and Milton’s inheritance.” Updated 15 January 2017. Accessed November 22, 2017,http://www.reptonvillage.org.uk/history_group/repton_parish_heritage_register_4a.pdf  ↩
  2. Repton History Group, “Repton Parish Heritage Register_4a: Repton and Milton’s inheritance.” Updated 15 January 2017. Pp. 1. Accessed November 22, 2017,http://www.reptonvillage.org.uk/history_group/repton_parish_heritage_register_4a.pdf  ↩
  3. The Editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Repton.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Accessed November 22,  ↩
  4. Repton History Group, “A Brief History of Repton.” Accessed November 22, 2017,http://www.reptonvillage.org.uk/history_group/history_group_homepage.htm.  ↩
  5. Anonymous, “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle | 874.” Educational. The Avalon Project | Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy. Accessed November 22, 2017, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/medieval/ang09.asp.  ↩
  6. Barry M. Marsden, “Viking Repton.” In:The Vikings in Derbyshire. Derbyshire Life & Countryside, March & April 2007. Accessed November 22, 2017,http://www.reptonchurch.uk/.  ↩
  7. Martin Biddle and Birthe Kjølbye-Biddle, “Repton and the Vikings.” In: Antiquity Volume 66 (1992), pp 36–51. Accessed November 23, 2017,https://www.cambridge.org/core.  ↩
  8. Judith Jesch, “Repton in the Viking Age.” University of Nottingham Blogs | Bringing Vikings back to the East Midlands. June 16, 2017. Accessed November 22, 2017, http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/eastmidlandsvikings/2017/06/16/repton-viking-age/.  ↩
  9. Cat Jarman, “Repton.” Untangling the Past, n.d. Accessed November 22, 2017, http://www.untanglingthepast.net/p/repton.html.  ↩
  10. BBC Four, “Digging for Britain, Series 6, Episode 1.” Accessed november 22, 2017, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09gfxbj.  ↩
  11. Repton History Group, “A Brief History of Repton.” Accessed November 22, 2017,http://www.reptonvillage.org.uk/history_group/history_group_homepage.htm.  ↩

4 comments

  • Excellent! I had not heard of the new excavations. I will be reading about them, now! And thanks for the link back to my old article! I might have to revise it, or write a part 2!

    • And many thanks to you for your thoughtful article on Repton that really helped me to see the different elements of the excavation in the 1970s. I’m much looking forward to your revised or new article!

      • I may not revise it, but I will mention yours and summarize the main points. Of course, link back to yours. Not sure if you have seen my latest book, Vikings, War and the Fall of the Carolingians, but I do mention Repton’s viking defenses in it, in the intro and in footnotes. Not a lot there in regard to England, but a good bit when it comes to viking military strategy and tactics.

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