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The Isle of Axholme* contains the Parishes of Epworth, Haxey, Belton, Owston, Althorpe, Crowle, Luddington, and Wroot, with their respective Hamlets :-namely, in Crowle, Eastoft, Ealand, Tetley, and Crowle Wharf; -in Luddington, Garthorpe and Waterton ;-in ALTHORPF, Amcoats, and Keadby, Cottle Hall, and Deddythorpe ;-in Belton, Sandtoft, Woodhouse, West Carr, Braycton, Grey Green, Temple Belwood, and Beltoft;—in Hasey, East Lound, Graizelound, Low Burnham, High Burnham, Westwoodside, Newbiggs, Upperthorpe, Nethergate, and Park ;-in Owston, West Butterwick, Kelfield, West Kinnard Ferry, with a small portion of East Ferry, and Gunthorpe. These places constitute that part of the Hundred of Manley which is west of Trent.
In order to form a correct idea of this district at any early period, we must remember that, in its primeval state, it was not an open country, but covered almost entirely with a thick forest of large trees, or such ones of smaller growth as are now termed in newly discovered countries, “ bush.” In the midst of this bush, there would be those spots of rich land which now constitute Crowle Field, Epworth Fields, Belton Fields, Beltoft, Belgraves, Westwoodside, Haxey, and Owston Fields. These fertile glades would be first selected for pasture by the aboriginal inhabitants of the country, whose sole property was their cattle ; and when the Saxons were carrying on the process of essarting, or clearing places in the various forests of the kingdom, for the purpose of agriculture, these places would be amongst the first also which were brought under tillage. For, however remote and secluded the Isle of Axholme may now be considered, it must at that time, to a colony of new settlers, have been a place very easy of access, inasmuch as persons coming from other parts of the neighbourhood might with the greatest facility descend the navigable streams by which it was surrounded, or ascend them
* Leland, in his Survey of England (temp. Henry VIII), says, “ The Isle of Axholme is a X miles in length by south and by north, and in breadth a six miles by west and est.” But this is not very accurate. It is evident from many distances which Leland mentions, that the mile by which he computes is equal to the statute measure of one mile and a half. The Isle cannot be less than from nineteen to twenty miles in length, and varies in breadth from six to nine miles,
during the flowing of the daily tides ; and therefore we find that, in the time of Edward the Confessor, this district contained the same Villages and Hamlets as it does at present, and that some of them had a numerous population.
In the time of the Britons and the Romans this River Island formed the extreme point of the Country of the Coritani : under the Saxons it was the northern limit of the large Kingdom of Mercia, and was of course held by Egga, Earl of Lincoln, who as Earl had the third penny of the whole county. A country thus situated must have been the scene of many severe conflicts between the Romans and the original Britons, as well as between the Chiefs of Mercia and North-Humbria ; and also with the Danes, who frequently sailed
up the Trent during their attempt to gain possession of the interior parts of England.
The common road of the Romans, out of the south into the north, was formerly from Lindum (Lincoln) to Segelocum (Littleborough-upon-Trent); from thence to Danum (Doncaster), where they kept a standing garrison of Crispinian Horse. A little off, on the east and north-east of their road, between the two last mentioned towns, lay the borders of a great forest, which extended through all the low grounds, on the Level of Hatfield Chase, and on both sides of the present channel of the river Trent. This forest swarmed with wild Britons, who were continually making sallies out and retreating into it again, intercepting the provisions of the Romans, taking and destroying their carriages, killing their allies and passengers, and disturbing their garrisons; which at length so enraged the Romans, that they were resolved to put a stop to these depredations, and to destroy the forest which afford. ed such a safe retreat from their vengeance. In order to do this more effectually, they marched with a great army into this neighbourhood, and encamped upon a heath or moor, not far from Finningley, “as by their forti. fications there to be seen is apparent.*"
The site of this camp is in Finningley Park, which was part of Austerfield High Commont. At the time of the Austerfield inclosure, several curious remains were found there, such as parts of swords, and heads of battle axes ; and a great number of Roman relics* have at various times been found in the low grounds, which fully prove that the Romans were in these parts, and that the forest was destroyed by them.
* De la Prymne.
Here, most probably, a great battle was fought; “for hard by,” says Prymne, “is a little town called Osterfield”. Now as the latter part of the word is never used to be added to any other, but where there hath been a battle ; so the former part seems to tell what Roman General it was who fought it, to wit, the famous Ostorius t, whom all Roman Historians assure us was in these parts. Who got the victory is not so easy to determine. The fortune of the day was most probably with the Romans, though the warfare was still maintained with great obstinacy by the Britons. Those who survived the engagement again took refuge in the great forest, which covered the whole of the low country. “ Whereupon,” continues Prymne, “ the Romans, that they might destroy both it and the enemy the easier, took the opportunity of a strong south west wind, and set great fires therein, which taking hold of fir trees, they burnt like pitch, and infinite numbers of them were consumed then, when the fire had done what mischief and execution it could, the Romans brought their army nearer, chopt and cut down most of the trees, leaving only here and there some great ones untouched, as monuments of their fury, and unneedful of their labour.”
These events took place about the year of our Lord, 50. Of the ulterior operations of the Romans in these parts, history affords us no traces.
* In August, 1802, a statue of oak, black as ebony, about 2 yards high, and carved in the habit of a Roman warrior, was found several feet deep, between Misson and Haxey; one hand held an arrow, and a bow was slung over the shoulder. “This account,” says Mr. Peck, “I received from a person who saw it exhibited. Another informed me there was an inscription, which I have not been able to procure. The statue was claimed by a variety of workmen ; and in consequence of passing through many hands is now become mutilated. This was most probably a statue of the God Mars."
+ This was the Roman General who took Caractacus and his family prisoners. The unsubdued spirit of the natives formed a formidable barrier to the progress of the Roman General, and made it necessary for him to employ all his skill and vigilance in order to retain his ground. He died in the year 53, it is said of vexation, at the little impression he was able to make on the enemy.
After the final departure of the Romans from the country, the petty Princes of Mercia and Northumbria made the Isle of Axholme the scene of some of their bloody contentions. In 633, Penda, King of Mercia, invaded Northumbria, then governed by Edwin. To use the expression of Bede, he was a man of turbulent disposition, and with war and destruction spread desolation through the land. He succeeded to the Crown when he was about fifty years of age; and had health and vigour to wear it for above thirty years, to the terror and calamity of the Anglo-Saxon Princes, all of whom he harrassed and endangered, and some he sent prematurely to their graves* On this occasion the contending parties met at Hethfield, or Hatfield; the forces of Edwin were put to flight, and himself and his eldest son, Osfried, were slain, and his second son Egfried taken prisoner. In marching his forces from Mercia to Hatfield, Penda would most probably pass through the Isle of Axholme.
This Edwin, the King of Northumberland, was a very pious † and zealous Christian. He founded the Episcopal See of York, and promoted the propagation of the gospel in that part of Lincolnshire which borders on the Trent. He was the patron of Paulinus, the successor of St. Augustine, who baptised Deda, the friend of Bede, in that river.
A topographer may be allowed to wish that Bede had left us a more accurate description of the places visited by Paulinus, as we find him at Doncaster ; and it is far from an improbable conjecture, that, from this seat of his
patron, * The internal police which prevailed throughout the dominions of this Prince was so vigilant, that it became an aphorism to say, that a woman with her new-born infant might walk from sea to sea without fear of insult. As in those days travelling was difficult and tedious, and no place existed for the entertainment of travellers, it was an important and kind convenience to his people that he caused stakes to be kept in the highways, where he had seen a clear spring: brazen dishes were chained to them, to refresh the weary sojourners, whose fatigues Edwin had himself experienced. In another reign these would have been placed only to have been taken away: but such was the dread of his inquiring justice, or such the general affection for his virtues, that no man misused them. It is related by Bede, as an instance of his dignity and power, that his banner was borne before him whenever he rode out, either in peace or war. When he walked abroad the tufa preceded him. -Turner's Ang. Sax. History, vol. 1.
+ Turner's Ang. Sax. History, vol. 1.
patron, he might pursue the windings of the Don, as we know he did those of the Trent, the Swale, and the Calder, communicating the knowledge of Christianity, and baptising as he went.
The mention of a Church at Crowle in Doomsday Book, which now, pre sents some very curious specimens of Saxon architecture, and which stands close to the ancient channel of the southern branch of the Don, proves that we cannot err much in dating the introduction of Christianity, into this part of the Isle at least, at a very early period. The Church at Crowle is dedicated to St. Oswald, the Saxon King of Northumbria, who was slain in battle by this savage Penda about nine years after the defeat of Edwin. Few English Churches can boast a more illustrious origin than this.
In 679, Ethelred engaged Egred near the Trent. After a bloody battle the conflict was ended with equal loss on both sides, so that the victory remained doubtful. Sometime after they entered into agreements of peace with one another.
In 733, Ethelbald entered the kingdom of Northumbria, and gained on its boards much spoil; and in 740, while Egbert was occupied in his northern wars, the southern part of his dominions being left unprotected, the King of Mercia took the opportunity of invading it, and pursued his destructive in. roads without opposition.
Thus it is sufficiently plain that the Isle of Axholme, being the most northern boundary of the kingdom of Mercia, and adjoining the rival kingdom of Northumbria, was the common theatre of contention and bloodshed. Some probable evidence of this remained until very lately, at High Melwood, in the parish of Owston, where were three oblong hillocks called the giants' graves, raised parallel to one another, and standing due east and west. They were most probably the barrows under which the bodies of the slain had been buried, after some of these sanguinary conflicts. Another enemy* now appears upon the scene. The proximity of this dis
* In the year 787, some men of an unknown country came in three vessels, and landed at one of the ports on the eastern coast. The Saxon magistrate of the place, in order to know who they were and what they wanted, went down to the beach. The strangers allowed him to approach : they