Discovering our original ‘Denton country’

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One of the earliest individuals recorded as using the name Denton appears to be an Aelfward (or Ælfweard) aet (of) Dentune. To confuse matters he had a brother called Ælfwald, and he should not be confused with the earlier Ælfwald II of Northumbria, who briefly overthrew Eardwulf from 806-808 to rule Northumbria.

Ælfwald II of Northumbria coin

‘Our’Aelfward was mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (circa 972 CE) in reference to an agreement made with the Abbot Ealdwulf. In this deal Aelfward gave up an estate in Warmington (between Oundle and Peterborough) as it was judged that he had annexed it unlawfully, but his ownership of land at Ashton, Bainton, Benefield, Castor, Longthorp, Maxey, Oxney, Walton and Wittering was reconfirmed.

A 50m circuit of Aelfward’s lands
between today’s Peterborough and Stamford

These places are all located in the East Midlands yet in history Aelfward was more often associated with Northumbria – certainly an Aelfweard Dentune held manor and lands in that county in 972.

Thus he may have a connection to our family, but if this is so I have yet to find it. His dene-tun may of course have been for one of the Denton places in the Midlands. But this usage does not appear to have been sustained. A character named Aelfward appears in various forms in a number of modern computer games such as World of Warcraft.

Eudo’s statue on Colchester Town Hall

Another Lincolnshire reference suggests that this family line of Dentons could possibly have become a branch of the Barons of Tatshall. This descends from Eudo Dapifer, a Norman aristocrat who accompanied and became a steward (or dapifer) to William the Conquerer, William II Rufus, and to Henry I. Eudo’s brothers were Ralph appointed Castellan of Nottingham, Hubert who had custody of Norwich Castle, Robert was Bishop of Séez (in Normandy) and Adam was one of the commissioners of the Domesday Survey in 1085.

Eudo became the Baron Tatshall as involved in the building of Colchester Castle, the largest Norman keep built and the first stone keep in England. For William II in 1096-7 Eudo founded Colchester Abbeyy, and St Mary Magdalene’s Hospital in Colchester. Euro married to Rohais, their son Geoffrey de Mandeville, became the first Earl of Essex. (Hence his statue on Colchester Town Hall).

In Sir William Dugdale’s 17th c The Baronage of England, Eudo is reported to have had a son Hugh Fitz Eudo (aka Hugh Brito), who himself had three sons, his heir Robert Fitz Hugh, and the other two are named William Fitz Hugh and William de Dentune.

In 1139 Hugh founded the Cistercian monastery of Kirkstead in Lincolnshire and The Church Historians of England mentions the later grant of charters to Kirkstead by William de Dentune and Robert Fitz Hugh. The monastery was dissoved in 1537. It was replaced by a large country house, which fell into runi in the 18th c – today just a crag remains.

The Grade I ruin of Kirkstead Abbey Lincs

There are many Denton-like listings in the Domesday Book under various spellings including Dentone, Denetun, Danetone, Dentuna, Dentun and Dodintone.

Lynemouth location

Linmouth (Today’s Lynemouth) in Northumberland was another ancient family seat. This township of about 300 acres, derived its name from being at the estuary of the river Line (no modern trace). In 1240, John, son of Robert Rue, held the place by military service, but in the 11th year of Edward III, the Countess of Pembroke conveyed it to John de Denton, then the burgess of Newcastle.

[ASIDE: Lynemouth featured in a docudrama about about seacoalers, those who made a living from collecting waste coal from the beach. Its cemetry was also used as a setting in Billy Elliott.]

‘Our’ Dentons re-appeared in the 12th century along the troubled borders of England and Scotland, close to what they then called the Picts’ Wall, what we know today as Hadrian’s Wall (Roman, 2ndcentury CE). This Roman frontier wall is thought to have been originally built from turf, with stone added only later. Our area of interest is specifically Cumberland, though at various times this area was considered to be a part of Northumbria. 

Section of Hadrian’s Wall near
Birdoswald in Gilsland
©Bob Denton 2016

It is worth pausing to consider the realities of this wall. It was not merely to keep the Picts out but also to control movements between Britannia and Caledonia in order to extract taxes. The people manning the wall were ‘Romans’ but the material evidence shows that many of them were in fact originally Germanic.

Staffordshire Moors pan

One artefact found recently (2003) was a 2ndcentury CE bronze. Named the Staffordshire Moors pan or trulla, it bears an inscription showing the name of four forts on the western end of the wall and the name of an individual, presumably the purchaser/commissioner – this was Aurelius Draco. The second name reveals him as Greek, the first that he became a Roman citizen during Hadrian’s rule. These multi-ethnic ‘Romans’ were not allowed to bring wives with them so took local ‘wives’ leading to this area becoming something of a human melting pot.

Northumbria was one of the four main Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (with East Anglia, Mercia and Wessex), and when considered with Essex, Kent and Sussex these formed the Heptarchy, or seven nations which emerged after the Roman rule of Britain had whimpered out, and the Romans finally withdrew back into the continent following the Visigoth sacking of Rome in 410 CE.

There were more than a dozen other minor kingdoms and together they rose to confront invasions from the Vikings from 793 CE onwards, rallying around Alfred the Great of Wessex and later Æthelred. This early Northumbria encompassed regions we today consider to be parts of Cumbria and Yorkshire and its then occupants are described as largely Anglo-Scandinavian, its aristocracy primarily Danish. This was shaken up by William the Conqueror, though of course the Normans were derived from Vikings too.

It was not in fact at the Battle of Hastings (14 Oct 1066) where William seized control of England but a little later in December 1066 when many Saxon leaders submitted to William at Berkhamstead. However, there remained rebellions around the margins of his control.

In the north William paid the Danish fleet to leave York but he was frustrated when the other rebels in the region would not engage him in formal battle. A period termed by modern historians as the Harrowing or Harrying of the North saw a time of savage fighting, burning, looting and famine.

Domesday Book

The Domesday Book, in 1086, recorded the devastation reporting many estates in the borders area as hoc est vast, or ‘it is wasted’. Historians of the time suggested 100,000 had been killed, although this figure sounds more rhetoric than statistic.

Having depleted the land, the Normans were able to allocate regions to their own people who established estates for tenants and workers to make it productive. But the Normans soon found, as did the Romans before them, that the borderlands were quite wild, lawless and difficult to rule.

This was the area and the circumstance into which our Denton ancestors emerged.

Forward to GGF26 – Sims of Yetherham [elder] – Forward to Middle Ages Index
Back to Dentons today – Back to Denton Family Bible

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