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Anglo-Saxon Britain

Vikings in Liverpool

by Peter Kessler, 2 July 2009

Lancashire's history in the ninth and tenth centuries is very murky. It is generally assumed that the region around Liverpool was part of the Scandinavian kingdom of York for much of this period.

In 2009 a genetic study of men living in the area produced results which made the study's organisers feel able to back up that assumption, claiming that the Liverpool area was once a major Viking settlement.

The research was carried out by Professor Stephen Harding of the University of Nottingham and a team from the University of Leicester which was led by Professor Mark Jobling.

They picked up on Viking ancestry in Liverpool's present inhabitants by focusing on people whose surnames were recorded in the area before the city's population underwent huge expansion during the industrial revolution.

Among men with local, pre-industrial surnames, half were found to have Norse ancestry. The find backed up historical evidence from place name studies, and archaeological finds of Viking treasure, which suggested significant numbers of Norwegian Vikings had settled in the north-west in the tenth century, while the Scandinavian kingdom of York (presumably) ruled the region.

'[The genetics work] is very exciting because it ties in with the other evidence from the area,' Professor Stephen Harding said at the time.

The team used historical documents, including a tax register from Henry VIII's court in the sixteenth century, to identify surnames which are common in the region. They then recruited seventy-seven male volunteers with local surnames, and looked for a genetic signature of Viking ancestry on the Y chromosome. They reported in Molecular Biology and Evolution that a Y chromosome type, R1a, which is common in Norway, was also very common amongst men with these local surnames.

Around AD 900, longboats from Norway sailed down the River Mersey. The 'Vikings' who arrived founded or occupied many settlements in the area, which can be seen in local place names such as Aigburth, Thingwall, Formby, Crosby, Toxteth, and Croxteth. The biggest of the Viking settlements was probably in West Derby - the name roughly meaning 'Wild Deer Park'.

The city of Liverpool itself began as a tidal pool next to the Mersey which was probably called the 'lifer pol', meaning 'muddy pool'.

Although there may have been a hamlet in the area (and on the evidence outlined above, it was a hamlet which probably consisted of a large number of Viking descendants), the town of Liverpool was not founded until King John needed a port from which to easily reach his newly-conquered lands in Ireland in 1207.

Vikings in England
  It's very exciting because it ties in with the other evidence from the area

Professor Stephen Harding
University of Nottingham


Main Sources

Brief History of Liverpool website

Guardian Unlimited website

Liverpool History Animation website



Text copyright © P L Kessler. An original feature for the History Files.