Warwick Bridge School

A longboat up the Eden at Warwick Bridge

Written by Miss P. Newman in the Focus on Eden parish magazine.
Copied here with kind permission.
In February Warwick Bridge School had a visitor for two days – Bjarni the Viking. He described how he had come, in his longship, from Seascale and then up the River Eden. A trader, he brought with him a wonderful array of goods for the children to feel and touch. Skins of deer, boar, fox and squirrel, horn spoons, turned bowls, pottery beakers and traded jewellery beads. An iron tripod, hanging pot, wooden pegged bench and secure chest told of his wealthy household.The Viking next explained the use of each of his weapons. He told how the small dagger was actually used for eating meat and how different axes were used. One pupil tried on the chain mail, which took a year to make. Children were asked a modern value for it, and the equivalent cost of a three bedroomed house agreed. With Matthew feeling the weight of the chain mail Bjarni demonstrated how it deflected each of his weapons. A little history of how the Vikings came to settle England followed.

In the hall our visitor set up a series of battles, teams of five girls against five boys, to demonstrate how strong a well formed shield wall could be. The yells of modern Vikings were fearsome.

Later the strategy involved in Viking board games was tried by all the pupils, who felt the outdoor game, more skilful than pub skittles, should be added to the playground equipment.

Growing up as a Viking was then explained and the children found it grim that at age seven childhood stopped. Girls had domestic jobs, like grinding corn in a hand quern for three to four hours each morning, to learn – and pupils who tried it found it hard work. Boys learnt the trade of their fathers as warriors, traders, carpenters, smiths, farmers, herders or leatherworkers for example. It was impressed on the classes that in Viking times one child in three died before the age of five.

The traders goods were then introduced with silk worm cocoons rattled and colours produce by different natural dye stuffs shown. Bjarni told how Kermes beetles were collected to make the very expensive red dye of his linen tunic. The children were fascinated to handle the Murex shells and realise that their occupants made the most expensive purple dye for material traded from the eastern Mediterranean.

Questions were expertly handled by our Viking, with an approach to Valhalla and a chieftains ship burial, to toilet etiquette. Houses were described, with their wooden frames and horse manure and mud to make the best daub, and sods or straw for roofing. Bjarni also answered what happened if children became orphans after raids, and patiently explained that he really did not understand when they described a bicycle.

The Vikings settled Scotby in our district and children in Warwick Bridge will not forget their day with our own Viking visitor.

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