Learning about the Dengie Hundred

I spent my birthday in a charming and unspoilt part of Essex, the Dengie Peninsula, in the tiny village of North Fambridge.
We walked, relaxed and marvelled at the myriad of wildlife in this very special area. In just a 24 hour break we saw avocets nesting, little egrets, male bullfinch, buzzard, sparrow hawk, shelducks, oyster catchers, mallards, mute swans meadow pipit, lapwings (doing their tumbling mating display), Canada geese, numerous meadow larks (also doing their mating display). More brown hares than I could keep count of, including close sightings whilst in the hide and 5 hares sporting in a field near by. Oh and a common lizard on the sea wall path! Frogs in the ditch behind the room, numerous enough to wake me up through the night! Lots of blue tits, great tits, robins and blackbirds.

The Dengie Hundreds

North Fambridge1610
The Dengie Hundreds in 1610

Thanks to a Flickr group for the area I knew that it forms part of the Dengie Hundreds. I didn’t know much about what this meant and I became quite intrigued.

After a little research I found out that a Hundred was a region of administration in some parts of England. They were smaller than counties and bigger than manors. According to wikipedia:

a hundred had enough land to sustain approximately one hundred households headed by a hundred-man or hundred eolder. He was responsible for administration, justice, and supplying military troops, as well as leading its forces. The office was not hereditary, but by the 10th century the office was selected from among a few outstanding families. In England, specifically, it has been suggested that ‘hundred’ referred to the amount of land sufficient to sustain one hundred families, defined as the land covered by one hundred “hides”.

Andy was interested as it turns out they originally held sort of parliaments that met under a tree, just like the Basque ones and one we saw in Asturias. (See Andy’s Gernkia blog post for more details)

In fact the area we live in was once part of such a Hundred known as Beacontree Hundred, what was once the Beacon tree now being somewhere under Barking bus station!

Other Hundreds

So we began to wonder how universal the idea of the Hundreds and their regional parliaments was. My hunch was they were probably Anglo Saxon in origin as at first I thought I’d never heard of this idea in Scotland. Then I remembered a place in Dumfriesshire called The Isles of Tinwald and that the Manx parliament is called the Tinwald so that might suggest something similar.
A bit of digging later I’ve discovered that the Hundreds were indeed Saxon in origin and were established in the Saxon controlled areas of what became England from around 600 AD and were later imposed in some parts of Wales. They met under a tree partly because trees  were  hugely symbolic to the forest dwelling Saxons and had religious connotations even after the introduction of Christianity.

In the North Lands…

(Excuse the Noggin the Nog reference!)
Further north in the Danelaw similar demarcations were introduced. These were called wapentake and tended to meet at a fork in a major river rather than under a tree. Later some of these, though not all, became Hundreds such as the Salford Hundred.

Some parts of the south of Scotland were under Norse rule in the early Middle Ages, hence the Tinwald and place names such as Torthorwald, and quite possible Applegarth from which some of my ancestors hail.

And the Point?

Learning about something just for the joy of discovery and knowing not because there’s any ‘need’ but just for pleasure. Work based learning might be important and valid but it isn’t everything. Sometimes learning is just an end in itself.


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