Medieval Merseyside

Once the Romans left British shores, we start to see evidence of British and, later, Scandinavian settlements leaving traces in the historical and archaeological records.

Modern place names are the most frequent scraps of evidence for the medieval landscape, and we can use them to map the settlements of both ‘native’ and incoming people. The Scandinavians, coming from both the east and west, left us names such as Knowsley on one side of future Liverpool, and Toxteth and Irby on the other.

The British, meanwhile, could be found in between, at Bootle and Walton, although the latter references the walesc, or ‘foreigners’, which tells us that the place name itself comes from the Scandinavian point of view.

Despite their reputation, there is no evidence that the Vikings raided and pillaged their way into Merseyside. Those place names show that they largely stuck to the less fertile land – whatever land they could get their hands on which wasn’t already settled by the British. It may simply be that the sparseness of the population reduced the need for conflict, though no doubt some skirmishes did occur. That the place name ‘Raby’ indicates a boundary shows that the line between the two cultures was known, however easy it was to pass across it in both directions.

By the time of the Norman Conquest, England was divided into Hundreds. West Derby Hundred encompassed the lands on the east bank of the Mersey, including the future site of Liverpool, and a ‘wapentake’ or court was located here for local tribes to meet and pledge allegiance and cooperation.

This part of the country probably remained a landscape of scattered farmsteads, moss, marsh and bog until the 12th century, when King John took an interest in the Mersey’s strategic position.