Thursday, January 3, 2008

Remains of Elmet, Revival of Cumbric

Cumberworth, on the borders of South and West Yorkshire, in its upper half was a village where I stayed with the Johnson family, "off Carr Hill Road," as their address gave it, the summer of '79. In the garden of their home, I remember reading Jon Savage's music paper review of a nearby band from Manchester's debut LP, "Unknown Pleasures;" Savage's powerful prose about the look as well as the sound of Joy Division remains one of the best critiques ever penned. Amidst the birth of post-punk, I found myself between watching The Knack on the Beeb and wandering the fields looking for "bilberries" as I gazed at the faraway towers of the looming energy plant down by Selby. Not to mention the BBC's mast taller than Alec Eiffel's on Emley Moor, towering 1084 feet (330 meters). As I roamed, I sensed the English language's venerable presence; also, I listened through the signposts and upon the maps for the voices of those who lived here long before Anglians.

These Danish and Saxon placenames: Skelmanthorpe, Ingbirchworth, Peniston, Bird's Edge, Holmfirth, Denby Dale, and Scissett, evoked Tolkien's "asterisk reality" (see this blog last month). They also marked the various incursions: rooted Britons, settling Germans, rival Vikings, who followed the Roman legion and preceded the Norman devastation of the North after 1066. These words and their origins spurred my direction when I entered college that fall eventually towards medievalism, Celtic culture, and medieval lit. The village that hosted me captured the ancient clash, and the medieval merging, that built up Britain. The name Cumberworth combines the Anglo-Saxon worð or enclosed/ fenced homestead, with the Brythonic word for "people" or "fellowship"-- the title with which the Welsh claim their native identity not as "foreign" to the invaders but as Cymry, "comrades" to their kinfolk. You imagine, in such a village, the besieged hilltop of Celts as the Mercians--or was it Northumbrians?-- circle about dales and climb the slopes of these lower Pennines.

Upper Cumberworth's Wikipedia entry records of those possible descendants of the true Brits: "A book about the Denby Dale Pie says that the people of Cumberworth tore apart the first giant pie like wild animals, and it was 'flung to the winds'." Their neighbors down the hill, presumably peaceable Saxons, inform us at their entry:
"Denby Dale is known for baking giant pies, a tradition first started in 1788 to celebrate the recovery of King George III from his mental illness. So far 10 pies have been made as part of 9 pie festivals, the most recent (12 tonnes) was made in 2000 to celebrate the new millennium."

Ted Hughes, with photos by Fay Godwin, published the same year as my visit to Yorkshire a verse collection, "Remains of Elmet," set around Leeds and what's now much of central Yorkshire, albeit much farther north than Cumberworth, Huddersfield, Barnsley, and their ilk. Once I visited Castle Hill, near Almondbury adjacent to Huddersfield, site of an Iron Age camp built around 300 BCE by the Brigantes, abandoned around the Roman occupation.

While not historical but literary, Ann Skea's 1994 essay on "Regeneration in 'Remains of Elmet'" appears here:

Hughes prefaced his poems: "The Calder valley, west of Halifax, was the last ditch of Elmet, the last British Celtic kingdom to fall to the Angles." If Sheffield, to the south a ways from the area I stayed in, was in turn ruled by Brigantes and perhaps Elmet's Celts, before its mark as the southernmost reach of the Germanic kingdom of Northumbria, then Cumberworth may be inside Elmet, although the sites on that realm tend to roam the other direction in its mapping. Not sure if Anglian settlers of the earlier entity of Deira lived around there, either. Therefore, while I cannot identify which Celtic kingdom exactly ruled over the area closer to Cumberworth, the map above does indicate Elmet may have sprawled considerably. See this site on Northeast England's history:

"The History Files" site explores among many subjects the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon period, collating what we can glean from chronicles and archeology:

Tim Midgley's "Elmete" site gathers early medieval data:

At John Davey's Elmet local history site, with pan-Celtic links, Blome's map of 1673 indicates the area I'm inspecting as straddling a later West Riding border between the districts of "Staincrofts" and "Ay{?]bridge and Morley." Elmet's clearly concentrated well far north, easterly above Leeds. There's a link at the home page to Tadcaster, home of Sam Smith's ales, Nut Brown and Winter Welcome, as well as stouts Imperial and Oatmeal: all recommended!

"Ower t'hill" in the Lake District across the Pennines, the site at Ulverston-- rich in neolithic and pre-Christian sites, as well as a Quaker heritage and now a post-Christian Buddhist foundation-- offers a few thoughts on Cumbric, counting systems for children and shepherds being the last echoes of what Taliesin and Aneirin composed their stirring chants in, this British Celtic linguistic cousin to Welsh:'s Agora has a thread from a few years ago (these topics tend to rouse but rarely) on "Wales & Cornwall," and the naming by pillaging Germanics of we territorial predecessors as "Wallach" or "Welch" or suchlike:;action=display;num=1081740802

Here on the Cumbric revival for restive Northern British seeking to reclaim their Celtic roots, appears this similarly moribund forum:

Finally, via the Wikipedia entry on Cumbric, this earnest if desultorily updated Reconstruction blog:

Map: Elmet remains, smack in England's center, of this beautiful chart, of the Celtic and Germanic and related peoples ca. 500 CE. See the original, which you can enlarge, at:


Mark Crossley said...

Was that the Johnson family that you stayed with in Upper Cumberworth the one with three daughters; father a teacher I think? I used to know them, I wonder if they are still around that area.

Fionnchú said...

That's them! Off Carr Hill Road. Richard was the father and Rachel & Katie the older daughters around my age; there was a younger daughter and son, too. I'd love to hear from them. Thanks for letting me know of your mutual interest.