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The Story of Waltheof of Hallam

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It has been said in the last chapter that when our English forefathers, Angles and Saxons and Danes, swarmed into Britain and changed it into England, they brought a new language, a new religion, and new ways of government, but we know nothing of life in Hallamshire during the three or four first centuries when the Saxon heathenism, which named our days of the week from its gods, was slowly giving place to Christianity. When, however, the country became organized by the invaders into seven kingdoms, which later united into three and finally into one, our district, along the fringe of the northern hills, was so placed as to have a national importance.

The Meersbrook means the boundary brook, and it, and the river Sheaf into which it flows, formed part of the frontier line between the Kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia; so the land hereabout remained in Saxon times a borderland, as it had been in the days of the ancient British earthworks, and in the days of the later chain of Roman forts or camps.

Though Hallamshire was in Northumbria there are reasons for thinking that the people themselves were chiefly Mercians, or Angles, and that they never had a large admixture of Danish blood, for few Danish place-names are to be found in the district. Sheffield, indeed, has always had a strong kinship with North Derbyshire, into which it now overflows across the Meersbrook and the Sheaf. Derbyshire became Danish, but only in the south.

It was in this boundary valley of the Sheaf, at Dore, that England, certainly once and perhaps twice, agreed to regard itself as one country under a single "over-lord," though parts of it continued to be ruled by under-kings. In fact, the unity of England was first established here, and so this central point in our land holds also a central place in its early history. Let us see how this came to pass. Towards the end of the eighth century - probably about 789 - Egbert, an under-king of Kent, was driven across to the Continent by his enemies in Mercia, the Midland kingdom of England, and at that time the most powerful kingdom. Egbert went to the court of the Emperor Charlemagne, who was in close touch with English affairs through the great English scholar Alcuin of York, who had accepted Charlemagne's invitation to establish schools in his dominions. In 802, Egbert, having learned much by his long stay at the chief court in Europe, came back, and was accepted by the West Saxons as their king. While he was driving the unruly Britons of the West from Devonshire into Cornwall, the Mercians invaded Wcssex; but, turning upon them, Egbert routed them, and, marching northward, was accepted as king by the people of Kent, the East Saxons, the Anglians, and the people of Mercia. Later, the Welsh submitted to him. Only Northumbria was now outside his rule, and when he continued his march further north and reached Dore, the Northumbrians met him and peaceably admitted his claim to be their "over-lord," and "King of all the English." This was in the year 829.

Later, the invasions of the Danes, or Northmen, broke up the government of the country, particularly in Wessex, and the northern tribes asserted their independence; but about a hundred years after Egbert's triumphal march to Dore, Edward the Elder, son of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, marched northward again, and, assisted by his sister Ethelfleda, who had bravely fought the Danes and was known as "the Lady of Mercia," reached Bakewell, where he built a fort. Then, according to the historian John Richard Green, he marched further north still, probably to Dore, and there received the submission not only of the men of North umbria, but also of the Scots and the Gaels of the north.

It was on this submission by the Scots to Edward the Elder that, 370 years later, Edward I of England based his claim to be over-lord of Scotland, and enforced it. It cannot be asserted definitely that this second agreement respecting the unity, not only of England but of Great Britain, was entered into at Dore, but it seems likely that Green is right, for what other place would be as suitable as the place where Egbert had first brought the whole land under one "father and lord"?

At the time of the Norman Conquest we begin to get a clearer sight of Sheffield and the surrounding district, chiefly through the Domesday Book which William the Conqueror ordered to be compiled. The book was finished in the year 1086. Before that time Sheffield itself had not risen into importance. It was Hallam that was the important district. In the book Sheffield is merely named as a small manor, with Attercliffe and Grimesthorpe manors, and there is reason for thinking that a little earlier they had all been included in the extensive manor of Hallam, where the great Earl Waltheof had his hall. In Hallam, we are distinctly told, there were sixteen villages, or groups of houses. It extended on each side of the Rivelin valley from the boundaries of Ecclesall to the boundaries of Bradfield, and included an area three times as large as the united areas of Sheffield, Grimesthorpe, and Attercliffe.

Waltheof, the lord of Hallam, was one of the most powerful men in England, and his hall would be the centre of the life of the whole region round about. Yet to-day no one can tell where the hall stood, and there is even no village of Hallam. It is merely a name for a part of Sheffield lying betvveen the Rivers Don, Rivelin, and Porter and the summit of the Stanage moor; while "Hallamshire" includes all Sheffield and a wide district round about. Where was Waltheof's Hall? And how came it that Hallam, named perhaps from the hall, has shrunk into a mere name?

Books have been written on the question, "Where was the Hall?" but when you have read them you are still left guessing. The Rev. Joseph Hunter; a learned Sheffield man who published in the year 1819 a huge and most valuable History of Hallamshire, thought the hall most probably occupied the site in Sheffield on which Sheffield castle was afterwards built. His main argument was that what is now Sheffield was then in Hallam, and where would be so likely a place for the building of a castle in later times as the site of the old hall? Another Sheffield antiquary, Mr. Sydney Addy, has contended that the hall was either on the Stannington side of the Rivelin Valley, near the place where the bronze discharge certificates of the time-expired Roman soldiers were discovered, or on the opposite side of the valley near the beginning of the golf course. If it was there, how came every trace of this important building to be destroyed? A tradition exists, and is repeated by Hunter, that William the Conqueror utterly demolished the place, leaving not one stone upon another, in an outburst of anger against the treachery of Waltheof. To judge whether this is likely to have occurred we must know something of the life of the great English earl who was the first known lord of Sheffield.

Waltheof was the younger son of Siward the Strong, a grim, gigantic Dane who was Earl of Northumbria in the reign of Edward the Confessor. It was Siward who, as we may read in Shakespeare's Macbeth, defeated that Scottish murderer and tyrant and placed Malcolm, the rightful heir, on the throne. Siward was accompanied by his elder son, Waltheof's brother, called by Shakespeare "Young Siward," and the lad was killed in single combat by Macbeth himself. When Siward the father was told of this he asked: "Had he his hurts before?" and on being answered, "Ay, on the front," he said, "Why then, God's soldier be he! I would not wish him to a fairer death."

Waltheof, like his stern father Siward, was a man of great stature and enormous strength. He submitted to William the Conqueror after the battle of Hastings, where, apparently, he did not light, and the next year William took him over to Normandy with him, and they appeared to be good friends; but when, two years later, a Danish force landed in Yorkshire, Waltheof joined them and helped them to take York, the stronghold of the Conqueror in the North. Here he fought so fiercely that his fame was kept aglow for centuries in the war-songs of the Northmen. But when William marched through the north country, laying it waste, as was his custom in war, Waltheof made his submission and was forgiven. Waltheof, who already was Earl of Huntingdonshire and Northamptonshire, was now made Earl of Northumberland, and was married to Judith, daughter of the King's sister Adelaide. William knew that the English regarded Waltheof with admiration as a patriot, and so he took every means in his power to keep him faithful as a friend.

When, however, William was obliged to cross the Channel to put down a rebellion in Normandy, a new conspiracy was hatched against him in England, to divide the country between Waltheof, the Earl of Norfolk, and the Earl of Hereford. Whether Waltheof agreed to partake in this rebellion is not certain, but he knew of it, and took an oath of secrecy. William had left Lanfranc, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in charge of the kingdom during his absence, and Waltheof, repenting of his share in the plot and his oath of secrecy, confessed to Lanfranc and asked his advice. The advice was that he should go over to Normandy and "make a clean breast of it" to William. This he did, and again was forgiven. The rebellion was stamped out by Lanfranc before William and Waltheof returned together from Normandy; but on arriving in England, William heard that the Danes had again landed in Yorkshire and had plundered York, and this he attributed to the influence of Waltheof, against whom Judith is said to have given evidence.

Enraged at this treachery on Waltheof s part - though it is not now clear that Waltheof invited the Danes to come - William brought the earl to trial at Winchester, and he was found guilty, and, on May 31, 1076, was beheaded outside that city. Waltheof was the only Englishman whom the Conqueror executed. He confiscated the lands of those who rebelled against him, mutilated their bodies, cutting off the hands of some, and tearing out the eyes of others, but only on Waltheof was the sentence of death passed. Waltheof's lands remained in the possession of his wife Judith. His body was buried in the Abbey of Crowland in the remote Lincolnshire fens, a religious house which he had endowed; and in after years the English, who regarded him as a martyr and saint, made pilgrimages to his tomb.

It is clear to us now that Waltheof, though a brave man, was weak and unreliable in character, and we may well believe that William, who used wholesale destruction against those who opposed his will, destroyed to the last stone the hall in Hallam where the treacherous man whom he could not make his friend had lived. The fact that the Countess Judith did not continue to live in Hallam, but Jet her lands there to one of William's Norman knights, is in agreement with this view of the fate of the great hall in Hallam. Indeed, Hallam itself begins to pass out of the story, and, as we shall next see, Sheffield takes its place.

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