Page:VCH Surrey 1.djvu/403

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

POLITICAL HISTORY apparently did come to the coasts of Britain on Viking raids in his unregenerate days. Later ages, which thought of him as a saint, transferred him to the side of Christianity. But the story of his presence in the Thames at all is merely another instance among several of con- fusion between him and Olaf Tryggvasson. St. Olaf's church upon the Surrey side in Tooley Street, that is St. Olaf's Street, owes its dedication merely to his subsequent popularity in the north of Europe, not to any local connexion with the neighbourhood of London Bridge. There were three St. Olaf's churches north of the Thames too. The Thames and Surrey formed the bases from which the next most famous attempt upon London was made by the Danes. Sweyn had been received generally as king when Ethelred fled the country. Then on Sweyn's death Ethelred had been recalled, and Cnut carried on the contest with him and his son Edmund for the English crown. Three times at least in those calamitous years there is direct mention of the Danes having traversed Surrey. In 1009 they had crossed the Thames from north to south at Staines and marched through Surrey to the lower Thames. In 1013 Swegen himself had marched from Winchester to London. In 1015 Cnut had gone westward from Kent to Frome in Somersetshire. In 1016, on May 7, a fortnight after Ethelred's death, Cnut brought his fleet into the Thames and beset London. He there made the famous ditch round the works at the foot of London Bridge whereby his ships might come above the bridge. Two opposite mistakes have been made about this exploit. It has been on the one hand derided as impossible, and on the other hand the course of Cnut's channel has been laboriously traced. The Norsemen had done a similar thing at Paris more than a hundred years earlier, dragging their ships round on the left bank of the Seine. The feat was easier in the Surrey marshes, for every spring tide, if not ordinary high tides, over- flowed a good deal of what is now Southwark and Lambeth, so that it was only needful for Cnut to cut through two or three causeways and embankments to enable his vessels to scrape over the flats. But what made the feat easy has made any attempt to recover his exact line of action impracticable. When the gaps in the causeways were mended no marks remained of the route. At any rate the attack on London failed. Later in the year it was renewed, but Edmund, the new English king, crossed the Thames into Surrey at Brentford and cleared the southern side of the river of the Danes, pursuing them to Sheppey, whence they crossed into Essex. Edmund followed them and was defeated in Essex. The kingdom was then divided between the rivals, Edmund taking Wessex and Cnut Mercia and East Anglia. London went with the latter and admitted the Danes, who had failed to enter by force before. It would be interesting, but it is impossible, to know whether Southwark was included with London, or whether the Danes had one end of the bridge, the Englishmen the other. Edmund's death on November 30 of the same year left both to the former. More than twenty years of continual warfare and ravage must have left few houses i 337 z