Sunday, 6 November 2016

Son of a Viking Demigod

This is a guest blog by my good friend Nigel Oseland.

When I introduce myself for the first time, people often say "that's an unusual name". And I reply "it's not that unusual, Nigel is a traditional English name". But today I want to talk about the origins of my surname "Oseland".

In the UK, the Oselands are all based in the Black Country – they are highly geographically immobile. But they didn't move there until the 1870s, when they went to work in the coal mines and steel works. Before then the Oselands lived in the countryside in villages such as Cleobury Mortimer located along the Severn valley in Shropshire. 

My uncle spent 10 years tracing our family tree. He handed over his files to me several years ago now - it was basically a big box of hand written note, scraps of paper, photographs and photocopies of old books. It was all pre-computer, but amazingly he traced our family back to 1558 and to John and Margery Oseland. So we have been in England for a while, but the big question is where did the Oselands come from pre 1500 and what is the origin of the name. We can only speculate based on hard evidence.

Outside of the UK, most Oselands are based in Norway where “Oseland” means “estuary”. We have always believed that we descended from Vikings and on a recent trip to Norway, I met a local historian who confirmed that was probably the case. The mystery to us has been how these Vikings ended up in Shropshire? Especially, as you may be aware, that the start of the Viking era in the British Isles is marked when the Vikings destroyed the abbey on Lindisfarne holy island up in Northumbria.

So, imagine it is June in the year 793 and the longboats are making their way along the North Sea. It's dark and cold and choppy, it’s been a long journey so to lift spirits the marauders join in with a quaint Norsk ditty:

"Rape, pillage, plunder. Rape, pillage, plunder. Rape, pillage, plunder. Are we there yet. You should know navigator. Rape, pillage, plunder”.

Then there is a cry from the front "land ahoy, hurrah”. “Okay navigator which way do we go now right or left”. “Oh er, I'm not sure”. “What do you mean you are not sure, you are the navigator”. “Yes but it's dark and this map is wrong and there are no signs”. “So do you want me steer and navigate, I can't multitask”. “Well can you pullover and take a look”. “I'm in the middle of the North Sea, of course I can't pull over – is it right or left?”.  “I'm not sure, maybe right”. “Okay we’re going left”.

Several weeks later they find themselves sailing up the river Severn. Eventually the river gets too shallow to go on and they finally start their reign of rape, pillage, plunder in Bewdley, the undocumented second wave of the Viking invasion.

Actually, my Norwegian historian told me how the Vikings established Dublin and that they made their way there via the Bristol Channel. So, they would have passed the Severn estuary – we are after all estuary Vikings. Furthermore, he told me that one reason the Vikings were so successful is that they rowed as well as sailed and so would readily go up river and inland.

But, it's unlikely that after raping one of the natives, she said "hold on before you go, what’s your name?". So it's more likely that our name dates back to when the Vikings settled in England and traded. As well as York the Vikings also settled in other areas with good trading routes connected by rivers. In contrast, I recently heard of the Battle of Tettenhall, just a couple of miles from my birthplace. This battle took place in 910 when the allied forces of Mercia and Wessex defeated an army of Vikings. But these where Danish Vikings who also happened to sail up the River Severn (it seemed to be a common route).

I mentioned that Oseland means estuary in Norwegian. A more fantastical theory is we are named after Ösel Island. This large island in the Baltic Sea, now known as Saaremaa and belonging to Estonia, was once occupied by Danish Vikings known as Oselanders. Up until now my story has clearly been factual and truthful, but now I need you to trust me and take a leap of faith. The Oselanders were particularly ferocious Vikings, because they believed they were directly descended from Thor the Norsk god of thunder, lightning and storms. Each year they would sacrifice one of the island’s maidens to Thor, and occasionally she would be blessed with his son, a demigod.

The Oselands carry that belief today. Our family motto is "hvor jeg går regnet følger" which means "where I go the rain follows". If there is a storm, it is likely I will be at the centre of it. If I sit outside on a sunny day it will cloud over, and even start spitting. When I went to the Florida keys a few years ago a storm came in and the island was evacuated, we headed for Orlando and the storm followed us up the coast. I went to the Grand Canyon, which is in the Arazonian Desert and it rained. Within hours the desert was in bloom. The rangers said such an occurrence only happened every few hundred years.

One last point to leave you with. I, like all the first-born males in our family, was born on a Thursday - Thors day. Coincidence or perhaps I really am descended from a Norsk demigod.

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