The Mystery that Was Elmet

On Thursday, 20th June, Dave Weldrake, self-describing as an ‘enthusiastic archaeologist’ and formerly of the West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service, gave U3A Todmorden a masterclass in making detective-like deductions about the possibly probable from the minimum of evidence.

Elmet: that lost kingdom of the ‘Dark Ages’, that strange period between the years the Romans left their province of Britannia and the invasion of the Angles and the Saxons from across the North Sea – where was it?

But first, how did it come about? Dave began by observing that when the Romans began to leave Britain, their administrative systems would have started to break down.

Eventually, Britons filled the power vacuum, and would have established their own administration centres, probably in old Roman towns or forts. One of these would have been the capital, as it were, of Elmet.

But what were Elmet’s boundaries? Place names such as Barwick-in-Elmet and Sherburn-in-Elmet testify to the kingdom’s reality, but not to its borders.

Dave posited that he was moderately certain that they would have been roughly between the Wharfe and the Don in the north and south, and between the Great North Road and the Pennine watershed in the east and west.  

But his main interest was answering the question as to where Elmet’s administrative heartland might have been. Candidates for this honour include Castleford, Cleckheaton, Dewsbury, Ilkley, and Quarry Hill in Leeds.

However, Dave clearly favoured Adel north of Leeds.

Near Adel, there is a Roman fort whose importance is given weight by its being a staging post with the Roman name Camboduno on the Antonine Itinerary, Iter (Route) II, a kind of Google Maps of its day.

But here’s the rub. In this world of uncertain factual evidence, the name on Iter II could have been Camuloduno, which would identify as Slack near Huddersfield, also on the way from Adel to Manchester.

These uncertainties and obscurities indicate how difficult the history of the Dark Ages is to construct. Dave was, however, able to offer some relative certainties about Elmet itself.

Bede, for example, in ‘The Ecclesiastical History of the English People’, records that King Edwin of Northumbria expelled Certic from his kingdom of Elmet. And this Certic is referred to in Welsh sources as Ceredig ap Gwallog.

Indeed, the people now known as the Welsh were the original inhabitants of Roman Britannia, and pan-British links with Elmet are not therefore surprising. Thus the inscription in Gwynedd, ‘Aliotus Elmetiacos Hic Jacet’ (Aliotus the Elmetian lies here).

And even as late as 1315, a Florentine bill of sale records ‘d’Elmetta 11 marks per sack’ for wool. Elmet International plc!

Peter Carrigan, our Vice-Chair, with Dave Weldrake. Photo by Roger Howard.

This was a talk in the best traditions of U3A. As Jean Pearson would say, ‘Did learning take place?’ I think we can safely answer that, thanks to Dave, it did.

Our next meeting

U3A Todmorden’s next members’ meeting will be on Thursday, July 18th, 2019 in the Central Methodist Church Hall in Todmorden at 1.45. Our guest speaker will be Helen Broadhead whose talk is titled ‘The Bradford Warriors’ about the Bradford suffragettes.

Our contact details are www.u3atod.org.uk (website), info@u3atod.org.uk (email), or 01422 886021 (phone).