Lindow Manchester

Marginal People and Bogs

A recent enquiry took me to illustrations of bogs in the Atlas of Irish Rural Landscape, which mentions that the edges of bogland environments attracted marginalized people because turf was the poor person’s fuel.

This reminded me that back in the late 19th century William Norbury, in his article,“Lindow Common as a peat bog”,  talked about what he called the ‘peculiar’ race of people who dwelt on the edges of the peat bogs.  He felt such people were of a very ancient race, totally different from their neighbours  and that they had had marked physical peculiarities and peculiar habits and ways of life. 

They were often buck-stealers, poachers and fishermen.  “Their handicrafts”, he said, pointed to them being “a primitive people”…  “they are experts in using twigs or osiers, in making besoms from birch, also in making straw work, bee hives etc…. in fact in using all kinds of natural and ready products of the country.  They were very sly and suspicious…apparently very harmless but not so safe as they appeared to be.” (pp. 71-72).  Norbury compares the inhabitants of the mosses to the Euskarians or Turanians, i.e. the Basques.

Heavily laden as these comments are with value judgments (nowadays would making brooms be regarded as ‘primitive’? – rather the reverse I’d have thought!)  and special pleading about Lindow Moss as a quiet backwater forgotten by the rest of the world,  I fear these comments tell us more about Norbury than the people he purports to describe!    

Matthew Hyde and Christine Pemberton explore the rich archive of social historical evidence associated with Lindow Moss. In the pages of their wonderful Lindow and the Bog Warriors the moss is a place where gypsies camp, where shanty town-like dwellings are constructed, where discharged soldiers come to live because they can use peat as fuel for heating and cooking… ‘The whole area was given a wide berth by respectable people’ write Hyde & Pemberton 2002: 65.

It is sobering to think that it was the murder of a  prostitute and the discovery and dating of human remains that attracted archaeological interest to Lindow Moss. At that time the woman would have been regarded as living on the fringes of ‘respectable’ society. To use a current buzz word she and her husband were ‘liminal’ characters. The liminality that we perceive in the archaeological record, one could argue, continues or has continued pretty well until the present day.


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Shades of John Boorman’s dramatization of James Dicky’s novel Deliverance (1972) starring Burt Reynolds, in which four men go away on a weekend canoeing trip and have an experience they’ll never forget at the hands of rough-neck locals.

Comment by bryansitch

[…] because of the unique fauna and flora that live in a bog. Christine reminded us that historically the moss was a place of refuge for people who had nowhere else to […]

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