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Hodgson How

There is a small natural hill called 'Hodgson How' about two kilometres west of Keswick (grid reference: NY 245237). It is likely to be named after a local Hodgson landowner. The word 'how' comes from the Old Norse haugr meaning `mound'. It is perhaps significant that Hodgson How lies just west of the River Derwent and hence within Copeland. It would have been part of the lands that were first settled by the Norse in their migration inland from the coast.

Could Hodgson How be a place of assembly - in the Norse language thing - used by the Viking settlers in the Crosthwaite area? The Norse used assembly hills of this kind as local parliaments, where the free-born man old enough to bear arms would debate with the others and pass laws. All proceedings were committed to memory and handed on by word of mouth from generation to generation.

The thing was the sole legislative body of Viking society. It existed in various tiers and levels. Hodgson How may have been the assembly for the settlers of the St Bees - Crosthwaite area in which the name Odd was prominent. These assemblies took place once or twice a year. As well as passing laws the thing acted as a legal tribunal. Until the creation of centralised monarchies that were encouraged by Christianity, kings or chieftains in Viking society had no legislative power. The thing was the sole legal authority.

The name of the village of Portinscale - very near Hodgson How - may also be of relevance. Scale is Norse for hut or shack. The first element of the name means 'prostitute'. Portinscale was thus a brothel!

We can imagine the Viking chieftains and farmers coming on their visit to the thing at Hodgson How from the surrounding area. In addition to their legal and legislative duties at Hodgson How, the men would seem to have enjoyed themselves in Portinscale. We can picture their drinking and revelry!

Although the thing assembly excluded slaves and women, it is striking to consider the quality of democracy in Viking society in the tenth century. The Viking parliament at Hodgson How would have lost its powers and functions by the time of the invasion of the Normans. These democratic institutions were extinguished for over eight hundred years. The people of Cumberland did not enjoy similar democratic rights until the latter part of the nineteenth century.