Why the Sheffield suburb of Dore deserves its place in British history as the spot where England’s first overlord triumphed  – ‘It’s one of the most famous best-kept secrets’

"It is a site of national significance," says Janet Ridler, standing at the hefty gritstone monolith which takes pride of place on the village green in the pretty Sheffield suburb of Dore.

Tuesday, 10th September 2019, 07:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 10th September 2019, 12:00 pm
Janet Ridler at the Dore Stone. Picture: Dean Atkins

The Dore Stone and its commemorative plaque was put up in 1968, but it marks an ancient victory - the day King Ecgbert of Wessex forced King Eanred of Northumbria into submission in AD 829, a triumph which made Ecgbert the first ruler of all England.

"Even now people aren't even aware of the link in Dore, let alone in Sheffield - it's one of the most famous best-kept secrets, as there are many," says Janet. "We find although people walk past the stone and see it, we still don't really look at history in Sheffield past the industrial side."

Dore, she explains, once held an important position on the boundary between two Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

"It was the actual 'door', or gateway, between the north - Northumbria - and Mercia in the south. King Ecgbert, who had recently conquered Mercia, marched to Dore expecting this big battle which didn't happen. Eanred submitted and went off to fight the Vikings instead. Here, even though this was the ninth century, there were people and a settlement - there were things happening."

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On Sunday, from 11am to 4pm, Janet and the Dore Village Society will explore what happened next as part of the annual Heritage Open Days in Sheffield. An event has been organised called 'A Medieval Day in Dore', featuring living history displays, costumed re-enactors and a big tournament involving knights in armour.

This moves the suburb's story on by 'another couple of hundred years', Janet says.

"Sheffield has now been established, the castle's been built and Beauchief Abbey down the road, we've got people up and down the River Sheaf, iron smelting, sheep farmers... In the 13th century the second barons' war happens, which is when the barons rose up against the King and came into Sheffield. They demolished and burned down the castle, and we know they then headed south into Derbyshire. At that time all this was going on just a few miles away, so what was happening in Dore?"

The focus will be on the activities of 'ordinary people' along with the familiar 'knights and ladies', she says. "It's as much about the fields and the farms as it is what's going on on a bigger scale."

The Escafeld Mediaeval Society are putting on exhibitions and displays of food and drink, candle-making, archery and more, while children will be encouraged to dress up as knights, princes or princesses.

"It'll build up to this tournament at the end," says Janet. "They'll be able to see the knights getting ready, waiting for the baddies, if you like, to ride in through Sheffield. Then there's going to be this conflict between them in Dore."

A little poetic licence has been applied, she admits - there is 'no evidence' whatsoever that such a battle occurred in the immediate vicinity.

"We're using that as a hook, really, to something that really did happen," Janet says. "We know for a fact that was happening in Sheffield."

The village society, she says, believes strongly in the benefit of sharing stories about the past.

"Heritage is one of the main things that gives us a sense of a place and where it came from. Whether you were born here or come to live here, you'll value your environment more."

Well into the 20th century Dore was a part of Derbyshire - it was only incorporated into its city neighbour in 1934.

"People think of it as being this suburb, which it is, but it does have a very strong identity," says Janet, who lives in Dore and became a heritage interpreter after working as a drama teacher.

Signs of the village's Anglo-Saxon connections are all around. The wyvern, a mythical two-legged creature similar to a dragon, is depicted on the stone as a symbol of Wessex and reappears on the badge of Dore Primary School.

"There's Wyvern Road - it's the same with Mercia and Wessex, all those names crop up round here," says Janet, while agreeing that the meaning behind their usage has become lost in the mists of time.

"Sheffield people are probably not the sort that necessarily shout about these things. Yes we're proud of our local stories, but it's a good idea sometimes to make sure the wider community hear about them because otherwise there is that danger that eventually they may be forgotten."

Also this weekend, visitors can learn about the history of Dore Masonic Hall - once a military hospital and a mental asylum - on Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm, and Dore Old School will be the venue for displays about the Brigantes Iron Age tribe on Saturday from 11am to 4pm.

And Janet is overseeing another event for Sheffield Civic Trust, which co-ordinates the local Heritage Open Days. From Peterloo to Orgreave: 200 Years of People Power is taking place at Sheffield City Hall on September 18, marking the bicentenary of the Peterloo massacre in Manchester and 35 years since the miners' strike.

"Those two things resonate, there are quite a lot of similarities in terms of what happened," says Janet.

There will be speeches, music, poetry and discussions with guests including Mark George QC, the barrister who represented families at the Hillsborough Inquests, and actor Kate Rutter from the cast of Mike Leigh's 2018 film about Peterloo.

"It's going to be a good evening, very different to anything that's been done before," Janet says. "It's not a campaign, it's not speeches - it's really just using Heritage Open Days as a platform to pull the links together. That's one of the nice things about the open days. It is so diverse, it isn't just buildings. Buildings do matter, but there are walks and tours - all sorts of things."

Heritage Open Days run from September 13 to 22 with more than 130 events in Sheffield. See www.heritageopendays.org.uk for details.A Medieval Menu

Alongside many other things, A Medieval Day in Dore will show visitors what people ate and drank in medieval times - courtesy of the Escafeld Society, here is an outline of what people's diets were like at the time.

Food for the medieval rich:

White bread, freshly killed meat and river fish, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables. Cooked dishes were heavily flavoured with valuable spices such as caraway, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger and pepper. The wealthy had access to cane sugar, almonds, and dried fruits such as dates, figs or raisins imported from overseas at huge expense.

Food for the poor:

Brown bread, and mainly vegetables unless they were very lucky enough to own a chicken or a pig. Fish was limited to those living by the sea. The old nursery rhyme 'pease pudding hot, pease pudding cold, pease pudding in the pot nine days old' came from medieval times as peasants would keep a pot going that long by throwing in any scraps they had.