The Five Boroughs is a term we first encounter in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in a poem included under the entry for the year 942. It is used to describe the five main administrative centres of the Danelaw, which were Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham and Stamford. Four of them are now county towns, and it is arguable that this is because the Scandinavian settlers made these towns the centres of their own administration. With the Danes basing their administrations in these towns, trade was drawn to them and the towns became wealthy, thus increasing their importance. They remained administrative centres after the East Midlands was conquered by the Anglo-Saxon kings of Wessex, and so they retained their importance.
The Danelaw Saga: Bringing Vikings back to the East Midlands exhibition in 2017-18 featured artefacts from four of these Five Boroughs. Only Stamford was not represented. East Midlands museums represented in the exhibition were:
- Derby Museum and Art Gallery
- Leicester Museums and Art Gallery
- The Collection, Lincoln
- North Lincolnshire Museums
- Nottingham City Museums
We are also very grateful to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which arranged the loan of metal detecting finds to the exhibition. All of these artefacts combine to create a more complete picture of daily life in the Five Boroughs during the early medieval period. They show how the Great Heathen Army arrived, where it stayed, and how it settled in, shaped and integrated with the Anglo-Saxon culture of the area. You can recreate the exhibition by searching on the keyword ‘Danelaw Saga’.
In addition to items that were in the exhibition, our virtual museum has photographs related to the displays at these museums, including reproduction items. Blog posts on our site discuss aspects of the Scandinavian arrival and settlement, and the connections that the East Midlands had with the wider world.