Like most people the spelling of my name is important, although as I’ve got older I’ve become a little more tolerant of misspelling of Elsden… I still correct it, but with less indignation or exasperation… it seems such a simple name, Elsden and yet we get all sorts of offerings, Elsten, Elstone, Elliston, Helston, Helsden, but most commonly Elsdon… and for some reason that one little ‘o’ makes a difference… I guess like people called Lynda who keep getting spelled Linda, Davis as Davies, Matthew as Matthews. There are some names which it is really difficult to guess from the way they are spelt, Beauchamp, Feathersonhaugh, Cholmondeley and Mainwaring, for example ( Beecham, Fanshaw, Chumley and Mannering), and I suppose if you only hear Elsden, it’s quite easy to think it might be Elsdon.
We Elsdens come from east Anglia; family story has it that we were Scandinavians, possibly Danes who came as pirates or pilots or both on raiding parties to King’s Lynn… well I have definitely got Scandinavian DNA, so that is certainly a possibility. However, although some of the Elsdens moved out of East Anglia and headed north, I don’t think they are related to the Elsdons of Northumbria and the north-east.
I was so excited when I was a child reading Walter Scott and came across the village of Elsdon – even though it’s not the same, it’s similar! Apparently, Elsdon the village used to be the ‘capital’ of Redesdale valley, and was quite famous in more troubled times. I have been to Elsdon, on a rather grim and dour Northumbrian day, and the main thing I remember is the Pele tower. Pele towers which were common in the area is a sort of fortified tower – very important in the war-torn border area between England and Scotland in the middle ages. Part garrison, part watch-tower, part safe retreat for the local ‘lord’s family, the Elsdon Pele tower is apparently one of the best in Northumberland. it dates from around 1400 and was a fortified rectory, with nine foot thick walls… yes, 9 foot, that’s 3 meters! I have also discovered that Charles Dodgeson, Lewis Carrol’s grandfather stayed here!
The little local church is dedicated to St Cuthbert; when I visited I didn’t realise that it was the site of a mass grave, following the Battle of Otterburn in 1388, hundreds of English men and boys who died in the battle were buried there. Two thousand men died in this battle between the Scots and the English led by Harry Hotspur… despite being outnumbered, the Scots won.
Elsdon also has the remains of a motte and bailey castle, possibly built on an old Celtic, and it has a Norman castle was built on top. On the way out of the village is a gibbet… and when I saw it I was reminded of another gibbet, Caxton gibbet in Cambridgeshire – there is another family legend that one of our Elsden ancestors was the last man to be hanged there…
So although we have no connection with Northumbrian Elsdon, it is still a very interesting and historic place!
Here is a little ditty I found about it:
Hae ye ivver been at Elsdon?
The world’s unfinished neuk
It stands amang the hungry hills,
An’ wears a frozen leuk.
The Elsdon folk like diein’ stegs
At ivvery stranger stare;
An’ hather broth an’ curlew eggs,
Ye’ll get for supper there.
Yen neet aw cam tiv Elsdon;
Sair tired efter dark
Aw’d trovell’d mony a lyensome meyle
Wet through the varra sark
Maw legs were warkin’ fit ta brik,
An’ empty was me kite,
But nowther love nor money could
Get owther bed or bite.
At ivvery hoose iv Elsdon
Aw teld me desperate need,
But nivver a corner had the churls
Where aw might lay me heed;
Sae at the public hoose aw boos’d
Till aw was sent away;
Then tiv a steyble- loft aw crept
An’ coil’d amang the hay.
Should the Frenchers land iv England
Just gie them Elsdon fare;
By George! they’ll sharply hook it back,
An’ nivver cum ne mair
For a hungry hole like Elsdon
Aw nivver yit did see;
An’ if aw gan back tiv Elsdon,
The De’il may carry me.