Next week, I’m speaking at the Heysham Viking Festival about the Heysham hogback stone together with Roger Lang.

Roger has been working with Professor Dominic Powlesland to create fabulous teaching resources for the Gosforth Cross, Cumbria, which can be viewed here. Roger has also worked up a similar video using photogrammetry for the Halton cross and you can view this here.

Face A of the Heysham 5 monument

I was originally invited to speak at the Heysham Viking Festival about the hogback on my own, but once I thought about it, I realised it would be a great idea to present together with Roger. Recently, Roger and I met up at Heysham and he took a detailed set of photographs of the hogback to create a 3D model.

In our talk next week, Roger will show his videos about Gosforth and Halton and then ‘launch’ his photogrammetric model of the Heysham hogback.

You can now view it online here.

I’m then going to take about ‘What we don’t know about the Heysham hogback’, attempting to put recent research in context and ask some fresh questions about the stone.

We are the warm-up act for the real star of the evening, the second talk by Dr Fiona Edmunds of Lancaster University.

For this post, I’ll simply introduce the hogback and some of the problems with its interpretation.

Face C of the Heysham 5 monument

The Hogback

The Corpus for Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture recognise 17 convincing examples of early medieval stones from Heysham, and a further two which might be 11th/12th century in date. I’ve discussed St Patrick’s chapel here.

View of the roof and Face C

Heysham 5 is perhaps the most famous stone at Heysham, although Heysham 1 is a strong contender too. The ‘hogback’ is currently on display within the church of St Peter’s. It is thought to have been found somewhere in the churchyard of St Peter’s rather than being brought down from the neighbouring St Patrick’s chapel. Bailey suggests it was found between 1807 and 1811, but that might be disputed according to Roger.

It was purportedly found with a skeleton and a spear. If so, this might be the only northern recumbent stone to be found in association with human burials, althoug the account is too brief and unreliable to be taken at face value.

The ‘larger’ end-beast with its ‘puny’ limbs

The stone is composed of a pale brown Millstone Grit which might have come from the spot itself or from anywhere immediately along the coast to the north as far as Bolton le Sands. It is 205.8cm long, and up to 28cm wide at its centre. At its tallest, it is 53.5cm high. It is worn on its ridge, but it is otherwise in good condition despite its exposure to the elements in the churchyard for many decades.

Size: this is a particularly large hogback, and a distinctively slender one as a result.

Shape: it is asymmetrical both longitudinally and laterally, and has a curving roof and base, has a ‘head’ and ‘foot’ end (Victoria Thompson forthcoming discusses this in more detail).

Beasts: these are small, and their heads are relatively large. Bailey refers to their bodies as ‘puny’. Their eyes are rendered by pellets, and their mouths are long slits. There is a ‘trefoil filler’ associated with one of the beasts.

The Roof: above both scenes on the roof there are tegulae: ‘badly -spaced incised type 7 tegulae’ according to Bailey (2010). It is important to note that the key feature of the hogback is its prominent ridge along the top, between the jaws of the beasts, which Bailey suggests may bear evidence of cable moulding..

Figural Scenes: most of Bailey’s and other writers’ discussions focus on the two long faces A and C. These bear a series of mammals and birds, a tree, and humanoid figures in orans poses which have received various interpretations (see below).

The left-hand side of Face C

Face A as two pairs of seemingly naked figures with hands raised on orans pose. There are 7 beasts associated with them: one demonstrably a stag, one between the right-hand pair of human figures. Above them, on the roof is a further beast next to a human figure lying on his/her side.

Face C has a central figure with arms held up, and Ewing thinks this is Sigurd. Supporting this argument, Ewing claims the figure holds a sword whic pierces a dragon encircling the scene, but others (including Bailey and Kopár) do not recognise this and I cannot see it.

To the far left of the figure, there are two animals.. According to Bailey there is a left-facing beast above a right-facing one: although I cannot clearly discern the upper one unless it is a bird in flight facing right.

Moving right, towards the central figure, then there are two larger birds with fan tails facing right. Then there is a tree and another bird facing left. To the right of the man are two further beasts. Ewing regards there to be a serpent encircling the scene and looming over the ‘Sigurd’ figure, although this is not a view shared by all and Bailey refuses to mention it. Still, the shape of the rock above the figure might imply a serpent’s head.

The smaller beast


Summarising previous research, Richard Bailey’s (2010) review draws on previous work including the only dedicated article discussing the monument in recent years by Thor Ewing. Together with a subsequent study by Lilla Kopár, we can provide the key points about what we think we know about the Heysham hogback as follows:

  • It is an unusual and prestigious monument, presumably a memorial or grave-cover;
  • It might commemorate a trader says Bailey, since hogbacks are mainly found in coastal locations;
  • Bailey follows Lang in ascribing hogbacks to the early-mid 10th century AD
  • This is seen as an ‘Illustrative type g’ hogback following Lang’s and the CASSS typology, but the form follows that of the ‘extended niche’ variety of hogback too;
  • The scenes are regarded as either Biblical, or pertain to Norse mythology;
  • If they are indeed mythological or legendary, they might be read in relation to the Sigurd story (as per Halton), or in relation to Ragnarök (as per Gosforth).
  • Ewing and Kopár both favour a Sigurd story, indeed a rendering of the broader legend of the Völsungs with Sigurd slaying a dragon on Face C, and on Face A the story of Sigmund and his brothers as prisoners facing the she-wolf.
Sigurd, Fafnir and Grani?


To find out about my views on the stone, come along to my talk with Roger on the evening of Saturday 15th July 2017 at St Peter’s church, Heysham! I’ll be outlining what I think we know as reviewed here, but more importantly what I think might have been missed in previous discussions. Hope to see you there to find out ‘what we don’t know about the Heysham hogback’!

Further Reading

Bailey, R. 2010. Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture  Volume IX: Cheshire and Lancashire, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ewing, T. 2003. Understanding the Heysham hogback: a tenth-century sculpted stone monument and its context, Trans. Hist. Soc. Lancashire Cheshire CLII: 1-20.

Kopár, L. 2012. Gods and Settlers: The Iconography of Norse Mythology in Anglo-Scandinavian Sculpture, Turnhout: Brepols.

Nash, G. 2010. Death and memorial in an early medieval ecclesiastical landscape in north-wes tEngland: an appraisal of St Patrick’s chapel and St Peter’s church, Heysham, Lanceshire, in A. George, D. Hawley, G. Nash, J. Swann and L. White (eds) Early Medieval Enquiries 299-317, Bristol: Proceedings of the Clifton Antiquarian Club, 9.

Potter, T.W. and Andrews, R.D. 1994. Excavation and survey at St Patrick’s chapel and St Peter’s church, Heysham, Lancashire, 1977-8, Antiquaries Journal 74: 55-134.

Williams, H. 2015. Hogbacks: the materiality of solid spaces, in H. Williams, J. Kirton and M. Gondek (eds) Early Medieval Stone Monuments: Materiality, Biography, Landscape. Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, pp. 241-68

Williams, H. 2016. Citations in stone: the material world of hogbacks, European Journal of Archaeology 19(3) 497-518.

Williams, H. 2016. “Clumsy and illogical”? Reconsidering the West Kirby hogback, The Antiquaries Journal 96, 69–100