Return of the Vikings

A reconstructed Viking longship is pictured rowing up the Thames at Hammersmith in 1949. Behind the man standing in the bows is what is now the Sons of the Thames Rowing Club and the industrial building on the far left was part of the Bemax factory, then makers of a health food much loved by rowers.

28 April 2022

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch on a friendly invasion.

My recent piece, Swede-ish, was inspired by an advertising poster for the new IKEA store in Hammersmith, West London. The Swedish household retailing giant produced a computer generated picture of a Viking longship going under Hammersmith Bridge with the caption, “Hammersmith is going a bit Swedish.” 

Ignoring that the Swedish Vikings mostly left England, Scotland and Ireland to their Norwegian and Danish neighbours,I mused on the fact that, during the winter of 878 – 879, Viking longships went up the Thames towards what is now Hammersmith and encamped in neighbouring Fulham, probably around the site of what is now Bishop’s Park, opposite the Boat Race start. Unfortunately, there is no physical evidence of the invader’s brief stay, so finding the above photograph showing a Viking ship at Hammersmith was unexpected.

Not surprisingly, it turns out that the picture was taken 1,070 years after the Vikings had left Fulham and it actually shows the reconstructed Viking longship, the Hugin, on one section of its tour around parts of southern England in 1949.

The Hugin on its way from Denmark. Unfortunately, the crew member fifth from the left has succumbed to Wagner and Hollywood and has put horns on his helmet.

The Hugin was built in Denmark and was sailed to England by a Danish crew of 53, a gift from their country’s government to commemorate the 1500th anniversary of the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain. Since 1950, a copy of the ship has been on display in Pegwell Bay between Ramsgate and Sandwich in Kent.

YouTube has some amateur silent 16mm film of the Hugin rowing under Tower Bridge in Central London as part of its 1949 tour and it is a rare chance to see a longship moving under oars.

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