Monday, 22 August 2011

A sense of place

My home county by marriage is Yorkshire in the north east of England. During our turbulent history, the county has been subject to invasions from Celts, Vikings, Normans, Romans, you name it…

All this has resulted in some very weird place names, so just as a momentary diversion, here is a small sample of how some Yorkshire towns and villages came by their names.

Broadly speaking, ‘ing’, ‘ham’ and ‘ton’ are Saxon for hamlet or farm. If ‘ing’ is in the middle of the name, it means ‘belonging to’, so Bridlington, was the farm belonging to Beohrtel (Saxon).
‘Caster’ means site of a Roman fort – Tadcaster, was the land belonging to Tada on the site of a former fort.
Thwaite means meadow or hollow, so Yockenthwaite is the clearing belonging to Youghan.
Filey is thought to derive from ‘five’ and ‘lea’ or ‘meadow’, hence Five Meadows.
Fridaythorpe denotes a farm (Thorpe – Viking), belonging to one whose name had relevance to Freya, god of fertility and from whence we get the day name Friday. Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘Thank God it’s Friday, doesn’t it?
Esk is a Viking name denoting a river valley., so the Esk Valley near Whitby really means Valley Valley. (Incidentally, there is a hill near Plymouth in Devon called Torpenhow Hill. Tor = hill. Pen = hill. How = hill. So the proper name should be Hill Hill Hill Hill.)
Goodmanham is the home of Godmund and his people – once the most important pre-Christian pagan shrine in Deira (South Northumberland)
Arkengarthdale, a gorgeous name, simply means Arke’s enclosure in the valley.
The river Humber is interestingly named. A celtic rivername meaning ‘good well’, the river was a vital dividing line in the landscape, hence all the land north of it was called Northumberland.
Appleton literally means an apple farm. So Appleton Roebuck, was an apple farm belonging to Roebuck and Appleton Wiske was an apple farm on the river Wiske.
Hornsea lies on Hornsea Mere, meaning ‘pond or lake’. So the place name means land on the lake with horn-like corners.
Scarborough is also interesting. Documents can accurately place its origins to 966 or 967 AD. Allegedly, a Viking with a hare-lip or ‘scarthi’ made it his stronghold – borough or burg.

York has so much Viking history, it would take a whole blog to even scratch the surface. The city also has some very strange street names – usually with the suffix ‘gate’ meaning road or path. The most interesting of these is ‘Whipmawhopmagate’. Opinions vary, but one is that a snarling worthless dog or cur was called a whappet. Whappets were whipped in this street on St Luke’s day, which is also known as ‘dog-whipping day’.

Can’t top that last one.


  1. Great post, Avril. Lake Windermere, is another example of repeat words. winde & mere both mean lake, so it's lake lake lake. I love the local names; but what about good old 'Wetwang' or 'Thwing'?.

  2. I love this post. I especially like Arkengarthdale - beautiful name.

    Have a great weekend!