Interesting place names in Yorkshire
PUBLISHED: 00:00 31 July 2017 | UPDATED: 11:23 11 October 2018
An A-Y of fascinating Yorkshire place names (it would have been an A-Z but the nearest – Zouch – is in Leicestershire)
Place names are invaluable, essential signposts to our history, telling us who owned the land, where a river was bridged, what’s under a hill and which flora and fauna flourish within our borders.
So says Paul Chrystal in his new book, The Place Names of Yorkshire, which takes in our cities, towns, villages, hills, rivers and dales. And, yes, before you ask, it also includes pubs (from the Admiral Hawke Hotel in Boston Spa all the way through to the Zetland Hotel in Saltburn).
It’s a detailed collection of facts, history, mystery and legend all hidden in plain sight in the nooks and crannies of Yorkshire place names. To celebrate Yorkshire Day (we can see you waving your white roses in the air from here), we’ve pulled together an A-Y for your amusement. (There isn’t a Z, so don’t go looking for one.)
Allerton Mauleverer, between York and Harrogate
This parish near Allerton Castle originally meant ‘Aelfweard’s farm’, a settlement held by the Mauleverer family in the 12th century. Claims by the Mauleverers that they came over with William the Conqueror were revealed as fraudulent. Naughty.
Barden Triangle, Lower Wharfedale
This area around Appletreewick and Grassington covers supposedly mystical places with supernatural characteristics such as Troller’s Gill, Elbolton Hill (the ‘Hill of the Fairies’) and Dibble’s Bridge, which was allegedly built by the Devil (probably without planning permission).
Cautley Spout, near Sedbergh
England’s highest cascade waterfall above ground, Cautley Spout plunges 650ft (198m) down from a plateau called The Calf in the Howgill Fells.
The first reference to Driffield comes in the Domesday Book and means ‘dirty, manured field’. Not exactly flattering. Another notable reference came in Monty Python’s Flying Circus when Yorkshire lad Michael Palin announces that ‘the Silly Party have taken Driffield’.
Egypt (not that one)
There are actually two Egypts in Yorkshire, one in Gomersal and another in Thornton. North Africa, on the other hand, just has the one.
Foulness River, near Market Weighton
Not half as bad as it sounds, in this instance ‘Foulness’ is actually derived from the Old English ‘fulganaess’ which means ‘wild birds’ nest’. Some maintain, however, that it just means ‘dirty river’. Oh well, you can’t please them all.
Great Fryup Dale
The name itself is an amalgam of an Anglo-Saxon goddess and the Old Norse for ‘small valley’. All very ho-hum. But what is interesting is that there was once an old seer woman of Fryup who lived on Old Hell Road and kept a vigil from 11pm to 1am every April 24th to see the ghosts of people who would die in the following year.
Who knew that Yorkshire was home to the ancient Greek Underworld? Well, it’s not. But we do have two Hades – in this case, a reference to a place out of sight behind a hill – in Marsden and Holmfirth.
Home to the cult favourite ‘Idle Working Men’s Club’, which was established in 1928 for local sewage workers whose shifts meant they couldn’t go to the pub, this Idle actually derives from Ida, the Anglian leader in Northumberland.
Jingling Pot, Thornton in Lonsdale
There’s nothing very mysterious about this one; it’s just North Country dialect for a pothole with a tinkling or rattling sound. We just like saying it – Jingling Pot.
This is a corruption of ‘Cyppa’s ash’ (literally an ash tree belonging to someone called Cyppa). It’s also a good example of a place that became a popular surname as people adopted it to identify themselves and their village when they travelled round the country for work.
Little Barugh, near Pickering
Anyone who doesn’t immediately sing ‘is it you’ (as in Metal Guru by T. Rex) after the merest mention of Little Barugh is no friend of ours. The name derives from a barrow-like hill.
Mickleby, near Scarborough
This derives from the Old English ‘mycel’ meaning farm or village (hence Micklegate in York and Mickleton in Teesdale). You might have heard the phrase ‘every mickle makes a muckle’, but this is actually a misquote of ‘many a little maks a muckle’. What either of them mean is beyond us.
Newbiggin, Yorkshire Dales
Was there ever an Oldbiggin, we hear you ask. Sadly, no, but there was the rather German-sounding Neubigging until 1228 (from the Old English for new outhouse). There’s also a second Newbiggin seven miles away near Askrigg, which seems needlessly confusing.
Oubrough, near Hull
This little village has a name that comes from the Old English for ‘owl-haunted fortress’, which sounds wonderfully Harry Potter-esque.
Purston Jaglin, Featherstone
Isn’t that just the most marvellous name? Purston is actually a corruption of Preston or ‘priest’s settlement’, and jaglin comes from Jakelin, thought to be a one-time owner of the land. Apropos of nothing, Robin Hood is rumoured to have enjoyed a pint at the local pub.
Quite a mystery
Paul doesn’t cover Q in his book – maybe that’s for volume 2. With that in mind, we’d like to offer Quarmby in Kirklees and Queensbury in Bradford for starters.
Rise, near Hornsea
You might think this has something to do with the village being on a hill, but it isn’t. The name actually comes from the Old English ‘hris’ which means ‘among the brushwood’ and refers to an area where faggots of firewood were gathered.
Smearsett Scar, near Settle
Or ‘smears it far’ as we will forever think of it now that we know it’s from the Old Norse for ‘butter pasture’.
Thornton Le Beans, near Northallerton
Bill Bryson is the toast of the town after saying in his book Notes From A Small Island that he wants to be buried in Thornton Le Beans. It means (rather specifically) ‘a farm on a small hill with thorn bushes where beans were grown’.
Uncleby, near Pocklington
Quite simply, this was once Hunkel’s farm. Yes, he really was the original man from Hunkel.
There’s no V in Paul’s book, so let’s say no more about it
Wham, near Giggleswick
We can’t pretend we weren’t tempted by Wetwang, but then Wham caught our eye. This little hamlet takes its name from the Old English ‘hwamm’ and Old Norse ‘hvammer’, meaning ‘marshy nook’.
X marks the spot
But, unfortunately’ there’s nothing underneath it.
Could this name sound more Yorkshire if it tried? Like Heckmondwike and Cleckheaton, it sounds like the sort of place where Nora Batty buys her stockings, but is actually a former meadow (or thwaite) owned by an Irish invader called Eogan.
The Place Names of Yorkshire by Paul Chrystal is published by Stenlake, priced £15. For details, visit stenlake.co.uk
What’s in a name?
Places were given names to differentiate them from other places (obviously), but there are other reasons too.
Some were named to indicate ownership: Yockenthwaite is Yoghan’s or Eoghan’s clearing; while Embsay is Embe’s enclosure or hill.
Folklore and local custom played their part: Grimwith is named after a wood supposedly haunted by a ghost or goblin; while Worton echoes the herb or vegetable garden there.
Ancient British is dominant when it comes to natural phenomena like mountains, hills and rivers: Pen-y-ghent, Penhill and Pendle all make use of ‘penno’ or hill; Nidd means ‘brilliant’; Wharfe ‘winding’; and Ure ‘strong’.
The Romans made their mark: the suffix ‘caster’, as in Doncaster, indicates a fort or fortified town; anything with ‘street’, like Adwick le Street (near Doncaster), usually means there’s a Roman road nearby; and ‘wic’, as in East Keswick, Heckondwike and Eldwick, comes from ‘vicus’ or settlement.
We have the Anglo-Saxons to thank for all our ‘tun’ and ‘ton’ names – Allerton, Beeston, Clifton, Drighlington, Menston, Oulton and Normanton are just a few of the numerous examples.
And the Vikings’ influence means that in York ‘gates’ are streets and ‘bars’ are gates, as in Fossgate, Kirkgate, Monk Bar and Micklegate Bar (which is double confusing).
Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate in York is just one of the weird but also slightly wonderful streets in our great county. The small walkway – hardly a street at all – sits on the corner of Pavement and Stonebow and has been variously translated as ‘What a street!’ and ‘Neither one thing nor the other’. Frankly, we don’t care because it’s just whip-ma-whop-ma-wonderful.
Among the other curiosities on Yorkshire’s street maps are The Land of Green Ginger in Hull and its less fragrant neighbour Rotten Herring Street; Ankirkirk in Richmond, which presumably has something to do with churches; Dumple Street in Scarborough which, sadly, probably has less to do with dimpled dumplings and more to do with the Old English for a hole in the river bed; and Lurk Lane in Beverley, which was once a less than salubrious part of town with more than its fair share of lurkers on the lookout for trouble (they genuinely were in the right place).
:: We’d love to hear about the weird and wonderful place names where you live. Join the conversation at yorkshirelife.co.uk, on Twitter @Yorkshire_Life or on Facebook @yorkshirelife