A place-name can contain a whole host of information which distinguishes it from other places in the immediate area - and Yorkshire Dales place-names are no exceptions. Information about the ancestors who gave their names to farms, fields, rivers, hills, valleys, towns and villages can easily be extracted. Yockenthwaite (Yoghan's or Eoghan's clearing) or Embsay (Embe's enclosure or hill) are such examples.
Many place-names also refer to some natural features, such as Blubberhouses (the houses by the bubbling springs) and Redmire (the pool covered with reeds), or shed light on the birds, animals, plants and flowers that the early settlers found at these places. Examples include Arncliffe meaning the eagle's cliff and Hebden meaning the valley where wild roses and brambles grows.
Local folklore, religious beliefs and land use also had an influence, as with Grimwith referring to the wood haunted by a ghost or goblin and Worton referring to the herb or vegetable garden.
Thus when looking at the place-names of the Yorkshire Dales one must look at who was around at the time - how did the settlers at the time influence place-names?
The Brigantes, a British north-western Celtic tribe, occupied much of the Dales centuries before the arrival of the Romans and sometime after. There were two main dialects of the Celtic language - British in England and Wales and Gaelic in Ireland - and had a small influence in the area in which it was spoken. This British language can be found in the names of many hills and rivers, such as Pen-y-ghent, Penhill and Pendle where penno means hill, and Nidd ('brilliant'), Wharfe ('winding'), and Ure ('strong'). The Romans had little influence on the place-names of this remote area of the empire and many Celtic names disappeared with the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in the 7th and 8th centuries and the Vikings.
The main feature of Anglo-Saxon settlement was the development of small villages and hamlets which grew up from a 'tun' or 'ton' meaning farmstead. Other words at the time such as 'ham' (also meaning homestead), 'leah' or 'ley' (woodland clearing) and 'stan' (stone) became common and can be found in names such as Clapham, Middleham, Horton, Litton, Cautley, Wensley and Leyburn.
A large addition to these place-names came from the wave of Vikings (Danes and Norwegians) that arrived in the early 10th century. Their language of Old Norse was similar and related in some ways to Old English and had a massive influence - approximately two thirds of all names have a Norwegian derivation. Examples include 'scale' (shieling), 'gill' (ravine), 'foss' (waterfall), 'slack' (hollow), 'thwaite' (clearing) and 'keld' (spring). The influence was so great that many Old English names took an Old Norse sound and became 'Scandinavianised', as with Skipton which was originally Shipton meaning 'sheep farm', and Austwick which was originally Eastwick or 'east dairy farm'.
The Norman Conquest of 1066 resulted in much of the land being carved up into great estates and given to the followers of William I. Roger de Poitou initially owned much of Craven and was succeeded by the Scropes of Bolton Castle, the Nevilles of Middleham and the Cliffords of Skipton Castle. This handful of overlords had little influence on the language - the French influence came from the abbeys which were the other great land-owners. The Abbeys of Fountains ('founteins' meaning springs), Furnesss, Jervaulx ('Ure Valley'), and Sawley as well as Bolton Priory held extensive estates in the area. Outlying granges and a road system network (such as Mastiles Lanes on Malham Moor) linked their properties making possible the transportation of sheep and goods over large distances. Fountains Fell, Abbotside, Prior's Rake and Grange all originate from these land-owners.
French influence was very small and was mainly restricted to altering the spelling of existing English names. Elements like 'forest' and 'chase' do appear, but probably the most important place to lose its name was Richmond where its early name 'Hindrelac' was renamed 'Richemont' meaning strong hill.
Very few place-names have been added in recent times. The lead miners brought the name 'Hush' to Swaledale and Arkengarthdale as in Turk Moor Hush and Bunton Hush. The threat of the Scottish led to 'beacons' on the hills as at Beamsley and on Shunner Fell.
Please click on a letter to see the meanings and origins of other place-names in the Yorkshire Dales.
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