Sunday, 24 August 2014

Northumberland Place Names - Hexham

Last time I offered a taster of my Durham Place Names, due out this autumn. Publication will coincide with Northumberland Place Names and, as previously, offer a quick glimpse of this release. I have chosen the lovely town of Hexham, as it is the one place which stands out when recalling my days researching and photographing.


A place name found as Hagustaldes in 685, this is Old English hagustald ham and 'the homestead of the warrior'.

The street names of Hexham seem to have changed more than most towns of its size. Perhaps this is due to the topography, where much of the original settlement sits atop the escarpment which naturally limits the expansion and means necessary improvements and alterations inevitably wipe away something of the earlier town. Examining both current and earlier names provides a glimpse into the later history of a town or village.

What is now Robbs Car Park was previously Alma Court which, along with Alma Place, also lost, were named from an inn which had taken the name of a battle fought in the Crimea. Here, on September 20th 1854, the first engagement of the war saw a combined Anglo-French force of more than 60,000 defeat little more than half that number of the Russian army. The battle took the name of the River Alma, in turn named from the Tatar word for ‘apple’. Eastgate, literally the ‘eastern route into the place’, was previously Bondgate from bondigata and telling us this road led past ‘the land of the bondsmen’ or peasant farmers.

What was Carlisle Road has become renamed in several places, in particular Shaftoe Leazes. This is found in several places in this part of the country and always describes a long strip as ‘the shaft-shaped ridge of land’. Fore Street speaks of itself as ‘the front entrance’ and should be understood as the main entry point, there once being a Back Lane, too. Pudding Mews, previously Golden Lion Lane, was probably named for the sticky morass of which the road was made. While this is often seen as mud, it could easily have been sewage or, particularly considering the use of ‘pudding’, the intestines of slaughtered animals. A similar evolution is seen in what was Half Moon Yard, again named after a pub, becoming the self-explanatory Slaughter Houses.

St Hilda’s Road certainly fits with the nearby names, where St George’s Road, St Andrew’s Road, St Wilfrid’s Road and St Cuthbert’s Road link to Priestlands Crescent, Priestlands Avenue, and Priestlands Road. However St Hilda’s Road was previously known as Hilda Street which may have been named from a resident rather than the saint. Intake, earlier given as Intack, is an early field name pointing to ‘the land recently enclosed for farming’. Merry Leazes was probably a deliberate change, for the modern suggests something pleasant while the earlier Mirrey from miry tells us it was known for being muddy.

From the Saxon name Eardwulf comes shortened form seen in Ardley as 'the woodland clearing of a man called Earda'. Aydon Shiels would have begun as 'the sheds or huts associated with a man called Ealdwine'. Telling us it was once known as 'the row (of dwellings) associated with a man called Bacga', the hamlet is now marked on the map as Bagraw. Coastley has nothing to do with the shoreline, this is 'the leah or woodland clearing of a man called Cocc'.

Dipton comes from deop dene 'the deep valley'. Dotland features an Old Scandinavian personal name in 'the cultivated land of a man called Dot'. Eshells features the suffix sheles, here either follow a personal name in 'the shed of a man called Asketin' or, if the first element is Old Scandinavian eski, 'the shed by the ash trees'.

Hackford belongs to that group of places where, simply be defining the name, we see an image of the place as it appeared in Saxon times. Here the first element is heck, a regional variation on haecc or 'hatch gate'. This is understood to refer to a gate downstream from the ford, one which prevented animals from either straying or being carried downstream when the river was in spate.

Greenridge is easily seen as 'the grassy ridge of land'. Ham Burn is simply enough, from ham burna it describes 'the stream by a homestead'. Harwood Shiel speaks of 'the summer pasture by the boundary wood'. Hotley was Holtolaye in 1296, this referring to 'the leah or woodland clearing of a man called Holte'. Langhope is from Old English lang hop 'the long enclosed valley'.

Found as Lilleswrth in 1233 and as Lilleswude in 1663, this is probably 'the woodland of a man named Lilla', although that early record does seem to be describing 'the worth or enclosure of a man called Lilla'. Recorded as Linelis in 1251, Linnolds is 'the farm of a man called Linnel', itself a pet form of Linbeald. Nubbock was once known as Yokesley, a name meaning 'the woodland clearing of someone called Yoke'. This is not a true personal name but comes from dialect yoke, used to describe a 'spouse or bedfellow' and genderless. First seen as Nobbock-scheles in 1479, Nubbock quickly lost its suffix leaving a name which has defied all attempts to define it.

Riddlehamhope, seen as Redeleme in 1214 and Ridlam in 1338, here is 'the homestead of the ridded or cleared valley'. Rowley is an Old English name from ruh leah meaning 'the rough woodland clearing'. The stream known as the Rowley Burn takes its name from the place. A place name of Steel comes from the word steel, a term once used by Scots dialect speakers to refer to 'a long line of rocks projecting into the sea'. Yarridge is recorded as Jernerig in 1232 and Yarwrigg in 1298, a name from Old English gearwe hrycg 'the ridge where yarrow grass grows'.

The Station Inn was named to advertise refreshment for travellers arriving on the (then) new mode of transport. Similarly the Globe conveys the message that this place will open its doors to all.

Doubtless salmon would have been served at the Salmon Inn, which means this is an advertisement for what was on offer. Another advert is seen in the Tap and Spile, the two parts hammered into a wooden barrel to enable easy dispensing of the contents. The tap is clear, a very simple version of the modern household tap, the spile is less clear. Anyone who attempts to pour any liquid from a container will know if no allowance is made to allow air to enter and replace the volume of liquid drawn off causes a bubble to enter and the steady flow is interrupted, often with messy results. Hence the spile was hammered into the top of the barrel and removed to encourage a nice steady flow of the contents through the open tap, then replaced when the tap was closed.

Location was in mind when naming the Shiregate public house, the Dipton Mill Inn, and the Old Tannery. However the Heart of England pub is clearly many miles from the centre of the country, indeed the name has nothing to do with location but can be found at nearby Hexham Racecourse, where the most famous race is the Heart of All England Steeplechase and the Heart of All England Cup presented to the winner. Traditionally this recalls the time when James VI of Scotland rode south to become James I of England and thus unite the two kingdoms. It is said he reached Hexham and announced: "Verily this is the heart of all England".

Other names include the Hare and Hounds, a reminder of the once popular sport of hare coursing. The Grapes, an image associated with the production of wines. The Coach and Horses shows this was a staging post for the major means of land transport in times before the railways. The Rose and Crown is a patriotic name, rose for the nation and the crown its monarch. The Kings Head carries an image of Charles II, a reference to 1660 and the Restoration of the Monarchy. Common as the animal lends itself readily to anthropomorphisation, the Fox Inn is as popular as ever.

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