Saturday, April 21, 2007

Some Unusual Fieldnames

Some time ago we borrowed a 1945-46 copy of ‘The Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society’ from Neil Thompson. (It’s amazing what obscure works he has in his collection.) In an essay entitled ‘The Scandinavians in Lancashire’ by F. T. Wainwright several ancient fieldnames around the Wyre are mentioned and, being enthusiasts of the ancient tongues that we are, we decided to have a go at translating them.
The first difficulty we encountered, however, was more to do with pronunciation that interpretation. For example, how would you pronounce ‘Yatkwaytteheuid’? With great difficulty, we expect. Nonetheless we managed to break it down phonetically remembering that our ancestors were simple folk and that standardised spelling was something that hadn’t happened to them yet.
‘Yat’ is most probably pronounced ‘Aet’ meaning ‘at the site of’. William of Malmesbury’s ‘Aetbrunnanmere’ referring to ‘Brunanburh’, for example, indicates that by the time he came to record it the settlement had long since vanished. The ‘Kwaytte’ of Yatkwaytteheuid (pronounced ‘Quaet’) signified something in a state of flux and the ‘heuid’ was another way of spelling ‘foo-id’ or ‘ford’. The entire word therefore could be translated as the ‘Site of the Ford that’s now Located Somewhere Different’.
All of which is interesting, no doubt, but not much use when it comes to placing said ford on the map. All we know is that, according to Wainwright, it was somewhere in Forton.
‘Vlvegraregrte’ again needs to be broken down phonetically into ‘Wlve’ (W and Vs were pretty much interchangeable) pronounced Wolv, ‘Grare’ meaning grave and ‘grte’ being the Over Wyre pronunciation of gate, referring to a road rather than an actual gate. So, roughly translated, Vlvegraregrte means the road leading to the grave of somebody called Wolf (possibly even Bishop Wolfstein who died defending a ford during the Battle of Brunanburh, but that’s another story). A quick glance at Wainwright reveals that Vlvegraregrte itself can be found at Preesall which, by a stroke of luck, is where Wolf Grave Gate can also be discovered…all of which suggests that our phonetic interpretations appear to be correct.
Next up we encountered ‘Hauedarhe’ and ‘Karre’ in Catterall. Karre, as we’ve probably mentioned in a previous newsletter, means simply stone, whereas ‘Arhe’ means ‘wretched or useless’ and ‘Haued’ means ‘Hollow’. So Hauedarhe refers simply to the ‘Wretched Hollow’…which may or may not sum up Catterall depending on your point of view.
If those words sound familiar to you then it might be down to the mysterious Argholestone, the combined elements of which also mean the ‘Standing Stone in the Worthless hollow’. The Arghole Stone originally stood in Stalmine but local historians, even today, are still attempting to pin down its exact whereabouts.
Then there’s ‘Garfswineskinkell’: ‘Garf’ meaning enclosure, ‘Swin’ meaning pig, ‘Eskin’ meaning beautiful’ and ‘Kel’ meaning keeill (one of those fifth to eighth century half-Pagan/half-Christian churches we write so much about). So, the ‘Beautiful Church next to the Pig Enclosure’ perhaps. Or possibly even the ‘Beautiful Pig Enclosure next to the Church’…it’s hard to say.
One name that didn’t appear in the transactions but which we’ve mentioned before is Yolrungegreve, an early mediaeval Fylde court the site of which is nowadays lost. Because we had our dictionaries handy we thought it might be worthwhile to reinvestigate this name. As it turned out, the word is constructed entirely from Saxon components, ‘Yol’ meaning elk, ‘run’ meaning council, ‘ge’ being a shortened version of gea meaning grass-grown and ‘greve’ meaning a barrow. So Yolrungegreve, apparently, means the ‘Council of the Elk on the Grass-grown Barrow’. Sounds like something out of Tolkein, doesn’t it?
Naturally this raised the question: “What exactly was the Council of the Elk?” Obviously some sort of ancient court, its origins now lost to posterity…but why the Elk? Then we remembered the numerous antler bones found in prehistoric settlements, not just around the Wyre but all over Britain. The mask, carved from a stag’s skull and horns, unearthed at Starr Carr has long puzzled historians and archaeologists alike. It would have been useless as a form of camouflage and was probably created for ritual use. So we have to ask: “Was it worn during a meeting of the Council of the Elk as a mark of authority in much the same manner that British judges wear wigs nowadays?” Well, it’s a possibility…although we wouldn’t stake our lives on that.
If you’re bored this weekend and happen to have access to any Norse, Celtic and or Anglo-Saxon dictionaries (if you don’t then you could always check out the rest of the internet where you can download all sorts of nonsense) then why not try a few of the following fieldnames from ‘The Scandinavians in Lancashire’: Gaseflosland (Little Eccleston), Radekanebec (Forton), Belanespot and Gillisholme (Garstang), Milanesmur (Carleton) and Rutheclivewra (Staynall). And if that doesn’t satisfy you, for the time being at least, then you could always try tracking down a copy of the transaction for yourself.

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