Why Smarber is more likely to mean ‘clover hill’ than ‘butter hill’

Smarber, amid steep enclosed pastures rising to Brownsey Moor.

Smarber, amid steep enclosed pastures rising to Brownsey Moor.

For most of the 1900s the conventional wisdom among distinguished place-name experts was that the several place-names throughout England beginning with the first element Smar, Smer or Smear were somehow related to an Old Norse word smjor, meaning butter. Consequently, the tiny hamlet of Smarber in Swaledale was said to mean ‘butter hill’, from smjor and berg, and this denoted that the original farmstead was a specialist place for butter production.

It was a less-than-convincing argument, especially given that the isolated farmsteads of upper Swaledale were established by Norwegian/Irish settlers coming across from Dublin in the early 900s, who would no doubt all have produced milk, cheese and butter from their dairy herds, just as the inhabitants thereafter continued to do until a time still within living memory. There seems no reason why any particular farm would be identified by the activity of butter production, which was common practice at probably every farm throughout the dale.

Fortunately, in a seminal work published in 2000 about place-names and landscapes, an alternative idea was proposed that seems to be a much-more convincing fit for Smarber in Swaledale. To read why it’s more believable that Smarber means ‘clover hill.’ visit the web page accompanying this blog at Smarber.

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About Will Swales

Amateur historian with a special interest in Swaledale, Yorkshire.
This entry was posted in Swaledale history and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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