‘Haunted’ Muker barn identified

A previous post resurrecting a Victorian ghost story about a haunted barn near Muker caught the attention of researcher Karen Griffiths who is working on a Heritage Lottery Fund project ‘Every Barn Tells a Story’.

Her careful follow-up investigation has identified the place-names and the two barns described in the story, which means that walkers in the Muker area can now see for themselves the places where the chilling events were said to have happened.

To read about the awful fate of a much-hated local schoolmaster in 1846, and to link to the historical background and the research findings of the Every Barn Tells a Story project, visit Muker Schoolmaster’s ghostly adventure.

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Wham – a mixed bag of meanings

The Wham in Arkengarthdale has a steep-sided marshy hollow by a bend in the road.

The Wham in Arkengarthdale has a steep-sided marshy hollow by a bend in the road.

Swaledale and Arkengarthdale have between them three places with the word-element wham in the name. It’s an obscure northern dialect word occurring in the Pennine hills of Yorkshire, Cumbria and Northumberland, as well as in Lancashire, Cheshire, Dumfries and Galloway, and as far north as the central belt of Scotland from St Andrews to Stirlingshire.

The geographical spread suggests it was a word introduced by the Norwegian Vikings who migrated from Ireland in the early 900s to settle in northern England and Scotland. Wham is used as a word for a land formation. However, the topographies of the places called wham vary so widely, and the range of interpretations of the word given in dialect and place-name dictionaries is so great, that maybe it’s time for someone to undertake a careful study of all the whams in a search for greater clarity.

The three wham places in Swaledale and Arkengarthdale illustrate the point. All are different from each other. Two of them fit some of the meanings offered by the dictionaries, and the third struggles even to achieve that. The Wham in Arkengarthdale is a perfect match for the most common interpretation of a marshy hollow.

Two root words have been identified by the experts, the Old Norse hvammr, meaning a grassy slope or vale, and the Old English hwamm meaning a corner or angle, usually of a building. Both seem to be some distance from a meaning of a marshy hollow. So maybe there is another root word at play and maybe over the centuries they have become confused or conflated.

Images and descriptions of the three wham places in Swaledale and Arkengarthdale are now entered on the website associated with this blog, and can be seen at The Wham, Wham Bottom, and Whamp. Comments and feedback will be very welcome.

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Looking for source material on the drove-road between Barnard Castle and Tan Hill

Mud Beck looking downstream in the area around Scabba Wath.

Mud Beck looking downstream in the area around Scabba Wath.

Having been intrigued by the unusual place-name Scabba Wath that marks a ford across the River Swale in upper Swaledale, I was excited while browsing the OS map to spot another Scabba Wath, marked as a crossing of Mud Beck in an area of remote moorland at the head of Arkengarthdale. It was named on all the OS maps of the area dating back to the first, published in 1856.

Curiously no OS map has ever marked a track crossing Mud Beck at Scabba Wath. It appears as a crossing from nowhere to nowhere. Helpfully, Arthur Raistrick’s book Green tracks on the Pennines (Clapham, 1962) later republished as Green roads in the mid-Pennines (Ashbourne, 1978) mentioned a crossing on Mud Beck as a point on an ancient drove-road between Barnard Castle and Tan Hill. But he didn’t give the crossing a name.

In two recent visits to this wild and empty landscape I found no sign of the track described by Raistrick and no sign of the ford named on the maps. Unfortunately Arthur Raistrick didn’t quote any sources for his knowledge of the drove-road between Barnard Castle and Tan Hill. Does anyone know where earlier sources might be found?

More information on this mysterious place-name is here – Scabba Wath in Arkengarthdale, and here – Scabba Wath in Swaledale.

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How Norwegian Vikings brought Irish Gaelic words to Swaledale

Creeton Close with its field barn on the top wall, house platform in the bottom right quarter, and above and to the right the estate boundary wall descending from the moor top to the road below.

Creeton Close with its field barn on the top wall, house platform in the bottom right quarter, and above and to the right the estate boundary wall descending from the moor top to the road below.

Creeton Close, a two-acre enclosed pasture between Gunnerside and Low Row in upper Swaledale, is notable for having what appears to be an ancient house-platform cut from its steep slope, and for its extremely unusual name, which seems to have come from the Gaelic language of Ireland, courtesy of Norwegian Vikings.

This strange occurrence is explained because the Norwegian Vikings who settled upper Swaledale in the early 900s had come by a circuitous route. Having first settled the northern isles of Scotland they ventured south along the Irish Sea and settled again around Dublin and County Wicklow. There they absorbed into their Old Norse language some words of Irish Gaelic, especially relating to land.

When the Irish kicked out the Vikings, they took to their boats again and came to north-west England. Many settled there, while others came over the Pennines and settled in upper Swaledale, which now has a preponderance of Old Norse place-names. Among them are a few that have no roots in Old Norse, nor in Old English, nor Old Welsh, nor any other of the early languages sometimes found in the area.

One such is the field recorded in 1844 as Creeton Close, which by its location at the extremity of a farm settlement and next to a moor-top and hillside boundary wall that separated the village estates of Gunnerside and Low Row, seems likely to have been named form the Gaelic word crioch, pronounced cree, and the Old Norse word tún, which together mean ‘boundary house-enclosure’. For a more detailed explanation, visit the Swaledale place-names web page Creeton Close.

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Pukes Close – an unusual field-name with a surprising explanation

Pukes Close – the field adjacent to Calvert House (left) and stretching lengthways to the right

Pukes Close – the field adjacent to Calvert House (left) and stretching lengthways to the right.

Pukes Close was recorded in 1844 as the name of an upper Swaledale field located about half a mile west of the hamlet of Ivelet, next to Calvert House. To anyone unfamiliar with the life and culture of upper Swaledale, Puke seems to be a very strange word for a field-name. But for Swaledale folk, it makes perfect sense.

Puke is a short form of the locally common surname Peacock. Two well-known Pukes from Swaledale were immortalised in the dialect poem Reeth Bartle Fair, written in the mid-1800s by Captain John Harland. Among the named participants at the fair were Gudgeon Jem Puke (‘simple’ James Peacock) and Kit Puke (Christopher Peacock).

Puke was also used as the short form of Peacock in nicknames that differentiated people with identical full names. The style was to add the name of a parent or grandparent, and sometimes more than one, to the extent that the surname might become irrelevant. In Edmund Cooper’s book Muker: the story of a Yorkshire Parish (1948) he identified several examples of this name-form, including one man known as Kit Puke Jock. People known as Puke are still remembered in the dale today.

For more information, including on other meanings of Puke, visit the web page associated with this blog at Pukes Close.

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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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Was the Grinton Hoard a Roman soldier’s pay packet?

A visit a while ago to a small temporary exhibition at the British Museum ‘Hoards: the hidden history of ancient Britain’ prompted me to think again about an earlier blog post about the hoard of second-century Roman silver denarius coins, found near Grinton in Swaledale in 1988. Very little has been written about the Grinton Hoard, so I bought a small book, Romano-British Coin Hoards, by Richard Abdy, a curator at the museum, to see if it might provide ideas to help understand the Swaledale find a little better.

Abdy explained that hoarding by burial was common practice at a time when there was no safer way of protecting one’s savings. He said that so far about 2,000 Roman coin hoards abandoned by their owners have been found in Britain, which might give some idea of the scale of coin hoards that were not abandoned but successfully reclaimed. He argued that there were so many possible reasons for abandonment that it was almost pointless to speculate in any particular case.

However, it was his explanation that the majority of abandoned coin hoards found from the period up to the 200s AD are exclusively of denarii that was most interesting, because the Grinton Hoard comprised only silver denarius coins, 62 of them, minted in the period 73-176 AD. Abdy pointed out that soldiers and civil servants of the Roman authorities were all paid in silver denarii, rather than the more valuable gold or less valuable bronze denominations. One reason was that their taxes had to be paid in silver denarii. Naturally, recipients’ usually held their savings in denarii.

He wrote that a soldier for instance, whose basic needs were met every day by the army, would only want bronze coins for pocket money. An ordinary Roman soldier’s pay during the period was 300 denarii per year, which was paid in thrice-yearly instalments of 100 denarii each, less any deductions for food, equipment and other expenses.

Could it be possible therefore that the modest find of just 62 denarii in a field outside Grinton equated to a single, net-pay-packet of a Roman soldier, who saved it in the ground because he still had enough cash to get by from his previous earnings? Other possibilities exist, of course, but a soldier’s net pay is a useful guide to scale. To read more about the Grinton Hoard visit Grinton coin hoard.

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