YORKSHIRE FOLK TALK: Geographical
WHATEVER difficulties may surround the derivation of place-names, those of some of our field-names are not less perplexing. A large number of these have become so torn and twisted in the course of ages that their first shape is almost past recognition. Still, perhaps I should say therefore, they prove an interesting study to those who are able to give themselves to it. What an amount of physical geography they unfold. They tell very often, too, of stirring events, of battles and invasions, of camps and settlements; they record something of the natural history and botany of the district, of animals now no more to be found in their old haunts, and of plants and flowers that no longer deck the ground; they speak of families who had perhaps for generations inhabited the spot, but whose place now knows them no more. Although many of these old field-names are so mangled that they can with difficulty tell their own tale, yet it is surprising what a history is revealed by those which can speak. Not to go beyond the boundaries of this parish of Newton-on-Ouse; here nearly every field has a name, and although many are of no special interest, sometimes merely recording the name of a recent occupier, yet a large proportion have held their ground for many centuries and afford food for thought and study.
This parish consists of three townships, and in one of these - Linton-on-Ouse - I felt that without much difficulty I could get a fairly complete list of the old field-names. This I did by the aid of one of my elderly parishioners, of whose accurate knowledge of local geography I had heard, but which in reality far exceeded my expectations. He knew the name and the characteristics of every field in the township, and being a thorough Yorkshireman, he was able to give the designation in each case with the correct traditional pronunciation. Accordingly, I invited him to come to my house one evening and he began at one end of the place, and without note of any kind, went through the whole township of about 2,300 acres, giving the name of every field. These I took down one by one carefully, with the exact pronunciation, as far as I could, as he uttered it. He never hesitated for a moment, and to the best of my knowledge and belief not more than one close was omitted. Such a list not having been previously made, as far as I know, and some of the field-names being curious, I will give the list in extenso, only omitting those names which merely described the field by the number of acres it contained, of which there were a fair sprinkling, though these have a special interest of their own. He took the township farm by farm, and I have kept to the same grouping. The names are as follows:-
Farm No. 1.Roger wood, Tom wood, T' carr, T' clay pownd, Spring Wood clooas, Mark hill, Jack wood, T' bull garth, Ned Paak, T' hag, T' fo'st branfits, T' middle branfits, T' far branfits, Mill clooas.
No 2. By hoos field, Mill clooas, Middle ings, Far ings, T' fox heeads, T' field it' front o' t' hoos, T' fo'st branfits, T' far branfits, Hall garth ingses.
No. 3.T' corner field, T' fo'st branfits, T' second branfits, Gowly field, T' hag, Gibson hill, T' boddums, T' brig field, T' high garth, T' low garth.
No. 4.T' fo'st hag, T' fox hag, T' field it' front o' t' staable, T' field aback o' t' staable, T' bag just ower t' brig, T' boddums, T' corner field, T' ooak-tree field, Nor' crovs (crofts), Harry Dunnington clooas, T' coo-pastur.
No. 5. Rush clooas, T' hill clooas, Dawson corner clooas, T' fo'st (or girt) sumlers (or sumleys), T' second sumlers, T' field aback o' t' brick garth, Middle field, Far field, Dawson hill, T' clay field ower t' brig, T' boddums, T' corner clooas, T' hall garth, T' ingses, T' croft, T' toon-end piece. Moor end.
No. 6. Spring wood clooas, T' far oot wood, Snahry clooas, T' dreean sumlers, Girt sandwith, Robison clooas, T' clooas at t' front o' t' barn, T' shoodther o' mutton, T' sumlers, Charles garth, T' ingses, T' law (low) bell garth, T' high bell garth, Grassin sumlers, Sumlers hill, T' girt hag.
No. 7.T' fo'st field agaan t' rooad, Tommy Reet hill, T' far clooas joinin' Smith's, Six yakker joining t' plantin', Snahry clooas, T' fo'st sandwith, T' second sandwith, Nor' crovs, T' au'd hoos garth, T' seed clooas, Corner clooas.
No. 8. Linton lane, Broon clooas, Girt sandwith, Girt ling clooas, T' whinny garth, T' avvy lings (or T' avvyl ings), T' au'd twenty yakker, West field, Field top.
No. 9 Reet clooas, Tommy son clooas, T' Ruddings, T' rush, Frank garth, New clooas, T' field, Nor' crovs, T' bull garth, Field top, T' lang field, T' fo'st flats, T' far flats, T' ingses.
No. 10. Fox cover clooas, Margery well, T' clooas aback o' t' hoos, Peckitt wood field, T' clooas aback o' t' wood, T' wights garth, T' plaans, T' whale jaws clooas, Gowlan field, T' coo-pastur, Sceavy flats, T' hut clooas, Girt flats, T' ingses, T' plewin ings, Gowlan hill, Morrill clooas, T' lahtle galls, Girt galls, Corner clooas, T' parson clooas.
No. 11. .Mowin' ings, T' bull paddock, Girt sheep rakes, Lahtle sheep rakes, T' staggarth clooas, Little wo'th, Wood sahd clooas, Peg dike, Lahtle Thackra, Girt Thackra, Corner clooas, T' coo-pastur.
Odd fields . Billy Keeak clooas, Pidner croft, High garth, Watther mill field, Bland field, T' galls, T' lock ings, Apple garth, Law (low) Priest garth.
A glance at the above names shows us that a considerable portion of the area described must in former years have been covered with wood. Such appellations as Hag, Snahry Clooas, Ruddings, Sandwith, &c., clearly indicate this ; indeed, a certain part of the township, and that not a small one, still goes by the name of Linton Woods.
A Hag is a wood of some kind, not one probably with large trees in it, but partaking of the nature of low brushwood or stumpy trees, something like a rough overgrown hedge; the Danish word for a hedge is Hegn or Hoek, which is probably connected with our word Hag.
Snahry Clooas >is a field which contains snars, or, as they are or were sometimes called, hag-snars. This is a ploughing field, and although it has been for some time under cultivation, there are still so many old stumps or snars that the plough is sometimes broken by striking against them. The Ruddings, as before stated, tell us that there has been a rydning or clearance from the ancient forest. Carrs are seldom met with in this part of the country, but the carr at Linton, as elsewhere, indicates a combination of wood and moisture in that particular spot. Paak is our Yorkshire pronunciation of 'park,' and a park may be either a pond or an enclosure, while ned; which precedes it, may be connected with our word nether (lower). ' Mark Hill' may simply be so-called after a man's name, or it may be the Danish word for a field or collection of fields. Branfits is a word which it is difficult to trace. There is the old word fittis or fitts, which is applied to low-lying strips of land beside a river, which may probably account for the latter part of the word. Being near a river we have our ings in all directions; it is, however, very seldom that one hears of plewin (ploughing) ings, these being almost always meadow land. T' fox heeads has nothing to do with heads, heeads being our local pronunciation of earths.
Gowly field may be so called from the corn-marigold, which goes by the name of gowlan in the dialect. T' boddoms, I take it, are merely low-lying fields; some connect the word with the Icelandic botn: this no doubt might apply in a hilly country, but these boddoms are surrounded by no rising ground whatever, beyond the gentlest slope.
A field which is now called the Hag has a rush or narrow strip of wood or rough ground at the end of it, hence the name Rush clooas. Sumlers, it would seem, might be Summerleys, or summer pasture land, though the derivation of the word is by no means clear; the Dreean sumlers I imagine, are so-called from the fact of their having been drained at some time, or from having a drain running through them. Spring wood clooas lies adjacent to a wood which has a runnel going through it, which may give the name to the wood; this, however, is not the only place in the neighbourhood where the word 'springs is associated with wood, and which may have nothing to do with water. The two bell garths are probably named after some previous owner or occupier, at least I can account for the name on no other supposition.
The designations Girt ling clooas and t' whinny garth tell us that that part of the township at least was covered at one time with heather and gorse. The name of the next field to these is the most puzzling in the list. Beyond doubt the exact traditional pronunciation is as I have given it, but whether the orthography is t' avvy lings, or t' avvyl ings, I cannot say; it is possible, too, that the first letter may not be the definite article at all, in which case two further suppositions arise as to the name, which are tavvy lings or tavvyl ings: one has but little to go upon in this case, but on the whole T' avvyl ings seems to me the most probable. It has been suggested that avvyl may be a corruption of avril, which is a common north-country pronunciation of April, so that the name might simply be 'the April meadows,' a parallel case with 'May Fields' of other districts; the field, however, is a late one as to season, which militates against this idea. Reef clooas is a field no doubt which formerly belonged to a man called Wright. Why out of hundreds of neighbouring fields there should be one that goes by the general title of t' field I cannot explain. Nor' crovs will he easily recognised as North Crofts.
It may seem strange that within such a contracted area there should be so many generic appellations for the now enclosed fields. Thus we have in this average-sized township the following: field, clooas, garth, boddums, crofts, pastur, ings, yakker, plaans, rakes, and flats. With regard to the two latter, rakes is clearly from the Icelandic word reika or reka, to drive, so that sheep. rakes are wide spaces for the sheep to stray in. The word flats almost speaks for itself; being simply level pastures.
To proceed: T' wight's garth would seem to indicate that this was a field supposed for ages to he haunted by some unknown beings. Seeavy flats are merely the level pastures which are moist, and consequently grow an abundance of seeaves or seves, the common soft rush. Galls are described in Halliwell as 'springs, or wet places in a field.' If this be so, then the galls have in course of time given the name to the whole field in this case, which indeed is highly probable. Peg dike and Thackra are both uncertain in their derivations; the latter looks like a man's name, and yet in the other cases of that kind, some generic field-name is invariably added. Billy Keeak Clooas is nothing more than our Yorkshire way of writing 'William Cook's Close,' and Pidner is a common corruption of' Pinder.'
I have had neither the opportunity, nor, I fear, the training to become learned in the subject of field-names, interesting though it be; I have made this scanty allusion to it in the hope that others, who have not already done so, may be induced to take up the matter with more earnestness. It is one which will well repay study, and will tend to give those who apply themselves to it and kindred subjects additional interest in country life, which, after all, has some attractions over that of the town, notwithstanding what some may say. Much may be learnt from the examination of old maps and other documents; still it must be borne in mind that we go nearer to the fountain-head in gaining our knowledge of local geography by examining the localities for ourselves, and learning what we can about them, both as regards traditional nomenclature and physical characteristics, from those whose forelders have lived for ages on the spot or in the immediate neighbourhood.
There are some interesting terms connected with the natural features and peculiarities of the course of rivers, which may not be generally known. Thus, in our own river, the Ouse, we have our canshes and clay-huts, as well as our showds and gyme-holes, our racks and nabs; but as these words are noticed at the end of the volume, I need not dilate upon them here.
It is surprising what a minute and accurate knowledge of local geography many of our country-folk have. They may not be able to tell you the name of a single river or mountain in Asia, nor could some of the older of them tell you the name of the capital of Germany or France, but every scrap of their own 'country' or immediate neighbourhood they know, and know in such a way that they can not only give you the name of everything that has a name, but also are so thoroughly familiar with the nature of the soil as to be able to state the crops which each field or part of a field is best suited for, to describe exactly where the unsound places are, and what makes them so, which pastures are best for feeding cattle, and which for dairy purposes; in short, to have a thorough and practical acquaintance with the physical characteristics of every acre of every farm in the township.
When my old friend just alluded to gave me the list of field-names which I quoted, I mentioned the fact of his having done so to one of our farmers, who remarked, 'Yes ; and he could have told where every drain was laid if you had asked him.' Here was geography, with a vengeance. Surely knowledge of this kind was of far greater importance to this man than if he could have described to me the course of the Rhine, or told me the whereabouts of the Falkland Islands. In the matter of geography in schools, I am afraid we generally begin at the wrong end. Why we teach our country lads the geography of Africa before they have learnt that of their own parishes or neighbourhood, I am at a loss to know; it is not so interesting to them, neither is it so useful. There is an outcry just now for technical instruction. So be it; ought not then those who will be called to the work of husbandry to be, before all things, instructed in a knowledge of the land they will in all human probability have to cultivate, rather than be made to learn a few general facts, soon to be forgotten, about countries thousands of miles away, which they will never see, and seldom even hear of?
Having said this much, I must not be misunderstood. I would not by any means have our school children utterly ignorant of the geography of the world, but I would put local geography into the first place.
No doubt in days gone by the local knowledge was often acquired at the expense of the general, as what here follows will indicate. The moorland district north of Helmsley is a wild, out-of-the-way region, where old customs were kept up till lately with great tenacity, and where the folk-speech is rich in archaic words and forms. The people there seldom travelled far from their own homesteads, which were to them their world. A former assistant Curate of Helmsley informed me that he used to hear moorland farmers speak of Helmsley as 't' coontthry.' They would sometimes complain, for instance, that the farmers in 'the country,' that is to say, round about Helmsley and the more lowland parts, could feed their beasts and get better prices at the markets than they themselves could. He has even heard Helmsley spoken of as 'England'; in speaking, for example, of the doings of their neighbours a few miles below them, they would talk of that district as 'doon iv England.'
This reminds me of something I once heard, which shows the exalted ideas that we Yorkshiremen have of our own county; and just as the designers of the 'Mappa Mundi' at Hereford Cathedral placed Jerusalem as the centre of the world, so a Yorkshireman, if he were to construct a 'Mappa Mundi' after his own ideas, would doubtless place Yorkshire as the great centre of all things; and his own 'toon' as the heart of Yorkshire itself!
The groom of a gentleman living near York was on one occasion sent up to London with some yearlings for sale at Tattersall's. He had never been far from home before, and the great metropolis was utterly strange to him ; he felt like a fish out of water. A friend happening to meet him at the great horse mart, began by asking him how he liked London. 'Whya,' said the Yorkshireman, 'ah deean't matter it mich.' 'You don't?' added the other. 'Naw,' said the groom, 'ah 's seear ah deean't, an' what 's mair, ah s'all be varry glad when ah 's back iv oa'd England ageean.
If the geographical knowledge of the people of a generation or two ago with regard to regions comparatively near home was vague, that of more distant places was vaguer still.
The faith which some of our country folk place in almanacular prognostications is quite implicit. These annual publications are held in high esteem. There is nothing like a good comet year for the sale of them. On such occasions alarmist predictions are wont to swell the pages of these productions. And not a few of the more nervous portion of the community well-nigh tremble and quake with fear. An amusing instance of this kind was told me about twenty years ago by a friend whose ability for telling Yorkshire stories was remarkable. My only regret is that I cannot remember more of them.
The gallant Colonel, for such he was, went one day to call and see an old woman in the place where he lived. It was in the year of the great comet, 1874. He found the old lady in rather a perturbed state of mind; in fact, she had just been studying carefully her favourite almanack, and taking in every sensational rumour of the dire disasters which the comet would bring upon certain parts of the world, and especially upon France.
After exchanging a few commonplace remarks, the old lady proceeded to unburden her mind.
'They tell me, Conneril, 'at folks is leeavin' France,' she observed, with a concerned look.
'Leaving France?' replied the Colonel, 'what are they leaving France for, Betty?'
'Aw! Sir, deean't ya know?'
'No, indeed I don't; what's the matter then?' said the other.
'Whya, 'adds Betty, 'they say 'at this greeat comet's boun ti bo'n ivvry yan on 'em up.'
The Colonel saw that he was in for a little entertaining talk, and kept the old dame on the track of the comet, and so continues:-
'Well but, Betty, perhaps the comet will come to England; and if it does, what shall you do?'
Whether such a possibility had ever occurred to Betty's mind it is hard to say; she was at all events ready with her resolve, which she thus expressed:-
'Ah sud gan tiv America.'
'That' says the Colonel, 'is a great way off, and it would take a long time to get there; and then, you know, there s the Water to cross; you wouldn't like that, I'm sure.'
The water, however, presented no difficulty to Betty's scheme, for she added at once,
'Bud ah sud gan roond by t' banks !'
The old soldier could scarce restrain his laughter, and he thought it prudent not to interfere with these quaint geographical notions, and so he allowed Betty fondly to imagine that by some circuitous route along unknown shores she might eventually arrive in America.
But, Betty,' continues her friend, 'what if the comet gets to America?'
He looked eagerly for her reply, thinking that now she must be driven into a corner. Not a bit of it; she rose to the occasion, saying with a slight jerk of the head and a sparkle in her eye,'Aye, bud ah lay t' comet wad git weel sleck'd afoor it gat tiv America.'
The Colonel felt that there was nothing more to be said after this, and he left Betty in her imagination on American soil defying all comets.
If I remember rightly, it was the same old woman who was holding a conversation with my friend about Shetland ponies. He asked her slyly, knowing that geography was not her strong point, if she could tell him whereabouts Shetland was; she gave him to understand she could not tell to a few miles, 'bud,' says she, 'ah yam it 's sumwheers up agaan Roosha!'
It is said that in 1851 people could travel by rail from York to London and back for the surprisingly small charge of five shillings, and many thousands availed themselves of this opportunity to go and see the first great Exhibition, opened in that year. Many of those who went had no conception of the distance London was from Yorkshire; possibly the extreme lowness of the railway fare may have thrown not a few out of their calculations, but whatever ideas as to distance they may have had in their minds, there were those who took it for granted that the London police. men would at once be able to 'challenge' stray visitors from Yorkshire villages, however remote. A case of this kind is recorded of two friends from the neigh bourhood of Pickering, who thus journeyed to the metropolis on the occasion referred to. On their arrival they in due course, along with crowds of sight-seers, made their way to the Exhibition. At the turnstiles the crush was so great that the two companions got separated, and for a time they lost one another. Immediately on discovering this, the one last to enter became rather concerned and flustered, and seeing a policeman near the entrance, he rushed up excitedly to him, exclaiming in tones of anxious enquiry, 'A'e ya seen owt o' Smith o' Marishes?' London policemen have much to put up with, but at times their minds even when on duty are unbent by little diversions of this kind; and well may they be.