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The Common Element.

Before we proceed to the study of the second great Teutonic
element in our place-names, the Scandinavian, it will be inter-
esting and instructive to remind ourselves how large is the
element common not only to our Norse and purely English
names, but common also to our Continental neighbours in the
homes of our ancestors. At least a few of our name-endings
may have originated either on Saxon or on Scandinavian lips —
e.g., the common -thorpe and -hope; but when careful scrutiny
is made, -thorpe will be found almost always Danish, and -hope
almost always pure English. Thorpe is, of course, the cognate
of the German dorf, 'village,' as in Diisseldorf, Waldorf, etc.,
found in Schleswig in the form Gottorp, and in Dutch as
Apel-dorp, Leydendorp, etc., though -dorp is not nearly so
common as our English -thorpe; in S. Africa, however, it is
common enough — Krugersdorp, etc. Holm may come from
either branch too ; but if it mean ' a meadow, ' it will
probably be English, whilst if it mean ' a flat island,' just as in
Bornholm. Saltholm, and many another such name in Denmark,
it will be Danish.

One of our commonest endings is -burgh or -bury; it is just
as common both in Germany and Scandinavia. In Germany
it is usually -burg, as in Hamburg, Magdeburg, and scores of
other cases. In Denmark it may be -burg, as in Flensburg, or
-borg, as in Viborg; and -borg is as common all over Sweden
and Norway. In Holland it is -burg, as in Doesburg, Elburg,
etc. ; or else -berg, as in Geertruidenberg, 's Heeringberg, etc.
In Norse names, -ham, ' home,' is not so common as in Eng-
land ; but we have well-known cases like Stal-heim and Trond-
hjem. In Sweden it appears as Lofta-hammer,^ Sand-
hammer, etc. (Icel. heim~r, ' village '). In Germany the ending
-heim is exceedingly common — Hildesheim, Mannheim, etc. ; in
Holland we have a few places ending as in England — e.g., Den-
ham (Overyssel), as well as names like Arn-hem, Deutic-hem,

^ Some hold that here hammer means a square-shaped rock.


etc. Names like Denham suggest a Frisian origin for our
common -ham.

The common English -stead is, of course, even commoner in
Germany as -stadt, where it is one of 'the most frequent endings
for ' town ' ; as -stadt it is almost equally prominent in Scan-
dinavia and Dutch S. Africa, though hardly so in the Dutch
motherland. The specially frequent English -ton does not
seem represented on the Continent; but the less common and
often intermingled -stone is very conspicuous on the map of
Germany as -stein — Ehrenbreitstein, Oberlahnstein, etc.
Havens are naturally common in most Teutonic lands — Bre-
merhaven, Cuxhaven, etc., in Germany; Kjobnhavn (Copen-
hagen), Frederikshavn, etc., in Denmark; in Sweden it is
often -hamn (Icel. hiifn), as in Slitehamn, Soderhamn, etc.; but
in Holland it occurs, though rarely, as with ourselves —
Brouwershaven, etc. Holland, perhaps alone, gives us a
counterpart of the common English -wick or -wich, ' dwelling,'
as in Harder-wijk, Steen-wijk, etc.; but if -kirk is common in
N. England, names like Nijkerk or Neukirch are common alike
in Holland and Germany ; whilst the similar North of England
-dale is common everywhere in Scandinavia as -dal, and in
Germany as -thai, ' valley ' — Neanderthal, etc. England has
only one firth, that of Solway; but the common Norse -fjord
reappears in Wales as Haver-ford, Milford, etc. The ending
-by in England vies for frequency with -ton; and it certainly
is represented abroad, especially in Sweden. In the one little
island of Gland there are five marked on an ordinary map.
(See also Chipping, etc.)



In England, as in Scotland, the Scandinavian element is not
only important, but obtrusive. To-day Demnark, Sweden,
and Norway are each separate kingdoms, with separate lan-
guages, though these are closely akin, and, to a large extent,
mutually understandable. But in the days when our place-
names were in the making, practically the same tongue was
spoken all over Scandinavia, in Iceland and the Faroes too.
The dictionary which we need chiefly to consult is the Icelandic,
which is, to all intents and purposes. Old Norse ; though some-
times it is modern Danish which yields the most helpful forms
for our exegesis. We commonly ca^U the people who spake this
tongue Norsemen ; the Old English chroniclers mostly call them
Danes; whilst, when they went away south and settled on the
north coast of France, or far away in Sicily, we generally find
them called Northmen or Normans. Need, hunger, lust for
booty and adventure, and the scantness of their arable fields at
home, combined to drive these hardy sea-lovers wide and far.
And, though they always came at first with coat of mail and
battle-axe, often they speedily settled down among us, and
made admirable colonists, diligent practitioners in the arts
and crafts of peace.

Into aU the details of the Viking's many invasions of Eng-
land, Wales, and Man we need not go again. The student can
easily learn what he wants in the proper histories. Here, for
our purposes, we need give but the barest outline of facts and
dates. The first Danish invasion might, perhaps, be termed
that of the coming of the Jutes to Kent in 449. But it is at
least doubtful if these Jutes ever lived in Jutland ; and, in any
case, they were, in blood and speech, much nearer to the
Angle and Saxon than the Norse. When the first Viking



beached his boat on English sand we do not know; but men
from the Hardanger landed near Dorchester in the reign of
Beorhtric of Wessex, 786-802; and the first dated invasion is
the sacking of Lindisfarne, in the extreme north, in 793.
Vikings were very fond of sacking monasteries and seizing
their sacred spoils, as many a Columban monk to his cost did
find; and, having come once, they oft came again.

Glamorgan saw them in 795, and rocky little lona in 802;
whilst already by 830 they had paid visits as far away as
Cornwall. Before 850 they had overrun East Anglia (Norfolk
and Suffolk), whilst in 855 Danes first wintered in Sheppey.
Stronger and stronger they grew in our midst, as sore-pressed
King Alfred was made to feel. But by-and-by the tide turned,
and in 886 Alfred made his well-known treaty with Guthrun,
King of the Danes. In it the boundary between English and
Danish rule was agreed to be, the R. Thames from its source
east to the source of the R. Lea, then north-west to Bedford,
and up the R. Ouse to the Roman Watling Street, and so by it
probably west all the way to Chester. All north of this line
was the Dane's, all south thereof AKred's. The latter, be it
noted, held Chester. Had the Danes held it, it would have
been called Caster to-day (see p. 49). In 954 the English over-
threw the Dane's rule in Deira (Yorks), whilst, be it carefully
noted, Cumbria and Bernicia (Northumberland and Durham)
never really came under Danish dominion at all.

It is well known that this rule revived again in England
under King Swegen, who came from Norway with a huge fleet
and army, 1013-14, and reigned here for one year only.
Then, after three years of strife, great King Cnut was able to
seat himself on England's throne for eighteen years, and
Danish influence was strong among us, though Cnut thought it
wise to send the bulk of his Danish troops back to the lands
from whence they came. Cnut was succeeded by the two
brothers, Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut. With the death
of the latter in 1042, the Danish sceptre passed for ever from
our midst. We may add, St. Clement Danes was the church of
a large Danish settlement in London, of whom we are told by
Ralph de Diceto.^

Such are the bare facts which the annalist tells: of battle

^ Vol. i., p. 1S6, ed. Stubbs.


and bloodshed much, but of the actual nature of the Danish
settlement very little. Here the«study of place-names comes
in to offer at least some help. What it has to say about Wales
will be found on pp. 71 and 72. To begin with, we find that
Norse names are often strangely rare where the Norseman was
once only too attentive, in the ancient kingdom of Bernicia
e.g., from Tyne to Forth. In all Northumberland we can set
eyes on the merest handful of Norse names. Lucker is sure,
Beinkburn and New-biggin-by-the-Sea are probable. On
the Borders we have a number of ' fells ' — Carter, Fairwood,
Girdle, and Peel Fells ; but as a rule it is only the ' fell ' which
is Norse, not the rest of the name. There are a rare -gill or
two, and a few dales — Allendale, etc. — but that is all.

On the other hand, place-names clearly show Danish settle-
ment where there never was Danish rule — viz., in Cumbria
proper (Cumberland and Westmorland), which simply teems
with names Danish rather than Norse, of all sorts ; perhaps the
Danes first came over from their little kingdom in the Isle of
Man. In Cumbria, Dane and Gael or Brython must have been
in close contact for many a day; and occasionally the Scan-
dinavian borrowed a word from the Kelt. The best-known
instance is the G. airigh, ' a shieling, a shepherd's or herds-
man's hut,' which the incomers shaped into -argh, -ark, or -ergh,
as in Arklid and Pavey Ark, Sizergh (Kendal), and as far
south as Grimsargh, Preston. Final -gh in Gaelic is now
generally mute, but it does at times become guttural. The
purely Scandinavian endings -beck, -by, -fell, -force (fors,
' waterfall '), -gill, -thorpe, -thwaite, are found everywhere in
this region; it would be superfluous to give examples. More-
over, some of these are almost or quite peculiar to it and to the
closely neighbouring parts — e.g., -beck, -fell, -force, -gill,
-thwaite. This would seem to indicate that some special divi-
sion of the Scandinavian race must have been the settlers here.
Yet it is very difficult for us now to say which or what it was,
because, as we have seen. Old Norse was so largely a homo-
geneous language. Sweden, at any rate, may be ruled out.
Runes show that some Swedes did settle in England, but only
as individuals, never in force; and, as for the rest, medieval
chroniclers never seem to know any difference between Dani
and Nordmanni. (It is usually held, however, that East


Anglia and the region of the five boroughs — Derby, Leicester,
Lincohi, Nottingham, and Northampton — ^were peculiarly

An ending like -beck occurs farther south as -bach or
even -beach, only now as English ; and -force, it may be said,
is so rare in the south, because waterfalls are so rare there
too; the same reason might, perhaps, be urged as to -fell.
But why should an ending like -gill be confined almost, though
not altogether, to the north ? And, even more singular, why
should -thwaite — ' an enclosed or cut-off piece of land ' — ■
never seemingly be found farther south or east^ than the
neighbourhood of Huddersfield ? All we can say is, the many
-thwaites in such a hilly, rocky land as Cmnberland is very
fair proof that the Danish settlers there as a rule must have
been, not blood-thirsty pirates, but peaceful and most indus-
trious peasants, eager to make the best of things, just like their
Norse kinsmen to-day.

Another thing indicated by our surviving place-names is
this: that Scandinavian influence in England remained strong
enough to give and establish many names long after the Danish
sceptre had fallen down ; and that means a good deal. In proof
of this, we point to such facts as these : that in Cheshire to-day
we can still find at least fifteen Norse names ; but of these only
four seem to be found in Domesday, compiled 1086-87. This
seems to show that a good many of these fifteen names did not
come into being until a good while after the Norman Conquest.
In Cambs, which has curiously few Danish names, out of the
five given by Skeat, four are in Domesday ; and, what is note-
worthy, one of these four, Staine, has clearly been renamed
by Danish lips, after Domesday. Duignan has not worked out
the Norse influence in his books on Stafford and Warwick, and
it is stronger in N.E. Staffs and in Warwick than his readers
might think. We have traced eight clear cases in Staffs and
about eleven in Warwick ; six of the Staffs cases are in Domes-
day, in Warwick three, whilst other two are found in O.E.
charters ; but Rugby and Monk's Kirby have been altered by
Danish tongues after Domesday.

On the other hand, whilst history distinctly tells of Viking
visits to Cornwall in the middle of the ninth century, one could
^ But Eastwood, Notts, used to be Eastluvaitc.


scarcely have guessed it from the present-day names of that
peninsula. This is all the more curious seeing that Norse
names are so common on the south coast of Wales. All over
the south coast of England, however, such names are very
rare, until we come round east to Kent. There seems one
curious exception in Bonchurch, Isle of Wight (Domesday,
Bonecerce), which must surely tell of some Norse landing; or
can it be a real old Jute name ? In Kent Norse names re-
appear sparsely. We have two or three -gills, and two well-
known -nesses, though it is possible that both Dungeness and
Sheerness may be pure Enghsh. Nore is Norse, clear
enough (' a bay with a narrow entrance ') ; and then there are
the names in -child, to which M'Clure has called pointed atten-
tion, especially Bapchild, found in O.E. Chron., 694, as Baccan
celde or ' Bacca's well.' This is interestingly, even pro-
vokingly, early. But the -child of Bapchild must be the same
as the common ending -keld (O.N. kelda) in the north — Salkeld
('salt spring'), Threlkeld, etc. This, strange to tell, is also
the root of St. Kilda, which, as is now well known, is no saint's
name at all. In a Kentish charter of 858 we also find a Hwyte
Celda, or ' white well ' ; and there is still in Romney Marsh a
HoNEYCHiLD (' honey-swcct well '). Such names may well be
claimed for the Norsemen; and reference to the Jutes, who
arrived in Kent in the fifth century, seems hardly in place,
because, so far as we know, the Jute speech was English in
type, not Norse. So, then, there were Norse settlers in Kent
c. 694, of whom we have no direct historic record. With them
we may venture to associate the men who named the few sur-
viving ' gills ' in Surrey and Sussex — Gill's lop. Heron's Ghyll,

When we come to survey as a whole the surviving evidence
of the presence of the ' hardy Norseman ' in our midst, we find
that it corresponds nearly, but by no means quite, with what
we should expect from the historic evidence. The Danelagh,
or that region of England where Danish law did rule, is said to
have comprised at its widest all the shires from Yorks south to
Essex, Beds, Herts, and Bucks, and west to Notts, Derby,
Leicester, and Northants. Now, Worsaae, in his Dayies in
England, estimated that of 1,373 Danish names in aU, over
400 are in Yorks, 292 in Lincoln, 90 in Leicester ; in Norfolk


and Northants about 50 each. These are all Danelagh shires.
But Cumberland and Westmorland have about 150 each too,
and Lancashire, he says, about 50. But Mr. Sephton has,
much more recently, estimated the Scandinavian names in
Lanes at about 90. What he says is, that of 500 Lanes names
on record before 1500, about 80 per cent, are Low German,
18 per cent. Scandinavian, and only 2 per cent. Keltic. Wor-
saae estimated that 14 other counties had 130 Danish names
between them, and 18 counties none at all; or, to put it other-
wise, about 1,000 of our Danish names lie within the old
Danelagh, and only about 400 outside.

So far as Yorkshire is concerned, mark and sign of the
Dane, in place-name ending, is so ample that it would be a
superfluity to dwell upon it. The same is true of Lincoln,
most Scandinavian of all our shires, though little Rutland is
very Danish too. As we come south, however, the mark and
sign grow less clear, and in Hunts, Beds, Cambs, and Herts
the trace is very slight indeed. The most useful endings to
take as guides or clues are -bie or -by, -caster, and -thorpe,
and perhaps -toft. The ending -by, signifying simply ' a
house, dwelling, or little settlement,' is ubiquitous. In Lin-
coln alone we find it 212 times; in Norfolk there is quite a
cluster round Great Yarmouth, the cluster extending as far
as Barnaby, south of Lowestoft, in Suffolk; in the rest of
Suffolk sign of Dane is rare to see.^ But -by holds on along the
coast as far south as Kirby Cross and Kirby-le-Soken, near
Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex. Then it seems to disappear, and
not to emerge again until we reach the many inlets of Pembroke.
Inland, -by ranges south to Badby, south of Daventry (North-
ants), and west to Rugby (Warwick)— a shire not reckoned in
the Danelagh. But, common though the ending be, there is not
a single specimen in Cambs or in any of the southmost counties
of the Danelagh, which shows how brief and shallow Danish
influence there must have been. At the Danes' northern limit,
Co. Durham, -by is said to occur four times, no more.

The ending- caster is also somewhat of a guide to the Dane's

presence, but by no means one so sure or serviceable as -by.

Norse tongues alone preserved the Roman hard c in castrum

or castra. On the lips of the Saxon, aided by the Norman, the

^ But cf. Thingoe, etc.


c has always softened into -cester or -Chester, E.g., the fomi
is always -Chester even in Durham (Chester-le-Street, etc.) and
Northumberland (the Chesters, Hexham, etc.). But in Cum-
berland we find the form to be Mun-caster ; in Lancashire, Lan-
caster itself ; in Yorks, Don-caster ; in Lincoln, An-caster ; and,
as far south as the north-west corner of Norfolk, we have one
example in Bran-caster. But, as showing that Danish influence
was far from all-powerful, even in its own territories, we have
such well-known names as Lei-cester, Chester-field, and Man-
chester, as well as Rib-chester, north-east of Preston. The
ending -thorpe is also interesting and instructive to work with.
Many would say that thorpe is quite an English word, and no
sure token of Danish residence at all. But, as the Oxford Dic-
tionary will show, thorpe in any form is a very rare word in older
English; and, in any case, the true English form is trop or
throp, found in place-names in almost purely English quarters ;
only, very rarely. We have, e.g., Adlestrop, Chipping Norton,
Pindrup, Upthrup, Westrip, and Wolstrop, all in Gloucester,
and Staindrop ('stone-built village') in S. Durham; also at
least once in Yorks, Wilstrop; besides, we have Thrupp both
in mid-Oxford and S. Northants; and we have a Throope
away down beside Christchurch, Hants. We have Thorpes,
too, where any other Danish forms are very uncommon — e.g.,
Thorpe Thowles, north of Stockton-on-Tees; Thorpe-le-Soken,
Essex; Thorpe Morieux, Bury St. Edmunds; and plain
Thorpe, Leiston, Suffolk. But the only Thorpe in the Postal
Guide, which is in a distinctly English district, is Thorpe,
Chertsey. We thus are pretty safe in taking -thorpe as a mark
of the Dane. It is particularly common in Yorks and Lines
(there are sixty-three in all), and quite common in Norfolk;
but as an ending it is very rare south thereof. Its other
southern^ and also its western limit seems to be Eathorpe,
Leamington, another proof of Danish influence outside the
Danelagh; and we have Thorpe Constantine near Tamworth.
Not so common an ending as -thorpe is -toft ('homestead '),
though common enough in Yorks and Lines. In five cases it
stands alone, and it occurs not only in the most Danish parts

1 But also note, Uptliorpe, Hunts, which seems to have been
Upeforde in Dom. Astrope (Herts), ' East Thorpe,' gives us the Englisli,
not the Scandinavian, form.


of the Danelagh, but also in Cambs and Suffolk, and in
un-Danish Durham, in Toft Hill, Bishop Auckland.

In Wales the Viking has left his permanent stamp on many a
bit of the coast ; not so in England, because it is conspicuous for
its absence of bays and fjords, unless it be in Essex and Cornwall.
To Sheerness, Nore, and Dungeness in the south-east we have
already referred. There seems little else in the way of name
with Danish cast upon our seashore, until you reach the very
Borders, where Solway Firth is a doubly Norse name. The
name Solway, though it has been much disputed, is almost
certainly the O.N. sbl-vag-r ('muddy bay,') the ending being
often paralleled in Scotland (in Stornoway, Scalloway, etc.)
Some of the many nesses or headlands between Lincoln and
Kent — Skegness, Winterton Ness (Norfolk), the Naze, etc. —
may have been named by the Vikings, but perhaps not in a
single case is this certain — not even Skegn'ESS, which is a tau-
tology, Skeg- being O.N. and -ness O.E. for 'headland.' One
should perhaps refer here also to such a name as Airmyn, near
the mouth of the Yorks Ouse, which is ' mouth of the R. Aire '
(also a N. name), from O.N. munn-r, 'mouth.' On the north
coast of Scotland goe (O.N. gjd, ' gap, cleft ') is very common.
In smooth-shored England we seem to have none, though
inland, near Carlisle, there stands Cargo (? 'rock-gap ') ; but old
forms are needed here. It may well be ' Carig's hoe ' or ' how.'

The chief mountain ending which comes to us from a Norse
source is -fell, very common in the south of Scotland for a ' bare
ridge, a stretch of waste hill land, ' and no less common on the
Borders in Northumberland, Cumberland, and Westmorland,
and down as far as Littledale Fell, south-east of Lancaster.
Beyond that Jell does not seem to go.

Of rivers in England with Scandinavian names we have but
few. River-names, as we have found, are usually very ancient,
and are 'sweer,' as the Scots say, to change their names.
There are, or were, in England, at least three rivers called
Fleet; the London one has now disappeared. And Fleet might
be O.N. fijot as well as O.E. fieot, 'river, stream,' in either
case the root idea being ' fleet, swift.' But probably all three,
as well as Fleetwood, Lanes, are not Norse; Fleet, Hants,
certainly is not. However, we do have a few clearly Danish-
named streams — the Aire, Greta, and Wharf e, in Yorks; the


Mease and Tern, in Staffs; and there may be others. The
names just mentioned will each be found explained s.v. The
old fords on our rivers far oftener show sign of Danish visitors
than the rivers themselves. When this is so the Danish
tongues have softened ford into forth — a very common ending
in Cumbria and Yorks — but also found farther south, as in
Handforth, N. Cheshire, and even at Forth End, Chelmsford;
whilst Marlingford, Norwich, was Marlingforth as late as 1482.

The chief Scandinavian endings not yet fully commented
on are -beck and -with, found together with another character-
istic ending -shaw, in Beckwithshaw, Harrogate, a hybrid
name, where O.E. scaga is= Norse ivith, ' a wood.' The Scan-
dinavian -beck is very close to the English -bach, and runs into
it in S. Lines (see s.v. -beck). Becks, or ' brooks,' are common
in the north-west, whilst in Durham we have Harwood Beck
and Beechburn Beck. Wansbeck, the only one in Northum-
berland, is a modern corruption. South of Lincoln the}'' are not
found. The ending -with (O.N. vid-r, Dan. ved., ' a wood ')
is common in Yorks, as in Askwith, of course the same name
as that of our present Prime Minister and of our peerless arbi-
trator; also in Beckwith and Skipwith (which occurs again in
S.E. Cumberland); yet even in very Danish Lincoln it now
occurs but once, though it may recur in, or rather, there may
have been similar Danish influence in, Charnwood Forest,
Leicester; c. 1165 Charnewid.

Clear traces of Scandinavian mythology in our nomenclature
are not frequent. Thor, the brave thunder-god, and Odin,
ruler of heaven and earth, are commemorated often enough.
But Thor in our place-names seems generally found originally
in its Saxon form Thunor, as it certainly is in Thundersley,
and as it probably is in all names in Thur- : Thurleigh, Thur-
Low, etc. Similarly, Odin is found in our names perhaps only
in his Saxon or Teutonic form Wodin (also Waden, Weden; in
Simeon of Durham, however, Othan); but in this shape it
occurs frequently. Names of ordinary Norsemen crop up
continually, especially in names ending in -by north of the
Trent. The names in Butter-, like Buttermere, probably
conceal or reveal a good many cases of Norse settlement. We
may even find a Norseman in Windermere too, as well as in —

Online LibraryJames B. (James Brown) JohnstonThe place-names of England and Wales → online text (page 4 of 54)