The Place-names of the North Riding of Yorkshire was first published in 1928 by the recently formed English Place-Name Society, as the fifth volume in a planned county-by-county study of all the place-names of England. Such was the magnitude of the whole project that despite fairly continuous work on it, several counties remain un-surveyed. The latest survey to be published, in 2014, was volume 90 and covered part of Leicestershire.
Increases in knowledge and understanding of place-names over the last 90 years together with a commitment to increasingly comprehensive coverage mean that in their current format the surveys run to multiple volumes for each county. The single volume of the North Riding survey now seems comparatively modest, and is clearly in need of both revision and expansion. However, given the size of the burden on the relatively few professional academics sufficiently qualified and available for the task, there would seem to be little prospect of that happening, not at least until after all of the other counties have been surveyed for the first time.
Meanwhile, there is hopefully some merit in amateur enthusiasts in North Yorkshire having a go at expanding and updating the information published all those years ago. In that spirit, this web site aims to make a small contribution to any future revision of the North Riding survey by undertaking a new study of the place-names of Swaledale and Arkengarthdale. Although the author is a member of the English Place-Name Society, this project is neither authorised nor endorsed by the society.
It will draw upon knowledge and guidelines gleaned from some of the most widely read and respected publications on place-name studies of recent decades, combined with a modicum of local knowledge gained from personal field studies and, where possible, interviews with members of the farming community, many of whom have local knowledge stretching back up to three or four generations.
It is intended to cover as many place-names as possible that were not covered in the North Riding survey of 1928, and some that were covered but might now reasonably be reviewed in the light of the latest professional opinion.
This is not to say that the existing North Riding survey should be considered in an way inadequate or even obsolete. Quite the contrary. For those not familiar with it, it was researched and produced by a young Albert Hugh Smith, from Sowerby, West Riding, who went on to become a doyen of English place-name studies. In the 1950s he published two special volumes of the English Place-name Society national survey, called English Place-name Elements.
These were the culmination of 30 years of study throughout England and became the essential guide for professional and amateur enthusiasts alike who might be trying to understand the meaning of place-names that had not yet been covered by a county survey. They remain an essential reference and will be used extensively along with the published works of many other eminent academics as part of this study of the place-names of Swaledale.
The aim is to study not just settlement names but also the names of all the hills, moors, side-dales, gills and becks, stones, and the most interesting of the field names that were recorded in the tithe surveys of 1843-44. Each of these sections of study has its own page on this web site, where new entries will be added as they are completed, slowly accumulating to become, hopefully, a comprehensive study.
Each new entry will be signalled in the blog accompanying this web site, so anyone who wants to keep up to date with new entries need only sign up to follow the blog, which will then trigger email alerts when a new post has been uploaded. Comments and responses via the blog reply form or via the Contact form on this web site will be warmly welcomed, especially from professional academics who are encouraged to correct any mistakes or misunderstandings.
Also, anyone interested in contributing to the study in any way is invited to make contact with me. In particular, I would like to hear from anyone interested in field study because so much can be gained from an intimate knowledge of the topography of each place, and I am handicapped in that respect by living more than an hour’s drive away from Swaledale.
This will be a long, slowly developing project that will have to be fitted in alongside other local history studies about Swaledale, and indeed other interests in general. It is to be hoped that readers and followers have good reserves of patience.