Pukes Close

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.

Township of Muker; tithe map ref. 1417; size 2-3-18; OS grid SD925980, about half a mile west of the hamlet of Ivelet; altitude 300m; irregular-shape, adjacent to Calvert House (left in photo), and stretching lengthways to the east (in photo to the right); recorded in 1844 as meadow; boundaries unchanged today.

Place-name researchers unfamiliar with the life and culture of the northern Yorkshire Dales might consider this unusual field-name to be reminiscent of several similar-named fields around the country that are said to be related to the spirit or goblin called Puck (Field). Such names occur because in many superstitious rural communities remote fields were allocated to disruptive spirits in the hope that they would dwell in those fields and leave the rest of the farm untroubled. Swaledale has spirit fields, but in this case Puck is unlikely to be the origin of Pukes Close at Calvert House, not least because it is adjacent to the farmhouse.

Nor is the name likely to relate to an old Swaledale lead-mining term, puke or pook, meaning a sump where impervious rock has been removed to allow water to drain away.[1] This word seems to have been imported to the dale, presumably by migrant miners from north-eastern Scotland where it was a dialect word for any pit or hole containing water (EDD).

In Swaledale, Puke has a much more widely recognised meaning. It is a short form of the locally common surname Peacock. It seems to follow the same principle as the surname Metcalfe being abbreviated to Mecca. 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.

[1] John Hardy, Swaledale: portrait of a North Yorkshire mining community (Kendal, 1998), p. 136.