Discussion about Place Names, Dialect and Regional Identity in the North East
Here we have some thoughts on dialect and place-names in the North East in an e-mail conversation between David Simpson (DS) and Vic Woods (VW), a place-name enthusiast and expert on the Teesside dialect. We focus most of this discussion on the dialect / accent of the River Tees area since this area lies on the border of the North East and Yorkshire regions. If you have any thoughts or observations on North East dialect e-mail them to me at and I will try to include them in the site
Viking Gods and Dialect in Cleveland (VW)
You may be interested to know that the word 'Free' in Freeborough Hill near Guisborough may be from Friga, the Queen of the Norse Gods. The word borough in this case (but not always) derives from 'Berg' meaning hill
This is interesting because the other prominent hill jutting above the north facing skyline of the moors is of course Roseberry Topping. This hill was recorded in the 12c as Othenesberg, strongly suggesting that it was named for Odin, the 'King' of the gods and therefore Friga's husband!
I note you say that Topping is from the Danish 'Toppen' (See Place Names). Of course it could be Norwegian - and I'm splitting hairs now. The place-name evidence strongly suggests that most Scandinavian settlements in Teesdale, the Tees Valley and North Yorkshire were Norwegian rather than Danish, but these Norwegians came from the west, not directly from across the North Sea.
The Norwegians colonised Ireland and from there moved into Cumbria and over into South Durham and North Yorkshire. The place-name evidence for this is in the Irish elements that show up. It seems that the Norse had some Irish 'associates' or perhaps were sons of Norse fathers and Irish mothers.
So Irish personal names are evident in place names like Lackenby and Commondale. Also the Irish ' airg' meaning 'shelter' shows up in Eryholme, Airyholme, Airy Hill in Whitby and Airy Hill Farm near Skelton.
It also appears that the Norse picked up some Cumbrian British allies. Birkby is from Bretan-byr the Briton's farm. It is unlikely that these were pre-Anglo-Saxon Celtic survivals. Evidently there were some Danes around hence Danby near Castleton and Danby Wiske. (Both mean settlement of the Danes).
I had some correspondence with Harry Mead of The Northern Echo newspaper some years ago, as he had noted that the North Yorkshire and Cumbrian dialects had much more in common with each other than either have with their joint neighbours the 'Geordies'. I suggested this could be a consequence of the 'Irish-Norwegian' settlement in the area.
Irish Vikings in the North East (DS)
Thanks for your e-mail about place names. Most of the Norwegians who settled in England were as you said of mixed Irish-Norwegian (Hiberno-Norse) stock and yes many seem to have spread west from Cumberland.
I am sure that this is partly the case for the North Yorkshire coastal area. However A.H. Smith's study of place names in this area (The North Riding Place Names English Place Name Volume) mentions in its introduction that there is significant evidence for direct Norwegian settlement on the Cleveland coast.
Smith's evidence is based on close studies of the formation of place names, but I would also suggest that from a geographical point of view this coast would be more attractive to the Norwegians than other parts of the English East coast.
It should also be noted that the North Yorkshire coast is somewhat isolated from neighbouring areas by the North York Moors and Cleveland Hills. Perhaps this made it easier to colonise without resistance. Direct Norwegian settlement would put the North Yorkshire coast in the same category as certain Scottish coastal areas including Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles where there was certainly direct settlement of Norwegians.
It should also be considered that there may well have been direct settlement of Norwegians in Cumbria before the eviction of the Irish-Norse from Ireland in the mid 900s. The evicted Irish-Norsemen may simply have joined their Norwegian compatriots in their settlement of Cumbria.
The Irish-Norse settlement in 'Cleveland' and I use the term Cleveland in its ancient 'south of the Tees' sense, could likewise be in addition to direct Norwegian settlement. The Irish-Norse and direct Norwegian settlement may have occurred at different periods.
One important example of a direct Norwegian settlement on the North Yorkshire coast is Scarborough (below) an important Norwegian stronghold settled by the Norwegians sometime between 960 and 965 AD. Nevertheless even this may have connections with the Norse colony at Dublin.
Viking settlement in the North East (DS)
Bernicia, the name given to the part of Northumbria north of the Tees (the Tees to Firth of Forth area) had very little Viking settlement of any kind. This area was probably a focus for 'Northumbrian' (Anglian) Nationalism' in the face of neighbouring Viking settlement. The Bernicians continued to speak the older Angle or 'Anglian' language of Northumbria, in much the same way it was spoken before the arrival of the Vikings.
Bernicia more or less corresponded to the modern day counties of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Durham and the northern half of Teesside - in other words the region we now call North East England. Bernicia also included what is now the Scottish Borders region and the Scottish Lothians - these regions were not part of Scotland at the time of the Viking settlement. Yorkshire was not part of Bernicia.
Many people are surprised that the North East (Bernicia) was not a major area of Viking settlement. North Easterners often claim that their dialect is Viking in origin, even though the historic evidence and political events of the time clearly demonstrate that Bernicia was not a Viking settled area. We should remember that the Vikings brought many new words to the English language as a whole and had a considerable effect on English spoken in all parts of the country - including those areas that were not settled by the Vikings.
Another thing to remember is that neighbouring regions of Yorkshire and Cumbria did see extensive Viking settlement, so the likelihood of Viking words being introduced to the North-East from these areas would be very high. A third point to remember is that the Angles who inhabited Bernicia were originally from the region which now lies on the Borders of Denmark and Germany, where a language closely related to Scandinavian was spoken.
Geordies often say that Norwegians understand the Geordie phrase 'Gan Hyem' (going home). Anglo-Saxons (Angles and Saxons) would probably have understood this as well. Gan meaning 'Go' was certainly an Anglo-Saxon word. But many of the North European languages were closely related. The language spoken in what is now Northern Germany in Anglo-Saxon times was more closely related to modern Dutch or modern Scandinavian than it is to present day German. If 'Gan Hyem' is proof of Geordie's Norwegian origins then we should also consider that the Dutch and Flemish word for 'Exit' is Ut Gang (pronounced Oot Gan) the Geordie word is Gan Oot and yet no-one has seriously suggested that the Geordie dialect is of Dutch origin.
Going back to the non-Viking nature of Bernicia, we should point out that Angles of Bernicia considered themselves to be quite distinct from the Vikings of Yorkshire. Bernicia was ruled by a succession of Earls at Bamburgh, whose number included an Angle chief called Oswulf.
It was this Oswulf who successfully plotted the murder of Eric Bloodaxe, the powerful King of Norway and York(shire). Bloodaxe was killed in 954 AD on the Stainmore Pass in Teesdale - in other words on the borders of Bernicia and the Viking Kingdom of York.
The Earls of Bernicia like Oswulf, were the descendants of the old Angle Kings of Northumbria and resented the subordination of their region to the Viking kings based in York. The Bernicians were undoubtedly 'Northern' in their outlook, but there is evidence that they co-operated with the Anglo-Saxons in the south of England to bring down Bloodaxe.
Vikings in Bernicia (DS)
There were two areas of Bernicia where there is significant evidence of Viking settlement.
One is in the far north of Bernicia - the area that is now the part of Scotland we call the Lothians. In this area near the Firth of Forth we have some significant Viking Place Name evidence. This may have been associated with the Viking practice of Portage (carrying ships across land) from the Forth to the Clyde. Viking portage is known to have taken place in this area.
The other notable area of Viking settlement in Bernicia was the area just to the north of the River Tees (South Durham). Here the Vikings formed a Wappentake centred on a flat-topped hill between Darlington and Stockton. This Wappentake was called Sadberge. Sadberge is a Viking place name meaning flat-toped hill and also occurs in Norway and Iceland.
The Wappentake of Sadberge included most of the northern side of the Tees valley from Hartlepool to Middleton in Teesdale. Strangely it did not include the townships or environs of Stockton or Darlington which were important Anglo-Saxon (Anglian) estates.
We do not know precisely when the Wappentake of Sadberge was founded or whether it was largely Danish or Norwegian but I think it was probably both. Typical Danish place names ending in 'By' for example Thornaby on Tees are very numerous in the area.
Vikings in Cumbria and Yorkshire (DS)
Viking 'By' place names also extend into Cumbria, particularly along the Eden valley (e.g Appleby). These settlements are an extension of the Danish settlements of Yorkshire which were centred on Jorvik.
Some of these 'by' names may even be mixed Danish-Irish as there was a significant Danish population in Dublin as well as Norwegians. The intermixing of Danes and Norwegians was strong across the whole region of Viking settlement, and there was an important trade link between Dublin and York.
There were also 'Ancient British' (Cumbrian) communities in the Viking city of York and in the other areas of Viking settlement you mention. Some of these Welsh speaking Britons (Cymri) may have been employed as fighters in the Danish or Norwegian armies or had perhaps just intermarried with the invaders.
In York City itself there were communities of Britons (Welsh speakers), Danes, Norwegians, Irish-Norwegians and of course we should not forget that there were also Anglo-Saxons or more precisely Angles who spoke a language with many similarities to the Danes and Norwegians. All of these groups presumably intermixed and intermarried.
In Cleveland and the Tees valley as far south as Northallerton there is strong evidence for both Norwegian and Danish settlement and there is particularly strong evidence for Danish and Irish-Norse influence.
Irish-Norwegian place names in the central lowland vale of the Tees may occur because of its location between the Norwegian upland settlements in Teesdale and Cumbria (to the west) and those Norwegian settlements in the Cleveland Hills (to the east). Melsonby, near Scotch Corner is yet another example of a Viking place name in this area that includes an Irish personal name (Maelsuithain).
This whole lowland area also coincides with the most significant area for Viking tombstones called HOGBACKS. These are sculptured tombstones with a distinct mixture of Anglo-Saxon (Anglian), Celtic and Viking styles. Hogback centres include, among others Gainford on Tees, Sockburn on Tees and Brompton near Northallerton.
I am not certain about Brompton, but the first two were important Anglo-Saxon religious centres taken over by the Vikings. Sockburn's connection with a local dragon legend may also reinforce its Viking credentials. For information about the Sockburn Worm dragon see the Darlington section of the North East history pages.
As a general rule Danish place names seem to be more significant in low lying areas - e.g the Tees Vale, Eden Valley or Northallerton Gap, while Norwegians are found in the uplands - e.g the Cleveland Hills, Teesdale or the Cumbrian Mountains, although this is not always the case.
The place name Danby (Danes Farm/Village) in Eskdale west of Whitby suggests Danes were an unusual find in the Esk Valley (otherwise why would it be called Danish farm). Perhaps Danby was named because Eskdale was mainly a Norwegian area.
Normanby in the low lying land near Middlesbrough means Norwegian's Farm/Village (it has nothing to do with the Normans). Its name suggests that Norwegians were more unusual in this particular area.
Irish-Viking dialects (DS)
I agree with what you say about the dialect similarities of South Durham, Cleveland and Cumbria and agree that they are more closely related to each other than they are to the Northumbrian, Tyneside or North Durham dialect.
The South Durham, Teesdale, Cleveland and Cumbria dialects are also distinct from neighbouring parts of Yorkshire. I find it remarkable that even the speech of Carlisle in the far north of Cumbria seems to have more in common with Teesside than it has with Tyneside.
It may be that this dialect/accent is Irish-Norse and it certainly seems to correspond to the area of Irish-Norse settlement. It could also however be related to earlier Celtic regions.
Celtic survival would have been strong in Cumbria and the North York Moors in Anglo-Saxon times and even the Tees/Swale valleys held out for a short time against the Anglo-Saxons in the shape of a Celtic Kingdom called Catraeth. However my hunch is that it has more to do with the Irish-Norse.
To draw conclusions about the dialect origin we would have to look at other areas of known Irish-Norse settlement. One area is western Lancashire - especially Merseyside where there were a significant number of Irish-Norse settlements (e.g Croxteth, Toxteth).
Eastern Lancashire by comparison seems to have a number of Danish settlements, but no Norwegian or Irish-Norwegian settlements. This is strange because eastern Lancashire is an upland area, while western Lancashire and Merseyside are coastal lowlands. We should also note that central and northern areas of Lancashire seem to have few Viking settlements of either Danish or Norwegian origin.
Irish-Norse settlements are numerous in west Lancashire even though this is a low-lying area why is this so? Well these Norse settlements may have been chosen by Norwegians shortly after their eviction from Ireland, because they lie directly across the Irish Sea. They may alternatively have been settled before the eviction and were simply chosen because of their access to the Mersey estuary which was presumably part of the Dublin-York Viking trade route. Their proximity to the Norwegian dominated sea routes of the Irish Sea must be of significance.
Because of the strong Irish immigration that has taken place in the Merseyside area in recent centuries it is difficult to draw conclusions about a possible Irish-Norse dialect in this area.
However it is known that the nearby city of Chester had a significant Irish-Norse community in Viking times (the community lived close to the bridge that crosses the River Dee). Liverpool was historically within Northumbria (north of the Mersey) but Chester lay in eastern Mercia within otherwise Anglo-Saxon (Angle) territory. There were also (while we are in the Chester area) significant Norwegian settlements on the North Wales coast.
Perhaps these settlements could be called Cymri-Hiberno-Norse, as they must have had links with the native Welsh as well as the Norwegians in Dublin. The Norwegian colony at Dublin would effectively have been their 'capital'.
During holidays I have noticed similarities between the Chester, Liverpool and North Wales dialects, but then again nearly all neighbouring dialects have similarities. Nevertheless it is interesting to speculate.
Dialects do seem to correspond quite closely with ancient settlement areas. Compare the dialects of the Viking settled East Midlands (Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire) with the dialect of the West Midlands where the Vikings did not settle.
If we go back to Anglo-Saxon times and study the boundaries of the various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (e.g Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex) these also correspond to certain dialect patterns. I think it is a shame that there hasn't been a more in depth study of dialect in this way.
The East Durham and Tynemouth Vikings DS
You should note that the Durham coast - ie the Easington-Seaham-Sunderland area seems to have a dialect that is quite distinct from the dialects of Tyneside, Northumberland and North Durham. This coastal dialect was described in the Victoria County History of Durham as non-Anglian (it assumes that the Tyneside dialect is Anglian).
Putting Sunderland-Newcastle rivalry aside, I note that this coastal area is sometimes described by Tynesiders as the Barbary Coast - but I cannot trace the origin of this. Is it perhaps a reference to Viking 'Barbarians'? (a highly speculative theory it has to be said)
As recently as the nineteenth century this 'Sunderland-type' East Durham coastal dialect penetrated much further up the coast than it does today. According to the nineteenth century dialect expert Richard Oliver Hyslop the 'East Durham' dialect apparently extended into South Shields and even across the Tyne into Northumberland as far as Tynemouth. It was not spoken in other parts of Tyneside. In the early nineteenth century Tynemouth and South Shields had not yet been swallowed up by the continuous growth of the Tyneside conurbation.
Interestingly it was also noted that Medieval records showed Viking personal names were often used in the Tynemouth area. Such names do not appear to have been used in other parts of Tyneside, suggesting that this prominent headland may once have been a Viking stronghold, perhaps like Scarborough.
As for Viking influence in East Durham, well it is known that in 918 AD, the Dublin based Viking King called Ragnald gave much of what is now County Durham to his two Irish-Norse generals called Scula and Olaf Ball.
Scula got most of the south Durham coastal area including Billingham and Hartlepool as far north as the Eden Burn (Castle Eden near Peterlee). Scula was also given land near Aycliffe that came to be known as School Aycliffe.
Olaf Ball was given the east Durham coastal strip from the Eden Burn to as far north as the mouth of the River Wear at Sunderland. It has been noted that Olaf Ball's territory has very few Viking place names compared to Scula's territory. This is possibly because Olaf Ball didn't share out the land among his men, but I think the real reason is more probably that Scula's territory already lay within the Wappentake of Sadberge while Ball's did not.
From this we can possibly assume that the Wappentake was already settled by the Danes, perhaps during the Danish conquest of Yorkshire in 867 AD. There are many other Wappentakes (a Viking word for an 'administrative' district) in Yorkshire south of the Tees with which we can compare to Sadberge.
My argument is that although Scula and Ball gained the Durham land they didn't really have any impact on the place names other than School Aycliffe, although some of Scula and Ball's followers may have settled the area and perhaps influenced the dialect.
Most of the territory that belonged to the Vikings in what is now Durham was later returned to the Anglian Bishops of Durham in the years before the Norman Conquest. That is not to say that men of Viking or even Irish-Norse origin did not remain.
It may be that some of places belonging to Scula and Ball did for a time have Viking names, but may have later reverted to their original Anglo-Saxon names without undergoing any significant change.
I disagree with the application of the term 'Geordie', to the whole North East. Geordie is a comparatively recent term that should really only be applied to Tyneside or Newcastle. I have no doubt that Tynesiders can even detect similarities between North Durham and South Durham/Yorkshire/Cleveland which southerners like you and me (I am from Durham City) don't necessarily notice.
Boundaries of 'Geordie-dom' (VW)
Can I suggest you object to the term 'Geordie' in the same way an Alabaman objects to "Yankee"? The area of 'Geordie-dom' expands according to your geographical perspective. My wife's Gateshead sister-in-law objects to the term. I would suggest, to Teessiders, it would extend down to southern edge of the Durham coalfield.
To the rest of England, as you no doubt know, it has become the general term for the whole North East. Chris Rea (of Middlesbrough) and 'Vic Reeves' (of Darlington) have all been identified as 'Geordies' I'm not sure we should be too parochial about this. (As a Middlesbroughian I sometimes find the 'chip-on-the shoulder' antagonism to Tyneside from some of my fellow Teessiders irritating. Wearsiders' attitude is often ludicrous!
After all, if we accept that words change/evolve/expand meanings etc can we be too purist about selected words? So whilst I accept 'Geordie' originally meant 'Novacastrian' (Newcastle) I think it has and is ,evolving into a wider meaning in exactly the same way as 'Yankee' originally meant New Englander, expanded to mean all the Northern States and now has become the term for all of the USA even if Alabamans object
Seaham dialect - closer to Tyneside or Teesside? (VW)
You say that you have no doubt that some Tynesiders can even detect similarities between North Durham and Cleveland. Over the last year I have been doing some 'supply' teaching in a primary school in Seaham near Sunderland. Most of the staff are Tynesiders and they think, in some ways, I sound more like the kids than they do. Of course I hear it entirely differently.
I was interested that the children there use 'beck' for stream. My wife who is from Byker did not really know the word until she came to live here in Cleveland. However they use 'spelk' whereas I use 'spell' the North Yorkshire word. I will be working there next academic year and might try a bit of comparative collecting.
On balance I would Seaham is closer to Tyneside in accent and dialect than Teesside. Yet a mere few miles south-Hartlepool is quite clearly closer to my Middlesbroughian. I think the 'line' is the coalfield boundary.
Comparing Teesside, Geordie and Scouse (VW)
Where to place the Teesside accent/dialect has always interested me. Checking with my wife and a close friend from Fearby near Masham in North Yorkshire I found I have words in common with both of them.
The relatively recent origins of industrial Teesside also may have had some impact. When I lived in the Midlands I was often thought to be from Liverpool. This was at the time of Beatlemania etc. so that may have coloured perceptions but there are similarities 'werk for 'work' .
N.B. The Teesside elocution lesson phrase:
Me farther werks in the werks in a derty perple shert mekking gerders with me Uncle Bert
(The Liverpool pronunciation would be much the same)
But get a Tyneside Geordie to say that phrase and not even a Cockney could fail to notice the difference:
Me fatha' warks in the warks in a dorty porple short mekin' gorders wi' wor Uncle Bort
Many Teessiders also have the guttural 'c' or 'ck' sound at the end of words as do Liverpool 'Scousers' In England,
Middlesbrough in the 1851 census was second only to Liverpool in the percentage of Irish in its population so perhaps that is the connection. Another influential group in Teesside towns were the Welsh as they were also in Liverpool.
You may be familiar with Peter Trudgill's 'The Dialects of England' (Blackwell 1990). In this book he locates Teesside in an area he designates the 'North East' with East Durham, Tyneside and most of Northumberland. He then postulates a wide area, Cumbria, Western Durham, Eastern Cleveland, North Lancashire, Yorkshire, which he calls Lower North. His map varies considerably from the traditional dialect boundaries which, as you point out, match more or less the old Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms.
My amateurish arrogance in knowledge of dialects being no less than in place-name studies, I took him to task about separating Teesside from North Yorkshire. He pointed out reasonably that the lines have to be drawn somewhere.
I now listen more carefully. I have no doubt that Middlesbrough is (as my geography lecturer at college used to say) a bit of Durham which spilled over the River Tees but I can hear more Yorkshire even in Redcar - schoo-ul - for school.
By the time you get to Skelton you get the sounded final 'r' in words like 'winter' etc which is characteristic of North Yorkshire but unheard in Teesside.
Geordie influence on Teesside dialect (VW)
Perhaps moving and commuting populations make a difference. There has been considerable movement of 'Geordies' / North Durham people into Teesside since WW2. I think this has had an effect. I've seen 'stottie cakes' advertised in a Guisborough bakers. When I was a boy we would not have known what they were. Kazoo Marching Bands (usually all girl) have also spread to Cleveland. I cannot remember anything like that when I was child.
North Yorkshire villages which have become dormitory towns for Teesside also experience accent/dialect changes. In Guisborough it seems to be a generational thing. Older Guisborians are definitely Yorkshire with dropped or clipped definite articles whereas the younger to middle aged are more Teesside.
Then, of course, there is the damage that education and TV does. I think Peter Trudgill has predicted that regional accents will replace local accents. Certainly I find 'educated' North Easterners who've had 'the rough edges' knocked of their accents tend to sound the same whether they're from Tyneside or Teesside even to me.
What we need is a thorough study of the dialect/accent areas within the region.
The Geordie theories (DS)
I agree with you that the term Geordie is often applied to the whole North East, especially when we move further away from the region. I am not so sure that the term is expanding and I believe if anything it is contracting.
There is no certainty about the exact origin of the term 'Geordie', although it seems to be rooted somehow in the Northern English/Scots nickname for anyone called George.
The two main theories are:-
1) that Newcastle folk were Geordies because they supported King George at the time of the 1715 Jacobite Rising while the rest of Northumberland wholeheartedly supported James the Old Pretender.
2) that it comes from George Stephenson's Miners Safety Lamp and was subsequently applied to local Pitmen. Looking through the pages of the Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore and Legend, a monthly Victorian magazine published from 1888 to 1892 there are frequent references to Geordie as a general term for pitmen.
I think it is in recent years (and perhaps someone may correct me here) that Newcastle and Tyneside have increasingly monopolised the term 'Geordie'. I suggest that this has taken place over the last thirty years.
It seems to coincide with the 'passing over' of the old industries and seems to be linked to a search for a new identity. We can now buy unofficial 'Geordie' Passports or 'Geordie' Tea Towels, car stickers or other 'Geordie' products all produced in the Black and White 'Livery' - of course the colours of Newcastle United football team.
Meanwhile the local and National Sports Media (TV included) refer to Newcastle United as the 'Geordies' but seem uncertain about Sunderland or Middlesbrough - I suspect because over the years they have received many objecting letters from Tyneside, Teesside and Wearside over this unrestricted use of the term. I have a hunch - and this needs to be researched in some detail - that there would have been less objection in the past.
When I went to Polytechnic in Newcastle (from Durham) in the late 1980s I certainly never considered myself to be a 'Geordie'. The local mature students who came from Newcastle, who I incidentally counted among my friends, went out of their way to inform the other students from around the country that Newcastle and Tyneside were 'Geordies' - anyone else was not (although they have a particular affection for Northumberland which may sometimes be let into the Geordie world - even though County Durham folk are (in my view) often eyed with an air of suspicion.
The point I am making here is that the geographical limitations of the term have as much to do with Tyneside folk keeping the term for themselves as Sunderland, Middlesbrough and County Durham folk rejecting the label.
I have noticed that many young people across County Durham seem to have an identity crisis about whether they are - Geordies or not - often because they are Newcastle United supporters, Sunderland supporters would clearly not accept the term.
Dialects and the coalfield (DS)
I think you are right that dialect areas seem to be closely associated with the coalfield, although I think the North West Durham dialect e.g Stanley-Chester-le-Street area is very close to Tyneside, while south Durham e,g Bishop Auckland seems to be close to Darlington (similar to Teesside).
North West Durham is by far the oldest major coalfield area in County Durham and was intensively mined in the 1600s and 1700s. The mining in this area spread out from the banks of the Tyne.
The Bishop Auckland area by comparison did not see major coal mining colonisation until the 1830s and in East Durham it was not until the 1840s.
I know that many south west Durham miners came from the local neighbourhood including Darlington, while many North Durham miners came from Northumberland and so on. Of course there was much moving around and mixing within the Northumberland and Durham coalfield areas and this will have influenced dialect, but I believe the indigenous dialects of each locality would have the strongest influence.
Similarities of Hartlepool and Middlesbrough accents (DS)
You group Hartlepool with Middlesbrough for the purposes of dialect and this could also have industrial origins. Hartlepool, like Easington, Seaham, Peterlee and Sunderland is geographically an East Durham town but it lies outside the Durham coalfield - there is no coal underneath Hartlepool. This is perhaps one reason why Hartlepool has a different dialect, but why are there similarities to Middlesbrough?
Most of what we now call Hartlepool was formerly called West Hartlepool, a town which underwent a phenomenal growth from virtually nothing in the 1840s. In this respect its growth is comparable to Middlesbrough which was also undergoing an extraordinary expansion at about the same time.
The industries of Hartlepool and Middlesbrough were very closely related and the influx of new people - notably Irish immigrants was significant in both. This might explain why the dialects of Middlesbrough and Hartlepool are similar and noticeably different from dialects further north.
Stockton accent is the key to Teesside's dialect origins (DS)
I think the key to understanding the antiquity of dialects in the Teesside region might be Stockton, which was already a substantial town in the pre-industrial days. We must assume that Stockton would have retained at least some features of its native dialect.
The Stockton dialect must have been similar to the nearby dialects spoken in the areas where Hartlepool and Middlesbrough would grow and I can't believe that the native Stockton dialect was completely wiped out.
Today there isn't, as far as I am aware, any significant difference between Stockton and the dialects of Hartlepool and Middlesbrough. I find it hard to believe that the Teesside and Hartlepool dialect is largely a result of immigration, most notably Irish immigration. After all there are many other places effected by immigration.
There was significant Irish settlement for example in the West Midlands, or on Tyneside in places like Jarrow and South Shields. In Glasgow and London and there was phenomenal Irish settlement as there was in Manchester and neighbouring towns.
Teesside's ancient isolation (DS)
Perhaps, and this is of course speculative we should can go back to more ancient times to explain the idiosyncrasies of the Teesside accent.
Historically the Teesside area was separated from neighbouring regions by a kind of no-mans land area. I am thinking about the area found around the flood plain of the River Skerne in the Bradbury, Mordon Carrs district near Sedgefield to the north of Teesside. There is much Fen country in this area and it was a poorly drained, marshy region in times gone by - in fact it still is today.
Such zones were often more significant boundaries than rivers in historic times. This area would effectively cut the Stockton and Hartlepool area off from places in Durham further north. Old Hartlepool would likewise be cut off by its coastal headland location and separated was also separated from areas further north by the wooded ravine of the Crimdon Beck. I also note that the ancient district of Hartness included Billingham near Stockton, showing that there was a strong historic link between Hartlepool and Teesside.
So we can see there was quite a strong natural boundary cutting Teesside of from the north. It is still there today one of the most sparsely populated areas of eastern County Durham making a greater contrast between the dialects of Teesside and the County Durham coalfield. But what about a boundary between Teesside and the south?
Across the River Tees (which seems to unify rather than divide the dialect) we can travel further south until we reach the Cleveland Hills. These are the Northern edge of the sparsely populated North York Moors. These formed another effective boundary.
That baffling term 'Mackem' (VW)
Regarding the term 'Geordie' I think the Stephenson safety Lamp has always seemed the most plausible explanation to me and would explain why to us Teessiders - Geordies (i.e.pit-yakkers) )started at the coalfield.
I think 'Geordie' has been misappropriated by Newcastle over the last generation. The term which baffles me is 'Mackem'. I consider myself well versed in things North Eastern. In my idealistic youth I was a fanatical Labour Party activist and travelled here there and everywhere within the region to meetings etc. mixed with others from every part of the region.
Sunderland & Ryhope were frequent places I visited. I never heard the term 'Mackem' until a few years ago. I know the alleged origin in the shipyards but I'm sure it has only come to prominence recently. Is it as contrived as the Sunderland football club nickname 'Black Cats?'
A Teessider mistaken for a Geordie (VW)
My first experience (as a Teessider) of being called a 'Geordie' was when I was running along a Manchester railway station platform trying to board a train I hoped was going to the Potteries. "Is this the train to Stoke?" I yelled. A soldier leaned out and pulled me aboard saying "Yeah, c'mon Geordie". I suspect it was the vowel in 'Stoke' which was responsible.
The Irish 'CK' sound (VW)
I would agree the indigenous accent of Teesside would not be much affected by Irish immigrants, I just think it may account for the guttural 'ck' in the Teesside dialect. (Incidentally Peter Trudgill pointed out to me that the Teesside harsh 'er' sound, which is shared with Liverpool, is also a feature on Humberside).
Teesside is not a recent dialect (VW)
I certainly don't think, as I read somewhere a while ago, that Teesside is different from the rest of the North East because it originated from Victorian immigrants. As you write, all of the North East benefited from the Irish diaspora, practically every pit village had its Irish element and I suspect Welsh were well spread out through the pit areas also.
As you say, Stockton was a well established town as was Yarm and, for that matter, so was Darlington and I think anyone from outside the Tees Valley, would be hard put to separate Darlington from the other towns further east as regards accent. The rapid population growth of Teesside from 1850 was phenomenal but I sometimes think it is overstated as for example, when Middlesbrough's population in 1801 is compared with 1871.
It is true the area which gave the modern town its name was a mere hamlet of 3 or 4 families but by the second half of the 19th century Middlesbrough had absorbed well established villages like Linthorpe, Ayresome, Acklam which are recorded in Domesday (these villagers would all have spoken a dialect of some kind). We tend to forget how labour intensive farming was in those days and how well populated such villages would be.
It is interesting that even today 130 years after Linthorpe was absorbed by Middlesbrough, it is still called 'the Village'. It is true that there was considerable immigration from Ireland, Wales and East Anglia into Teesside and from Cornwall into East Cleveland but trawling through census records looking for my ancestors has convinced me also that huge numbers were pulled into Teesside from the immediate 'hinterland'. And this would more than reinforce the indigenous regional if not quite local accent.
For example my maternal ancestors are from Barnard Castle, Richmond, Bilsdale and Whitby.That there is a Teesside accent is undeniable but I really don't think there is a Teesside dialect. I certainly don't know of any dialect words which are not shared either with Durham/Tyneside or Cleveland. Perhaps 'woollyback' the slightly pejorative term Teessiders have for rural Clevelanders is specific to Teesside.
Welsh, Cornish and East Anglian influence (DS)
I would be interested to know if there has been a study of the immigration population into Teesside - particularly the percentage of Irish Welsh, etc. I know a number of people came to Teesside from Cheshire with the chemical industry. I did not know of the East Anglian immigration - why East Anglia, and what sort of industries were the East Anglians connected with? Cornish immigration doesn't surprise me. It also occurred in County Durham, most notably in the pit town of Murton.
More on the Irish influence (DS)
Welsh, Cornish and Irish immigration were sometimes associated with Blackleg labour during strikes in County Durham and I know there were sometimes local riots. There was also evidence of Sectarianism in certain areas. I remember during a talk an elderly Protestant lady in Consett describing at some length how she was once stoned by her Catholic schoolmates while going to school.
I think the guttural 'ck' or 'ch' if you like is possibly due to Irish immigration. I am also interested in what you say about the Teesside harsh 'er' sound, could you explain what you mean - or give me some examples, I presume you mean as in Werk. I recognise similarities between Hull and Teesside. Is this perhaps something to do with them being neighbouring ports at the northern and southern extremities of Yorkshire?
It might be worth finding out if there was any major Irish influence in Hull in either recent or ancient times - although I am not sure we can attribute the er sound to Irish settlement. The Humber would have been the main outlet for the Viking port of York which had strong connections with Dublin in ancient times. However my understanding is that the River Ribble in Lancashire formed the link between Dublin and York. One thing I do note about Hull, Liverpool and Teesside is that they are all situated in low lying terrain unlike say Newcastle or Sunderland which nestle in river gorges. Perhaps topography influences accent!
Accents and Dialects (DS)
I've heard its said that accents are generally flatter in major urban areas when compared to nearby rural dialects. Another thing I have heard is that urban accents are generally more 'booming' when they are associated with heavy industrial areas. People working in iron foundries or shipyards would have to speak loud to be heard above the din.
I understand the difference between accent and dialect and agree that Teesside has a distinct accent rather than a distinct dialect (which is not to say it doesn't use dialect words from the neighbourhood). Accent is more to do with the sound and dialect is to do with the words. You could say that dialect is the lyrics and accents are the music. I have to say that although I have a big interest in the subject my ears aren't really tuned for the discipline.
Mackems and Mac N' Tacs (DS)
You mention Black Cats and 'Mackems'. Black Cats has been widely recognised as the emblem for Sunderland Supporters Association for many years. Mackem' according to my information was applied to Sunderland shipyard workers employed in the Tyne Yards. Mackem was originally a jibe but it seems to be gaining acceptance. I think there was once a separate term 'Mac N' Tak' which seems to have been applied to all County Durham.
More on the Cornish, Irish and Welsh (VW)
I don't know of any detailed study of Teesside's Victorian immigrants. There has been a lot of interest in the Irish, possibly because being Irish has been quite fashionable over the last few years. As I understand it, some immigrant groups were brought in because of their expertise which was required in industries starting from scratch. So miners from Cornwall were recruited because of their experience in tin mining (more like iron mining than is coal mining apparently)
Similarly iron workers were recruited from Staffordshire and South Wales. My Great-grandfather was an iron roller from South Wales. He came north in about 1860. After working as a foreman on Teesside he moved up to Consett for a while and then to Darlington and then back to Stockton.
The East Anglian Connection (VW)
The 'unskilled 'came from Ireland and presumably the immediate locality but also from south Lincolnshire and Norfolk. The discovery of workable iron in the Eston and Cleveland Hills coincided with a bad agricultural depression in Lincolnshire and East Anglia.
The Teesside ironmasters Bolckow and Vaughan actually sent their agents down to East Anglia and Lincolnshire to recruit labour at the agricultural hiring fairs. Maurice Wilson I think wrote a history of Eston and pointed out the high numbers of East Anglians who had settled there. I mentioned this briefly in an article in a regional family history magazine and received about a dozen letters from Teessiders who had found an East Anglian ancestor
I also pointed out Irish, Welsh and Cornish connections and received no response to this at al. I think this is possibly because the East Anglians may be are the unnoticed ones.
Your explanation of 'Mackem' seems plausible as a Geordie description of Wearside incomers. This would put it in the same category as the Teessiders' description of North Yorkshire men (mainly from the Whitby area) coming into the chemical or iron works where they were known as 'Woollybacks'. This reminds me of 'teuchter' the disparaging term Clydesiders have for Highlanders.
Where does the North East end and Yorkshire begin? (VW)
Where does the North East end and Yorkshire begin? This crisis of identity was one of the things which sank Cleveland County. Personally, even though born and raised a few hundred yards south of the Tees, I feel North Eastern. I married a Tyneside girl from Byker but, even before that, I had that sense. I think it was because I was, in my youth, an active member of the Labour Party, which was organised on regional lines.
Recently Councillors Walsh (Labour) and Abbott (Liberal Democrat) of Redcar had a spat about flying the Yorkshire flag over Redcar on Yorkshire day. Abbot was for it, Walsh against. The Labour politics of Teesside and its industrial character may turn it northwards. To the south in rural North Yorkshire there are Tories!
A Yorkshireman sides with the Geordies (VW)
As a Teessider, my North East identity was reinforced when I went to college in North Staffordshire. There were quite a few Yorkshiremen from the West Riding there. When I claimed I also came from Yorkshire I was told "funny Yorkshireman wi' an accent like that!" (Chris Old, the Middlesbrough born Yorkshire cricketer, encountered the same kind of dismissal in the days when you had to be Yorkshire- born to play for Yorkshire.)
At college, there were about a dozen of us from the North East and we did have a sense of being a contingent. I remember in a pub trying to drown out 'On Ilkley Moor ba 'tat' with the 'Blaydon Races'. Interestingly we all supported the North East football clubs and travelled to see them whenever they came near enough in their away games. None of this pathetic nonsense of rejoicing when the 'other' North east teams lose.
Is Middlesbrough the North East? (VW)
Is Middlesbrough North Eastern? Well games against Sunderland and Newcastle are 'Derby' games, but not the games against Leeds and Bradford. North Yorkshire based fans of Leeds and Middlesbrough might disagree.
I've written I've been teaching in Seaham. On fine sunny days you can see Teesside with the North york Moors behind it almost as soon as you join the A19. To me it gives a sense of Teesside being 'boxed in' away from the rest of England. As you know, Darlington, like Stockton has always looked south as well as North from before the industrial revolution. It seems to me the town has put some effort into separating itself from County Durham and seems to be keen on setting up joint structures with the Teesside boroughs.
On its website Darlington promotes itself as 'Darlington in the Tees Valley,' and shows a map of itself, not as a borough in County Durham, but as one of five boroughs on the Tees.
Hartlepool, on the other hand, especially in educational cooperation services, seems to be moving away from a Tees identity towards an East Durham one.
Whilst being 'pleased' to have a North East regional identity I am uncomfortable with those who hype it. A bit of prejudice I find some Tynesiders, West Yorkshiremen, Merseysiders and Londoners the worst culprits at pushing their regional pride down your throat.
However my pride is probably like based on the proud tradition of Bede, Aidan, Cuthbert, Hild, Caedmon, the Lindisfarne Gospels etc. The regional identity we are stuck with and which, I'm afraid all too many North Easterners take a perverse pride in, is as boorish louts who only know about football and beer. This fills me with despair.
The Consett dialect (DS)
Thanks for your e-mail. I was interested to hear about Teesside's East Anglian connections. You mentioned that you worked in Consett. I think there are numerous industrial connections between Consett and Teesside and other lesser-known iron producing towns in County Durham and I wonder if there are any dialect/accent links between Consett and Teesside.
Dialect experts in the North often point out that Consett's dialect/accent is more closely related to Weardale than the other North West Durham towns like Stanley which are more similar to Tyneside.
Darlington's links with Teesside (DS)
Darlington's alliance with the Tees Valley seems to me to make sense. I suspect that most people in Darlington liked the idea of Darlington gaining independence from the rest of County Durham, although many still look north and like to retain the postal address as County Durham.
There are still many links between Darlington and County Durham - the same police force and fire brigade for example. However, some Darlingtonians may now feel that they have jumped out of one bed and into another. I am a bit suspicious of the term 'Tees Valley' it should not be taken too literally - it doesn't include actually include Teesdale which is still of County Durham.
In a non-administrative sense Darlington probably feels that it is located at the heart of the Tees Valley, but in an administrative sense we might argue that it is slowly becoming a satellite of Middlesbrough. I wonder if Hartlepool is quite as keen on the Tees Valley label it was never keen on being labelled as part of Teesside.
For 'clarity' perhaps the Tees Valley could be called something like 'The first tier local government boroughs of the urban region of Teesside, formerly known as Cleveland and previously the County Borough of Teesside itself formed from the neighbouring eastern portions of County Durham and Yorkshire's North Riding, but now individual boroughs of unitary status, including the neighbouring towns of Hartlepool and Darlington, but not including the western stretches of the Tees valley which remain in County Durham.'
'Teesside and Darlington' might be a better explanation.
Meddling with Place Names (DS)
I have noticed that the Middlesbrough area seems to have a particular liking for creating new names from old names like 'Tees Valley' or 'Cleveland' or the 'Teesdale' development site in the Thornaby/Stockton area. I know there was once an ironworks in this area called Teesdale, but I think calling this major Teesside development 'Teesdale' was insensitive and misleading.
Missing from the Signpost! (DS)
Another thing that always puzzled me is why Teesside seems to disregard the individual towns that make up the Teesside region. Tyneside and Teesside, it must be said are both very well recognised terms, but Tyneside seems to have a little more respect for the individual towns that make up Tyneside.
There are no road signs to Tyneside, but distances to Newcastle and Gateshead are clearly seen on road signs as you approach the area. This is despite the fact that the two centres are only separated by the River Tyne. This is perhaps an indication that Newcastle and Gateshead are very secure and certain of their identity.
By contrast major road signs don't seem to feature Stockton or Middlesbrough or Billingham for that matter and instead the general term Teesside is used. This seems to me to be ridiculous, particularly as these towns are quite distinct and their town centres are much further apart than their Tyneside counterparts.
In the North West road signs direct us to Liverpool and Birkenhead, not Merseyside, although admittedly the Mersey is considerably wider than the Tees.
East Anglian Riot (VW)
Regarding the Irish & East Anglian immigrants to Middlesbrough there was a riot in the 1850's between gangs from the two groups competing to get workr building Middlesbrough docks. The East Anglians were getting the upper hand and the Irish were rescued by a local farmer who locked them in his barn and held off the East Anglians with his shotguns until the forces of law and order arrived.
More on those Signposts (VW)
It is strange that Teesside should appear on road signs again. The actual point from which they measure distances to Teesside is where the A19 crosses the Tees. I've checked from Darlington, from the north and from the south. It must be a throwback to the County Borough of Teesside.
As you write no other riverside conurbation is so signed. One major difference between Teesside and Tyneside and Merseyside is that there isn't such a one town dominance. There is no other Tyneside town which can challenge Newcastle for pre-eminence (and no Merseyside town can challenge Liverpool).
Middlesbrough does not occupy the same niche in relation to its neighbours. Indeed Stockton would seem to be very much 'on the up'. It is the biggest borough in terms of population and has the highest house prices. It is gaining population at the expense of Middlesbrough and Redcar. Stockton has finally got in 1996 what it always wanted. Prior to 1968 it was only a Municipal Borough . It had tried many times to achieve County Borough status and get free of Durham City. It was more enthusiastic about a Teesside Borough than was Middlesbrough.
Now after being part of the County of Cleveland it has finally got the unitary status it always craved. However Stockton has problems of unity which Middlesbrough does not. The ones who feel like losers in all three local government organisations are the smaller towns. Billingham was opposed to inclusion in the Teesside Borough in '68. There are still regular letters of complaint from Billingham in the Evening Gazette about being subjected to Stockton. Thornaby has also been unhappy. It was a municipal borough prior to 1968 now it is a mere suburb of Stockton.
To me brought up in Newport, Middlesbrough, Teesside Park Shopping Centre is in Thornaby but my daughters always refer to it as Stockton.
The town of Yarm (part of Stockton) is one of those places which has an active. 'Return us to Yorkshire' group. In the last 30 years Middlesbrough has absorbed villages like Ormesby, Marton and Hemlington but no other towns so it doesn't really have these problems.
Darlington has always had close links with Teesside. After all industrial Middlesbrough was Darlington's 'child' in a sense. I think we've always felt 'Darlo' is one of us. I got the feeling in the recent football clash for promotion between Darlington and Hartlepool, Teesside was more for Darlington.
My local authority area (Redcar and Cleveland) is also disjointed. It is the largest in area and is the most diverse in the Teesside area. South Bank and Grangetown are totally urban and clearly part of the Teesside conurbation. They really should have been included in Middlesbrough. The villages and smaller towns feel that there is a definite bias on the part of the council towards its Teesside communities. (I also do)
Then you have the name. 'Redcar and Cleveland.' Redcar is in Cleveland how can it be 'and' Cleveland'. But ,as you write,names are purloined, misappropriated and misapplied as routine down here!. I agree wholeheartedly about the misappropriation of 'Teesdale'.
Although I was unhappy with the Cleveland name I felt Cleveland County worked well.
I think I qualify as an anorak ! A friend and fellow history buff once asked me how I had enjoyed a holiday in Ireland. I mentioned I was interested in the Norse place names on the south east coast (Arklow, Wicklow etc) and said next time I must try to get hold of an Irish place name book. I said I never travel anywhere in England without Ekwall's book. Another supply teacher suddenly interjected." Is that what you do on holiday collect names of places? I suppose it's not as bad as trainspotting but it's still sad. Have you thought of getting yourself a life?"
Yarm should be in Yorkshire (DS)
You mentioned Yarm, my view on Yarm is that it should have remained in North Yorkshire. Visits to the startlingly similar market towns of Bedale, Northallerton, Stokesley and numerous other North Yorkshire towns can leave you in no doubt where Yarm should be. Eaglescliffe, just across the Tees from Yarm should remain part of Stockton Borough. Eaglescliffe largely owes its existence to Stockton while neighbouring Preston-on-Tees is undoubtedly a detached part of Stockton.
Of course part of the problem is who makes the decision or advises on these boundaries. Are the decisions made on common sense administrative grounds, or for deeply rooted cultural reasons or perhaps for reasons of political gerrymandering.
I am glad you take Ekwall with you wherever you go.
Welsh Ch Ck sound (DS)
I have been thinking about the 'ch' or 'ck' sound that is a feature of Liverpool and Teesside speech. I think I assumed that this was Irish. Is it actually a prominent feature of Irish speech or is it in fact Welsh?
I am thinking of the use of the sound in Welsh words such as that especially long place name that ends in - gogogoch. The historian Malcolm Chase is quoted in the article as saying that it was language that made the Welsh distinct in Teesside and it was religion that made the Irish distinct.
It is noteworthy that Liverpool lies so close to Wales and indeed Birkenhead (Bir-'kch'-in-ed), across the Mersey is virtually in Wales. Parts of the nearby city of Chester on the neck of the Wirrall also lie within Wales. Chester was the main port in the area before the growth of Liverpool (early 1700s). We must assume that many folk from the Chester area will have moved to Liverpool, although I do not think 'ch' is such a prominent feature of the Chester dialect.
The distinct 'ch' sound on Merseyside is I suspect more pronounced among those with Working Class backgrounds. Many Scousers have Welsh families.
We know there was a considerable Welsh population settled in Teesside (it would be interesting to know the exact figures). Do you think that the 'ch' sound could actually be Welsh? Irish settlement was fairly common across the country and I know Welsh settlement occurred elsewhere, but was it as significant as the Welsh settlement in Liverpoool or Teesside?
We noted a similarity between Cumbrian and Teesside speech. Does the 'ch' sound occur in Cumbria and were there Welsh settlers there in the nineteenth century remembering of course that the Cumbrians were originally Welsh - Cumbria is from Cymri as you know.
Some Teesside Place Names (VW)
There is a string of interesting names in the Guisborough area. One is Barnaby (Beornoth-byr). There was a village of Barnaby in medieval times as there is a record of a land ownership dispute between the men of Barnaby and the men of Eston. There is also a farm called Hemble Hill which I assume is the same as Hambledon.
A good example of local speech altering a place name is the Windle Bridge nursery just to the west of Guisborough. On the maps it is 'Windy Hill'.
Fascinating is Scugdale which Ekwall explains as Goblin's valley but Smith suggests the less superstitious 'shady valley'. It is interesting to compare Smith with Ekwall. I find the former more prosaic. Ekwall suggests Carling Howe (609180) is Witches Hill whereas Smith merely suggests 'Old Woman's mound'. I'm pretty sure the Carling Howe they refer to is the area just a mile or so south of where I live now and not the industrial village Carling How (708193) near Loftus although the name derivation must be the same.
Just near to me is New Marske. The old part of 'New Marske' was built in 1858 -1866 to house workers for the Upleatham mines. In his booklet 'Cleveland Ironstone' Keith Chapman writes "the mining activities near Upleatham caused an influx of 'foreigners' from Norfolk & Cornwall as well as Ireland". It is a compact hamlet. I should be able to check out the 1871census for place of birth origins to see just how many were drawn in from the locality (i.e S. Durham & Cleveland) and how many from further afield.
Percentage of Norseman (VW)
As a point of interest I am also very sceptical about place names providing evidence of population changes. I don't think, for example that the high percentage of Norse place names in Cleveland necessarily suggests a high percentage of Norse.
Most place names are property names and, it seems to me, the ones who owned the properties and formed the administrative class would be the ones who got to name them. The property owning / administrative class has always been a minority. It seems perfectly feasible to me that the Norse were a conquering minority ruling over a majority Anglian population. Any thoughts on this point?
Size of the Viking occupation (DS)
You mention place names as proof of population changes. This has long been a subject of debate among place names experts. I believe the general view is that they are thought to be more indicative of population changes than was previously thought.
One of the main areas of debate has been the size of the Danish army that invaded England and there is some discussion of this in the book by Margaret Gelling that I mentioned to you in an earlier correspondence. I think the question is as much about who inhabited the Viking settlements as who owned them.
My view is that we seem to have a very wide assortment of different Viking personal names in our place names and it seems hard to believe that every single one of these was merely the name of an owner who actually lived in Denmark or Norway.
Viking place names generally lie dotted in between the earlier Anglo-Saxon place names and the Anglo-Saxon place names are located on the best sites in terms of farming land and suitability for settlement. It is to be presumed that the people who lived in the Anglo-Saxon settlements would still be Anglo-Saxon, perhaps paying certain tribute to the Vikings rulers based in major centres like York. They would presumably also trade or simply form friendship with Viking farmers in neighbouring farms.
It has been noted that so called 'Grimston' place names (Viking personal names with an Anglo-Saxon suffix) are also in the best locations. They seem to be Anglo-Saxon settlements taken over by the Vikings, presumably after intermarrying with or maybe even murdering the existing owners. It has been suggested that these 'Grimston' places were actually quality Anglo-Saxon sites seized by the members of the Danish army who scooped up a number of the best settlements after defeating the Anglo-Saxons and conquering the North.
These 'Grimston' places are found in the area that came to be known as the Danelaw - Lincolnshire, Yorkshire etc. The theory is that the other (more common) Viking settlements such as those ending in 'by' were actually settlements of subsequent Viking settlers who came to England immediately after the Danish conquest. These were not settled by members of the invading army, but by an incoming influx of Viking farmers.
Most settlements will have been relatively small by our standards and were probably more like large farms than small villages- perhaps with only a few families each. I believe the Viking settlements would have been inhabited by Vikings plus a few serfs of Viking British, Anglo-Saxon or other origins and the Anglo-Saxon settlements would have been mainly Anglo-Saxons, again with British slaves - although I am sure there was much intermarrying.
Vikings and Saxons sometimes filled different roles in society and their relative populations would depend on the area of settlement. The historian Nick Higham remarks that Anglo-Saxons filled the lowest and highest ranks of society along the Tees Valley and the Vikings were somewhere in between.
We can assume that a less wealthy Anglo-Saxon living in an area captured by Vikings is more likely to find himself employed as a slave/serf than his wealthy Anglo-Saxon contemporaries or Anglo-Saxons in non-Viking settled areas. I am sure the situation was similar to that of the Britons during the Anglo-Saxon invasion - although admittedly very few British place names survive.
A mixed up melting pot (DS)
There is a whole range of theories regarding ethnic population proportions. They range from the view that we are descended mainly from the population that lived here in pre-Roman times with a dash of Viking, Anglo-Saxon and French thrown in, to the view that the Britons were virtually wiped out in all but Wales.
What did these various people look like? In Scotland, Ireland and Wales there is notable predominance of short, dark-haired people. The blue eyed, red-haired, slightly taller type also occurs, but less frequently even though this is actually the accepted description of a Celt.
This red-headed type (along with tall blondes) is also a feature found among Danes, Norwegians and Germans. The Viking Eric Bloodaxe was for example a red-head. It should not be forgotten that the Celts originated from Central Europe and spread out from there. Most Celts are believed to have been fair-haired or red haired.
Scotland, Wales and Ireland are often described as Celtic and while Celtic languages certainly survive here, it doesn't necessarily mean the people are predominantly Celtic in origin. If having red hair is a feature of being a Celt than I believe that Yorkshire has a higher density of red heads than Scotland. In Cornwall, where a Celtic language survived for many years Red Headed people are called 'Danes'.
The Celts arrived in Britain around 400 years before the Romans and they intermixed with the indigenous short, dark eyed, dark haired population (still a dominant type in France, Spain and the Mediterranean). The fair and red-headed Celts brought languages with them that would eventually dominate the whole of the British Isles. These languages even survived the Roman period until the arrival of Anglo-Saxons with their more Nordic appearance and later of course we have the Vikings themselves.
Short-dark haired, dark haired types are not so typical of England as they are of the so-called 'Celtic' fringe. I think it is fair to attribute the typical English appearance to the stronger influence of the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and - somewhat ironically - the Celts, in the part of Britain we know today as England.
Linguistically the Norman French had a major influence on our language but very little influence on our place names. Ethnically they only seem to have made up a small proportion of our nation's blood - although many Normans were ancestors of our English, Scottish and Welsh aristocracy. The Normans were a small but powerful group but still had a profound influence on our language (and presumably on the pronunciation and spelling of our place names).
It should be presumed that this French influence came about from its use in written forms (e.g laws, charters, documents) used in the day to day administration of society. To be successful in England you would have to learn the French language.
The Vikings also had a profound influence on the whole English language even though their settlement was confined to only certain areas of the country. Anglo-Saxon place names can be found everywhere but only the more fundamental aspects of our vocabulary seem to be Anglo-Saxon in origin. The Ancient Britons have virtually no influence on the English language and their influence on place names is confined almost solely to the naming of rivers. However it may simply be that the Anglo-Saxon and Celtic languages were so dissimilar that the latter could not survive.
Will we ever know who we are? One thing is certain Britain was one great big melting pot.
Place Name references (DS)
I find articles by Place Name experts in various journals very useful and you can often find these in local Reference Libraries. The numerous volumes of the English Place Names Society (EPNS) are likewise very useful and can be found in libraries or even purchased from second hand bookstores.
I would certainly recommend the following books
- Guinness Book of British Place Names
- Ekwall's English Place Names
-Mawer's Place Names of Northumberland and Durham (though now increasingly out of date)
-Victor Watts' County Durham Place-Names
- Smith's Place Names of the North Riding
- Margaret Gelling's Signposts to the Past
- Any place name articles or contributions by Victor Watts of Durham University
- Nick Higham's Kingdom of Northumbria * An excellent book on the Anglo-Saxon and Viking period in the North of England
- Nick Higham's Northern Counties to 1000 AD (Likewise)
- The Millennium History of North East England (published by leighton) in which I try to make some sense of the order of events
Whatever you do try to avoid C.E.Jackson's Place Names of Durham, which has recently been republished. It is notoriously inaccurate and largely guesswork. I have heard it described by experts as 'useless'.
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