Etymology to Reveal the Basis of Mythologies of Britain is Prompted by the Surprising Predominance of (Scottish) Gaelic Place-Name Derivation Across the ‘Dark Peak’, as Illustrated Here by Sheffield Core-Central Street Names
Steve Moxon, Broomhill, Sheffield. stevemoxon3(at)talktalk.net
A Creative Commons copyright applies
A differently structured and less comprehensive – necessarily shorter – account appeared in the autumn (September/October/November) 2016 edition of Stirrings magazine, titled True Love Runs Dahn’t Gutter.
The long version was utilised as the basis of talks on Sheffield place-names in 2017 by David Templeman.
That Gaelic etymology is the key to unlocking British mythologies was a discovery in the wake of the highly surprising finding that place-names throughout the ‘Dark Peak’ (Pennine South Yorkshire and North-East Derbyshire — the grit-stone uplands straddling the Yorkshire/Derbyshire border) are predominantly of this derivation. The core-central street names of the one city in this area (Sheffield) serve as very good illustration: Gaelic roots are here ubiquitous except where necessarily and obviously there is a (post-)medieval origin in being concerned with the castle.
[I very much welcome, indeed encourage any corrections or suggestions of competing derivations, which, if plausible, will be added and attributed]
Sheffield’s very oldest street names – those in the historical heart of the city centre, and away from the site of the castle – have never been studied in any concerted way. Local historians have put forward either ill-informed hopeful speculation and/or ‘folk etymology’, and the whole ‘Dark Peak’ area has not been well served by The English Place-Name Society, to say the very least. The EPNS multi-volume surveys of the West Riding of Yorkshire and of Derbyshire, published back in 1961 and 1959 respectively, were epic collations of past records to show how place-names major and minor had evolved, but ultimately were an academic exercise of linguistic contortion by those no doubt very well in command of Old/Middle English, but lacking local knowledge of the lie of the land and of vernacular words and expressions that together might suggest candidate roots other than in English (or Norse). Academics were free to see little need other than to shoe-horn any and every appellation into a narrow mould; even to the point, regularly, of positing a mangling or even invention of some ‘Anglo-Saxon’ personal name if it could be construed to be along the lines of how English forms usually developed. After all, the EPNS overwhelmingly is concerned with English – sitting as it does within the English Department of the University of Nottingham – and with a particular focus on place-names arising from personal names, being as the EPNS is more specifically subsumed under The Institute for Name-Studies. Doesn’t this bias the EPNS away from properly considering candidate derivations that are not based in personal names but instead in topography (features in the landscape), as is almost exclusively the basis of place-naming in the case of Scottish Gaelic?
Albeit that EPNS researchers were well versed in the Norse possibilities they knew they hardly could ignore, anything ‘Celtic’ was less often broached, despite its being known that a Britonnic language – Welsh, or something closely related to it, such as Cumbric – was still spoken in parts of England as late as the eighth century AD (or even the tenth / eleventh century, according to some authorities). Though a ‘British’ (Welsh) alternative sometimes was considered, a trawl of a Gaelic lexicon appears not to have been seen as relevant. Often, the approach entailed paying little heed to the paramount importance of a putative root being actually of use in identifying the location. In other words, not seeing the wood for the trees: a big problem in academia. Frequently, the suggested meaning was of such banality as to be a non-starter – for example, Wortley was taken to be after the bog myrtle plant or a word generically denoting vegetables, ignoring the dialect expression ‘to wortlet over’, which veritably screams a clearly topographical basis for what is a ridge-top village. It baffles how such an ephemeral basis could ever have been thought to suffice. The EPNS even takes the commonly occurring pea monikers at face value! The EPNS’ now long out-dated work relating to the ‘Dark Peak’ is in no small part a failure as a reliable place-name guide.
There is a website for the EPNS’ Key to English Place Names mapping county by county, with all significantly sized places appearing as a red button that is but a ‘click’ away from the EPNS’ proferred derivation. [See http://kepn.nottingham.ac.uk/map/county/Derbyshire in respect of Derbyshire.] Across the maps for the West Riding of Yorkshire and Derbyshire, not a single instance is given as Gaelic, and a mere handful are attributed to ‘British Celtic’ — Welsh. That the EPNS has entirely missed Gaelic derivation is difficult to excuse when you consider that with ‘Celtic’ naming being overwhelmingly topographical, then it is easily checked, with many so neat a fit as to be incontrovertible. Such is the case, for example, with Hathersage. But just look what the EPNS makes of it: a supposed stem of Old English haefer, ‘he-goat’. The conjecture is that this was adopted as a personal name, in turn to be used to denote the village. The EPNS in all seriousness claims that anciently there was someone who was locally a big cheese yet nicknamed ‘billy goatface’, so to speak; and that his name was stamped on a specific place and remembered thereafter such that his name alone was at least sufficient to indicate where in the landscape this specific place nestled. EPNS Council member and principal editor, David Mills, in his recent Dictionary of British Place-Names, sticks with the very same outlandish nonsense. Well, the name Hathersage surely does sound English enough, and even quintessentially so; but it takes tunnel-vision and ‘groupthink’ to so assiduously adhere to an OE etymology. The naming actually is from Scottish Gaelic athach, ‘giant’ or ‘monster’, as the stem, with the later added English possessive ‘s’ and OE suffix ecg, referring to the gritstone edge immediately above the village (which more recently has been named Stanage , simply, ‘stone-edge’). The initial ‘h’ is prosthetic; this being common in Northern Middle English and Middle Scottish, as merely a scribal device, and not denoting any dialect tendency to place an aspirate before initial vowels. The absence of the medial ‘th’ in the Domesday recording, Hereseige, is because there is no ‘th’ sound in French. There is in ScG alternatively the word famhair to more specifically refer to a giant, with athach (or athaid, athair) more generally employed to refer to a ‘monster’. It may, then, be that the strong local still current association of Hathersage with a giant (the Little John grave and the Giant’s Causeway road ending in the village) is a corruption of an original meaning in terms of a mythological serpent, which would apply to the long snaking gritstone edge immediately above the village (more recently named Stanage Edge – simply, ‘stone-edge edge’), that in ancient imagination would be envisaged as a serpent turned to stone, and connected to the pan-’Celtic’ goddess Bridhe/Bridget, and hence the Robin Hood naming of a cave on Stanage (see the paper on the etymology of Robin Hood on this website). The still extant local naming ‘Giant’s Causeway’ of the road atop the pronounced ridge down from Stanage to the village is an extension of the prehistoric conceptualisation regarding the Edge. [Note: this is a revision of what was given here as the derivation previously, which was in terms of the causeway simply as such, before the understanding that the initial ‘h’ is prosthetic allowed a consideration of athach.]
Hathersage is within the ‘Dark Peak’ upland grit-stone region of South Yorkshire and North-East Derbyshire, where the majority of place-names easily can be shown are from (Scottish) Gaelic; including the stems of the names of the major places near Hathersage — all of them: Grindleford (from gleann dail, ‘valley with level fields by a river’), Bamford (recorded earlier as Banford, from either or both of beàrn, ‘breach’, ‘gap’, ‘pass’, ‘fissure’, given the notable position here between extremely steep-sided huge peaks, and beann, ‘peak’, in reference to Great Tor, the peak on the side and near the foot of which the village sits); Bradwell (from brad and variants, meaning literally ‘windpipe’ or ‘gullet’, often used to denote a narrow gorge); Calver (from cabhsair, pronounced kav-sar, ’causeway’); and Eyam, which, being pronounced ‘eem’, clearly comes from uamh, pronounced ‘weem’, meaning ‘cave’, from the extensive cave network in the limestone under the village and all around it.
Hope is not as clear cut an instance: the derivation is not the Norse word for a valley, but instead is very likely to have two roots; one Gaelic and the other likely Gaelic. The Hope Valley’s river is named Noe, which surely as in the case of its namesake in Scotland within Glen Noe comes from the construction gleann-ó, ‘daughter valley’ — the Hope Valley is formed by a tributary of the River Derwent. Glen Noe Scotland, from the original gleann-ó was rendered Glen(n) Eo, as was the river; and latterly as naturally in speech the form became Glen Noe, then the river took the same Noe appellation. With this transition duplicated here in the Peak District (and this naming is also Gaelic: see below), then Hope would arise as does Loch Hope in Scotland, from Ó becoming op or ob and taking a prosthetic ‘h’. Hence Hope also would have the meaning ‘daughter valley’. Alternatively, or, more likely as a mutually influencing co-root, there is OE, cop, origin uncertain’, which I would suggest is ScG — the uncertainty of origin being most likely because place-name scholars never venture Gaelic derivations. There are many examples in Scotland of hope as a place-name element arising from cop being aspirated to chop, with the silent ‘c’ then being lost, leaving hop / hopp, which usually ends up rendered hope. Cop, meaning ‘summit’, is often or always used for a hill or ridge with a narrow, crest-like top. This is apposite for the distinctive hill immediately adjacent to Hope on its south side, atop of which is ‘the folly’; a large, seventy-five feet diameter barrow and platform cairn, where a major archaeological find indicates neolithic rather than Bronze Age settlement. The hill evidently continued to be seen in a religious light — to be venerated, or associated with veneration: a little further along the hilltop is Eccles House (eccles being an Anglicisation of the Britonnic word for ‘church’), near where once stood an ancient cross. The most well-known instance locally of where cop occurs unmodified is Fin Cop, which having a clearly Gaelic first element (meaning ‘white’) also suggests that cop likewise is Gaelic. Finally, as for the derivation of peak re the name of the whole district (the Dark Peak & the White Peak), this is from Gaelic púca, ‘spirit’, ‘ghost’, originally pertaining to the long-famous huge cavern in Castleton, Peak Hole (as it was still named in 1813); hence its being long known colloquially as ‘The Devil’s Arse’. The stream emanating from the cavern took the same moniker, as it does still today: Peakshole Water is the brook joining the River Noe at Hope.
The current supposed best guide to Sheffield street names, according to the Sheffield Libraries, Archives & Information Service, is a particularly poor offering dating from 1977 — Street Names of Central Sheffield — which from 2011 has been put out on the Sheffield City Council’s website [www.sheffield.gov.uk/…/street-names/Street-Names-Study-Guide–PDF–2-34-MB-%20(3).pdf]. Derivations in this guide are mostly simple assertions on no evidence; many just a taking literal the ostensible meaning, flippant guesses, and more than a few not even guessed at but mentioned in simple bemusement as to root. The lack of even the beginning of any overall picture should have rung alarm bells. Then again, back in 1977 there were no internet search engines, which have revolutionised comparative place-name research to facilitate the spotting of homologous namings relating to particular landscape features and of mirror clusters of related appellations.
Even then, armed with ‘Celtic’ lexicons and place-name guides, investigation initially mostly draws a blank, because the assumption is that Welsh would unlock the namings. Disappointment prompts a seeming long-shot bid to open the toponymic vault with a trawl for Gaelic possibilities, and then ‘eureka’ moments come one after another as Gaelic turns out to be something akin to a universal acid to dissolve away the accretions of history and prehistory in the process of turning what had become a linguistic imponderable to see through the modern rendition, uncovering Anglicisation and rationalisation. The veneer is not a particularly thick one: it’s a surprise how close to the original sound these place-names remain. A neat coherence emerges, beyond just the commonality of archaic language use, of inter-related topographical elements reflecting changes in the lie of the land or landscape feature from one micro-locality to the next.
No ancient core-central Sheffield street name escapes successful Gaelic etymological analysis, and this without any of the sort of forcing the EPNS needed to fit the area to their narrow notions. Actually, in one respect a narrower focus would have been appropriate, though it wasn’t appreciated by the EPNS. The litmus test of Norse settlement is the presence of thorpe and thwaite place-name suffixes, and these don’t reach far enough eastwards even to get to the river in the Upper Don Valley (with the exception of hugging the far bank of it at Upperthorpe & Netherthorpe). But a far too narrow focus on an evolution merely of different forms of English stems from a false assumption the EPNS could not have known they were making: an Anglo-Saxon basis of English. This assumption is now effectively disproved by fine-scale genetic research, as outlined in detail in the books by Oxford genetics professors Bryan Sykes (Blood of the Isles) and Stephen Oppenheim (The Origins of the British: The New Prehistory of Britain). Sykes and Oppenheim working independently of each other reveal that overwhelmingly migration into Britain was in paleolithic, mesolithic and (though much less so) neolithic times, and that subsequent influx was minor; not least of Angles and Saxons. There were, simply, not enough of them to effect any supplanting of language. It is now concluded that a proto-English must have been spoken thousands of years before a relatively insignificant number of Angles and Saxons invaded. Consequently, trying to divine the language development of place-names from an origin in Anglian cum Saxon lexicons is not going to bear healthy fruit; certainly not if this is an area other than one specifically of actual Anglian / Saxon settlement. With such low numbers, then given the inaccessibility, ease of defence, and low quality farmland of the Dark Peak, it’s unlikely there was any Anglian or Saxon settlement here. Any infuence from afar could be no more than superficial, as we know from even the genuinely country-wide Norman hegemony failing to have any but minor impact on the populace in terms of French speaking and place-naming.
What is more, Sykes and Oppenheim demonstrate a profound still persisting genetic divide down the length of England, indicating that proto-English probably more or less stayed in the east of England, including east of the inaccessible uplands of the Dark Peak. The overall picture is that this divide arose from people arriving in the east of England from northern Europe, whereas those in the west arrived from the Iberian peninsula. Albeit that it is fraught with danger to elide movement of peoples with cultures, it’s presumed that the long-standing different cultural origins maintained a very persistent failure to admix. Now, if the east was where English developed, then the west looks more like a ‘Celtic’ bastion. The Britonnic languages of Welsh and Cornish arose only later out of proto-Celtic, long after Gaelic had done likewise; and so, if English speaking eventually displaced, in turn, the use of both languages, then the current language map of the British Isles makes sense. Note that I said English speaking, not English speakers: the change could be cultural supersession rather than or more than displacement of people. Welsh and Cornish speaking, being the more recently marginalised, remains adjacent to the rest of the west of England; whereas the surviving pockets of Gaelic speaking are far flung, being in the extreme north-west of Scotland, the Isle of Man and Ireland, reflecting, apparently, a much earlier marginalisation.
A more comprehensive outline is put forward by Michael Goormachtigh and Anthony Durham on their website about proto-English (proto-english.org). This teases out migrations from language evolutions within the overall schema of two halves of Britain split east-west, with different language trees: that in the east being from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) which they term Magelmosian, and, in the west, the non-PIE Azelian. Their understanding, then, is of an even sharper distinction east-west between contrasting language trees even than a proto-English versus proto-Celtic model. The language changes, as Goormachtigh & Durham see them, are more through within-country displacement: Azalian held sway across the great bulk of Britain until Magelmosian expanded out of its north-east base.
The upshot of these insights is that we should expect (or, at the very least, be open to) surprises in place-name etymology, especially in more remote areas where layers of superseding language are thinner. Corresponding to more ancient language origin, we should likewise expect (or, at the very least, be open to) a more ancient origin of seminal UK mythology – including the most notable: Robin Hood and King Arthur; that this may be within a language either nearer to Proto-Indo-European in a precursor / very early form of English pre-dating Old English, or one not just back to the Britonnic ‘Celtic’ era of Welsh speaking, but more archaically still, to times of likely also a widespread Goidelic ‘Celtic’ era of Gaelic-speaking. The latter is now known to be the context after etymological investigation of both the Robin Hood and (King) Arthur names — as I’ve investigated myself and presented on this website. The route taken by these mythologies to take hold across Britain would seem hardly a spread from the west to also encompass the east, because it was the English east which came to dominate. It may be that Gaelic-speaking was not so widespread but comparatively localised in remote areas where long ago it took hold, and it stayed relatively undisturbed until finally it was gradually subsumed, when the distinctive mythologies of a Gaelic-speaking culture were only then more widely adopted until they became generic – perhaps the lore of the underdog gained appeal in the wake of invasion, such that folklore hitherto relatively unknown and under-valued as that of another culture came to be appropriated and popular. Whatever the history, etymological investigation incontrovertibly shows that indeed Gaelic was at one time the language of the ‘Dark Peak’, and this wholly unexpected Gaelic culture in England explains why an origin of key mythologies hitherto had eluded all inquiry.
Let me now turn to Sheffield street names, as a body of evidence fitting this picture. Each naming I deal with will be introduced in block capitals, and all derivations are italicised Scottish Gaelic unless, rarely, I’m contrasting roots from another language, when I’ll clearly indicate this. The street names and their forms usually are as on the earliest street map of Sheffield — that by Ralph Gosling in 1736 — because being the earliest recorded they show the least modification to the ancient street pattern and the street name forms. However, a few further instances are taken from later maps because of their finer detail missing on Gosling’s, and the odd new street appearing that takes its name from that of the immediate locale, thus revealing an ancient appellation hitherto hidden. With the castle being medieval, then that quarter is of no interest: the various castle street names and the associated (Our) Lady’s Bridge and Waingate / Bridge Street are self-evidently non-ancient. Ditto the modern Bank Street (after a financial institution), Angel Street (from an inn once here, that like many other major coaching establishments was ‘at the sign of the angel’: the Archangeal Raphael, the guardian angel of travellers), and, now lost, The Isle.
The ancient or the surviving ancient focal point of settlement in Sheffield is HARTSHEAD, and with this name being so clearly of Scottish Gaelic origin, it makes a good place to begin. This site shares the same derivation with parallel instances within the region (Hartshead Hall, Kirklees, and Hartshead Moor Top, Calderdale) and similar instances local (Harthill, Penistone and Rotherham) and a little further afield (Harthill, Cheshire, and Derbyshire). The topography at all of these sites fits ScG ard, ‘height’. The lie of the land at this exact location is of the hill up from the Don river suddenly levelling off. The lane from here down to the river is in two sections with ‘modern’ names: Meetinghouse Lane and, for the lower, steeper section, Scargill Croft, which formerly was known vernacularly in oral tradition as DOVER HILL, most likely from dobhair, ‘water’. A near adjacent short steep street is SNIG HILL, (smidean, ‘very small (bit)’ > English smidgen, local dialect snidge); likely a contraction of snig-gate (which appears to be the basis of snicket). Likewise downhill, but back up from Hartshead, is FIGTREE LANE, derived from feag, ‘narrow gap’, which is exactly the main feature of this lane: it is constricted where it adjoins Hartshead but then opens out. The tree element appears only later in records, giving away that it’s just a corruption of street to serve the rationalisation in terms of a fruit. From this end of Hartshead runs the key anciently-named thoroughfare of the original settlement, CAMPO LANE: very clearly rooted in ‘Common Celtic’ kambo, ‘to curve, bend’, given that the lane does just this distinctly, about half way along and then continues bending as it reaches Townhead. [OE camb, in one of its meanings, ‘hill ridge’, I thought was promising, but it’s pronounced ‘kame’ / ‘kaim’, and there is no construction I can find that would account for the second syllable. The suggestion from one source of camb-hoh for the name of the village of Cambo in Northumberland is a duplication in meaning.] Moving back to the top of Snig Hill is IRISH CROSS, which has long denoted an area, not or not just a (former) cross. It’s recorded as far back as 1499, long before any significant Irish immigration; and in 1568 as Yreyshe, which even if it’s just a clumsy spelling of what is meant to be ‘Irish’, it makes little sense: it’s surely a mis-read, down the ages and across language change, of forrach, ‘meeting place, assembly’. [Before Paradise Square was built and then used for large public meetings, Irish Cross indeed would have been the place to assemble and not Sembley Green on the Wicker as has been falsely supposed — though it was used by local militia for muster and archery practice. Sembley Green is a latter-day mis-read of Semary Green, which is a name duplicated in Heeley, where Sembley Walls is known (from a note in a 1758 survey) to be a truncation of St Mary. St Mary was the ‘Our Lady’ after whom was named the bridge over the Don to The Wicker, adjacent to Sembley Green.]
A tad further inside the plateau of the settlement is ORCHARD LANE & STREET, encapsulating an Anglicisation-cum-rationalisation of uachdar, uachdaran, ‘top, upper part, summit’. The land at this point is comparatively flat rather than actually so, but just beyond Townhead, after a very short minor rise, it indeed levels off, at RED COURT & RED LANE (now Trippet Lane), which only can be from rèidh, ‘smooth, level ground, plain’. From here ran BLIND LANE (now Holly Street), which name is a usual letter transposition in place-name evolution: of bilean, ‘margins’, in reference to the edge of the town. The mis-read blind has been accounted for by the medieval houses overhanging so much as almost to meet in the middle of the street and rendering the place dark even in daytime. This lane ended at BALM GREEN, which originally was beum, ‘stream, torrent’, referring to the spring here, in later (Old English speaking) times labelled Flint Well (OE flint, ‘stream’); this being the principal supply of the town’s water. It was until relatively recently held in a small reservoir, BARKER’S POOL; this being named after neither a supposed personage (who disappears far into history upon investigation) nor beacan, ‘small’, but derives from bac, baca (plural bacan), ’pit, hollow, bog’, which also gave rise to the street here, BACKFIELDS. This could refer to what the next street might be thought to: Coal Pit Lane (now Cambridge Street); but more likely, or originally, it denoted a ditch/bank defensive structure necessary on the western edge of the ancient settlement to cut across what is a fairly flat hilltop. The other naming here, immediately outside the edge of the town, CARVER (STREET & LANE) is etymologically either arbhar, ‘corn crop’, and/ or cabhsair, pronounced kav-ssar, ‘pavement, causeway, paved path or walk’. The ‘Long Causeway’ is known to have started very close by (in the area of Sheffield in modern times designated ‘Portobello’), to run to Hathersage; but given the location of Carver Fields on the reconstructed map of Harrison’s 1637 survey of Sheffield, down near where is marked on the oldest Sheffield map ‘Dronfield Road’, then this could be the causeway in question – being what becomes London Road, the main route south to London.
The principal source of water (at Balm Green /Barker’s Pool) required a conduit to where habitation was focused – Hartshead or thereabouts – and the direction would be down FARGATE (fuarau, ‘a well, fountain’; cf the multiple instances across England of Far Lane). This becomes High Street, formerly PRIOR GATE (bior, ‘well, fountain, water’: with p and b standardly being effectively interchangeable over time, prior is the obvious rationalisation). [There are parallel instances of this etymology and they have nothing to do with priories: Prior’s Lane to Prior’s Bridge in Craven is a short lane to a named spring and “wells”; locally, Prior Road in Conisbrough is by Holywell Lane; a well near Malton is known as Priorpot, and there are Prior(’s) Wells, as at Canmore in Lothian. A presumed reference to Worksop Priory through its ownership of some property is a thin basis for a derivation when the priory was all-powerful in the area and on that basis its name could be attached to all sorts but isn’t. The naming (as Gate or Row) seems to have co-existed with High Street, which confusion could be through a distinction between a watercourse – known to run from High Street – and a street taking the same course. Prior Gate probably extended as what became Church Street/Lane (after the church was first built), perhaps as the conduit for water from the several wells at Townhead.] The course of the main water channel became, before it entered the River Don, a now lost place-name, TRUELOVE’S GUTTER, which, if archaic, looks like turlough / turlach, literally ‘dry place’, but specifically used to denote such as a disappearing lake (common in limestone areas) where water may suddenly appear and as quickly drain away. This could not be a more suitable label for a major drainage channel on a hill. With the pronunciation tur-low transposed, as is so common in place-name evolution, to tru-low; what this suggests in Anglicisation and rationalisation hardly could be other than true-love. On the other hand, if the naming is in the wake of the medieval Castle, then it may be a play on the surname of its constructor, de Lovetot, to make a euphemism for a section of his moat.
At the foot of what was Prior Gate was SHAMBLES (later Market Place / Pudding Lane, then Angel Street / King Street), where were the original slaughterhouses. The etymology usually given is convoluted; unconvincingly from a meaning of ‘stool’, thence, supposedly, to the tables from which meat was sold. How a term indicating animal killing had led to a meaning of ‘stool’ has never been explained. Instead, it’s clearly from seamlas (pronounced shom-los); literally ‘cleft flesh’, used to denote a slaughterhouse. Close by Shambles, what later was called Beast Market and then Haymarket was BULL STAKE, which cannot be as banally insignificant as its face value, but instead is another Anglicisation cum rationalisation; most likely of the locationally apposite baile-an-sruth(an), ‘place of the tributary stream / confluence’, which is just as is this spot at the very meeting of the subsidiary Sheaf with the Don. It’s presumably the name of the original settlement, whereas the SHEFFIELD name itself – recorded in Domesday as Escafeld – has a stem indicating the more than merely marshy expanse that spread out from the confluence to provide the site’s chief defence: uisge, of course; ‘water’. [It’s unlikely to be from the similar Welsh word isca, because multiply occurring in the upper Don valley is the ‘corruption’ of uisge to Uskers (similar to how the same word has been rendered whisky) – and, at two river sites in Sheffield, to HORSE DYKE, in local lingo ‘Oss Dyke.] If the settlement had expanded, or if its focus was chiefly at Hartshead or Townhead, then an appellation that was locational in a wider sense would be more apposite than the narrower specification of being precisely at the confluence. Near Bull Stake, coming right up to if not actually through any ancient defences was DIXON LANE: dìgean, meaning the plural of ’ditch’ and/or ‘wall of loose stones’, is not from Old English. It’s the other way round. Dig is a loan word to English from Scottish Gaelic.
Outside the settlement near here is SHUDE HILL, which would at first sight appear to be siúd, ‘yonder’, given a pretty well exact-match pronunciation of shood; and it seems apposite from the perspective of those looking out from the original settlement. It’s odd, though. Instead, it could well be suidhe, suidhean (diminutive), ‘seat, sitting or resting place, level shelf’ – given that the hill leads to such –or sughan, ‘wet place’ – given that the hill comes up from the ponds area. JEW (JEHU) LANE is the same lane bent round in a short and narrow ending, and has the same derivation rationalised pejoratively in the sense of ‘mean’. Note that this choice of candidates does not militate against a Scottish Gaelic etymology, because there are no plausible alternatives from other lexicons. The putative derivations here could be mutually reinforcing, and perhaps not so much primary, secondary and tertiary as near simultaneous roots. Connecting Shude Hill and Jew Lane is the very short BAKERS HILL, very simply from beacán, ‘small’ (just as Snig Hill — see below — is a reference to a similar word meaning ‘small’ / ‘short’). Also derived from a stem of suidhean or sughan is the vernacular for a one-time pub near the top of Bakers Hill (the Norfolk Arms, at the bottom end of Norfolk street), SHOUT-’EM-DOWN: either suidhean-an-dùin, ‘the level shelf by the fortification’, or sughan-an-dùin, ‘the wet place by the fortification’. What on the face of it really does reflect the ‘level shelf’ here, FLAT STREET, although indeed (at least now) has a level portion, actually is in part (and formerly was wholly) a hill, down to where was Pond Well. Derived from fleuchat, ‘wet place’: fliuch, ‘wet’ +achadh, ‘place’, this looks like a vestige of naming across a wider area but which was superseded by the ponds appellations – Pond Hill & Street, which adjoin Flat Street.
Moving back along the floodplains to nearer where we started is MILLSANDS, which both surface appearance and recent archaeological digging (of the Marshalls steelworks that once was here) shows is sandless. The appellation is a contraction of muileann-seann, ‘old mill’, through assonance eliding the second and third syllables. Here was a street, COLSON STYLE and a large meadow, COLSON CROFT, on the Don’s floodplain, caladh; which is Anglicised elsewhere to callows, that with another of those usual letter transpositions would render it calso. Down here also was BRICK LANE (later Spring Street), that being at the river’s edge is brua(i)ch, ‘edge, brink, bank’ – bruach in other places local is similarly rendered as bridge; including across the river here in BRIDGEHOUSES (from which runs TOM CROSS LANE: tom, ‘hill’). Back on the town side of the floodplain, slightly above it, is WEST BARR – note the double r original spelling before one was dropped – (and the at one time associated WEST COURT): bhaist-barr, ‘end / top of the floodplain’, literally ‘over the immersion’, contrasting with the continuation of West Bar as it extends to Lady’s Bridge named, formerly, Under The Water. Gaelic bh is pronounced w, and ‘wast’ was the old pronunciation of west. As Sheffield was never walled, then there was no entrance structure to give rise to a naming such as at York and other cities. Sheffield has no corresponding bar in respect of any other compass direction. [The bhaist root would seem also to apply to place-names outside the town beyond Red Court: latterly WEST STREET & WEST LANE, but earlier and still today (though surviving only in short section) WESTFIELD LANE, WEST HILL LANE. It’s clear that all of these names relate to the once major water source of Broomhall Spring, to which the surviving section of West Hill Lane can be seen to be heading towards and almost reaching.]
Beside Lady’s Bridge (which is medieval, and named after ‘Our Lady’; that is, the Catholic Mary) on the other side of the river, right on its bank is GOOD CROFT, derived from gead, ‘small spot of arable land, narrow strip of land, raised bed’. This is part of a wider area called THE WICKER. There are Norse and Old English candidate derivations for this, but most apposite is vika, ‘from the creek’; a creek being a channel in a marsh or an inlet, so this refers to the confluence of the Sheaf with the Don opposite this site, the whole of which at one time, old records reveal, was regularly flooded marshland. These are the only places of note on the other side of the river (other than the afore-mentioned Bridgehouses, further upstream), other than the hospital, which of course is relatively modern, so doesn’t have an anciently-rooted name; and Sembley Green, which is a mis-reading of Semary Green (St Mary Green), as discussed above.
Returning to West Bar, GRINDLEGATE was a route (hence gate) traversing the combe – the little valley within a valley at this locale ending in West Bar Green off West Bar itself – later a vestige in a dog-legged street off West Bar Green. The stem is a rendering through ‘folk etymology’ to a northern dialect word for a grindstone, what originally was glendale, the Anglicisation of gleann dail, which means ‘valley with level fields by a river’ – as in the exact same place-name on Skye, and (as pointed out above) the derivation of nearby Grindleford over the Derbyshire border. A secondary root of grian, ‘sun’, might well have played a part in the evolution; dail being ‘haugh, level field by a river’. Rising above West Barr Green is LAMBERT KNOLL (now Scotland Street) and the associated LAMBERT STREET. Knoll from cnoc is a giveaway, and lamh is ‘hill’, but the knoll being characterisable as helmet-shaped is surely from the compound word for ‘helmet’ ceann-bheart, literally, ‘head-piece’. This derivation seems to be generic re other lambert place-names. The pronunciation, canbert, could later be mis-read as Middle-English lambert, ‘bright land’, and/or it was influenced by lann, ‘flat’ – through the adjacent floodplain; indeed this might be construable as lann-bheart, ‘flat piece’. Most likely, it was originally lamh-ceann-bheart, ‘the helmet-shaped hill’, with the median element becoming lost though alliteration. A street climbing the knoll is SNOW LANE, which probably is a truncation of Snowden (as is named a hill locally at Hunshelf), from snua aird, which means something like ‘snooty’: it refers to being ‘on high’, sticking your nose up in the air. This is apposite for a knoll, which rises from nowhere to become a little eminence. SKARGELL KNOWLE, which became Lambert Croft, appears to denote the extra height above Lambert Knoll, a little further back on the ridge of which Lambert Knoll is the end. The construction looks like the elsewhere extant sgurr nan gillean, from sgùrr, ‘rocky peak, sharp steep hill’ and gyll, ‘small valley’ (or, by association, ‘small stream’). The lane leading up to here is PEA CROFT / STREET, which is the oft-occurring preas, ‘shrub, bush, thicket’. This must be the waste ground just beyond the farmed area immediately outside Sheffield: Pea Croft is the area on the hillside facing the town fields (Bailey fields). The plural form, preasan, is the very likely derivation of pincen / pinson in the earlier spellings of PINSTONE LANE / STREET – on the other side of the settlement at the distant end of Fargate — in that this too is an area well beyond the ancient settlement, and, therefore, probably waste beyond farmland.
Coming up the town-side hill, SILVER HEAD STREET / SILVER STREET is through a rationalisation; of the same word that in Scotland gave rise to the surname Shivers: seamhas, ‘narrow place’. This appropriately describes the topography at this spot. The little valley within the Don valley is constricted before suddenly opening out into the Don floodplain. Alternatively, or additionally, sealbhar (pronounced sealvar), ‘cattle’, could be a root. Silver Head formerly would have applied to land below / by Paradise Square. Paradise Square itself formerly was HICKS STYLE FIELD, and from the top of here (the ridge on which sits Campo Lane) down to the floodplain, at one time ran HICKS STYLE / LANE. This naming seems to be close to the (partial) Anglicisation in Lowland Scots, heich, pronounced hix, ‘height’; as, for example, in the case of Heuch Head, ‘place at the top of a steep bank, a slight elevation, knoll’. The etymology here may be a partial influence of English height on uachdar – this last being the same origin as for the common rationalisation to orchard. Also associated with what became Paradise Square is WHEATS LANE (now a short alley off North Church Street, but at one time the name of the top section of the Street), which is not the Scots word, weets, apparently a modification of wet, which applies, it seems, to high altitude hills where usually there is condensing mist. Scottish place-name guides reveal it’s from chuitan, ‘small fold’, which elsewhere transmuted to whiteans (the s not being a pluralisation) and then whites. An animal enclosure in the Sheffield area would be of stone, and therefore an enduring landscape feature likely to give rise to a place-naming. The area of this hillside further over to Hartshead, encompasing what became Bank Street, formerly was known as WADE’S ORCHARD. As before with orchard, it was nothing of the kind, but a corruption of a word denoting a steep slope — here too steep for farming, and, therefore, it would have been scrub; which precisely is the derivation of Wade: from bhaid, pronounced waid, ‘bushy place’.
There is one anomalous street name that is ostensibly English and may indeed be as it seems but could be Scottish Gaelic. This only very recently lost (demolished) lane ran between where is now the South Yorkshire Police HQ and the law courts: down from Irish cross to the river. WATER LANE, formerly (in medieval times) Watergate. With water pronounced locally (just as do Scots) watter, Water Lane occurs elsewhere as a rationalisation of uchdan, ‘breast, ascent, side of a hill’ (which is slightly different to the word cited above — uachdar, uachdaran — denoting not a slope but where the slope ends, as with the orchard names near Townhead), which is apposite here, for what indeed is a hill. More usually the rationalisation is (as for the just-mentioned very similar word), again, to orchard, as in many local instances; for example at nearby Oughtibridge: a short hill up from the river. Alternatively, the derivation may be from bhàta, ‘boat’; bhàta also being pronounced as watter. Of course, Water Lane in Sheffield centre may be a relatively recent, that is medieval appellation: this street didn’t just rise from the river, but featured large water troughs, and it stems and rises up from a street named Under the Water. Most likely, though, the appearance of these troughs long post-dated the street naming. So it’s disputable rather than placeable within the body of fairly clear Scottish Gaelic derivation, but the uncertainty has no bearing on the issue of Scottish Gaelic derivation of core-central Sheffield streets, because this is in respect of ancient, not medieval or modern streets. The surprise is how few have medieval or modern names. As regards ancient streets, the evidence that they’re of Scottish Gaelic heritage hardly could be clearer.
A surprisingly holistic picture has emerged in the study of these street names, of the ancient centre of Sheffield being full of frozen ‘folk memory’ in the language of Scottish Gaelic. It’s a very good illustration of its ubiquity across what was and in some respects still is the remote region that is the Dark Peak. The importance of this to the study of mythologies of Britain is obvious in providing a whole new language basis to etymological investigation. With the name of such as Robin Hood and King Arthur being their only concretely existing facets, then etymology is the sole way in to solving the mystery of these enigmatic figures, to decipher the ancient folklore that they are, and thereby to get inside the minds of our very long dead ancestors to see if their preoccupations coincide with ours; specifically their attitudes and religiosity about the birth-life-death endless regenerative cycle.
* A dialogue between myself and a couple of detractors was hosted by Stirrings magazine, which ended with a third epistle by one Dave Edmondson, after which the Stirrings editor drew a line under the exchange. So here is what my reply would have been:
“Dave Edmondson continues to show little confidence in his own argument, and even resorts to stark misrepresentation to accuse me of setting store by literal meaning, when this is what I had criticised and explicity do not do myself. His attempt to derive far in Fargate from some word meaning ‘wayfarer’ is to progress hardly at all from untenably taking the name at face value — the very mistake he ‘projects’ on to me, and from which, he claims, he’s groping for an alternative. Just as a literal meaning ‘far’ is untenable as a place-name, so is ‘wayfarer’: everywhere is far from somewhere, and a naming of ‘far’ therefore would be locationally completely uniformative; and likewise functionally useless in place-naming, every route is synonymously a means whereby someone makes their way.
The only other street name Dave Edmondson proffers as an alternative to Gaelic derivation falls just as flat: the idea that the far-flung bailey namings were not the external town fields as their location as clearly indicates as does their name, and instead somehow are named from pallisading of the core town from a French word. It’s a ridiculous notion. Quite apart from the outlandishness of etymology in a language none of the locals ever spoke, land well away from the town never would have been enclosed by a pallisade. There would be no reason to build it, and nobody would be able to cover the large expense. It’s ironic that I had pointed out the faux French etymology by one of the local gentry of Sands Paviers in sans paviour. It is fairly self-evidently a rationalisation of the very similar-sounding Gaelic ceann a’ baile, ‘town-head’.
Well, Monsieur Edmondson persists with what he must know is his incoherent argument; a poor if not lost cause.”
[I’ll reproduce here the whole discussion thread in due course.]