Happy New Year from the REELS team! We’re now entering the second year of the project, using Berwickshire place-names to investigate the Northumbrian dialect of Old English and its development into Older Scots. We’ll keep you posted on progress, and will be delighted to hear from you. In the meantime, anyone looking for a more general introduction to the Anglo-Saxons and Old English might be interested in the “Learning with the Online Thesaurus of Old English (TOE)” resource at http://oldenglishteaching.arts.gla.ac.uk/. A revised and updated version was launched yesterday, and – as before – includes exercises, ideas for projects, and lots of fascinating information. Unit 11 “Landscape” is particularly relevant to place-names, but the whole resource is designed to explore aspects of Anglo-Saxon language and culture through the study of Old English vocabulary. Other units include “Life in Anglo-Saxon England”, “A Short Description of Old English, “The Vocabulary of Old English”, “Farming”, “Food and Drink”, “Plants”, “The Universe”, and many more. Enjoy!
Edin’s Hall ‘(Fort & Broch)’ is a remarkable monument situated on the north-east slope of Cockburn Hill above the Whiteadder Water. Possibly dating from the Roman Iron Age (Canmore website), the interpretation both of the site itself and of its name is problematic. I will leave to the archaeologists the arguments as to what its original purpose was, when and for whom it was built and whether or not it is a broch as opposed to a ‘complex Atlantic roundhouse’ (see NMRS Canmore ID 58777). As to the name, our earliest record is from Armstrong’s map of 1771, when it appears as Wooden’s Hall or Castle. Here Wooden has nothing to do with the adjective ‘wooden’ – Edin’s Hall is entirely of stone. Rather it is a form of the Old English god Wōden, the god of wisdom and poetry who appears in the Norse pantheon as Odin. Clearly it was thought that only a god could have built such an impressive and unusual structure.
However, by the 1790s the name Wooden’s Hall was falling out of fashion. We know this because the minister of Duns, Rev. Dr Robert Bowmaker, writes in the Old Statistical Account: ‘by some called Wooden’s hall, but commonly called Edin’s or Edwin’s hall’. In this way he associates it with the famous king, Edwin, 616-32 AD, the first Christian king of the Northumbrians according to the early eighth-century scholar Bede. By the twelfth century it was generally thought that Edinburgh itself took its name from him, being originally *Edwinsburgh. This idea still persists to this day, but Edinburgh originally meant ‘fortification (Old English burh) associated with an area or province called Eiddyn’, Eiddyn itself being a Brittonic (Old Welsh) name of unknown meaning. It is perhaps no coincidence that the Rev. Dr Bowmaker preferred the name associating the fort in his parish with a great Christian king than with a pagan deity! So in this name we have several layers of re-interpretation.
The use of the element hall is also noteworthy. Originally hall meant ‘a high-status dwelling such as a big hoose or castle’, but later (i.e. from about the 17th century onwards), it was often applied ironically, with humorous effect, combined with elements describing poor land, such as whinny ‘associated with whin or gorse’, or bog; also vegetables, such as cabbage or sybie (spring onion), or birds, such as laverock or lark, or corbie (crow). Examples of this can be found in Berwickshire in names such as Partanhall (Ayton parish), containing Scots partan ‘an edible crab’ or Cloverhall (Eccles parish). In the name Wooden’s Hall, later Edin’s Hall, given that it has been a ruin for many centuries, albeit an impressive one, it is difficult to know just how hall was being applied, whether or not tongue in cheek.
Edin’s Hall ‘Fort & Broch’: part of the walls, looking north, with Retreat House clearly visible on the Whiteadder Water below. Photo: Simon Taylor.
October 2016 saw members of the REELS team visit North Berwickshire en route home from attending a day conference in Newcastle organised by the Society for Name Studies in Britain and Ireland. Dr Simon Taylor and Dr Leonie Dunlop (formerly of STIT, the precursor project to REELS) contributed papers.
Our objective was to conduct fieldwork and to enjoy the view of the rolling Lammermuir scenery and areas to the south from the top of Dirrington Great Law, a conspicuous hill of 398m situated 2.49km SSE of the village of Longformacus LMS and from its nearby smaller twin, Dirrington Little Law (363m), some 2km to the SW. The forecast was not auspicious, but undaunted we briefly explored the mid-18th century parish church, with its simple Romanesque features and interesting gravestones, before journeying on to begin an ascent of the Great Law itself.
If you aren’t familiar with the hill-bagging terms such as Marilyn, Hump and Tump then the Online Database of British and Irish Hills is a good place to begin. According to the database, Dirrington Great Law qualifies as all these three types of hill, being higher than 150m on all sides and having a top separated from other tops by more than 30m. It is even distinct enough to warrant its very own Wikipedia page.
The earliest reference located so far to Dirrington Great Law and its smaller neighbour comes in a late 12th/early 13th century charter (1), which Dr Taylor translates: ‘also I have granted to them and by this my present charter confirmed the church of Horndean and certain sheilings in Lammermuir which are called (the) Diueringdounes…’ (2) Further charters supply the variations: Diueringdon (3), Dunrindun (4) and Duurindun(?) (5). May Williamson (6) adds to these: Diuiringdon and the later forms Deryngton (c1350), Derington (1478) and Derrington Law (1523). She writes:
‘An OE form *Divering, Difering may be a patronymic based on a much simplified form of Dyċġferð, Dyċġfrið, but compare the River Deerness, Du: Diuerness, c1200, which seems to contain the same base, which is W dwfr, seen in many other river-names (ERN, 118-9). On this, in the OE form *dyfer, an –ing construction may have been made, so that *Dyferingdūn is “the hill by the rivers”.’
Dr Taylor is keen to re-examine this theory, suggesting instead that Dye Water, the major watercourse nearby, may also contain the same element as found in the Dirrington laws.
Our expedition too had a somewhat watery ending as is evident from the picture below. Nevertheless it was a most enjoyable day out.
(1) Kelso Lib.i no. 140, dated 1198 x 1214.
(2) ‘concessi etiam eis et hac presenti carta mea confirmaui Ecclesiam de Horuerdene et quasdem scalingas in Lambermore que vocantur Diueringdounes…’
(3) Kelso Lib.i no. 143, dated 1203.
(4) Kelso Lib.ii no. 460, dated 1243 x 1254.
(5) Papal confirmation of Kelso Lib.ii no. 460, dated 1243 x 1254.
(6) Williamson, M. (1942) The Non-Celtic Place-Names of the Scottish Border Counties, p55. PhD. University of Edinburgh.
The Common or Eurasian crane (Grus grus)
Photo: ©Andreas Trepte www.photo-natur.de
One of the problems with analysing Berwickshire place-names like Cranshaws is trying to decide which language to assign their origins to. They could be Old English names, coined when Berwickshire formed part of the kingdom of Northumbria from about the 7th to the 10th centuries A.D. Or they could be later, when this northern form of Old English had evolved into the language now referred to as Scots. A rule of thumb is that those names attached to medieval parishes and other central places are more likely to go back to the Northumbrian (Old English) period, while names attached to minor features such as wee burns or hillocks are more likely to be later Scots coinings.
This leaves a lot of names in between these two extremes, and an important part of the REELS project will be to try to define the Berwickshire name-stock more accurately in terms of language of origin. However, as far as Cranshaws is concerned, the working assumption is that it was coined in the Northumbrian period.
Cranshaws Castle. Photo: Alan McQuillan.