The Ordnance Survey Name Books

One of the historical sources we have been using in the REELS project is the first series of Ordnance Survey Name Books (or Original Object Name Books) for Berwickshire. These record information about the place-names that appear on the Ordnance Survey 1st edition 6 inch and 25 inch map sheets for the county, which were published between 1854 and 1862.

The 41 name books for Berwickshire date to 1853–8 and contain the notes of the surveyors who travelled throughout the county, asking local inhabitants about the orthography, usage and, at times, meanings of place-names. The people they consulted were often prominent members of the community, such as landowners, ministers and teachers, but tenants and fishermen also appear among the informants. The surveyors’ notes were supplemented with details from printed sources including existing county maps, like that of Andrew and Mostyn Armstrong from 1771, and the Old and New Statistical Accounts of Scotland.

Among the useful toponymic information provided in the name books is that of names which were changed within living memory. Examples of this include: Meadow House in Hutton parish which at the time of survey was said to have been renamed Broadmeadows House by its owner James Macbraire; in Eccles parish the small village Ploughlands had been renamed Thirlington by Mr Nisbet of Lambden, the landowner – this had happened by 1826 as the name appears as Thirlington on the Sharp, Greenwood and Fowler map of that date; and also in Eccles parish, the cottage Stonefoldbrae had formerly been called Lambden Brae ‘until it came into the hands of the present proprietor’, Mr Dickson of Belchester (1).

James T. M. Towill’s photo shows the site of Thirlington (formerly Ploughlands) as seen by him in 2012. As Towill discovered, the village can be traced through historic mapping until 1957.
Photo: © James T. M. Towill and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

As well as informing us about names which were no longer in use, the name books also tell us about former names that were still being used, albeit no longer officially. A good example of this concerns the farmhouse Abbey Park in Coldingham parish, which the surveyor was told ‘is commonly called “Bee Park”’(2). The name Bee Park appears on the Armstrong map and slightly earlier on the mid-eighteenth-century map of William Roy.

References and further reading

(1) OS1/5/25/19 (Broadmeadows House); OS1/5/17/24 (Thirlington; the name book describes the village as having only two or three cottages plus a carpenter’s shop); OS1/5/17/45 (Stonefoldbrae).

(2) OS1/5/10/22 (Abbey Park).

Image of the site of Thirlington:

For more on the Berwickshire name books, see the following article (including a bibliography): Eila Williamson, ‘ “hence the name”: Berwickshire parishes along the Anglo-Scottish Border as described in the Ordnance Survey Name Books’, Journal of Scottish Name Studies 9 (2015), 83–96.

In recent years the Ordnance Survey Name Books have been digitised. Images of the original pages along with crowd-sourced transcriptions are now freely available online via the ScotlandsPlaces website.

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