Tag Archives: Newcastle

Sundered Land, New Castle, Goat’s Head : What’s in a North East Place Name?

North East place-names and their origins. DAVID SIMPSON explores the sometimes surprising meanings of place-names in the North East region.

Wearmouth Bridge
Wearmouth Bridge, Sunderland : Photo © David Simpson.

Sunderland was the sundered or separated land, Newcastle was simply a ‘New’ Castle and Gateshead was, quite strangely, the ‘head of the she-goat’. We take place-names for granted but all have an origin and meaning that is often long forgotten or sometimes lost in time.  No one actually knows how London got its name, for example.

I’ve always been fascinated by place-name origins. It’s an unusual hobby perhaps, though I find it rather strange that few people share my curiosity for such everyday features of our world. Peculiar place-names like Pity Me arouse much interest – and are often rather plainly explained as ‘poor farmland’ although there’s a wealth of more popular if rather dubious theories. In truth I think that everyday names can be just as interesting.

Some place-names give clues to the origins of the early settlers who founded the place. For example in the south of our region around Middlesbrough there are many place-names ending in the element ‘by’: Thornaby, Ormesby, Tollesby, Normanby, Danby, Lackenby, Lazenby, Maltby and so on. These are all Viking – and usually Danish in origin (though Normanby points to Norwegian ‘northmen’). Such names are numerous just south of the Tees in the once intensively Viking settled area of North Yorkshire. They are quite rare north of the Tees – Aislaby near Yarm and Raby (Castle) near Darlington are exceptions not  that far north of the river.

Transporter Bridge from Port Clarence looking towards Middlesbrough
The Transporter Bridge, Middlesbrough. Viking place-names are numerous in the Middlesbrough area.. Photo © David Simpson 2018

These ‘by’ ending names can also be found in Viking settled Cumbria particularly along the Eden valley all the way up towards Carlisle and there are a fair few in the Merseyside area in the North West of England. In Old Danish a ‘by’ was a Viking farm or village and even today a quick scan of a map of Denmark and you’ll find dozens and dozens of little villages with names like Norby, Kaerby, Staby, Balleby, Foldby, Karlby, Draby, Voldby, Rakkeby and Mejby. Many of these wouldn’t seem at all out of place in North Yorkshire.

Most place-names in England, including the North East England usually of Anglo-Saxon origin. The Angles and Saxons were a Germanic people closely related to the later Vikings. The original Anglo-Saxon coastal homelands stretched from Frisia and the Netherlands up to the present day border of Germany and Denmark.

The Angles, for example, who gave their name to England (the Angle Land) settled extensively in Northumbria and originated from Angeln near the border of those two countries and settled in our islands as invading warriors some three centuries before the Vikings arrived on our shores. Just about anything ending in ‘ton’ or ‘ham’ is Anglo-Saxon including most of those ‘ingtons’ and ‘inghams: Darlington, Bedlington, Billingham, Bellingham and so on. A ‘ham’ was a homestead and a ‘ton’ an enclosed settlement. Ton or ‘tun’ to give the old spelling was, incidentally originally pronounced ‘toon’ and is at the root of our modern word ‘town’. Sound familiar?

Nathaniel Buck's view of Newcastle 1745
Newcastle – an historic view of the ‘toon’ or should that be ‘tun’? Pictured in 1745..

I’m really into place-names for fun but with a quest for true knowledge about the place-names as part of our region’s history. I’m an amateur enthusiast when it comes to place-names to be honest. It is in fact a serious scholarly study and often a complicated one at that.

You can’t simply look at a place-name and guess what it might mean. You have to go back to the earliest known recorded spelling from perhaps a thousand years ago or more and work back from there.

Most place-name experts are skilled linguists with knowledge of several languages that are no longer spoken today like Old English (the language of the Anglo-Saxons), or the Old Norse of the Vikings as well as old Celtic languages like Brythonic. The experts will have knowledge of how these languages evolved and changed over time and in the case of Old English and Old Norse, how they fused together along with the later Norman French to form the basis of the English language as we know it today.

A good knowledge of local dialect, local history and local topography is also very useful to the scholar of place-names. In fact its essential right down to a knowledge of local soil types, drainage (at that time) and the suitability of land for early farming and settlement.

So, what about familiar names like Sunderland, Newcastle and Gateshead? Well the ‘separateness’ of Sunderland dates to Anglo-Saxon times and refers to land detached or ‘sundered’ from an estate by the King of Northumbria for the use of the Wearmouth monastery.

The ‘New’ Castle of Newcastle dates to Norman times, the first castle being built by William the Conqueror’s eldest son Robert Curthose in 1080 on the site of a Roman fort. At that time the long-since ruined and redundant Roman fort and its associated surviving settlement was called Monkchester, and although this might be considered the ‘old castle’, it seems the rebuilding of the Norman castle by Henry II in the twelfth century was the origin of the true ‘New Castle’.

Church of St Mary, Gateshead and Tyne Bridge
Gateshead – ‘Head of the She Goat’ : Photo © David Simpson

Just as intriguing, Gateshead across the Tyne lies at the head of the road or way dating back to Roman times and perhaps earlier. Roads were sometimes called ‘gates’ in times past but this term was more commonly used for old streets in towns. ‘Head of the gate’ seems a plausible explanation for Gateshead, however, the Venerable Bede, writing in the seventh century describes Gateshead in Latin as ‘Ad Caprae Caput’ – meaning ‘the head of the she goat’ so perhaps there was some form of totem or symbol of a goat’s head overlooking the ancient bridge across the Tyne.

 

More place-names explained

Ashington: ‘Ing’ usually means a kinship or tribal group and ‘ton’ usually means an enclosed settlement. On the surface Ashington looks like ‘the place belonging to the people of a person called Ash’ or something similar. However the earliest spelling in old records is  Aescen-denu’ and this is an Anglo-Saxon place-name that means ‘valley (dene) overgrown with ash trees’. It shows how important it is to find the oldest spellings.

Bamburgh: From Bebba’s Burgh, a burgh or fortified place named from a Northumbrian queen called Bebba who was the wife of King Æthelfrith. Before Æthelfrith’s time it was known by the Celtic name Din Guayroi.

Beautiful Bamburgh.
Beautiful Bamburgh. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Bishop Auckland: A complicated one this. The old name was Alcuith – a Celtic name referring to a river. Later it became the home of a castle and palace belonging to the Bishops of Durham hence the ‘Bishop’ part of the name. The old name came to be changed to Auckland (perhaps meaning ‘oakland’).

Chester-le-Street: Places containing the word ‘Chester’ are usually Anglo-Saxon in origin even though they refer to the earlier site of a Roman fort. ‘Street’ usually refers to a Roman road. ‘Le’ was added by the Normans as part of a suffix to distinguish places with similar names Le-Street distinguishes it from other places called Chester. Other ‘le’ places with potentially confusing similar names are Houghton-le-Spring, Houghton-le-Side, Haughton-le-Skerne, Hetton-le-Hill, Hetton-le-Hole and in North Yorkshire we have  Hutton-le-Hole.

Darlington : Originally something like Deornoth’s People’s enclosure. You’d never guess this unless you could see early spellings.

Durham : Originally Dun Holm, ‘the hill island’. In Norman French it was Duresme and in Latin it was Dunelm.

Hartlepool : Means ‘Stag Island Pool’. Le-Pool was added by the Normans to distinguish it from the nearby village of Hart. Unlike other ‘le’ place-names it doesn’t use hyphens but it could have become Hart-le-Pool.

Middlesbrough: Means middle manor or perhaps middle fortified place. One theory is that it is named from its middle location between the historic Christian centres of Whitby and Durham.

Stanhope: Means ‘stony side valley’. Hope meaning land in a ‘side valley’ is a common element in North Eats place names, especially in the hilly country of the west.

Warkworth: Wark comes from ‘weorc’ – an earthwork or castle and ‘worth’, an enclosed settlement. The villages of Wark on Tyne and Wark on Tweed were both the site of castles built on earthworks.

 

Gateshead : Still in Newcastle’s shadow?

Gateshead is a town that is arguably growing slowly in confidence and status. Could it one day even challenge the city status of its historic neighbour across the Tyne? DAVID SIMPSON explores Gateshead’s transition from an apparent ‘backwater’ to a major centre of northern culture.

Angel of the North
Angel of the North Photo copyright © 2009 David Simpson

In times past Gateshead was once unflatteringly described in parliament as a ‘dirty lane leading to Newcastle’. It has also been described in more chauvinistic times as ‘Newcastle’s wife’ and then there’s that oft-told story of a stranger asking a native Geordie for directions to Gateshead. The reply is something along the lines of “gan ower the bridge and ye’ will say ‘this canna’ be Gyetsid’, but it is”.

Things are a lot different today of course, at least for those parts of Gateshead that face the Newcastle waterside. Gateshead has been a town and borough in the shadow of Newcastle since medieval times and often willingly or unwillingly under its neighbour’s direct control. Since 1882 Newcastle has held the status of a city, reinforcing Gateshead’s role as a ‘suburb’ despite the two places belonging to two quite different counties for so many centuries.

Gateshead Millennium Bridge
Gateshead Millennium Bridge : Photo © David Simpson

There is, almost, dare I say it, a sense that modern developments and future plans could, in decades to come, bring about a turnaround in this status. Gateshead, as it grows and develops might well become the sparkling modern city of glass and steel while Newcastle might come to serve the splendid role of ‘the old toon’, a kind of beautiful historic quarter with charming old buildings, streets and bars so typically found in many of the most frequently visited continental cities.

I regularly listen to Radio 2 these days – I’m showing my age here – and I often hear them announce forthcoming tours of prominent performers to major cities. Through the splendid work and fabulous event programme of the wonderful venue that is Sage Gateshead it is often Gateshead that you hear listed amongst those cities, rather than Newcastle. It’s quite an astonishing thing, when you think about it, given the almost ‘backwater’ status that Gateshead once held.

Sage Gateshead
Sage Gateshead. Photo © David Simpson 2018

And there’s more. What is the most iconic symbol of the region today? The Tyne Bridge? Well maybe, but if it is so then Gateshead can certainly claim its share of this wonderful eminence of solid steel.

However, arguably the most internationally recognised symbol of the whole region, let alone Tyneside today, is Gateshead’s own Angel of the North. In fact it might even be described as the symbol of the entire North of England and it’s right here in Gateshead. Well, where else?

St Mary Gateshead Tyne Bridge
Church of St Mary, Gateshead and Tyne Bridge : Photo © David Simpson

Even down on the river, the Tyne Bridge is now somewhat challenged in the admiration stakes by the Gateshead Millennium Bridge which tellingly includes Gateshead in its name. Its modern elegant gleaming white arch certainly seems to connect with the companion buildings of Sage and BALTIC on the south shore a little more so than perhaps it does with even the most modern quayside buildings on the Newcastle side.

Being a pedestrian bridge it is also, in human terms, the most effective link between the two ‘toons’ if we are to insist on that humbling dialect term for a community’s civic status. By comparison the magnificent Tyne Bridge, though undoubtedly the greatest symbol of ‘home’ for many a Tynesider, seems designed, despite its symbolism, to carry traffic through and away from the two places as much as it serves in bringing the two communities together.

BALTIC viewed from the Gateshead Millennium Bridge
BALTIC viewed from the Gateshead Millennium Bridge : Photo © David Simpson

Of course it is the central business districts or retail centres that are often most identified as the heart of any city. Northumberland Street and Eldon Square, which though both pleasing, could, let’s be honest, be located almost anywhere, as much-loved as they are. They are as seemingly as popular as ever but it is reasonable to ask what they might look like in fifty years time considering the new era of online commerce which we are, in generational terms, still only just entering.

In fairness, retail seems to be one area where central Gateshead is unlikely to challenge Newcastle. The modern Trinity Square in Gateshead town centre is certainly not on a scale intended to do so, although Gateshead’s out-of-town MetroCentre has given Newcastle town centre more than a run for its money for some decades now.

Trinity Square, Gateshead
Trinity Square, Gateshead town centre : Photo © David Simpson

We often hear the two places now described under one name ‘Newcastle-Gateshead’ and the initiative to market and develop the two as one seems to have been broadly accepted, at least for now, but might there come a day when the modern ‘city’ of Gateshead demands recognition and perhaps even a senior status in its own right, distinct from its grand, handsome but ageing partner across the water?

Well, maybe not, but who would have thought thirty years ago that Gateshead could have developed into what it has become today?

 

SOME FACTS ABOUT GATESHEAD

  • Gateshead Borough is home to around 200,000 people.
  • It stretches from Whickham and Blaydon in the west to Pelaw and Felling in the east and south to Birtley.
  • Sage Gateshead stands close to the site of Gateshead’s medieval streets including Hillgate.
  • Hillgate or ‘Hellgate’ was where the Great fire of Newcastle and Gateshead began in 1854.
  • Gateshead Millennium Bridge can tilt to 40 degrees.
  • BALTIC gallery occupies a former flour mill established in the 1930s but was not opened until the 1950s.
  • Rank who owned the mill often named mills after foreign seas.
  • BALTIC stands on the site of the Hawks’Iron works (1858-1890). One Hawks’ employee was Geordie Ridley who wrote ‘Blaydon Races’.
  • A painting of the Blaydon Races can be seen in Shipley Art Gallery.
  • Underhill, the first private house in the world to be lit by electricity is now a care home in Kells Lane, Low Fell.

Read more about the story behind these facts at https://englandsnortheast.co.uk/gateshead/

Gateshead in early times

  • According to the Venerable Bede, ‘Gateshead’ was ‘Goat’s head’.
  • A family called the Gategangs dominated Gateshead in the 1300s
  • Gateshead was the site of a medieval hospital.
  • For centuries in medieval times Newcastle tried to take control of Gateshead. It finally succeeded in 1582 in the reign of Elizabeth I in a grand lease that lasted 99 years.
  • There was a Roman-British settlement at Gateshead roughly where the Gateshead Hilton hotel is now located.

Read more about Gateshead in more distant times here https://englandsnortheast.co.uk/medieval-gateshead/

Joanne’s colourful, quirky seaside scenes will make you smile

In our latest interview featuring creative people in the region we talk to 40-year-old Ouseburn-based artist Joanne Wishart.

Newcastle-based artist. Joanne Wishart
Newcastle-based artist. Joanne Wishart

Where in the North East are you based?

My studio is based at the Mushroom Works in Ouseburn, Newcastle, but I live a little nearer the coast in North Shields.

How would you describe your work?

My work is colourful and quirky capturing nostalgic seaside memories of days out at the coast, in particular the North East coast. I have an extensive back catalogue of works depicting Northumberland’s favourite coastal landmarks. I like to paint summer days and sunny skies to create images that will give you a lift and make you smile.

Seaside Donkeys by Joanne Wishart
Seaside Donkeys by Joanne Wishart

I work mainly with acrylic paint but I like to add a bit of collage material including fabrics and old maps into my work to give added layers and a textured surface.  My ideas have developed over the years and have introduced new work including driftwood boat sculptures, and deckchair artworks.

Tell us how you first started out as an artist?

I’ve always been creative ever since I was a child. Then after school I went on to study Printed Textile design at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee. As part of my degree I spent a term in Nova Scotia studying at their art college, which was a fabulous experience.

I would say the progression form graduation to where I am today was a slow process, I initially got work freelancing for agents in the U.K. and New York designing Hawaiian shirt prints and children’s furnishing fabrics. I also worked part time in a small gallery and picture framers. In 2006 I met my now husband and moved from Berwick upon Tweed to North Tyneside and together we set up our current business where we self publish my paintings into limited edition prints and greetings cards and we haven’t looked back.

Towards Dunstanburgh by Joanne Wishart
Towards Dunstanburgh by Joanne Wishart

What work are you most proud of?

I do love the old 1940’s deckchair frames with my paintings on the canvas. They are something just a little bit different and really capture the essence of seaside nostalgia.

I am also proud to have won North East England’s “Best Creative Business” in 2009.  I am proud to be able to make my way in the world doing what I love for a living.

What influence if any does North East England have in inspiring your work?

Growing up near Berwick upon Tweed and now living in North Tyneside, North East England has so much to offer in terms of inspiration.

 What inspires you?

I love the great outdoors, the beauty of the North East coastline, the coastal landscape, the sun, the sea, the flowers and animals. Most of my inspiration comes from walking the coastal paths or spending a sunny day on the beach with my kids. I like to get out and about with my sketchbook and camera, taking it all back to my studio with a head full of ideas.

Puffins by Joanne Wishart
Puffins by Joanne Wishart

What has been your most challenging creation?

My most challenging creation has to be my exhibition in the Bridge Gallery at Tynemouth station. It is such an unusual space to hang work in and that can be view from both sides of the walkway. I am used to hanging a painting on a flat wall so I had to think differently to make this exhibition work as a whole.

 Do you have any tips for up and coming artists?

My tips would be to work hard, create your own style, evolve and develop. Go into galleries and ask for feedback (make an appointment first, you will get a better response!), learn from this and don’t let the knock backs get you down.  An artist’s life is a rollercoaster and you never know what is around the next corner.

Joanne Wishart, artist
Joanne Wishart, artist

Which other artists or photographers inspire you.

I try not to get too inspired by other artists work so that my own signature style develops. 

What are your ambitions for the future?

I would love to run my own studio gallery one day, this might be when my kids get a bit older, but for the moment I am happy juggling being a mum and artist.

If you would like to visit my studio at the Mushroom Works and see where the magic happens please pop along to Ouseburn Open Studios on the 30th June & 1st July.  The Mushroom Works will be open to the public and welcomes visitors behind the scenes. I will have a selection of new North East paintings on show in the Mushroom Works gallery and will be on hand to talk to anyone in my studio.

Discover more ofJoanne’s art at : www.joannewishart.co.uk