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You are in: Leeds > Places > Places features > What's in a name?

Looking at Leeds and its place names

Looking at Leeds and its place names

What's in a name?

Just as Leeds' accent and dialect has changed over time so has the spelling of local place names. We take a look at the derivation of some localities...

First things first, a warning about this article. As spellings do change there are sometimes several alternative versions, and many explanations, of a place name. So don't be surprised if you can find a different explanation for a place name to the ones offered below.

Leeds is first mentioned in Anglo-Saxon times when it was called Loidis. By the time the settlement is mentioned in the Domesday (ie Doomsday) Book of 1086 it is spelt Ledes.

Almost all of the thousands of places mentioned in the Domesday survey still exist but with changed spelling. Often though there is still a meaning to be found in that place name.

Leeds is situated in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Riding, by the way, comes from the Viking word thriding - meaning a third part - as Yorkshire is traditionally split into East, North and West Ridings.

Place names are often based on environmental features, the names of people who lived there and the activities that took place there, or perhaps some corruption of an even older name.

So Let's start with some simple explanations.Two of the oldest roads in Leeds are Kirkgate and Briggate. Kirkgate means the road (gate) to the church (kirk) and Briggate is the road towards the bridge (brig).

Roundhay Park

Roundhay Park was a hunting enclosure

What about geographical features? A ford is a place to cross water, Horsforth for instance comes from corruption of horse ford.

Meanwhile, Hunslet is possibly derived from Hound's let describing an area used for the exercise of dogs. The activity of hunting gives us the name Roundhay, because the park of that name was originally a royal hunting enclosure, or round hey. To the east of Leeds, Scholes is thought to derive from the Old Norse skall meaning a hut or temporary shelter.

Agriculture and the landscape have provided a hand in naming many places around Leeds- here is a quick look at just some examples.

A hop was a valley so it is thought Ecca lived at Eccup and the valley where broom grew was Bramhope. Broom is also thought to account for Bramley.

In Old English the word for an enclosure or farm was 'ton' or 'tun'. The word for a woodland clearing was 'ley' or 'leah'. The location of either was added to the name of the resident farmer or some other distinguishing feature.

It is believed that The farmers called Cola, Mensa, Mann, Aethelwald, Otta and Erme for instance lent their names to Colton, Menston, Manston, Alwoodley, Otley and Armley.

A wic also meant a farm which is why Leeds has several places with Wike in the title. For instance Barwick is probably from the Old English berewic meaning corn farm.

Similarly a thorp was an outlying farm. The thorp to the east becomes Austhorpe, Oswin's thorp was at Osmondthorpe and the de Arches family explains Thorp Arch.

A croft is a small enclosed field. A gap (sceard) at Scarcroft and another croft was beside a pool (sae) at Seacroft. And more farming, because Wetherby could be derived from the name for a castrated ram - a wether.

In a time when many people were closer to nature what grew where was important for place names. Some things that are included in local names are wyrt (vegetables), ferns and alder trees - probably the source for modern-day Wortley, Farnley and Allerton.

Placenames also come from a famous, or infamous occupant. It is thought Someone called Gaera gave us the present name for Garforth.

Temple Newsam betrays its connections with the Knights Templar (as do other places in the city) but in the Domesday Book it was called Neuhusum, or new houses.

And finally, sometimes there are several elements to a place name. Long narrow strips of land, like those originally found off Briggate, were called burgage plots. When, during medieval town planning, the people that cultivated these strips of land were moved to new out of town allotments this land became known as burgage man's tofts (a toft is a piece of land or site of a building). This name was then corrupted through time to the present-day Burmanstoft.

(With thanks to the Leodis Leeds website for its inspiration on this topic)

last updated: 30/04/2008 at 12:18
created: 20/04/2005

You are in: Leeds > Places > Places features > What's in a name?

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