THE PLACE NAMES OF THE OLD COUNTY OF NORTHUMBERLAND: THE CHEVIOT HILLS AND DALES, by Jonathan West. Published by Northern Heritage (www.northern-heritage.co.uk). £9.99. Softback.

IN this first volume of a series of books by a local author on the county’s place names, the meanings of many local place names are discussed in print for the first time. A useful guide to pronunciation is given, as well as National Grid references to pinpoint exact locations.

The book is intended to help general readers discover the possible origins – the etymologies – of the names of towns, villages, rivers and other natural features. Some names have been recorded for over a thousand years while others have little or no history, so some derivations are more plausible than others.

After an introduction outlining the main sources of information used, Jonathan West guides the reader on a series of journeys through the area discussing the place names along the route in their geographical context, as well as in the light of serious academic research.

Interesting possible derivations include Lousey Law, above Colt Crag reservoir, which may have been named because the hill was infected by lice for which the Old English word is lus. High and Low Moralee in the North Tyne Valley may derive from the Old English moriga for a swampy area, rather than a reference to standards of behaviour. The Drake Stone near Harbottle might reflect the Old English word draco for dragon, rather than the name for a male duck.

Coquet is a name generally thought to derive from the Old English words coc for bird and wudu for wood. And nearby Simonside could be so named after the Middle English word side and meaning the hill of Sigemund.


AROUND EMBLETON: WHAT THE PAPERS SAY, by John Yearnshire (email: yearnshire@hotmail.co.uk). £6 (all profits for charity). Softback.

THE third book in this popular series looks at the journalistic narrative of times gone by through newspaper reports from the last two centuries, which give an explanation and add visual interest to the events which made up ‘real time’ in village life.

The book features more than 160 articles and over 60 images. Many stories are based on court cases, social events and sports activities, alongside more unusual tales. ‘Extraordinary Capture of a Whale’, a story reported in February 1872, concerns the efforts of 10 local fishermen armed with guns who launched a fishing coble in pursuit of a whale seen in St Mary’s Haven, Low Newton-by-the-Sea.

In the chase they tied a rope from the boat’s stern round the beast’s tail while it lay stranded on the Embleton Rock. As the tide rose, the men towed the whale off but were then dragged backwards out to sea as the creature tried to make a dash for freedom. In an era when there was no sentimentality about cruelty to animals, the report concludes that the 22-feet long whale was finally dragged ashore, secured by anchors and chains, and left to die; its carcase was cut into pieces and its blubber recovered to make oil.

Other stories include that of Jack Fawcus, the National Hunt jockey from Embleton who finished second in the Grand National in 1937. Four years later he found himself in a German prisoner-of-war camp where he formed a turf club, whose members gambled using sardines as stakes.

The parish of Embleton’s most famous figure was Lord Grey of Fallodon, the country’s Foreign Secretary in the years leading up to the First World War. He had a private station on the London and North Eastern Railway near his stately home, at which trains stopped for his convenience. On one occasion, a villager who alighted from a train with Lord Grey was caught by the stationmaster and informed that only His Lordship and his personal friends could use the station. When Lord Grey recognised the man, he said: “This is a friend of mine and can get on or off here whenever he likes.”


WHO DO THE ENGLISH THINK THEY ARE? by Derek J. Taylor. Published by The History Press (www.thehistorypress.co.uk). £12.99 (*see special readers’ offer, Page 53). Hardback.

THE author, a historian and journalist, sets out to answer the questions ‘what makes the English so English?’ and ‘where does English national identity come from?’.

In his travels across the country he discovers that the first English came from Germany, and then in the later Middle Ages almost became French. The section of the book of special interest to Northumbrians – ‘The Vikings Give Us Dirt, Eggs and Fog’ – begins with the devastating 8th century Viking raid on the monastery at Lindisfarne. Here in 793, as described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, “heathen men made lamentable havoc in the Church of God in Holy Island by rapine and slaughter”.

Within 250 years these Scandinavian invaders would control the whole country. In 1016 the Danish leader, Cnut, became king of all England. Have we absorbed their culture and their language, so that we can claim we are part Viking?

Surprisingly a major DNA survey has revealed that while 20 per cent of our bloodline has come from the Anglo-Saxons, in northern England – where Viking influence was strongest for the longest period – only four per cent of our DNA comes from those Scandinavian invaders. This might be because they did not intermarry much with the local population.

The discovery of the skeletons of women and infants in the remains of longships suggests that the Vikings brought wives and children with them, leading the author to suggest: “perhaps the invaders were loyal family men, and not as sex-mad as we picture them”.

But while we have been left with no Viking churches or fortifications, more than 2,000 villages and towns where they settled have still today kept their Viking names. Any place name ending in -by, meaning town or farmstead, is Viking, and there are over 600 of them. Other old Norse place name endings include -thorpe and -thwaite.

And there is barely a sentence we utter that doesn’t echo back to the Danish invaders: verbs such as get, want and take, for instance, and nouns including dirt, egg, fog, cake, smile and window.