Last of the Westland Whigs

In the late 17th century, the 'Westland Whigs' were the radical descendants of earlier Covenanters who had defied the absolutist rule of Stuart kings in south west Scotland.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Vikings, Normans and Cumbrians

In 1998 I visited the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh where my son Callum was going to become a pupil. Before catching the train back home I popped into a bookshop and found ‘The Uses of Place-Names’ edited by Simon Taylor which had just been published. It was and is an utterly fascinating book, Since reading it I must have spent hundreds of hours poring over new and old maps, searching through historical texts, plodding across muddy fields, pushing through thickets of trees and navigating tracts of moorland in search of named places. I have also written thousands of words about what I found in these different explorations.

However, although I can find the places and their history over the past few hundred years, I do not have the deep linguistic knowledge of place name experts. I cannot tell if a particular place name is Old English or Old Norse, or if a word which looks Scots was originally Gaelic.

For example ‘Lockhart Hill’ in Balmaghie parish, Stewartry of Kirkcudbright looks as if it was named after someone called Lockhart who once owned it. But Sir Herbert Maxwell in ‘The Place Names of Galloway’  compares it to Barlockhart and Drumlockhart in Wigtownshire and suggest they all contain the Scottish Gaelic word ’lucairt’ which has various meanings including ’castle’. Drumlockhart overlooks Lochnaw castle in the Rhinns of Galloway and Barlockhart a medieval motte in Glenluce village.

‘Lucairt’ has its origins in the Irish ‘longphort, a name first given to Viking camps but later meaning ‘palace’ or other important building. There are no palaces or castles near Lockhart Hill, but it is near Glenlochar, another possible ’luchairt’. Here the origin may be the large Roman fort at Glenlochar- the remains of which were still substantial enough to be mistaken for a ruined abbey in the seventeenth century-  or it could refer to an actual Viking longphort in the vicinity.

In a previous post I have looked at this last possibility. A large part of the evidence supporting the Viking longphort hypothesis comes from Scandinavian place names plus two Viking graves in the surrounding area. Unfortunately, I have discovered a possible complication. There is a possibility that some Old Norse speakers from Cumberland may have been planted in Galloway in the twelfth century. These not so Old Norse speakers could then have given Scandinavian names to their new farms…

This possibility comes from connecting the following sources.

First source -Richard Oram’ The Lordship of Galloway’ (2000) from pages 67 and  194.

Probably in the late 1140s, Uhtred [son of Fergus of Galloway] was married to Gunnilda, daughter of Waltheof of Allerdale…Through this marriage, Uhtred became lord a small estate at Torpenhow in west Cumberland…Gunnilda of Allerdale brought Uhtred  in contact with a changing world across the Solway…In return it was this new Cumberland and Westmorland  society that provided Uhtred and his son Roland  with the body of colonists they introduced into their territories.

These ‘colonists’ would have been the builders of most of the 31 mottes in the central Stewartry discussed by Christopher Tabraham in ‘Norman Settlement in Galloway’ ( In ‘Studies in Scottish Antiquity’ edited by David Breeze, 1984)

The second source is David Parsons article ‘ On the Origins of ‘Hiberno-Norse Inversion Compounds’’ in the Journal of Scottish Names Studies Vol 5 (2011)

Amongst the earliest witnesses to the vernacular language [of northwest England] there a small number of 12th century inscriptions which suggest that Old Norse was alive at that date.  Although it is not impossible that the language here was a recent reintroduction from the Irish Sea area, it also seems possible that Norse might have remained  the locally dominant vernacular in parts of the region between the 10th and 12th centuries… [page 126]

Parsons then suggests [page 139] that if some of the Gall-Ghaidheil (Gaelic speaking Vikings who gave their name to Galloway) had pushed further southwards across the Solway they may have (re)learned Norse in the English north-west…

It is therefore possible that when Fergus of Galloway’s son Uhtred married his Cumbrian wife, this was consolidating a connection between Galloway and Cumberland that already existed. As a consequence, the motte-building colonists Uhtred and Roland (possibly even Fergus himself) introduced to Galloway may have been distant kin of Galloway’s Gall-Ghaideil rather than ‘Normans’.

This may seem very unlikely, but there is evidence which links some of Christopher Tabraham’s  ‘Norman’ mottes with  Scandinavian place names.

Gribdae farm, map reference NX 73 50, was first recorded in 1365 as ‘Gretby’ and the -by (byr) means it is included in all the various lists of Scandinavian place names in Galloway. The record of the place name in 1365 comes from ‘The Register of the Great Seal of Scotland Volume I, 1306-1425’ entry 206 on pages 63-4. The text is in Latin so I can only give the jist of it, but it says that Dugal McDowall grants Littlilgretby in his lands of Kyrassalda to John Trumpour (trumpeter?), Herald of Carrick.

Kyrssalda is now Kirkarswell in Rerrick parish. The mention of Kyrssalda in the 1365 text is the first record of the name. Both Maxwell (1930) and Daphne Brooke  (‘Northumbrian Settlements in Galloway and Carrick’, PSAS 1991) give the place name as ‘Kirk Oswald’- a chapel dedicated to the Northumbrian king and martyr St Oswald. However Andrew Symson writing in 1682 called Kirkcarswell, Kirkcastel.

However, as Brooke notes (page 305) the lands of Kirkcarswell  were the only part of Rerrick parish which did not belong to Dundrennan Abbey, founded by Fergus of Galloway in 1142.

Tabraham (‘Norman Settlements‘, 1986, page 112) includes Kirkcarswell motte - map ref NX 754 487 -  as a ‘definite’ motte plus bailey. Tabraham also notes that Kirkcarswell was not part of the Dundrennan lands and implies that  this means there was already in 1142 an estate with the Kirkcarswell motte as its ’caput’ or centre.

East Kirkcarswell motte

Unfortunately, Tabraham does not develop this possibility any further. Oram (2000, pages 224-5) mentions Kirkcarswell as an example of a ‘classic’ motte but goes on to date building of the Galloway mottes to 1160 and later, as the work of Uhtred and Roland/Lochlann. Tabraham also mentions a possible motte site at Bombie  map ref NX 715 505.  Bombie was Bundeby in 1296 so another Scandinavian place name. Tabraham describes the site at Bombie as probably a ‘ringwork’.

At Boreland of Anowth, map ref NX 548 550, there is a Cumbrian connection to what Tabraham describes as ’this fine motte-and-bailey’. Circa 1170 the church at Anwoth ‘was in the possession of David fitz Terri lord of Over Denton in Cumberland’, who is assumed to have been the builder of Boreland motte. However. Jack Scott [‘The Partition of a Kingdom: Strathclyde 1092-1153’, Transactions of the  Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, 1997, page 25] argues that the Anwoth motte may have been built 50 or so years earlier, before Fergus of Galloway came to power. [Oram, page 56 disagrees]

Boreland of Anwoth motte and bailey

If the Kirkcarswell (Gribdae), Bombie and Anwoth earthworks were built in the very early twelfth century by ‘Normanised’ Cumbrians who settled Norse speaking tenants on their lands, this could be the origin of some of the Scandinavian place / farm names.

Alternatively, later plantation of lands gifted by Fergus. Uhtred and/ or Roland/Lochlann to Cumbrians who also had still Norse speaking followers could have had a similar effect.

Or the Scandinavian place/ farm names could have been  created by Vikings….


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