SADLY, tragically, in response to E Watson’s letter in Wednesday’s paper, I know what an “aclet” is.

Or, at least, what an aclet may be.

The Aclet is a former hotel in Bishop Auckland which could be converted into a supermarket. “I visited in the early 1970s and asked what an aclet was; no one knew,” wrote our letter writer. “Now, nigh on 40 years and many reference books later, I’m none the wiser.”

In 1183, Bishop Hugh de Puiset conducted a survey of his lands which has become known as the Boldon Book. In it, “Aclet” is the name given to what we know as “Bishop Auckland”, and the area around it was known as “Acletshire”.

Nearly 1,000 years later, Bishop Puiset is obviously not alive, so we can’t ask him what he took the word “aclet” to mean. We can’t even ask him if his surveyors could spell it properly. Therefore, with no one to ask, we have to make up some theories.

Tree theory: A millennium ago, this area was all forest, covered in trees. It may be that aclet was the land of the oaks in the same way that Aycliffe was the cliff of the oaks and Acklam, in Middlesbrough, is the settlement among the oaks. So Bishop Auckland is really Bishop Oakland. The drawback to this theory is that the Aycliffe area is flat and boggy – there is no stand-out cliff that might once have been wooded.

Name theory: Lots of place names come from their ancient landowners. Darlington is Deortha’s tun, or settlement; Sockburn used to be owned by a chap called Socca; School Aycliffe has nothing to do with education but everything to do with a Scandinavian called Scula who was given land in south Durham in 920AD. Therefore, could some called Acca have had land at Auckland?

Eke theory: In Old Scandinavian, the word “auke” means “an increase, or a piece added on” – that is why we say someone “ekes out a living” by getting extra pieces of money. In 1020, King Cnut – the king of Denmark who failed to hold back the tide – gave the Auckland area to the Bishop of Durham. It was, therefore, extra or additional land: aukeland.

Seabird theory: Auckland was once the home of a huge colony of auks, which are birds from the alcid family, including guillemots and puffins. This seems very unlikely.

River theory: “Aclet” is really a version of the word “alclyde” which means “rock or hill above the Clyde”. Auckland Castle is indeed on a hill above a river, but that river is the Gaunless.

However, “Gaunless” is believed to be an old Norse name – originally “gaghenles”. It arose because the Viking invaders thought the river was too puny to power a mill, too dirty to support fish and too confined to have fertile floodplains. It was, therefore, a pointless, useless river: the gormless Gaunless.

But what was it before it was the Gaunless? It must have had a name. “Clyde” is believed to be an ancient Celtic word meaning “cleansing river”. Could, centuries and centuries ago, a clear river running by a prominent hill have been the derivation for “aclet”?

So having started off by claiming I knew the meaning of “aclet”, I clearly don’t. In truth, no one does for certain, and there are probably many other theories (I’d love to hear them). Is E Watson any more the wiser?