IN his new book, author Paul Chrystal sets out to explain how the place names of County Durham have come about. Some, like Barnard Castle, which was a castle owned by Bernard, are quite obvious; others are not. So here is an A to W of curious corners of Durham:

Aukside: a hamlet near Middleton-in-Teesdale with neighbours Woodside and Middle Side which have understandable names. Aukside is, too: it is where the hawks nested.

The Northern Echo: An Edwardian postcard showing Beamish village: is there a beautiful mansion in sight?

Beamish: a corruption by the Durham tongue of an old French phrase “beau mes”, a “beautiful mansion” which stood in the 13th Century. However, Beamish is next to Hellhole Wood so perhaps it isn’t the paradise its French name suggests. There are other corruptions of French words in Durham: Bear Park is from “beau repaire”, and then there’s Pity Me…

The Northern Echo: Chilton Buildings - named after a young nobleman, or a child

Chilton: in Anglo-Saxon times, a “cild” was a child so this mining settlement was once an estate belonging to a young nobleman, or a child.

Deaf Hill: there’s a story that if children were passed through a fork in a sycamore tree they would be cured of diphtheria. It didn’t often work, so the place where the sycamore grew became known as Death Hill. More probably, the land wasn’t very productive and was known to farmers as “dead” or “deed hill”. Nearby is Sleepy Hill where crops may have grown very slowly.

Esh: a short name with a short explanation: it’s a place where an ash tree grew. But now because of dieback, is Esh ashless?

Foggy Furze: in Memories 389, we told of a fire near Durham in which it was reported that “flames spread over a fog field” and readers enlightened us that this referred to Yorkshire Fog Grass (holcus lanatus), the most common type of grass in the country. In Old Norse, “fogg” was the word for “grass”. “Furze” is another word for gorse, so Foggy Furze in Hartlepool is a place where grass and gorse grew.

Glower o’er Him: we’ve always wondered about this farm beside the A177 to the south-east of Sedgefield, and apparently it means to watch over a neighbour. The farm is on a slight hillock, and nearby is Beacon Hill, so perhaps it is a place of look-out. Google Maps tells us there is a holiday cottage called Glowerowerum near Stromness on the Orkney Islands which may, or may not, mean the same.

The Northern Echo: Hamsterley, home of the corn weevils, on an Edwardian postcard

Hamsterley: in Old English a “hamstra” was a corn weevil and a “leah” was a clearing.

The Northern Echo:  A view of Ireshopeburn in 1949

Ireshopeburn: (above in 1949) pronounced “eyes-up-burn”, this corner of Weardale was once Iri’s valley or perhaps the Irishman’s Valley – many Scandinavian invaders came to northern England from Ireland.

Jarrow: “gyr” is an Old English word for “mud”, so this was the settlement of the mud or fen dwellers.

Kepier: this corner of Durham close to the Wear was originally “Kipe Weir” – a weir with fish trap baskets.

The Northern Echo: Lintz Green station

Lintz: a Germanic-sounding place near Stanley, but in 1155 it was known as Lince which comes from the Old English “hlync” which was a bank or a ledge.

Muggleswick: Mug was a giant who had two giant pals and they spent their time throwing giant hammers to one another. They often dropped them and so the land all around Muggleswick in north-west Durham is full of hills and valleys created where the heavy hammers landed. So perhaps there is some truth in Harry Potter. Or perhaps Muggleswick is where a chap called Mucel once had a dairy farm.

Nutty Hagg: this is apparently a place near Newfield, near Bishop Auckland. It was known as Nuttinghagge in 1647 and it is a place where nuts grew.

Oxhill: near Stanley, a place where oxen graze – and the place where Hillary Clinton’s grandfather, Hugh Rodham, was born in 1879.

The Northern Echo: Pity Me: but why?

Pity Me: where the coffin of St Cuthbert was dropped by the monks, causing the dead saint to sit up and urge them to be more careful; or from Petit Mere, French for a small lake. No, says the author, it is “a whimsical name bestowed in the 19th Century on a place considered desolate, exposed or difficult to cultivate”.

Quebec: these fields to the west of Durham were enclosed in 1759, the year Quebec was captured from the French. Small farms in faraway places were often given foreign names as a standing North East joke: there’s Toronto, Philadelphia, New York and California.

Rowlands Gill: when this ravine near Gibside was being opened up – a turnpike road ran through it in 1835 and a railway in 1867 – it was owned by Robert Rowland.

Snotterton: Snotterton Hall was a 15th Century fortified manor house to the west of Staindrop which was taken down in 1831 and rebuilt as a farm – apparently you can still see Gothic stonework in the barns. It was once owned by Mr Snotter. It is not recorded if he was prone to colds.

Towdy Potts: south of Wolsingham, this farm was known as Thottypotts in 1545, which comes from totty grass, a common type of grass that appears to tremble, or quake, in a breeze. There is obviously a hole, or a pit, near this field of totty grass.

Unthank: south of Stanhope, just over the river from Shittlehope, which we won’t delve into. It was known as Unthank as far back as 1254 and it means land that was held without consent – ancient squatters had taken up residence at Unthank.

The Northern Echo: An Edwardian postcard showing "Walkerfield" - it should be "Wackerfield", but that's a ridiculous name unless you know what a wacor was

An Edwardian postcard showing "Walkerfield" - it should be "Wackerfield", but that's a ridiculous name unless you know what a wacor was

Wackerfield: east of Staindrop, this hamlet was once the open space where the wacors grew – “wacors” in Old English were willow twigs out of which wicker baskets were made.

The Northern Echo: The Place Names of County Durham

In his book, Paul doesn’t have any Durham derivations for places beginning with V, X, Y or Z. Indeed, the Wikipedia page for all the places in Durham, has no entries for V, X, Y or Z. There must be some, no matter how small. If you can complete our alphabet, please email

The Place Names of County Durham by Paul Chrystal costs £13.95. It can be found on the publisher’s website,