“ENJOYING a walk recently near Beamish, we wondered about the origins of the name of the nearby village of No Place, which is also known as Co-operative Villas,” says Pete Winstanley, of Durham.

Being an erudite fellow, he continues: “I suggested perhaps it might be a translation of Utopia – which means "no place" in Greek. What is its origin?”

No Place is one of the greatest place names ever coined – perhaps the greatest attraction of it is that no one has ever satisfactorily explained how it came to be No Place.

Durham’s top toponymist, David Simpson, has a variety of theories. No Place was a new mining settlement of four mid 19th Century terraces which was built on the boundaries of the parishes of Chester-le-Street and Stanley. Neither wanted responsibility for it, so it was a no place…

If you are not convinced by that, another theory is that it was originally Near Place or Nigh Place because it is very nigh the two separate pits of Beamish Colliery. Alternatively, it could be an abbreviation of North Place, which sounds high likely except it is not north of anything notable – it is east of the pits.

So utopia is as good an explanation as any – even though it has never been mentioned in connection with No Place before. Utopia was invented by Sir Thomas More as the title of his 1516 book in which he describes a fictional island which has perfect social, legal and political systems – it was ironically called ‘no place’ because such a place could not possibly exist on planet Earth.

The real curiosity about our No Place is that it really is no place. The terraces were demolished in 1937, and Co-operative Villas – which are a couple of late 19th Century terraces to the north of No Place – took on the name. Indeed, in 1983, when Derwentside council tried to place street signs with just the name “Co-operative Villas” on them, the people revolted and so both names remain on the signs.

They obviously like living in No Place.

LAST week in this space, I concluded that the phrase “raining cats and dogs” probably came from the days of slums when an unusually powerful downpour washed out debris, including the bodies of cats and dogs which had crawled away to quietly die – the slum streets were littered with them.

“I am now in my seventies but as a young child, while living with my grandparents at Hunwick, I vividly remember my grandfather telling me that in years gone by when thatched roofing was widely used, family pets made homes or refuges in the thatch,” says Michael Robinson in Houghton-le-Spring. “Whenever there was a spell of heavy rainfall, the cats and dogs among others would come down to seek dryer parts of the home. Hence the expression ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’.”

One man’s derivation is as good as another man’s, but this explanation, as good as it may sound, has the whiff of a wives’ tale to it. For a start, as a rule, no dog would climb up a wall to roost in a roof and, secondly, the whole point of a well laid thatch is that it is waterproof so whatever animals were up there would not get washed out.

Indeed, when the ground floor flooded, the thatch could have been the driest place in the house.