I love the language of round here; the dialect, the idioms, the way we express ourselves, the sound of the words we use and the names we give to things and places. I’m not being parochial, I love the language of “round here”, wherever round here might be. I have a soft spot for the way people talk in the North East and the almost Norse dialect that they use in Newcastle. I like the softer tones I hear in the Lake District and in East Yorkshire, where they flatten out their vowels and let out their words almost to chime with the landscape and weather. I even enjoy listening to the burr of southern counties like Hampshire, but I have to confess that the accent I hear around Pontefract is one that brings music to my ears. Most of all I like the ancient words we use. We still say “laik” when we mean “play” and are rightly proud that this word comes down to us over a thousand years and more from Viking settlers who sailed from the coasts of Norway and Denmark. Etymologists and word smiths will tell you that the word “laik” is also the root of the children’s building game “Lego” and they’re right. Lego comes from the Danish expression “Leg godt” meaning “Play Well.”
The old words are also a big part of our landscape. When we enjoy the beauty of Brock-a-Dale Woods, we celebrate the home of the badger, “Brock” being an ancient Celtic word for that lovely animal. A walk along the footpath in Spittal Hardwick Lane, doesn’t just take us from Monkhill Lane up to Fryston, it puts us on a journey through the history of words. “Spittal” is an ancient word for hospital, especially one dealing with contagious diseases. “Hardwick” is a combination of an old English word “Heorde” for a flock or herd and “Wic” another old word for an outlying farmstead. So, the next time you walk, let’s say, from The Hope and Anchor pub near Pontefract Castle to Townville, you are walking past an outlying farming hamlet where once was a hospital. When the Norsemen came they replaced the word “Wic” with one of their own words meaning the same thing, this was “Thorpe” and that’s how we find that word in village names like “Thorpe Audlin.”
I find that local people like to know the origin of their town or village name. The one I get asked most about is Purston Jaglin. If we go back to the Domesday book we find that this small settlement was called “Prestone”, as in “Priest’s Farmstead.” Where his church or chapel was the book doesn’t say. How did “Jaglin” get added to this then? I turned up some research undertaken by a man with the fine name, Alexander Alexander. He was a storekeeper at Ackton Hall pit in the late Victorian era. He was also a renowned local antiquarian. Alexander points to a will made in 1384 by William de Quernby, who bequeaths a book for service to The Chantry of St John the Baptist in Preston Jakelin in 1384. Alexander goes on to suggest that Jakelin is probably the name of the Priest. He also suggests a possible site of the chantry chapel is Monk Royd, the name to this day of the farm between Pontefract and Purston. Monk Royd meaning “Priest’s Clearing.” There was for many centuries a small hamlet here by the name of Swine Lane. This stood on the edge of the very famous Roman road, Ermine Way, which came in a direct line from Doncaster across the fields near to Farmer Copley’s to cross the River Aire at Castleford. The next time you take a bus from Pontefract to Featherstone, think on as you get to the bottom of Marlpit Hill, that you are about to pass over a Roman highway that forms a boundary between Pontefract and a village where once a Priest called Jack read the scripture to a handful of farm workers.
This article was featured in Issue 8 – September 2019.