How did they name our towns?

SAND CHARIOTS: Landsail racing on Redcar beach – but what does ‘car’ actually mean in place names?

SAND CHARIOTS: Landsail racing on Redcar beach – but what does ‘car’ actually mean in place names?

First published in Weekend by

NORTH Yorkshire seems to have more than its fair share of place names that either begin with or end with Carr or Car. The former West Ridings and East Ridings do not appear to have such a gathering of cars and carrs and they seem positively rare in County Durham.

The former North Riding could boast at least 13 locations beginning with car or carr – seven of which are villages prefixed by Carlton – but I have not tried to trace all the places with such suffixes. One or two that come to mind are Redcar, Stuntry Carr, Cringle Carr and Upsall Carrs.

Carr at the beginning of a name does not necessarily indicate a village. I recall that my grandparents’ farm was at Carr End, Glaisdale, and the name also appears near Aysgarth.

Standing alone, the name Carr does make an occasional appearance, and it applies also to Carr Wood near Goathland and Bonny Carr near Topcliffe. There are many more examples, too numerous to include.

The name of Carr or Car in place names or other locations appears to be somewhat controversial because various experts have produced differing theories.

My Place-Names of the North Riding (1928) suggests that Carperby in Wensleydale could be named after a person who was a charioteer. He suggests it derives from Cairpre or Cairbre which he believes was the personal name of a charioteer. This may be confirmed in my Oxford Library of Words and Phrases (1986) which states that the word car which refers to a vehicle is derived from chariot. The word cart may come from a similar source, or possibly from the Anglo-Norman caret or charette.

In the North Riding, however, the word carr means something quite different, but even so, there are still two varied opinions about its real meaning. One derives from the Danish word kjar which means a marshy or boggy area, particularly such places on moorland sites. Quite often, they are known simply as The Carrs.

However, an alternative suggestion put forward by Canon JC Atkinson, who wrote Forty Years on a Moorland Parish in 1908, is that carr refers to a grove of alder trees, but alternative opinions are that such damp places might be favoured by alder trees, which tend to flourish in wet ground. In other words, alders THE baby and I found ourselves driving home over the tops from Richmond in a big thunder and lightning storm last Friday. I was driving. She was navigating this time.

The lightning appeared to be just a few hundred yards away, possibly over Barden – if Barden actually exists.

Arriving home, we found the water pouring down the drive and into the garden.

favour carrs, and the carrs came first.

In a similar vein, the alder tree has also given its name to places in this region. Known in the North Riding as eller or ellers, the alder has given rise to place-names such as Ellerby, Skelton Ellers, Eller Beck, Ellertonon- Swale and Ellerburn.

In times past, the alder tree was regarded with suspicion or even fear because when its wood is cut, it appears to take on a reddish tinge which our ancestors associated with blood. This led to a belief that the tree was in some way a wicked creation containing an evil spirit, and this has led to its appearance in works of literature, music and folklore.

In England, it was widely used in clog making, shoe soles and even broom handles because its wood was very workable, but also durable. The bark, fruit and leaves also produce dyes, and when cultivated, the tree was planted along river banks to help retain them, but also to enrich poor soil. For a tree with an evil reputation, it is surprisingly useful.

Because the alder has given rise to the name eller it is sometimes confused with the elderberry or elder tree. This is a completely different tree whose alternative local name is either bottery bush or burtree and whose berries make excellent wines and jams that are rich with Vitamin C. Dyes can also be obtained from the elder’s flowers, bark and leaves.

Another useful but weed-like tree.

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