DURING some recent research, I was reminded that the local language of the people of this region including Durham, Northumberland, the North York Moors and areas of Scotland, differs from that of the West Riding, Lancashire, the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales. People in parts of the Yorkshire Wolds also speak in way that differs from natives of the North York Moors.
Those differences may be in the local accent, the pronunciation of words, the use of different terms to describe things, the dialect of the region and even variations in the sense of humour. Certainly, a strong dialect or accent can be incomprehensible less than a hundred miles away but it is significant that the regions to which I refer are all in the north-east of our island.
I quote from “A Dictionary of the Dialect of the North Riding of Yorkshire” by Sir Alfred Pease. It was published in 1928 by Horne and Son of Whitby. Writing of the North Riding dialect, he said: "Our dialect descends from the ancient language of Northumbria and has a separate pedigree from that of English. Its base is largely Scandinavian, perhaps about 25 per cent but there is present a large proportion of early Teutonic and Anglo-Saxon elements with a considerable sprinkling of Norman, Medieval English and Celtic.”
Sir Alfred stressed that dialects of North-East England differ from those in the North-West of England. The North Riding dialect contains a very large proportion of actual words from ancient Northumbria, which itself has Scottish influences.
There are several very good dictionaries containing thousands of local words, but I have selected "kirk house" as an example because I have recently being researching bridge chapels. The name kirk house refers to domestic accommodation adjoining or within the structure of a church or chapel. It also applied to bridge chapels because, in addition to the chapel section, the small building included primitive accommodation for a resident priest.
The word “kirk” is widely used through-out the North-East of England and into Scotland where it indicates a church or chapel. In Scotland’s case, it also means the entire Church of Scotland as well as individual churches and chapels. A kirkmote was a synod or perhaps a smaller meeting in the church or vestry. Kirk also appears in many North Yorkshire place names such as Kirkbymoorside or Oswaldkirk, and areas such as Kirkdale or Kirkgarth (a churchyard) but also in surnames like Kirk, Kirkman and Kirker. It also appears in professions like kirkmaster (churchwarden) or kirkman, a priest or church-worker.
Kirkhouse as a single word is also a family surname once widely used in Scotland, but a similar word in two parts became Kirk House. In some areas, this has been shortened to Kirkus, which can also appear as a surname. This is supported by A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames by CWE Bardsley. It states that the surname Kirkus as used in North-East England, Scotland and Scandinavia, is derived from Kirkus meaning a parsonage or Kirk House as used in North-East England, Scotland and Scandinavia.
The Scottish pronunciation sounds like Kirkus which in fact is the name of a house or parsonage adjoining or close to a church; kirkus is also used for a structure near the church gate which is erected to supply refreshments at weddings, christenings, funerals and so forth. I am told there is a kirkus near the church at Ulpha beyond Broughton in Furness. Also, I know of a guest house in Cornwall called Kirk House – a converted 19th century chapel.
However, while researching the life of the Yorkshire moorland martyr, Nicholas Postgate, I came across a reference to a kirk house. It may be significant
that Dom Bede Camm in his Forgotten Shrines (1910) writes that Nicholas Postgate was born at Kirkdale House in the parish of Egton. In fact, the Postgate family home was a house in the parish of Egton – at Kirkdale – I think it should have been referred to as the Kirkdale house as other families called Postgate live in Eskdale.
Those families lived at the Eskdaleside house or the Sleights house. However, Bede Camm added something of great importance and significance. This is what he wrote: “Kirkdale, or Kirk House, our martyr’s birthplace, stood near Egton bridge. A writer described it in the year 1838 as 'now literally a cattle-shed'," and Camm then added: “It must have been a poor cottage in spite of its high-sounding name.”
Clearly, Bede Camm’s research had relied on long-standing local rumours, not facts. The Kirk House which he described was in fact the old bridge chapel
that had been demolished by floods c1381 – so it could not have been the martyr’s birthplace. In fact, the martyr’s family home has been established as being at Kirkdale Banks, Egton, in a house with no name. There is ample evidence to support this. Furthermore, few houses then carried names because only some five per cent of people could read and write, although some local homes were described, not named, e.g. Corner Cottage, Riverside House, Oak Tree House, Bridge End etc.
Fool's day origins
My postbag in recent weeks has produced some interesting correspondence. My notes about April Fool’s Day pranks prompted a letter from a Darlington
reader who suggests the idea might have started centuries ago in the Jewish festival of Purim. The history of this festival can be found in the Old Testament Book of Esther.
It commemorates events during the Persian period of 430-332 BC when the king’s prime minister, Haman, decided to eliminate every Jew. This was before the Christian era but if Haman had succeeded, the Messiah would not have been born.
Haman’s name was therefore hated throughout the land and the story is told even today in every synagogue when the Book of Esther is read aloud. This
produces a remarkable effect because the children are encouraged to drown all references to Haman by stamping their feet and rotating wooden clackers of the kind once used at football matches. Nowadays, modern children buy cheap plastic toy hammers and roam around hitting people on the head – this is the only time children are allowed to interrupt synagogue services but in this case, even adults join the fun, some in military uniform.
Another correspondent has written about the Fabers Stone that stands on the moors near Osmotherley and she wonders about its purpose. I have never
examined it but it is probably a boundary marker, perhaps from ancient times with another standing nearby. I understand there is also a similar one called the Cray Hall Stone several miles to the south.
AND finally, before compiling these notes some two weeks ago, the air was filled with birdsong. It was a wonderful sound on a warm sunny day – but it reminded me, I have not yet heard a cuckoo this year!