HAVING unarguably solved the dilemma of how to pronounce “Chop Gate” on the North York Moors, Peter Southeran in Redcar asked us to adjudicate on the pronunciation of Runswick Bay and Staithes.

Without any shadow of a doubt, there is no w in Runswick.

“As an east Cleveland local going back nearly 70 years, I and my contemporaries always pronounced Runswick without sounding the 'w', as did our predecessors,” says Colin Robson.

Malcolm McCallum agrees: “Having grown up at Runswick in the 1940s and 1950s, I remember the 'w' being silent and newcomers soon being told this.”

“Pronunciation of Runswick Bay has definitely got a silent w,” says Alison Nelson. “I live in the village and have never heard anyone local pronounce the w.

“And as for Staithes, the locals and elders pronounce it as “Steers”.”

Runswick – or “Runnie”, if you want to avoid any grappling with the w – gets its name from either an Old English landowner called Raegen or a Norseman called Hreinn. It was his wic, or settlement.

Staithes is an Old English name meaning landing place, and our correspondents agreed with Alison that it should be pronounced “Steeres”.

Bill Hinchley says: “Newspapers in the 1700s used the spelling Steaths, and a late friend told me he once saw a grandfather clock that gave the clockmaker’s name and underneath was written “Steeaze”, so I think that over time, “Steaths” became “Steease”.”

Alice Barrigan, of the North Yorkshire History blog, also blamed journalists for the inconsistent peculiarity.

“I wonder if the fascination with the Staithes dialect started in the 19th Century when it was both a busy fishing port and an increasing attraction to artists and tourists and so to journalists and writers,” she says.

“Saying “Steeres” for “Staithes” must come from writers speaking Received Pronunciation English and trying to record the locals’ pronunciation – and the locals, after all, were just saying the name they’d always known. How it was spelt on a map wasn’t their business.

“What they said wasn’t crisp and closed, the “ai” part of the word sounded quite different to their hearers and the “th” was virtually inaudible. But the writers couldn’t show how long the word sounded, how slowly or quickly the locals spoke, and Steeres looks like a really drawn-out, drawling word whereas it’s really just like dialectal pronunciation of, say, “away”.”

So really locals are saying “Staithes” but not in a way that the outside ear would recognise!

Having conclusively cleared up that little issue, we can move on to other place names.

In living memory, people would say they came from “Rivis” when they meant Rievaulx.

When Ingleby Barwick was just a rural village near Stockton, it was properly called “Ingleby Barrick” but that has changed in the last 20 years or so as house buyers have moved onto what was Europe’s largest private estate and saw in their deeds that they lived in “Ingleby Bar-wick”.

“While on this subject, the settlement of Boulby, near Steeres, is pronounced “Bowlby” as in “boulder”,” says Colin Robson, pleased to get the matter off his chest. “It is not 'Boolby' as BBC Look North seems to think.”

Any other pronunciation puzzles most welcome. Please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk