We’ve had a rather nice drawing done for the project showing all the different dialect names for the parts of a cowhouse. We collected these from local people during the various open days we held earlier on in the project.
As with our last post, many of these dialect names have Old Norse origins, like skelbuse from ‘skelja’ meaning ‘to divide’; boose from ‘bas’ probably meaning box and group or groop from ‘grop’ meaning drain or open sewer. Even muck comes from the Old Norse word ‘myki’ meaning manure or dirt.
Not everyone agreed on the names. The skelbuse was also known as the boose heads or boos’yeads.
“They knew which ‘boos’, which is what we called the, you know, they were in sections, usually a stone slab that way on [stone stalls?] yes..boos’yeads, don’t know how you spell that! And the cows knew which one to go into…”
Margaret Fawcett (nee Alderson) (74), formerly Skeugh Head farm
‘Mew’ is a harder word to unpick. At face value it looks like it comes from the same origins as ‘mow’ as in cutting the hay, but it can also have the meaning of ‘to shut away or confine’. More likely though is from the Old English ‘mūga‘ and Old Norse ‘múgi’ having meanings of stack, swathe or crowd. And indeed ‘mow’ descends from these too.
A large number of field and place names in Upper Swaledale have their origins in the Old Norse language. They are evidence for the many Scandinavian settlers who began arriving in the area during the late eighth century AD. They came in via Ireland and the Isle of Man and headed into north west England, some eventually ending up here.
Place names are the most obvious examples and we’ve already researched a couple of theories about the original meaning of Muker. The widely accepted one is from the Old Norse ‘mjór akr’ meaning ‘the narrow newly cultivated field’ – this comes from ‘The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names’ . We were re-reading Edmund Cooper’s excellent history ‘Muker: The Story of a Yorkshire Parish’ and his translation is, ‘mior-akr‘ meaning a narrow field. Wiktionary has ‘mjor‘ meaning ‘thin’, ‘slender’ or ‘narrow’ in Icelandic with an Old Norse origin.
We have another theory though. We discovered that ’mjolka’ means milk in Old Norse so we were wondering if the name meant ‘milk fields’ instead?
Keld and Thwaite are less controversial, coming from the Old Norse ‘kelda‘ for ‘spring’ and ‘thveit‘ meaning a ‘clearing’, respectively.
Anything with the word ‘side’ or ‘seat’ in, refers to what were once Viking summer grazing areas for cattle, hence Kisdon Side and Ravenseat. Edmund Cooper has the latter as ‘Hrafn sætr’ in Old Norse, or ‘Raven’s Pasture’. A ‘sætr’ can be summer pasture or a dwelling. From the earliest times, when stock was sent up into the hills, a member of the family went with them and lived up there over the summer in a hut, guarding them from wolves and thieves.
Field names are similarly fascinating. We’ve been using a couple of book sources for these as well as the online dictionary Wiktionary . They are Arnold Kellett’s ‘The Yorkshire Dictionary of Dialect, Tradition & Folklore’ and Captain John Harland’s ‘A Glossary of Words used in Swaledale, Yorkshire’ dating to 1873. Many have Old Norse elements to them and describe the field’s location such as ‘Ing’ from ‘enga’ meaning ‘meadow, especially by a river’ and ‘Holme’ meaning flat ground by a river liable to flooding, from ‘holmr’ ‘an island’ and ‘Strands’ from Old Norse ‘strǫnd’ meaning ‘border, edge or shore’.
‘Slack’ means a depression or valley, while ‘Garth’ is a paddock or yard.
Several of the project participants have referred to cutting ‘seeaves’ for bedding. These are rushes and the word comes from the Old Norse ‘sef’ for rush.
“Yes we used to mow rushes and bracken and use it for bedding. Bracken was better, rushes, when you spread the muck it didn’t break up as good as bracken, bracken used to break up nice…We used to store it, we had like a baux, above, in the Home Barn and we used to fork it up into there…”
Richard Campbell (75), formerly of Ravenseat farm
“There wasn’t straw…the bed in the big sheds, they put all straw out, but they didn’t buy straw then, no, so the muck they did was in this group they used to call it, without straw, so that was just muck to be quite honest ..the cows went up onto a step and muck went into group…Seeaves…we used to cut them for bedding…well there wasn’t such a thing as proper bedding”
Annas Metcalfe (nee Whitehead) (73), formerly of Ravenseat farm
We’ve already learned lots about the sorts of things people are interested in when they visit Muker – the barns and walls are of course top of the list. But what’s the thing that puzzles people the most? Well, apparently, everyone wants to know what those lines of sticking-out stones are for that you see on all the barns (and some field walls). They are known as ‘throughs’ or ‘truffs’ in the Swardle dialect. They are long stones that, as their name suggests, run right through the wall thus providing strength. However, we’ve heard one or two other stories….
“… these buildings were well made like, lot of these cow byres, they were all well made. …I tell you, I was once on wi’ a fella and he came and said, “What’s all them ‘throughs’ sticking out there, those truffs?” I said, “they’re for birds to shelter under on a windy day” [lots of laughter]. He said, “I’m not blimmin believing that!”