Local History – Significance of Place Names

October 1932

Mexborough & Swinton Times – Friday 14 October 1932

Local History

Significance of Place Names

About the middle of the 16th century, and soon after the dissolution of the monasteries, the manorial system of land tenure came into general use, under which it was necessary that every plot of land should have a name or description attached to it.

Some of the, local deeds dating back to within a hundred years of the publication of Doomsday Book, Idescribe plots of mad as: Horscroft, Sepefordflat, Walkarfal, Nedresahe, etc., and in the course of time these descriptions became adopted as names. Many these old field names, or rather descriptions, are still in use, but owing to building operations, sewage and colliery dumps, and the more extended use of the numbers on the Ordnance Survey maps, they are rapidly being forgotten, and ere long these silent witnesses of the history of ,the district will be things of the past.

According to the oldest inhabitant legend, the title “Sparrow Barracks,” was bestowed on those cottages near the old glass works as a term of contempt; well perhaps so, still the “Sparend” mentioned in a deed of 1638 is within fifty yards. The “Sparrowpit” of circa 1680 appears to have been in the grounds of Mexboro’ House, and, coming to Swinton, the “Sparshawclyf ” (1392) cut through the Cliff Field Road of to-day.

“Coe Cliff” (1517), or the merlin cliff, is to the west of Fitzwilliam Street, while the “Sperow Clyff (1374) at Kilnhurst was offered for sale by auction only a few months ago.

In the days when falconry was the highest form of outdoor sport, the armiger, franklin or small freeholder was permitted to carry and fly a merlin, the knight and the head of a religious house, a sparrowhawk, and so on, right up the social and winged scale. At first sight it does seem difficult to trace any connection between the forest laws and a slice of the country side, still it is a sober tact that the bulk of the land bounded by the Don and that sparrow-hawk cliff hillside on the west, was at one time or another in the hands of the clergy.

In the township of Swinton land was owned by the abbots of St. Mary, Roche, Rufford, Monk Bretton, Beauchief, and Pontefract, the priors of Nostel and Blyth, and the Hospital of St. Leonard. From either Mexborough or Masborough the Knights Templars at Newsom received a small rent, just prior to their suppression in 1311. Then Agnes, one time prioress of Worksop, left a tartly worded complaint regarding the treatment meted out to “John, my villani in Suintone.”

Either this, or another lady of the same name and address, once purchased from a local baron “one female native” for the sum of three shillings, not for a life of ease and comfort at the Priory, but to augment the staff on one of her farms. Villani and native were just servants in the original meaning of the word; to-day, slave would be a better description. In the deeds of the 12th and early 13th centuries the old clerks were in the habit of appending the names of a dozen or score of witnesses, and then adding “et militia aliis”; possibly if a’ number of others were added to the above list it would be more correct.

In the township of Swinton, Holy and Bird’ (i.e., Dove) wells, require no explanation. Then we find Prior Lays, Cowl Acre, Priory Hill, Alicroft (Haly or Holy Croft), Monk lag, Burton Field (Monk Bretton?), Hoswel (St. Oswald’s, Nostell), and pakspen (pax or peace). Rad’s Close and Rad’s Gap may refer to that sub-prior of Roche, who certainly owned land hereabouts.

Coming to secular field names, the Low Butts and the High Butts occupied the site of the present Swinton Church. Thus there could be no excuse for the idle to shirk their archery practice after the morning’s service at the Chapel. Little and Great Flax Pits, the Stock and Plonk Closes are reminders of the industries of the past; the stocks were the willow sticks, which after cutting and soaking, were plonked or peeled. This willow bark, together with the “raddle” dug from the hill side at Micklebring, and for centuries ground at the “Huddle Mill” near Braithwell, would form the basis of the russet and brown dyes used by the barkers at the “Bate Ines” just over the hedge.

It is not certain what fuel John the Potter used in his kiln at Kilnhurst, but wood or charcoal was certainly used in the old ironworks there, and it seems likely that a good supply of wood ashes were available. At the “Lim Pits” (no, the word is not lime) the salts of potash could be recovered from these ashes, then calcined with shale to produce a crude alum, for which there would be a ready market at the Swinton dye works. These operations would disturb those badgers who frequented the “Broker Well,” which, after the lapse of centuries and the disturbances caused by the construction of the canal and railway, can still be found.

Seven and a half centuries ago, or about the time that the builders were busy on Conisborough Castle and the Abbey of Roche, Kilnhurst certainly had one mill. This was not used for grinding corn, but for “walking” or fulling wool and cloth. A couple of hundred years later. “myIines” and the “new mylne dam” are mentioned in a local deed.

One of these mills, and I think the oldest, was somewhere to the south of the Ship Inn, where part of the mill pool and launder can still be traced. The waste from the wheel ran tinder the present road, then through the “Mill Close” in the goods yard of the L. and N.E. Railway, and reached the Don near the “Smithy Ford” by way of a long artificial channel: The other mill would he somewhere near the bridge on the Kilnhurst- Renton “Road. This “Smithy Ford” is somewhat of a puzzle. The general lie of the land and the course of the river do not suggest a suitable site for the erection of a waterwheel. etc., while the tail grill from the old ironworks enters the Don a long way upstream.

From Thorpe Hesley to the middle of Ravenfield Common an old park horse track can be traced in places, and this ford would be directly on the route. “Kylnehyrst Brigge, within the parish of Wathe” was in being as far back as the year 1368, and it is difficult to understand the need of this ford, as it would be out of use half of every winter, and most likely each heavy ‘ shower as well.

Perhaps the ford antedated the bridge, or that it was an alternative route, just to keep the bridge tolls at a reasonable figure.

The surviving field names do not suggest that either coal or iron was mined in Swinton. “Haggerons” looks like waste and iron or a slag heap, but so far no traces of such hav in a personal sense, “Cole,” “Coley,” “Cort,” or the like generally indicated a charcoal burner. Several of the local field names show that these were also applied to coal workings.