PEEK INTO PAST: Place names give a picture of Burnley’s history

The Hill: Pendle Hill dominates Burnley and the surrounding district. This picture dates from the mid 1980's and was taken by Burnley's Planning Office (s).
The Hill: Pendle Hill dominates Burnley and the surrounding district. This picture dates from the mid 1980's and was taken by Burnley's Planning Office (s).
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Given our recent weather, I will understand if you do not believe me when I tell you that, over recent weeks, I have enjoyed a number of early evening drives and walks in Burnley and the surrounding area.

I have been able to examine the valley of the Lancashire Calder from a number of vantage points, the two most important of which have been Crown Point and Padiham Heights, although there are others like the viewing point on the A56(T) above Hillock Vale, Accrington, and the topmost part of Nelson Golf Course.

The views have been breath-taking and the walks full of interest but these have combined to make me think what the Burnley district was like in the times before industrialisation. I have written about this subject on a number of occasions in this column. Today I intend, not to describe the views - you can take an OS map with you and get out and see them for yourselves - but to find out how we can use place name evidence to discover what our area was like in the past.

Some of us are used to thinking of Burnley as a dirty, smokey place – that is still how Londoners see our town – but that is like us thinking of London during the “Great Stink” of 1858 when the Thames was so polluted business of the Houses of Parliament had to be brought to an end!

We know Burnley is no longer the place it was when “Cotton was King”. We know, also, that the chimneys, mill and domestic, that once belched smoke and blighted the lives of locals, have been demolished or are no longer used for their original purposes. Smoke control was introduced over 50 years ago and its success has given us more than a hint of the Burnley of our ancestors. We can now see it for ourselves and, in walking our hilly countryside, there are health benefits for everyone who participates.

It was a lovely, sunny evening, only the other day, when I found myself sitting on a bench near Crown Point Car Park. The impressive Singing Ringing Tree was some yards to the right but all of Burnley was spread out before me. The town looked like a grey island in a sea of different shades of green. I had my powerful binoculars with me and could see a farmer in distant Cliviger taking advantage of the good weather to get in what looked like a good crop of hay.

There were golfers enjoying a round at Burnley golf course and, as I tried to pick out the paths I knew, I was pleased to see there were walkers and their dogs out for an evening’s stroll. All the time, from that great height and distance, I was trying to locate some of the places I knew I was going to mention in this article.

Their names fall into a different categories but you will not be surprised to learn that, so far as topography is concerned, the most common concern the features of the landscape – our hills, valleys, woods and marshes. The most dominant feature is, and was, the hill, a vast eminence that today, as in the past, can be seen from almost anywhere in the district. I refer to Pendle Hill.

It is ours just as much as it belongs to the citizens of the present Borough of Pendle. I have looked at Pendle Hill from all over Burnley and it is never the same from the different viewing points I have used. From Briercliffe it is my opinion that the best view can be obtained, with what we call “the Big End” seen to best effect although I concede that, I never tire of Pendle as seen from the highest point of the road between Newchurch-in-Pendle and Barley.

The very name of Pendle confirms its superiority. It means “hill, hill, hill” in three different languages. The Ancient Britons knew it is as “Pen” which can be translated as the hill, the biggest hill, the dominant hill of the area. To this, the early English added nul, to become Pennul, which gradually changed into Pendle. In more recent times we have added our word hill and the name by which we now know the feature, Pendle Hill, came into being.

I have not got the space to go into as much detail with every place name but I will squeeze in as many as I can and, in doing so, think you will be surprised by what is revealed. Whin Hill is an old name for Sandygate, Burnley. This refers to the hill where the whinberries, once a great delicacy, could be found. Ightenhill means the hill where the gorse bushes grew, Hameldon could mean “bare or treeless hill” or “flat-topped hill” and Briercliffe means “the hill where the wild roses grew”. In the latter case the wild roses are still prevalent, the single, or dog, rose which produces those lovely red rosehips in the autumn.

Valleys, as you would expect, in such a hilly area are pretty common. Some are as extensive as the valley of the Calder but others like the Holden valley in Extwistle are hidden away so few know about them. Holden does not tell us very much as the word merely means “a hollow or deep valley”. This can also be seen in Reedley Hallows which has nothing to do with anything “Holy” (as in Hallows) but means “the wet valley where the reeds grow”. You might think Read would mean something similar but not so – it means “headland of the roe deer”.

The most interesting valley name in the area is Thursden, in Briercliffe. It is another hidden valley, much of it inaccessible to cars, and was the kind of place that, in the past, drew out early man’s fear of the unknown. Literally, the name Thursden, means “valley of the goblins” and, by the latter, our ancestors meant what we would call poltergeists, evil supernatural beings which, at the least, played tricks on locals or, at worst, would swap a human baby for one of their own! People of the past believed the “black sheep” of the family was the product of such an exchange.

Not far away is the area now known as the Forest of Trawden. I mention it now as we have already seen a den, a valley, in Thursden. Here we have something like Pendle, in one sense, and something very different in another. It is like Pendle in that the two syllables of Trawden mean the same thing in different languages: they both mean “valley”. It is though unlike Pendle as the one refers to a hill, the other, the opposite, a valley.

Another feature of the landscape is the suitability of the soil for farming. If the land was wet, as it was in Reedley, this was likely to appear in a place name. Fulledge, means “the foul or dirty ditch”. Ridehalgh, in Briercliffe, means “the reedy water meadow” and wherever you see halgh wet land is the norm. This is also the case with carr, as in Carr Hall, near Nelson, and hud, or hood, as in Hood House, Burnley, the site of Scott Park. Here there was a property called Appletree Carr, a name preserved in the name of a house in the locality.

Some times a name might look as if it is transposed from somewhere else but is, in reality, very descriptive of an area as it was in the past. An example of this is seen in the name, now no longer used except perhaps by me, of a part of Burnley town centre. I refer to Salford, which has nothing to do with the city of that name, but has everything to do with the condition of the land in that part of town as it was hundreds of years ago.

Salford means “the ford by the willows”, a plant which grew there in such profusion, on badly-drained land there, that a local industry developed to capitalise on the existence of the plant. The name Stoneyhome, “the stoney island”, confirms this. On some early maps the words “osier beds” appear near Salford, the part of Burnley by the present pub, The Town Mouse, which was once named the Salford Hotel. Of course the beds occupied more land than the site of the hotel but, in the past when the beds were worked, women and children would cut the willows and make them ready to be made into baskets. In that same area, Burnley once had a Poke Street, poke being an old word for a basket, as in “a pig in a poke”.

Another category which should not be forgotten is Burnley’s woodland. Numerous place names refer to woods or trees. The latter is best exemplified by the number of places with Holly or its derivatives as part of the name. Hollin, Hollingreave, Hollingrove and The Hollins (two of this latter in Ightenhill) all refer to the holly tree. The words “grove” and “greave” mean the same, a thicket, something less than a wood but still significant. There must have been a thicket of roses, probably the simple and delightful, but badly named, dog roses, in Rosegrove.

Brunshaw means the woodland on the banks of the Brun. Hurstwood is another of those names which repeat themselves – it was a site of woodland to early settlers and remained so to later residents. Worsthorne, probably combines a personal name, Wortha, with a thorn bush which may have marked a boundary. The oak must have been one of the most common of the trees in the Burnley area in the past as there are many names which refer to oaks. I will mention two – Extwistle and Runcklehurst.

A few place names remind us of the presence of particular animals and birds in the past. I have written about Burnley’s connection with deer and hunting in the past so I will mention other examples. Cronkshore Meadows, which was situated near the Prestige building in Colne Road, refers to “the wood where the cranes nested”. Swinden and Swinless refer to the valley and field where swine (pigs) grazed. Cockden was the valley where cocks could be found and Catlow may have been the place where the wild cats (ferrets?) could be located, useful knowledge when poaching was more common than it is now.

Perhaps the most interesting of the place names which involve the presence of birds is Gawthorpe. It is not generally realised that Gawthorpe Hall is not in Padiham but in Ightenhill and it has been suggested Gawthorpe means “cuckoo farm” from “gauke” (cuckoo) and thorpe (a large farm, usually with more than one house). There is another Gawthorpe near Dewsbury, Yorkshire, where there is also a Gauxholme, near Todmorden, the island where the cuckoos nested.

From all this, and a lot more, we get an image of the Burnley district as it was before the Industrial Revolution – an area of hills, valleys, woodland and wetland, one in which people lived in small communities and isolated farms. Whether woods were stocked with birds for the pot, the rivers and streams with fish, we are not told. However, I believe they were - but this is another story.

By Roger Frost