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The history of Cumbria is marked by a long and complex history of human settlement. Geographically, Cumbria is situated near the centrepoint of the British Isles. The contrasting landscapes between the mountains and the fertile coastal areas and the rich variety of mineral resources available in the county have made it a desirable area for habitation since the Upper Paleolithic, and various ethnic groups have been drawn to the area, leaving their linguistic mark since the Iron Age.
Since at least the Iron Age, the inhabitants of Cumbria would have spoken Common Brittonic, which is the ancestor of modern Welsh, Cornish, and Breton. Evidence of this language is mostly visible in topographical features such as rivers (Kent, Eden, Ehen, Levens) and mountains (Blencathra, Helvellyn, Coniston Old Man).
In the first millennium AD the Brythonic spoken in north west England and southern Scotland developed into a separate strain called Cumbric, which included some influences from Latin picked up during the Roman occupation of Britain. It is likely that most place names with Brythonic influences have survived from this time (Carlisle, Penrith, Penruddock)
British influenced place names exist throughout the whole county, but are particularly common around the river valleys of the Lake District and around the coastal plains of the Solway Firth.
Angles from Deira and Bernicia (later Northumbria) would have gradually filtered into Cumbria since the 5th century, but the area retained a distinctly British identity until at least the 8th century. Settlement by the English began in the north, with settlers following the line of Hadrian's Wall and traversing Stainmore Pass then settling the Eden Valley before making their way along the north coast. Some time later they would have begun to move into the Kent Valley, Cartmel and Furness, gradually moving further north along the west coast.
Surviving place names have been taken to show that the Anglo-Saxons stayed out of the mountainous central region and remained in the lowlands, but after the Celtic kingdom of Rheged was annexed to English Northumbria sometime before 730 AD, the Celtic language of Cumbric was slowly replaced by Old English
. As a result, Old English elements can be found throughout the county, but mostly in the names of towns and villages (Workington, Millom). Very few rivers or mountains contain Old English elements (Eamont, Stainmore), but many of the lakes contain the element mere, meaning 'lake'.
w?c - 'settlement, farm' (from Latin vicus, often found near Roman roads) -> -wick, -wich
General distribution of Old Norse elements
The Norse appear to have arrived in Cumbria in about 925 AD and left a huge impression upon the toponymy of Cumbria. Originally from Norway, it is generally accepted that they would have come here via their colonies in Iceland, Ireland and the Isle of Man, perhaps bringing with them a touch of Gaelic influence. Placenames with thwaite, which are commonplace in Cumbria, are also abundant in the southern counties of Hordaland, Rogaland, Agder and Telemark in Norway proper, and less in use elsewhere (Norwegian: tveit, tvedt).
It seems they would have arrived around the south west of the county and penetrated into the uplands of the central region where the Old Norse influence is dominant. Many mountains, rivers and valleys have Norse names, as attested by the abundance of the elements fell, -ay and dale (Mickledore, Scafell, Rothay, Duddon, Langsleddale, Allerdale). Many town and villages also contain Norse elements (Keswick, Whitehaven, Ravenglass, Silloth, Ulverston, Ambleside)
There are also a number of Danish influenced place names (Allonby, Thursby, Ousby, Milnthorpe), but the majority are situated along the Eden Valley and the north coast of the county, suggesting that they might have come across Stainmore around the 9th century AD.
At the time of the Norman conquest in 1066, it is likely that a mixture of Norse and Old English would have been spoken throughout most of Cumbria, which persisted until the spread of Middle English after the 12th century. The Domesday Book of 1086 lists only a few places in the south of the region, as at this time most of northern and central Cumbria was part of Scotland, but with several battles over the following centuries the whole area became part of England.
The influence of Anglo-Norman is usually confined to manorial names and residences and often include a personal name to distinguish between two places belonging to different lords (Egremont, Beaumont, Maulds Meaburn, Crosby Garret, Ponsonby, Grange).
Although it is often difficult to distinguish between a Middle English name and an earlier one, some places do seem to contain elements (Tod Ghyll, Brocklebank, Ladyholme, Cam Spout, Monk Coniston, Newlands, Sweden Bridge)
Common Anglo-Norman and Middle English elements
grange - 'farm' (usually belonging to a monastery)
great - 'large' (denoting the larger of two places)
Copeland 'bargained land, bought land' from ON kaupa land
Cumbria 'land of the Cymry' (the Brythonic name for the British people of the area, related to WelshCymru, from a Brittonic*kombrogi meaning 'fellow countrymen').
Cumberland 'land of the Cymry' from the OE Cumbra land
Furness 'further promontory' from OE fuðor and ON nes, the oldest form of the name is Fuþþernessa (c1150)
Grizedale Forest 'valley with pigs' from ON gris dalr
Morecambe Bay 'crooked sea' from Br *mori- & *kambo-. The name was recorded in Ptolemy'sGeographica c.150AD as Morikambe, apparently referring to the Lune Estuary. It was subsequently lost then revived in the 19th century as both the name for the bay and the new Lancashire seaside resort at Poulton-le-Sands.
Solway Firth 'Muddy ford estuary' from ON sol vath fjórðr - or from the Celtic tribal name Selgovae
Westmorland 'land of the people living west of the moors' from OE west m?r inga land. The name presumably dates from the time when Westmorland was part of Northumbria and ruled from the east.
Skiddaw - Diana Whaley suggests "'the mountain with the jutting crag'". However, the first element may be a personal name or Old Norse skítr 'dung, filth, shit'Richard Coates suggests that "it is possible that a Cumbric solution is to be sought."
Borrowdale 'valley with a fort' from ON borgar dalr
Dunnerdale 'valley of the River Duddon'
Ennerdale 'valley of the River Ehen'
Langdale 'long valley' from ON lang dalr
Lonsdale 'valley of the River Lune'
Mardale 'valley with a lake' from ON marr dalr
Patterdale 'Patrick's valley', possibly named after St Patrick or, more likely, a later Norse-Irish settler
Sleddale 'valley with flat land' from ON sletta dalr
Wasdale 'valley of water' from ON vatns dalr
Towns and villages
Aspatria 'Patrick's Ash' from ON asc and the personal name
Barrow-in-Furness 'headland island' from Br barr and ON ey
Blennerhasset 'Hay farm on a hill' from the Cumbric*blein 'steep faced slope' plus ON haysaetr
Bootle 'huts, shelter' from ON buðl
Bowness 'promontory shaped like a bow' from ON bogi nes
Cark 'rock' from Br carreg
Carlisle 'fort of the God Lugus' from Br *Luguwalion -> Lat Luguvalium -> OE Luel -> Cumbric Cair Luel (Welsh - Caer Liwelydd)
Cockermouth 'mouth of the River Cocker'
Dalton-in-Furness 'farm in a valley' from ON dalr tun
Frizington 'farm/settlement of the Friesen people' from OE Fris, inga and tun
Grange-over-Sands 'outlying farm belonging to a monastery' from the ME grange. -over-Sands was probably added in the 19th century when the town prospered as a holiday resort overlooking Morecambe Bay. The term 'over-sands' may also refer to the ancient act of traversing Morecambe Bay sands as a means of shortening the travel distance in the area.
Hawkshead uncertain. The 'hawks-' might either mean 'hawk' or be the ON personal name Haukr and the '-head' may mean 'head' from OE heofod or 'summer farm, shieling' from ON saetr
Kendal 'valley of the River Kent' from ON Kent dalr
Keswick 'cheese farm' from OE c?se wic[also ON "vik" 'landing place' (i.e. village)]
Kirkby 'village with a church' from ON kirk by
Maryport named after the wife of Humphrey Senhouse who developed the town into a port. It was originally called Ellenfoot as it stood at the foot of the River Ellen but was changed in 1756 as the town developed.
Millom 'mills' from OE millen
Milnthorpe 'village with mills' from OE millen and Da þorp
Threlkeld 'thrall's well' from ON þroel kelda
Ulpha 'wolf hill' from ON ulfr haugr
Ulverston 'Ulfr's farmstead' from ON Ulfrs tun (ulfr is also the ON word for 'wolf')
Whitehaven 'white harbour' from ON hvit hafn
Workington 'farm/settlement of Weorc's people' from OE Weorc, inga and tun
Belle Isle, Windermere 'beautiful isle' from Fr belle
originally named Langholme, ON 'long island', it was renamed in 1781 by its new owner Isabella Curwen
Chapel Island, Morecambe Bay named for the chapel built here in the 14th century by monks from nearby Conishead Priory to serve the needs of travellers and fishermen on the sands of Morecambe Bay.
Foulney Island, Morecambe Bay 'island of birds' from ON fuglena and ON ey
Foulney is now a bird sanctuary and site of special scientific interest
Ladyholme, Windermere 'island of Our Lady'. ME, using ON holmr
St. Herbert's Island, Derwentwater named after the 7th-century saint who was a hermit on this island.
the island became a place of pilgrimage by 1374
Walney, Irish Sea 'Isle of the British' from ON valna ey
the Old English name for Walney was Wagneia, 'island of quicksands'. In the Domesday Book it is called Houganai or island of Hougun. Hougun, from the Old Norse word haugr meaning hill or mound, is also the name given to Furness in Domesday.