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The Early Settlement of Bishopdale

[This section is under construction].


As has been outlined in the Origins section of this site, there have been communities living in Bishopdale for at least 10,000 to 12,000 years. However, the pattern of villages and farms we know today was established between the 8th and 13th centuries A.D. by four successive waves of invaders and settlers. Clues to the ethnic origins of these settlers can be found in the names of their settlements. First came the Angles (no Saxons settled this far north). Anglian tribesmen settled in lower Bishopdale sometime after 750 A.D. and evidence of their settlements can be found in place names such as Burton, meaning a fortified farm and Eshington (the village of Esse or Ecce’s people). Bishopdale itself is an Anglo-Saxon name, meaning Biscopp’s valley. The name had nothing to do with the church; Biscopp was the name of an Anglian person.


Norse settlement in Bishopdale came in two stages. Danish settlers arrived in the 9th century and established villages in the lower and more fertile areas, while settlers originating from Norway arrived from the west via Ireland and Cumbria in the 10th century. The Irish-Norse settlers established individual farms in unoccupied upland areas. It is difficult to differentiate between Danish and Irish-Norse settlements because the languages were so similar, but the most likely Danish settlements were Thoralby (Thoraldr’s farm or village) and the now-deserted village of Croxby (the village or farm of a man called Krokr). Swinacote is a mixture of Anglian and either Danish or Norse and means the cottage by the swine ford. The names of several isolated farms are probably of Irish-Norse origin, including Gayle Ing (a summer pasture in a ravine), Howesyke (a small stream by a hill), Langrigg (long ridge) and Howgill (a ravine on a hill).

While Anglian and Danish settlers cultivated crops and kept a few livestock, Irish-Norse settlers were primarily graziers of cattle, sheep and horses. Evidence of transhumance, the movement of livestock between summer and winter pastures, is common in upper Wensleydale in place names ending in - sett, - busk and - ing. Names such as Gayle Ing, Heaning and Riddings suggest that transhumance was also practised in Bishopdale.


The final invasion was that of the Normans from 1066 onwards. While few of them will have settled in Bishopdale, they established lordship over the Anglo-Norse population that was by then well established in the area. However, the Normans did establish one new settlement, Newbiggin, meaning 'new building'. Biggin is a Middle English word of 12th or 13th century origin.

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