A glossary of words used in the neighbourhood of Sheffield/The Geographical or Ethnological Position of Sheffield



In order to determine in some degree the elements which have entered into the composition of the dialect spoken in this district, it may be useful to give a sketch of the position which Sheffield occupied before the Norman Conquest.[1]

About six miles to the south-west of Sheffield, towards the high moors, is a little place called Ringinglowe.[2] Immediately above it, still higher up, is a stretch of moorland called White Moss. In this moss, or moor, a stream rises which on modern maps is called Limb (properly Lim) Brook.[3] The brook flows through Whirlow, and under Whirlow Bridge. It passes through a narrow valley, now oddly known as Ryecroft Glen (there are no glens in Mid-England), and then, crossing under the Abbeydale Road, it meets another stream coming from the south. The united streams are thence-forward known as the Sheath, which flows on through Sheffield, marking the division between Yorkshire and Derbyshire. Lim Brook is probably quite a modern name. The stream itself was formerly called a lim or torrent, and the word is still found in the neighbourhood of Sheffield as lumb, or lum. In Anglo-Saxon the word is found as hlimme. The boundary between the two counties is continued by the so-called Lim Brook up to its source in the White Moss. Lim Brook, a tributary of the Sheath, forms the northern boundary of the ancient hamlet called Dore. The Sheath and this tributary, which now in part divide the counties of York and Derby, in part divided also the kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia.

The village of Dore has been the scene of one of the most important events in English history. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle declares how in the year 827 Egbert, King of the West Saxons, 'led an army to Dore against the Northumbrians, and they there offered him obedience and allegiance, and with that they separated.'[4]

More than a century later, or in the year 942, another MS. of the A.-S. Chronicle thus refers to King Edmund's expulsion of the Danes from Mercia:—

Her Edmund cyning˙ Engla Ъeoden˙ maga mundbora˙ Myrce ge eode˙ dyre dæd fruma˙ swa Dor scadeЪ˙ hwitan wylled geat˙ and Humbra ea˙ brada brim stream.

In modern English:—

Here Edmund King,
ruler of Angles,
protector of clansmen,
Mercia obtained,
dear deed-doer,
as Dor divideth:
gate of the white well,
and Humber's river,
broad sea stream.

Here is a distinct allusion to Dore as a boundary of Northumbria, but the language of the Chronicle here leaves it doubtful whether a stream or place is meant.[5] I have said that the river Sheath is the dividing line of the counties of York and Derby, as it was of the two ancient kingdoms. Its proper spelling is Scheth or Sheath, and it is so found as late as the seventeenth century. To shed hair, as is well known, is to separate it. Shed and sheth are both found with the same meaning.[6] The meaning of the river name is, then, certain and plain. It is the divider or separater, and its etymology is found involved in the very word used by the chronicler—'scadeЪ.' The river was the dividing line, but the village formed a division also. It was the door,[7] the pass, the gate, the entrance into the kingdom of Mercia.

Another piece of evidence, moreover, remains to show that here was the frontier line which divided two hostile peoples, and which defined for the Northumbrian the limits beyond which he must not go. Contiguous to Dore, and to the south of that village, is a hamlet called Totley.[8] This hamlet stands on the summit of a steep hill, which descends very abruptly towards the north. In the Domesday Book it is called Totingelei. There can, I think, be little doubt that this was once a place of defence from which the men of Derbyshire repelled the attacks of the enemy. Toot hills, tot hills, and toting hills are often met with in our early literature. In Lord Londesborough's pictorial glossary of the fifteenth century 'a totynghylle' is glossed by specula, and in a footnote to the word Wright says: 'To tote was to spy or watch. A toting-hill would be a mound, or hill, in a prominent position, raised or occupied for watching.' This description exactly agrees with the hamlet of Totley. The hill was, in fact, a natural tower of defence.[9]

In a Derbyshire Poll Book, dated 1734, the hamlet, or some part of it, is called 'Totley Head.' The existence in any district or parish of the birelaw[10] is a proof of Norse occupation. The parishes of Sheffield, Ecclesfield, Bradfield, and Rotherham were and are divided into birelaws, but it is to be remarked that these division are not to be found on the Derbyshire side of the Sheath. In the adjacent Derbyshire manor of Holmesfield, the divisions of the manor are called quarters and never birelaws. Birleymen are, however, mentioned. There is an exception to the rule in Eckington parish, just on the border, where there are birelaws. (Eastwood's Ecclesfield, p. 20.) Otherwise there are no birelaws in the Derbyshire villages. As regards dialect the difference on the immediate sides of the boundary is not perceptible, but the dialect of the High Peak differs materially from that of South Yorkshire. Old Norse place and field names occur on both sides of the stream, but far more abundantly, I think, on the Yorkshire side.

To return to the A.-S. Chronicle, it is a difficult matter to determine what is meant by 'hwitan wylles geat.' Prof. Earle, in his edition of the Chronicle, renders the words 'Whitewell's gate,' and he adds: 'Not far from Dore we find Whitewell, and both of them on the verge of the shire.' The village of Whitwell, however, is nearly twenty miles distant, and is close to the border of Nottinghamshire. It seems clear that some other explanation must be sought. I have shown that the source, or at least one of the sources, of the Sheath is in a fen or marsh called from its appearance White Moss. With this word may be compared the surname Whitmarsh. White Moss is so named from the light-brown colour of the grass which grows there, and which is in contrast with the dark green and purple of the heath surrounding it. I have not examined the ground, but it seems to me bot improbable that a spring of water bubbling up in this 'white' moor—and a spring which, moreover, is the very source of the Sheath—might properly have been called 'white well.' Whitelow and White Yard, as will be seen in the glossary, are places in Dore, and there is a little brook which flows from Beauchief Abbey into the Sheath which in the sixteenth century is called the Sheene or Sheynw.[11] Quintinewell, as will be seen in the glossary, is the old name of a little valley now known by the singular and corrupt name of Twentywell Sick. Quintinewell would be the same word as Whintinewell, just as Quytekar and Whitekar (white acre) are the same word. Although Whintinewell nearly resembles hwitan wylle, whitanwell, I have in the glossary attempted a derivation of this word from a personal name. Th language of the Chronicle is very obscure, and it is impossible to say whether 'hwitan wylles geat' refers to a place in Dore or not.

The fact that the chronicler has referred thus minutely to this obscure hamlet is a proof that the borderland between these two ancient kingdoms was once regarded with a watchful and jealous eye. Thee district called Hallamshire must once have been the most extreme outpost of Northumbria, and the line of demarcation must have been as clear, and as stoutly defended, as the Scottish borders. Further to the east, on the Northumbrian side of the Sheath, were the castle of Sheffield and the Roman station of Templeborough. As regards the castle of Sheffield, we know that Waltheof, Earl of Northumberland, son of Siward the Dane, had a 'hall' (aula) there when the Domesday Book was made, and I think we must understand by this word the castle of a noble. Knowing as we do that the river now called Sheaf is a corrupt form of the word sheth or shed, as we see it in water-shed, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that Sheffield is the field of the Sheth, the place of division.

The two spellings Escafeld and Scafeld in Domesday cannot both be right, and seing that the spelling Sefeld is found in a deed less than a hundred years later than Domesday,[12] it is reasonable to suppose that Scafeld (pronounced Shaffeld)[13] is the truer form. It has been argued that Esca in Escafeld is the common river-name Esk. One answer to that suggestion is that no such river-name is known, or within historic memory has been known, in the district, nor is it easy to see how Esk could have been corrupted into such a very different word as Sheaf. Moreover we should on that supposition expect Sheffield to have been called Esk-field. the letter e was prefixed by the Norman scribe to Scafeld just as he would have written Estienne for Stephen (Greek ΣτέΦανος), or eschelle for 'ladder' (Latin scala), &c. A stronger objection to my argument is that river-names are rarely of Norse or Anglo-Saxon origin. Yet I think that the evidence here offered is far too strong to be rebutted by even that objection.

The traveller into the hill country of Derbyshire who comes straight from the north-east can only get there by passing through the hamlets of Dore and Totley. The ways are high and steep, so that a railway lately projected through these villages into the High Peak has a tunnel in its plans three miles in length. Here was the door, the English Thermopylæ, which our fathers kept and defended. Simple as is the story of the Chronicle, it is enough to show that in this village of Dore was acted the last scene of that great evolutionary drama which has been called 'the making of England.'

The evidence offered points to the following conclusions:—

  1. That at Dore, near Sheffield, in the year 827, the Northumbrians submitted to the rule of Egbert, King of the West Saxons.
  2. That the Sheaf is properly the Scheth, sheath or 'divider.'
  3. That the word Sheffield means 'the field of division.'
  4. That the men of Derbyshire had a fortified position or 'totyng hylle' at Totley.
  5. That the 'white well' of the A.-S. Chronicle is not Whitwell on the border of Notts, but may possibly refer to some stream flowing from the White Moss, near Dore, or to some stream in that village.


  1. The greater part of the remarks which follow appeared in a paper entitled 'The Vale of the Sheaf,' which I contributed to Notes and Queries on the 15th of November, 1886.
  2. In a survey of Hallamshire dated 1574 it is referred to as 'a great heape of stones called Ringinglawe; from wch one Thomas Lee had taken and led away a greate sort of stones: being by one sicke or brook which parts Derbyshire and Hallamshire' (Hunter's Hallamshire, p. 12). These stones were doubtless then used as meres or boundaries, but originally the heap may have been a round burial mound, or mound surrounded by a circle, as the word Ringinglowe suggests
  3. Hunter calls if Limb Dyke. In the modern 'Castle Dyke' there is evidently a reference to a fortified position.
  4. And se Ecgbright lædde fyrde to Dore wiõ NorЪan humbra and hi him Ъær eadmedo budon˙ and Ъwærnessa˙ and hi mid Ъand to hwurfon.—Earle's ed., 1865, p. 65.
  5. The monastery of Beauchief was founded in 1183 in a place called Dorehéseles. Of the Sheath, Hunter writes:—'Branches of hazel, a tree with which the vale of Beauchief abounds, are sometimes found deeply embedded in the earth near the course of this river, which seem to have been brought down ages ago, at the time of some extraordinary flood' (Hallamshire, p. 3).
  6. The river is called the Sheath in Harrison's Survey of Sheffield, 1637, a MS. referred to hereafter. See Miss Baker's Northants Glossary, s. v. 'Sheth'; also Wilbraham's Cheshire Glossary, s. v. Shed. It occurs as Scheth in the Obituarium of Beauchief Abbey (Addy's Beauchief, p. 48). This document is of the twelfth or thirteenth century.
  7. This word dor seems to have been used as a common name for a mountain pass, as we see in Cod. Dipl., 570 (p. 79), that in a description of bounds a dor occurs between two brooks.—Earle's A.-S. Chronicle, p. 328.
  8. There was a royal park called Tottele or Tottelay in Holderness. In the year 1296 the king's writ was directed to the bailiff og Holderness, reciting 'quod Thomas de Normanville nuper Escaetor noster ultra Trentam terras diversorum hominum partium illarum infra parcum nostrum de Tottle quem per ipsum Thomam nuper fieri precepimus inclusit' (Inq. post mortem, 24 Ed. I., No. 64). In this document I notice the name of Radulphus de Wellewyk. In 1325 Ralph de Wellewick, miles, granted lands in Dore, co. Derby. About 1280 Thomas del Holm granted lands in Totley, co. Derby (Derb. Arch. J., iii. 95). This Ralph de Wellewick appears to have been lord of the manor of Dore, and there would thus appear to have been some connexion between this remote village and the people of Holderness.
  9. In the earlier Wicl. version 2 Kings v. 7 is thus rendered: 'Forsothe David toke the tote hil Syon (arcem Syon) that is the citee of David.'
  10. The spelling byrelawe in the Cath. Angl. gives exactly the present pronunciation. Strictly speaking Bradfield is a chapelry within the parish of Ecclesfield, and not a parish. The birelaws were four in number: Waldershelf, Westmonhalgh or Westnal, Bradfield, Dungworth and Stannington. Hunter's South Yorkshire, ii. 191; ibid., ii. 74. Dungworth and Stannington are included in one birelaw.
  11. Pegge's Beauchief Abbey, p. 39.
  12. Hunter's Hallamshire, p. 28.
  13. I have quite lately heard workmen speak of the town as Shaffeld.