Galloway News article on the PLACE Field Names Project

A unique map of old place and field names around Borgue is nearing completion. But the Borgue Field Name Project is still missing a few pieces of the jigsaw. Hundreds of descriptions have been logged so far by a team of local volunteers. Now they are keen to fill in the gaps before age-old descriptions are lost forever. The project, part of the Galloway and South Ayrshire Biosphere’s PLACE initiative, depends on tapping into local knowledge. And according to Borgue Community Council chairman John Shields, the public response has been excellent. He said: “A big part of this project is to ensure this stuff survives and is catalogued. Otherwise, it will all be lost as this generation disappears. It has simply been a matter of knocking on farmers’ doors. And not just farmers but ex-farmworkers as well. Adam Gray who has sadly passed away was a keen historian. A lot of information came from the Gray estate.”

Borgue and its parish lands boast a rich Gaelic, Scots and Viking heritage dating back centuries. The village name itself derives from the Old Norse ‘borg’ signifying a stronghold. It only had the ‘ue’ added in recent years for the sake of appearance.

Mr Shields said: “There’s a lot of secondary information in many of the names. For example, they can tell us how the land was used and about the people involved in working it. Many names are of Celtic, Gaelic or Norse origin while some are named after local farmers of old.”

Among the local names researched is Hac Noose, a big field next to the shore-side road between Brighouse Bay and Rockvale. Its meaning could derive from the Old English for a hook-shaped headland. Another theory contends that it is based on the Old Norse ‘hack’ – a fish-trap. Mr Shields said: “We have not got a final solution to that one yet.”

Imaging of Borgue from the sea and map-making have formed part of the project. The Lottery-funded scheme is being supported by Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere and the Southern Uplands Partnership. Biosphere communities in the Wigtownshire Moors and the Stinchar Valley are also taking part.

2 thoughts on “Galloway News article on the PLACE Field Names Project

  1. Interested to read about this project in D&G Life.
    I’m in Dumfries and, when I lived in a house called Mayfield, I was told that it was so named because it was the custom for a farmer to name his best field after his eldest daughter. Knowing this has made me aware of areas, houses etc around here which are similarly named: Janefield, Jessiefield, Hannahfield, Lydiafield, Maryfield, Elizafield, Gracefield… I’m sure there are more. Is this a very local custom?
    Also, my friend, Margery Brown ( nee Logan), who has recently had her hundredth birthday, was brought up at Roberton, Borgue. I’ll ask her about field names.

    • Thank you for this information. Here are some thoughts from Alan James about naming fields and other artifacts after people:

      That’s very interesting. While field-names involving a Christian name aren’t, I think, unusual, those ones with girls’ names (mostly now commemorated as house-names) do seem to be especially common around Dumfries, and might well reflect a local tradition. I don’t think we’ve come across any in Borgue or Girthon, though I wouldn’t be very surprised to find some – after all, I live in Ann Street, one of the Gatehouse streets named after the daughters and wife of James Murray!

      It’s not always easy to be sure: the farm named Mayfield on the 1st ed. OS map, now Miefield, was Meythfelde back in 1456, and I think involves early Scots methe < Old Norse mið 'a boundary mark' (the Tarff alongside the farm is the parish boundary). And other Mayfields 'may' be name from the hawthorn, or were places where maypole dancing or suchlike May Day festivities took place. Maryfields could sometimes have provided income for a late medieval Lady Chapel, and the priest serving it. And any personal name can record someone who had use of the field at some time, as a sub-tenant or whatever; women's names are less common, but could indicate that the field was part of a tocher, dowry, that would have reverted to the woman's ownership if she was widowed. All the same, it's pretty clear these names around Dumfries have girls' names common in Scotland from the 18th – 20th centuries, and are very likely evidence of the nice custom.

      There's plenty of work to be done on personal names in field- and other 'minor' names, they've been faithfully recorded in volumes of the English P-N Survey (since Northants 1933, though increasingly systematically and comprehensively), and noticed in passing in scholarly discussions, but I don't think anyone's given them seriously focused attention. And, as we know, Scotland lacks any such coverage, even the ongoing Survey (starting with Fife 1, 2006) isn't including field names.

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