Richmond and Swaledale


Swale is a river name of Anglo-Saxon origin and is thought to mean whirling, swirling swallowing river. It is one of the fastest flowing rivers in England and is the home to many waterfalls. In ancient times it was within a Celtic kingdom called Catraeth along with the River Tees but was eventually conquered by the Anglo-Saxons.

The Swale rises near the villages of Keld and Muker in the west, where it is fed by a number of streams that rise near the Cumbrian border, a few miles further west. Across the bleak and remote moors to the north is Stainmore but there are no roads across these moors to Teesdale and the region we call the North East.

Much of upper Swaledale has a rather distinct and beautiful scenery. It is a narrower dale than Wensleydale and is characterised by the numerous isolated stone barns within the walled fields that litter the fell sides in a rather appealing way.

Many of the place-names in upper Swaledale are of Viking origin, as they are in neighbouring Teesdale and Wensleydale. Keld, for example derives from the Viking word 'Kelda' meaning a spring. The place was once called Appletre Kelde - the spring near the apple trees.

Muker, pronounced mewker, derives from the Viking Mjor-aker (acre). It means a small piece of land. A road from Muker leads across the moors to Wensleydale, through the Buttertubs Pass, where limestone potholes were once used for cooling tubs of butter. Further east is Gunnerside, meaning the slope belonging to a Viking called Gunnar.


Crackpot can be found in Swaledale to the east of Gunnerside and has two parts to its name, both of which occur in a number of other Northern place names. In 1298 it was called Crakepot and derives from the Old English 'Kraka', a crow and the Viking word 'Pot'. A 'pot' was usually a cavity or deep hole, often in the bed of a river, but in Crackpot's case refers to a rift in the limestone.

Pot also occurs in the place name Potto near Hutton Rudby in the Cleveland district, at Sand Pot near Northallerton at Pot Hall and in the name of the Pot Beck near Masham. The word is still used in Swedish dialects today.

Crake meaning crow occurs in many place names throughout the North, although Crayke near Easingwold derives from the old Celtic word 'Kraik' meaning 'rock'. The word can also occur in the form Craig. Sometimes places containing the word Crake result from a person's name. Crakehill, near Dishforth for example means the hill belonging to a Viking called Craca. Crakethorn near Pickering means the thorn bushes frequented by crows and this may also be the meaning of Crathorne near Yarm.


Reeth is positioned a few miles to the east of Crackpot and was a former lead mining settlement. Lead was extensively mined in the dales of Yorkshire as well as in Teesdale and Weardale in the neighbouring County Durham. Reeth has an obscure Anglo-Saxon place name and means something like 'at the stream' It has held a small market since 1695. Reeth is distinguished from the other little stone villages of Swaledale by its huge village green which makes it the most prominent of the Swaledale villages.

It is at at Reeth that the Swale is joined from the north by the Arkle Beck, which forms the valley of Arkengarthdale. Arkentgathdale means Arkle's enclosure in the valley. Arkle was a common Viking personal name and garth is a Viking word for enclosure. The moors to the north of Arkengarthdale separate Swaledale's watershed from the River Greta, a tributary of the River Tees. South of Reeth a road leads to Redmire and the valley of Wensleydale.

The villages of Marrick and Marske to the east of Reeth add to our collection of Viking place names. Marrick is corrupted from Marr - rigg, meaning horse ridge. It was the site of a Benedictine or Cistercian monastery founded in the 1150s. Materials from the monsatery were used to build a church in Victorian times.


Richmond, the capital of Swaledale was originally called Hindrelac, an Anglo-Viking name that is thought to describe a woodland clearing frequented by a hind or female deer. The present name of this historic Swaledale town is Old French and derives from Riche-Monte, a common French place name which means strong hill. It was here in 1071 that a French Count called Alan the Red (Rufus) of Brittany built a castle on the lofty hill overlooking the River Swale. Alan the Red also built a castle at Middleham in Wensleydale, which belonged to his brother Ribald.

The territory surounding Richmond became Alan the Red's land and was known as Richmond Shire, a Shire comprised of the former Viking wappentake districts of Gilling and Hang. Subsequent Lords of Richmondshire were known as the Earls of Richmond and included King Henry VII. In 1499, four years after his coronation, King Henry, the Earl of Richmond constructed a palace at a place called Sheen in the county of Surrey. Sheen was renamed Richmond. It is now the famous London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. Richmond in Surrey takes its name from Richmond in Yorkshire.

Richmond Market Place

Above: Richmond market place and castle from an old postcard


It is often erroneously believed, particularly in southern parts of this nation that the song entitled The Lass of Richmond Hill originated in Richmond in Surrey, but in truth it belongs to the original Richmond town in Yorkshire. For those not familiar with the song its lyrics are as follows;

On Richmond Hill there lives a lass

More bright than May-day morn,

Whose charms all others maids' surpass,

A rose without a thorn.

This lass so neat,

With smiles so sweet,

Has won my right good will.

I'd crowns resign to call thee mine,

Sweet lass of Richmond Hill!

Sweet lass of Richmond Hill,

Sweet lass of Richmond Hill,

I'd crowns resign to call thee mine,

Sweet lass of Richmond Hill!

The ballad was written by Leonard McNally about his wife Frances I'Anson who died at Dublin in 1795. Frances's father was William I'Anson and her mother was Martha Hutchinson who lived at Hill House in Richmond in the North Riding of Yorkshire. Frances herself was baptised in the village of Wensley in Wensleydale in  November 1766 and although she did marry MacNally in London it seems quite clear that the song relates to the North Yorkshire Richmond that stands proudly on the banks of the Swale rather than the equally charming town of Richmond that stands on the banks of the Thames.


Richmond, North Yorkshire is situated around a broad market place that has many interesting Georgian and Victorian buildings. Apart from the prominent castle, which towers above, the most striking features of this extensive cobbled market place are the large obelisk erected in 1771 (the market cross) and the medieval Holy Trinity Church, which now serves as a museum dedicated to Yorkshire's historical Green Howard's Regiment.

Richmond also has a famous Georgian Theatre located in Victoria Road. Regarded as the oldest working theatre in its original form in Europe, it was built in 1788 and closed in 1848. For a time it served as an auction room and a furniture warehouse, but was restored and reopened in 1968.

History abounds in Richmond where street names like Friar's Wynd, Frenchgate, Newbiggin and Cravengate are all reminders of the past. Gate was an old Anglo-Viking word for a street and ther term was enthusiastically adopted by the Normans within their defended towns.

Excellent views from the castle and lovely walks along the River Swale are yet another attractive feature of Richmond. Indeed it is possible to walk along the river bank for a mile to the east of the town to reach the pretty ruins of Easby Abbey which date from 1152. Dedicated to St Agatha, the abbey was established by Roald, the Constable of Richmond Castle as a Premonstratensian foundation.


The northern parts of Richmondshire stretch as far north as the River Tees near the outskirts of Darlington over the border in the historic county of Durham. Scotch Corner is one of the most familiar places in this part of Richmondshire and is the modern gateway to Cumbria, the North East and Scotland.

Historically Scotch Corner was a famous coaching stop situated at an important road junction. Here you could and can still can make a choice - follow the road north into Durham and Northumberland and continue onto Scotland (hence Scotch Corner), or could follow the road west across Stainmore and on into Cumbria. This road west is of course the A66, a former Roman road that crosses the bleak and lonely Stainmore Gap, one of the main Pennine crossing points. The road north was traditionally the Great North Road - the old A1, but today the A1 (M) motorway has taken its place.

Other notable places in this area of North Richmondshire include the little village of Croft on Tees, near the outskirts of Darlington. Croft was the home village of Lewis Carroll, who went to school at Richmond. His poem the Jabberwocky is thought to be based on the legend of the legendary dragon of County Durham called the Sockburn Worm which lived just across the Tees. Lewis Carroll was also also inspired by visits to Whitby, Beverley and Sunderland.

There are more places to mention including Piercebridge historically in County Durham, but which has a famous hotel called The George on the south side of the Tees in Yorkshire. The George Hotel has links with the famous song 'My Grandfather's Clock' written by Henry Clay Work during a reputed visit.


In AD 71 the Romans took control of the North when they defeated the Brigantes, a great Northern Celtic tribe at The Battle of Scotch Corner. The Brigantes were Welsh-speaking ancient Britons who occupied most of Yorkshire and South Durham and were the largest single tribe in Roman Britain. One of their main forts was just to the north of Scotch Corner at a place called Stanwick St John.

When the Romans first arrived in northern Britain, the fort of Stanwick was the most important stronghold of the Brigantes and it was from there that the great tribe fought the Romans at the Battle of Scotch Corner in the very opening chapters of recorded northern history.

Nearby is Aldbrough St. John, its name being Anglo-Saxon and referring to 'old burgh' - an old fortified site but probably a reference to the nearby earthworks of Stanwick. When the Brigantian Queen, Cartimandua handed over the British rebel Caractacus to the Romans in the year 51 AD she infuriated her husband Venutius, who captured Stanwick and rebelled against the Romans.

The Romans eventually forced the Brigantes to abandon the fort at Stanwick in 73 AD. As the Romans gradually took control of Northern Britain, the Brigantes were surpressed and a Roman town called Isurium was built as the Brigantian tribal capital. This new tribal capital was located at Aldborough near Boroughbridge. Like Aldbrough St John (note the different spelling) Aldborough's name means old fortified site.


Catterick, just to the south of Richmond was a place of great importance in Roman times and is now famous as the home of a nearby army base called Catterick Garrison. Pretty Catterick village, with its pleasant village green is of course the original Cattericik and is thought to take its name from the Latin Cataracta meaning waterfall. It may be named from its proximity to the River Swale, which flows very swiftly nearby.

In ancient times Catterick gave its name to the Celtic kingdom of Catraeth, located in the Tees and Swale valleys. Catraeth held out against the invading Anglo-Saxons for some time before it was finally seized by the invaders and incorporated into the expanding kingdom of Northumbria. Ancient Britons had a reputation for fierce resistance in this area in an earlier century and created much trouble for the Romans who built a fort called Cataractonium nearby.


Teesdale is rarely regarded as one of the Yorkshire Dales today, partly because the boundary reorganisations of the 1970s moved the whole dale into County Durham. Historically those parts of Teesdale to the south of the Tees were in the Richmondshire district of Yorkshire while those parts of Teesdale on the north side of the river were in County Durham.

The chief town of Teesdale is Barnard Castle with its impressive ruined castle overlooking the River Tees in a similar fashion to the castle overlooking the Swale at Richmond. The town is home to the magnificent Bowes Museum, an impressive French Chateau-style building with a wonderful collection of art. Barnard Castle has a number of interesting connections with Charles Dickens but it always was and still is a County Durham town. Teesdale's largest village, Middleton in Teesdale likewise belongs to that county.

The Tees which begins its journey at Cross Fell in Cumbria leaves that county quite rapidly to form the impressive waterfalls of Cauldron Snout and High Force. Cauldron Snout lay near the old boundary of Durham and Westmorland while High Force was historically shared with Yorkshire. Though Teesdale was mostly a boundary valley its tributary dales of Lunedale and Baldersdale were historically and exclusively Yorkshire and today form a `minature lake district', of five reservoirs.

Close by are the pretty villages of Romaldkirk and Cotherstone both of which are situated on the old Yorkshire side of the Tees. The second of these places is noted for its cheese, the first for its lovely church and pub. Baldersdale and Cotherstone though administratively County Durham today are Yorkshire through and through and are the places most closely associated with the well-known Yorkshire Daleswoman and TV personality Hannah Hauxwell.

Other places historically part of Yorkshire but now in Durham are Stainmore with its links to Eric Bloodaxe, and the nearby village of Bowes in the upper stretches of the River Greta. Bowes, not to be confused with the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle is the home to the ruins of an imposing Norman castle built by Count Alan of Brittany around 1136 on the site of a Roman fort called Lavatrae. A nineteenth century school that existed here called the Bowes Boys Academy provided the inspiration for Charles Dickens' Dothebys Hall in the story of Nicholas Nickleby.

The Historic Rokeby Hall on the banks of the River Greta at the point where the Greta joins the Tees was another Yorkshire place by origin and gave its name to the Rokeby Venus painting that lived here for many years. The Tan Hill Inn, England's highest Inn, situated between Arkengarthdale and Teesdale is officially back in Yorkshire after it too was temporarily transferred into Durham in the 1970s. More details about Teesdale on both the Durham and Yorkshire sides of the river can be found in our sister website covering North East England.

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