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NAMING NORHAM Northumberland's Ordnance Survey Name Books

If you were walking around Norham 160 years ago in early January, you might have seen parties of Ordnance Survey officials. They were gathering background information for the First Edition of the OS Maps in their ‘Name Books’.

The Northumberland Name Books are a rare survival for English counties. And they have only recently been transcribed.


The Ordnance Surveyors were part of a huge UK-wide operation to draw up maps for the first edition of the Ordnance Survey. These maps form the basis of the Ordnance Survey maps we use today. Name Books survive for most of Scotland, but for only 5 counties in England. The rest were lost in bombing raids on the OS Headquarters, Southampton during World War 2.

Fortunately, Northumberland is one of the counties where the records did survive and these are stored at Kew’s National Archives. Recently Professor Diana Whaley of Newcastle University and her husband Ian, photographed all pages of the 104 Northumberland Name Books and volunteers have transcribed them. (see Acknowledgements).

The 150-page Name Book for Norham covers the Parish of Norham in 1861, from near the Union Bridge (Chain Bridge) in the East to Cornhill in the West, a distance of 10 miles. One of the pages (page 41 show the type of information the surveyors collected.

As you can see above, each page has 5 printed columns. For each name the Ordnance Surveyor completed the form by hand. Surveyors consulted local experts ('Authorities') to confirm the spelling of the names of features. The resulting Name Books describe: hills, rivers, plantations, bridges, schools, churches, pubs, farms, mills, mines, archaeological remains and much more.

Some general descriptions include:

Norham – “A considerable village and formerly a place of great importance..… Many of the houses are substantially built and consist of two stories. There is a church and two dissenting places of worship, a Post office, five public houses and several grocer’s shops …..” (Norham 25).

Horncliffe - “A small irregularly built village, … the principal part of the houses are old and of an inferior description, all having small gardens attached…” (Norham 15)


In the 1850s and 1860s, school education was an important political issue. The size of the child population can be seen from the number of schools. In Norham, the School associated with the English Presbyterian Church has an attendance of 60 and the Free School of 60 scholars (see page 41 above). Shoreswood National School has an attendance of 60, Grindon School of 40 and Thornton School of 60 scholars, but the number of scholars is not recorded for Horncliffe School.

Some entries are more detailed. Cornhill’s National School, “a plain oblong building” erected in 1832 at a cost of £130, “is supported by subscriptions and

will accommodate 96 scholars, the average attendance fifty.” (Norham 130) Occasionally,surprising details emerge. The School at Duddo has its School Room and Teacher’s residence but, “owing to some dissatisfaction existing respecting the present teacher, there is no attendance of Scholars”. (Norham 107)


Norham village is well supplied with places of worship. St Cuthbert’s Church “was repaired in 1836 and ’45 and seated to accommodate about 400 persons”. (Norham 21) The Presbyterian Chapel has, ”seats for about 300 persons” and is owned by the trustees of the English Presbyterian Church. (Norham 26) The UP (United Presbyterian) Chapel is a thatched building, where the proprietor is a private individual, W Robertson Esquire of Ladykirk House. (Norham 20)

In nearby Horncliffe the Presbyterian Chapel is, “A neat, small Gothic building” (Norham 13) accommodating 350 people.

In Cornhill, St Helen’s Church, “a neat edifice”, has 100 sittings. This is said to enjoy, “all the privileges of a parish church”(Norham 130) because of a grant from the Incorporated Society for the Enlargement of Churches and Chapels.


It was not part of the surveyors’ remit to explain the origin of the names they recorded, but they do try at times. Whether their explanations can always be justified is another matter. These are some examples:

For ‘Galagate’, in Norham, “It is traditionally supposed that there was a Gate here at the entrance of Town in former times, from which a gallows was suspended – hence the name”. (Norham 24) Popular sports and activities feature in other names. Cockpitdean Plantation on West Newbiggin Farm is said to be the place, “where Cockfights were held in former times – hence the name”. (Norham 68)

But ‘Beeswing Fox Cover’ on a wooded slope near the farm at Grindon may be more difficult to guess. The Norham Name Book says that it,”owes the origin of its name to a celebrated Race-horse, known by the name of Beeswing”. (Norham 82) (The Newcastle Journal, Oct 1859- a mare Beeswing was known as ‘the Pride of Northumberland’, famed for her racing ability and for her good looks, - she had, ‘the sweetest head in the world’.) Did Beeswing have an ardent fan in Grindon?)

Some entries in Name Books can be a bit repetitive (a neat building, a commodious house), but Diana Whaley thinks that ,“every parish has its individual gems” and that, “the comprehensiveness and immediacy of the Name Books make them a wonderful resource”.

If you have interests in local or family history, in place names or antiquities, I hope there is something for you in the Name Book for Norham- and that you may discover your own personal gems.


My thanks to Diana Whaley, Emeritus Professor at Newcastle University for her generous help and to her team of volunteers who transcribed the handwritten name books. We have them to thank for allowing this preview of Norham’s OS Name Book, before the Northumberland Name Book website is launched. (NB THE WEBSITE IS NOT “ LIVE” OR AVAILABLE THROUGH SEARCH ENGINES YET.)

Parts of the Ordnance Survey maps are shown, with permission from the National Library of Scotland.

Further Information

Diana Whaley (2020). Northumberland through the eyes of the gallant Ordnance Surveyors, c.1860. The Northumbrian 176,14-19.

First Edition Ordnance Survey (6 inch) maps related to the Norham Name Book can be seen on the National Map Library of Scotland website.

The 'Ordnance Survey Name Books for Scotland' are available in a digitised searchable form at the moment, on

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3 comentários

Membro desconhecido
01 de set. de 2021

The website is now live! See


Membro desconhecido
08 de jan. de 2021

An excellent blog. I look forward to the Northumberland name book website going live.

The horse Beeswing was remarkable in winning the Preston Gold Cup seven times and winning 51 of its 63 races.


Membro desconhecido
08 de jan. de 2021

Thank you for this article on 'Naming Norham'. It is fascinating. I loved the fact that there were no scholars at the Duddo school due to the teacher not being up to much! Imagine if that happened today.

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