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What's in a name? - The Placenames of Ilkley

An edited version of this article was published in the Ilkley Gazette in 1993 or 1994

There has been much discussion about the origin of the name Ilkley, particularly relating to its possible link with the Roman name of the town. Smith's Place names of the West Riding of Yorkshire contains a number of references to scholarly debate on the subject. Ilkley has been identified with the Roman settlement of Olicana, which is mentioned in Ptolemy's work of about A.D. 150 on the locations of Roman settlements and roads, and most scholars accept this identification which has been made on the basis of its position relative to other known places. But no actual inscription confirming the name Olicana has ever been found. The origin of the name Olicana is unclear - it may be associated with a personal name Ollecnus, together with the ending -ana which is found in Roman river and place names.

Smith believed that the first syllable of the word Ilkley derived from Olicana, through early forms such as Hillicleg, occurring c.972, and Illicleia, in 1086. This would give the meaning 'forest-glade or clearing near the British station of Olicana'. Others thought that the town's name came from the old English personal name Ylla, giving the meaning 'clearing of Ylla'.

Of simpler origin is Wheatley, the old name for Ben Rhydding. First mentioned in the thirteenth century, Wheatley means 'Clearing used for wheat'. The name Ben Rhydding which has come to replace it was introduced by the builders of the Hydropathic Hotel of that name which was opened in 1844. Because the station which was built on the newly opened railway line to Ilkley was partly financed by the Hydropathic Company, and its main function was to serve its visitors and staff, it seemed natural to call the station Ben Rhydding and soon the name was being used for the village as well as the station and hydro. Speight, quoting Dr. Collyer, tells us that when Ben Rhydding was building in the 1840s the founders were casting about for a "good and ancient name" for it. Ben Rhydding was suggested by Nancy Wharton of the Wheatsheaf Inn as the old name of the upland on which Ben Rhydding was built. The name itself probably originates from the personal name Ben, followed by ridding, or clearing.

Other ancient hamlets include Woodhouse, first noted c.1300 'House in the wood'. The experts are uncertain about Todthorpe, a lost hamlet underneath the Cow and Calf rocks near the present house of that name on Cowpasture Road. Thorpe means 'outlying farmstead', and Tod- may come from the old English 'tade' meaning toad, or a nickname based on this word.

The name Middleton is straightforward. First mentioned in a memorandum concerning the estates of the Archbishop of York, in c.972, it means simply 'middle farmstead'. What is more difficult is to work out what exactly it stood in the middle of. Perhaps it was seen as halfway between the hamlet of Stubham close to the valley bottom and Middleton Moor Houses at the very edge of the moor.

Nesfield, first mentioned in the Domesday book in 1086, is thought to mean 'lowest stretch of open country', or possibly 'the stretch of open country for cattle'.

Other ancient local names on the north side of the river include Austby 'the East farmstead', Langbar 'the long hill', Scalewray (a lost hamlet which stood on the site of Myddelton Lodge) 'Nook of land with a shieling' (a sheiling being a summer pasture for cattle away from the valley bottom), Stubham 'at the tree stumps'.

Most street names in and around Ilkley are much more modern in origin, but some hint at earlier times. Unlike Smith's comprehensive work on West Riding names, we have no work of reference to turn to, and must use our knowledge of the locality to suggest possible sources of the many and varied names we now take for granted.

Different times have brought with them different fashions, but from the mid nineteenth century the hand of the speculative landlord or builder anxious to present property in the best light can be seen. The earliest examples in Ilkley are the terraces of Belle View and Mount Pleasant, dating from c.1840. More recent examples include Dale View, Beamsley View, Nesfield View, Ash Close, Cherry Grove, and Woodlands Grove, and the non-too-subtle Haywain and Premiere Park.

Patriotic feeling has provided us with many names, ranging from the belligerent Trafalgar Road, Nelson Road, Nile Road, Victory Road, Gordon Street and Wellington Road, to many names inspired by the monarchy, Queen's Drive, Queen's Road, Victoria Avenue, King's Road, and Alexandra Crescent being examples.

I am sure some readers must know the origins of names which remain a mystery to me. Who were Rupert and Clifford, who have roads named after them in Middleton? Were they connected to Lionel, Lionel Crescent being the original name for the bottom end of Curly Hill? And what of the unusual Owler Park Road?

Backstone Way - Near the sadly urbanised remains of Backstone Beck. Is this a minature version of what the Wharfe would look like if the National Rivers Authority ever get their way with the proposed flood defences? Backstone Beck was so named because it was once a source of bakestones, which were flat stones used to form the bottom of an oven.

Beanlands Parade - From the Beanlands family who held land nearby. They remained prominent Ilkley residents from the seventeenth into the present century.

Bolling Road - The Bolling family came to Ilkley in the late seventeenth century and rented a farm, later known as Bolling farm, on property owned by Sedbergh School in the vicinity of this road.

Brewery Road - from the 'Ilkley Brewery and Aerated Water Company' set up in 1873. The original buildings remain nearby.

Bridge Lane - This road must once have seen a lot of traffic, for until the late 19th century it led to the only bridge across the Wharfe between Ilkley and Bolton.

Brook Street - Constructed in the 1840s when Mill Ghyll was culverted.

Castle Road, Castle Yard - From the Roman fort nearby, or the Manor House, which was known as the Castle in Victorian times.

Chantry Drive - Like Sedbergh Park, an invention of late nineteenth century planners and estate agents, who were selling the Sedbergh School lands in Ilkley which had once been part of the Chantry of St. Nicholas.

Chapel Lane - The old methodist chapel, now part of Glovers Garage, was in use from 1834 to the late 1860s.

Constable Road - The Middelton's estates in Ilkley passed through the female line to William Constable, who took the name of Middelton on succeeding to the estates in 1763.

Coppywood Drive - From Coppy (coppiced) Wood, not far away.

Cowpasture Road - This road ran through the towns cowpastures, which were enclosed in 1858.

Cunliffe Road - The Cunliffes were a prominent Ilkley family from the late seventeenth century.

Golden Butts Road - From a field name nearby, a butt often being a left over bit of land. But why Golden?

The Grove - Green Lane, which was the old name for the lane on this site, must have seemed inappropriate to the architects of the modern carriageway in the late 1860s. So the humble lane was given a new name to go with its grander status.

Hardings Lane - From the field name 'Hard Ing', i.e. a difficult patch of land to cultivate.

Hawksworth Street - Billy Hawksworth had a farm between this street and Brook Street in the mid nineteenth century.

Hebers Ghyll Drive, Hebers Grove - A reminder of the Heber family, who were residents of Hollin Hall during the seventeenth and eighteenth century.

Hydro Close - On the site of Ben Rhydding Hydropathic Hotel, opened in 1844, and demolished in the 1950s.

Lister Street - The Listers were another prominent Ilkley family.

Longcroft Road - The local fieldname Longcroft probably took its name from the ancient building still standing, which bears a datestone of 1671. With an adjacent barn, it would have formed a long and low farmstead.

Manley Road, Manley Grove, Manley Rise - The Middeltons married into the Manley family of Spofforth Hall, near Wetherby, in 1853 and 1900.

Margerison Road - The Margerison family were well-to-do townspeople who first came to Ilkley in the early eighteenth century.

Marlborough Grove - From Marlborough House, a hydropathic hotel opened in the 1870s and demolished c.1970.

Maxwell Road - The Maxwells were related to the Middeltons through marriages in 1758 and 1840.

Sedbergh Park - Sedbergh School owned extensive estates in Ilkley which they had been granted in 1551 by King Edward VI. These estates had previously been part of the chantry of St. Nicholas in Ilkley Church, which had been abolished during the reformation. The school still held substantial estates in late Victorian times.

Springs Lane - from fieldnames in the vicinity.

Stockeld Road - Named after the Middelton's main residence at Stockeld Park, near Wetherby.

Stourton Road - Peter Middelton, lord of the manor of Ilkley, married Juliana, daughter of the 17th Baron Stourton, in 1812.

Stubham Rise - Much of the area we now know as Middleton was once called Stubham. A map of 1906-7 shows that Stubham Rise was then called St Nicholas Road, and Stubham Rise was the name of the upper part of Curly Hill.

Wells Road, Wells Promenade, Wells Walk - White Wells was commonly called "the Wells" in Victorian times and these roads lead towards it.

Wheatley Lane, Wheatley Road etc. - From the original name of Ben Rhydding.

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