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The Etymology of Barkisland

from The Village Voice #2, March 1991

Dear Mr Astell,

I have read, with interest, the etymology of the name Barkisland in the February edition of Village Voice and I have to say, albeit reluctantly, that this explanation does sound to be rather too convenient.

Over 150 years ago the area was sometimes called Barsland, from the Anglo-Saxon word for a birch tree and the name Barsey, as in Barsey Green and Barsey Clough, means the enclosure where the birch trees grew.

Here's a quotation from Crabtree's A Concise History of the Parish and Vicarage of Halifax, dated 1836:

'...if Barsland is really the original name of this district, it may be derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for a wolf, and land... as much as to say, the country remarkable for wolves; in this case, the place in the township called the Wolf-fold, must be looked upon as having actual reference to this animal, and not as a druidical remain, as already described.'

I would like to add that it seems more likely that your chieftain friend by the name of Barkis got his name from the district and not the other way around. Who was he, anyway? What do we know of him? More information, please.

Yours sincerely,
Graham G Higson

My correspondent replies that you may indeed be correct in your thinking as regards the derivation of the name Barkisland. Then again you may not. Historians are divided as to its true origin, as Hilda Gledhill shows in her relevant contribution to the January issue of the Barkisland & Deanhead News. To quote various parts,

'The Rev John Watson was Vicar of Ripponden Church from 1754 to 1769. He also wrote what is now the most famous history of the Parish of Halifax. To quote his theory about the name Barkisland (1789): "Barsey or Barkesey are Anglo-Saxon words meaning low-lying enclosures where birches grow. It also is the Anglo-Saxon for a district where there are wolves." Incidentally an early name for Ringstone was 'Wolf fold'.

'Much later, in 1944, Taylor Dyson, in his book Place Names and Surnames, gives a totally different explanation. He says it is derived from the name of a Norse chieftain, a man called Bork, Borkt's or Bark's - land.

'So - take your pick. I'm for Watson.'

My correspondent, Mr Rinder, is for Dyson.

This article seems to have stirred up some interest, and any further comment is welcomed on this, or on any subject.

Hal Astell

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