On the Etymology of Gosforth and Jesmond

On the Etymology of Gosforth and Jesmond Picture of a news cut out found n a first edtion coply of Richard Welford's A History of the Parish of Gosforth. Used here tom illustrate the transcription of said article on the Discovering Heritage blog.

Welcome to our latest blog post! Here we have transcribed an old news article published in 1897. The article relates to the age old argument as to where Gosforth and Jesmond got their names.


(To the editor of the Daily Chronicle)

Sir, – May I avail myself of your columns to say a few words with reference to a recent controversy between Mr Richard Welford and Professor Skeat on the subject of the derivations of the place-names of Gosforth and Jesmond.  The Professor, it seems, declared ex-cathedra that Gosforth meant nothing more than Goose ford. Thereupon Mr Welford quoted the Rev. John Hodgson as his authority for the creed that Gosforth originally signified Ouseford, a ford through the Ouseburn; and that Jesmond, anciently “Gesemuthe,”  which this stream passes a little lower down on its way to the Tyne, stands for Ouse-mouth. It is easy for Mr Skeat in reply to show the extreme weakness for the etymological side of Hodgson’s great History, and that another gentleman who wished to make out that Gosforth was the Icelandic Gas-forath or Goose-marsh, might for matter of that as well have declared it to have been a pre-historic gasometer on the strength of the High Dutch Gas-vorath, but these side-issues seem quite incapable of establishing the proposition that started the controversy.

Hodgson, at any rate, did some good in showing that the name Jesmond did not proceed  from Jesus-Mount as then popularly supposed, but that it was formerly written as “Gesemuthe” ; its ancient chapel being dedicated to Our Lady and not to the Holy Name. But neither Hodgson or Mr Welford have explained why, if Jesmond does not mean Ouse-mouth, It should be situated nearly two miles from the mouth of the Ouseburn with several other places between. Mr Skeat, then, deserves to be thanked for pointing out the absolute impossibility for Gosforth being derived form Ouseford or Jesmond from Ousemouth; but if, on the other hand, Gosforth must as he opines, be Gooseford then Jesmond (Gesemuthe) may be Geese-mud the derivations of Henlade and Ducklington become equally obvious, and the bear and the goat should be reinstated in their ancient possession of Berwick and Gateshead. Professor Skeat’s ideas of local etymology seem to be, on par with, those incorporated in the spirited stanza of the spurious ballad of  “The Black Son Of Tineside,” referring to four villages belonging to the monks of Lindisfarne:-

From Goswick we’ve geese and from Cheswick we’ve cheese.

From Buckton we’ve ven’son in store

From Swinhoe we’ve bacon, but the Scot’s have it taken,

And the prior is longing for more.

The etymology of place-names is about the most obtuse and difficult subject a provincial historian has to deal with, yet it is just the one on which the first-comer is always ready to give his opinion off-hand. It seems extraordinary that people cannot be content to search for the earliest forms in which the place-names present themselves, and then if these disclose nothing substantial to confess their ignorance. “Goose-ford,” “Gesemuthe” set  sepientibus. We have no evidence to take us further. The goose of Gosforth may have hatched the geese of Jesmond or there may have been a Gosfrith and a Gisa with a good neighbourly blood-feud between them, if only we knew about it, but we don’t. 

Professor Skeat says somewhat contemptuously as his last word – “we are no longer babes.” Let us try not to be goslings – I am, &c.,

Cadwallader J Bates 

Heddon, 11 January, 1897

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