Having posted a page on ‘Black Dartmoor‘ it only seems logical to compile one on ‘White Dartmoor’ which once again poses a few variations. William Crossing wrote; “The occurrence of the name White, as in White Tor, White Lake, White Barrow, and in other connections, is supposed, with excellent reason, to be due to the presence of the tinners on the moor, as it most certainly is in White Works,”, p.48. Whilst in some cases his statement is true there are many other Dartmoor place-names where the descriptive element of ‘white’ has no association with tinning or tinners.
The etymology of the word ‘white’ stems back to the Anglo Saxon word hwit which can mean; bright, radiant, glistening, clear etc. Clark Hall, p.199. As far as the tin connection goes this could well apply to to the mineral Cassiterite from which tin is obtained as it does ‘glisten’ and when the actual tin is made this too could be described as ‘radiant’ or ‘bright’.
However, tin was not the only natural resource to be found on Dartmoor, China Clay or Kaolin has been extracted for centuries around the southern edge of the moor. Anybody who has visited the Shaugh Prior area will know that there is ample evidence of a ‘white’ landscape, hence there is a location called ‘Whitehill Yeo’ and Whithill Tor.
In areas where limestone has been quarried the ‘white’ element could well refer to the colour of the landscape where the rock has been exposed thus giving a bright white appearance to any features.
In the case of prehistoric ritual features such as cairns again the name could stem from the contrasting bright colour of the granite, especially when the sunlight reflects off any quartz in the rock, the same idea may be applied to some tors, rocks, walls etc.
There are then are the place-names where the ‘white’ element is of a personal nature and refers to a surname such as; White’s Babeny or White’s Slade. We then come to the places where the ‘white’ element refers to the actual colour, in the case of fields or enclosures this alludes to the colour of the land surface, again deriving from the old Anglo Saxon word hwit, Field, p.254, as in Whitey Mead. In some cases the old word hwit can be taken to mean infertile which in the context of land may well also apply. In the case of tracts of boggy moorland the place-names with a ‘white’ element possibly could indicate a profusion of white vegetation such as cotton grass which would/will easily give a white appearance when viewed from a distance.
In the case of man-made structures such as the two White Gates which were literally painted white gates the colour description also applies. Additionally there are locations where the ‘white’ element describes, for whatever reason, a creature as in Whitehorse Hill, White Oxen Manor or the mythical White Lady Falls.
Another possible meaning of the shortened ‘white’ – ‘whit’ could come from the Old English word wiht which means ‘bend’, Ekwall, p.313, and could apply to White Lake or White Water thus giving ‘lake with the bends’? However, with regards to water courses the ‘white’ descriptive may well indicate streams etc that are often in spate giving the appearance of ‘white water’.
Below is a list of some of the Dartmoor place-names that have a ‘white’ descriptive element but there are numerous others when one takes into consideration the associated locations of the original place-name, ie. White Moor, White Moor Stone and White Moor Circle. Some of the information listed below have been taken from Mike Brown’s ‘Gazetteer of Dartmoor Place names’.
|WHIT HILL TOR||SX 5745 6152||Tor||AKA Torry Combe Tor|
|WHIT RIDGE||SX 647 822||Ridge||AKA White Ridge.|
|WHIT TOR||SX 542 787||Tor||AKA Peter Tor.|
|WHITCHURCH||SX 49 72||Village|
|WHITE BARROW||SX 5685 7931||Tumulus||A cairn|
|WHITE BRIDGE||SX 6003 9192||Bridge|
|WHITE GATE||SX 5774 7593||Gate|
|WHITE GATE||SX 7417 7615||Gate||AKA Hemsworthy Gate.|
|WHITE HILL||SX 534 838||Hill|
|WHITE HILL||SX 674 778||Hill|
|WHITE HILLS||SX 56 63||Hill|
|WHITE LADY WATERFALL||SX 5010 8351||Waterfall|
|WHITE LAKE||SX 552 782||Lake||AKA The Peter Tavy Brook,|
|WHITE MOOR||SX 633 892||Moor|
|WHITE OXEN MANOR||SX 7237 6189||Manor|
|WHITE PITS||SX 629 898||Pit||Tin workings.|
|WHITE RIDGE||SX 647 822||Ridge||AKA Whit Ridge.|
|WHITE ROCK||SX 573? 730?||Rock|
|WHITE WALLS HEAD||SX 7362 7326||Cairn||Disappeared.|
|WHITE WATER||SX 701 896||Water|
|WHITE WOOD||SX 693 718||Wood|
|WHITEABURY||SX 7200 8853||Habitation|
|WHITEHEDGES||SX 6870 6900||Enclosure|
|WHITEHILL TOR||SX 5739 6149||Tor||AKA Torry Combe Tor.|
|WHITEHILL YEO PITS||SX 58 63||Works||China Clay works|
|WHITEHORSE GATE||SX ??? ???||Gate|
|WHITEHORSE HILL||SX 61 85||Hill|
|WHITENKNOWLE HILL||SX 585 673||Hill|
|WHITENKNOWLES ROCKS||SX 585 672||Rocks|
|WHITEOXEN ARCH||SX 7407 6728||Miscellany|
|WHITE’S BABENY||SX 6611 7625||Ancient Tenement||AKA Babeny.|
|WHITE’S SLADE||SX 6611 7625||Habitation||AKA Snaily House.|
|WHITESTONE||SX ??? ???||Miscellany|
|WHITEWORKS MINE||SX 613 710||Tin Mine||AKA Wheal Industry|
|WHITEWORKS, THE||SX 639 887||Miscellany||Tinners pits. AKA. Whitey Works|
|WHITEY CROSS||SX 7655 6951||Crossroads|
|WHITEY MEAD||SX 648 650||Meads|
|WHITEY WORKS||SX 639 887||Miscellany||Tinners pits – AKA. The Whiteworks|
|WHITEYWORKS MIRE||SX 639 887||Mire|
|WHITHEHEDGES||SX 687 690||Miscellany|
|WHITMOOR MARSH||SX 651 891||Marsh||AKA Kennon Mires|
|WHITTABARROW COMBE||SX 735 715||Combe||Middle reach of Blackslade water.|
|WHITTABURROW HILL||SX 753 752||Hill|
|WHITTEN TOR||SX 620 780||Tor||AKA Higher White Tor and Waydon Tor.|
To demonstrate the fact that trying to define the roots of a place-name can be difficult one only has to look at thyose of Whitchurch. The village of Whitchurch and its adjacent Down is interesting as the Place-Name Society suggests that the name stemmed from the fact that the later church was built from granite which when freshly quarried would have given a ‘white’ appearance, Glover et. al. p.247p. Therefore logically speaking Whitchurch Down should refer to the ‘Down of the White Church’ but according to the Place-Name Society the first documented name is Werydon which had mutated from the Anglo Saxon word wearg, Glover et. al, p.248. This translates as an outlaw or criminal, Clark Hall, p.399, which may well imply that there was a gallows on the down thus giving the ‘hill of the outlaws’? Nothing is ever ‘black or white’ when it comes to Toponymy.
Brown, M. 1995. The Gazetteer of Dartmoor Place Names. Liverton: Forest Publishing.
Clark Hall, J.R. 2004. A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. Canada: Cambridge University Press.
Crossing, W. 1996. Crossing’s Dartmoor Worker. Newton Abbot: David & Charles.
Ekwall, E. 1980. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Place Names. London: Oxford University Press.
Field, J. 1989. English Field Names. Gloucester: Alan Sutton Publishing.