Discover the history behind ancient Clydesdale placenames

Window on the past - Lesmahagow
Window on the past - Lesmahagow

There’s a popular myth about our history-rich area that its placenames are very ancient with their origins long lost in the mists of history. Not so!

That becomes clear from just a glance at a fascinating new database now free for all to view on a National Library of Scotland-hosted website.

It has been created by weel-kent local historian and genealogist Dennis White, of Blackwood, and covers the ever-changing placenames of the Nethan and Clyde Valleys, basically a 65-mile radius around Lesmahagow that was the vast territory covered by its old parish.

It is, as he himself testifies, a rich area for historical research, commenting: “The history of the old Parish of Lesmahagow is a long and varied one and there are old church records of placenames going back as far as the 12th century.

“The area covered by this database is still a rural one and includes many farms that have been in existance, at least in name, for hundreds of years. Descendants of many of the families who lived in them still live in the area today. Indeed, it can be said that the old Parish of Lesmahagow is a living history!”

He started off by creating an electronic ‘spreadsheet’ of the area’s old placenames and then matched them up to a modern map of the same stretch of countryside; with the help of IT expert Mike Gaffney and the National Library’s Chris Fleet, the new database was created.

Said Dennis: “The 4,000 records in this database were extracted from a wide range of historical records and maps. The spelling of many place names has varied greatly across the different sources over time as words were written as they sounded to the writer.

“These records equate to 600 unique place names in the old Parish of Lesmahagow. Many of these names stretch so far back in time that they include Gaelic, Brythonic ie; old British) - as well as Scots and English names.”

The system allows the “quaint” spellings of the past to be quickly matched up with modern place names; there is a facility for feeding an ancient placename into the system to see a modern satellite map of the that area today.

The database also tells us where many of the area’s common names came from and what they mean.

For instance one common local name ‘Affleck’ means a field or farm located on flat stones.

Auchenheath means a field next to a ford across a stream or river, while Auchnotroch means, less charmingly “field of the of dungheap”.

Other local name origins identified included ‘Auchtyfardle’ (an eighth of a field in Gaelic), ‘Devon’ (a deep hollow), ‘Garngour’ (the cairn of a goat), ‘Letham’ (a broad slope) and ‘Logan’ (a little hollow).

The new database is the result of long and detailed research; over 4000 sources, dating from the 12th to the 21st century, were studied to come up with the background informationon on over 600 locations around the old parish.

For Dennis, his hope is that the new data will be “useful for family history researchers, local historians, linguistic placename researchers and anyone with an interest in the area.

He said: “This facility will allow researchers of family history, local history, placename and linguistic studies to access data that may not be otherwise readily available. Also, it allows others - local or otherwise) - who have connections with the area to have a greater insight into its development over the centuries.”

The link to the database is

In the meantime, a meeting was due to take place in Lanark as the Gazette went to press this week with a view to creating a similar database for the Royal Burgh and its surrounding area.

It is hoped that represenatives from various local groups interested in local history and archaeology - and individuals - will take part in the project which will hopefully cover not just Lanark itself - a rich enough territory alone for research - but also surrounding communities such as Nemphlar, Forth and Carstairs.

Watch this space!