The Clifton Dragon

Prior to the construction of the M62 in the 1970s, where it scythes through Hartshead Moor there once stood a hamlet by the name of Blakelaw, the only surviving evidence of which is Blakelaw Lane which runs between Clifton and Hartshead, crossing the motorway as it goes, and which presumably once passed through Blakelaw itself.

In his chronicle The Story of the Ancient Parish of Hartshead-cum-Clifton, the Reverend Harold Pobjoy relates that whilst he was vicar at St. Peter’s Church in Hartshead between 1925 and 1930, he was told by a parishioner that a copse on the rise to the north of Blakelaw was once thought to have been home to a terrible dragon which menaced the area many generations ago.

The settlement of Blakelaw appears in the Domesday Book under the name of Blakhlawe and in an attempt to corroborate the tale of the dragon, Pobjoy suggests that this may have been a corruption of the Old English “Dracanhlawe” – meaning Mound of the Dragon – which if true would suggest that the story had a very old provenance indeed.

As well as being mentioned in the Domesday Book, the antiquity of the area is manifest in the presence of the Walton Cross at Windy Bank nearby. It is the base of an Anglo-Saxon preaching cross or way-marker (the name is recorded on old documents as “wagestan” meaning “way-stone”) dating from the 10th Century.

Dragons were certainly a major component of the Anglo-Saxon world-view, with winged dragons known as “drakes”, an example of which makes a memorable appearance in the contemporary poem Beowulf. The English landscape is full of place-names with a dragonish derivation such as Drakeholes and Drakelaw, the similarities of which to Blakelaw are obvious.

However, using place name derivations to account for local legends is a risky business and Pobjoy’s suggestion is by no means certain. In the arguably definitive source on this subject Place Names of the West Riding, edited by A.H. Smith and published in 1961, the derivation is given as “Blachelana” which has the more prosaic meaning “black hill”.

Published in: on March 18, 2010 at 13:25  Leave a Comment  
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