Sunday, October 8, 2017


NOTE: Since writing this piece, I did more map work to make sure I had not missed anything.  Well, I did do so, unfortunately...
There is a Red Cleugh stream originating from a spring on Carruthers Fell.  This is a tributary of the Kirk Burn, upon which Carruthers sits.  The Red Cleugh flows into the Kirk Burn just a little north of Carruthers.

Thus we can safely derive this name from what Alan James has at his BLITON site:

IE *h1roudh- (o-grade of *h1reudh-‘(bright) red’) > early Celtic *roudo-/ā- > Br, Gaul *roudo-/ā-
> Old-MW rud > W rhudd, OCorn rud > MCorn ru[y]th > Corn ruth, OBret rud[d] > Bret ruz;
OIr rúad > Middle -MnIr rua, G ruadh, Mx ruy (from earlier oblique form); cogn. Lat rūfus,
Gmc *rauðaz > OE rēad > ‘red’, ON rjöðr, Skt rohita, and cf. (from zero-grade *h1rudh-) Lat
ruber, Gk erythros, Skt rudhira.
‘Red’. In the Celtic languages, especially ‘reddish-brown, ginger, ruddy, russet’.
a2) Names of the ‘Rother’ type are probably rö- + -duβr, see both these elements, but rūδ- + -ar
or –duβr is possible. 

I will leave this article here entire, just so that interested readers may see how tricky place-names can be.  

Burnswark Hillfort with Roman Siege Camps

Carruthers and Carrutherstown in Dumfriesshire have been derived by place-name scholars from Caer Rhydderch, 'the fort of Rhydderch [Hael, King of Strahclyde]'.  This may well be correct.

Carrothres 1334, Caer Ruther 1350, Carrotheris 1372, Carutheris 1495

Certainly, Jocelyn of Furness claimed that St. Kentigern/Mungo established an early monastery at Hoddom only a half dozen kilometers ENE of Carrutherstown.  While there is no further evidence for such an institution, it is undeniable that Rhydderch Hael plays a significant role in the Vita of the saint.  It is possible, therefore, that while Rhydderch was never present in this region, his association with the saint caused his name to be incorporated in a legendary sense during the development of local place-names. 

We must also take into account the Welsh tradition claiming that Rhydderch took part in the battle of Arderydd, now Arthuret in Cumbria.  Caerlaverock, i.e Caer Llywarch, not far to the SW of Carrutherstown, was said to have been the cause of the Battle of Arderydd.  Myddin/Llallogan of Arderydd is found in legendary tales of St. Kentigern and Rhydderch.

There are some other Ruther- place-names in Scotland, including Rutherglen in Glasgow and Rutherford in Tweeddale.  There is a "lost" Carruderes in Berwickshire (?), which I think may be The Camps fort near the Rutherford Burn.  St. Kentigern belonged to Glasgow, and was put in Tweeddale to convert Merlin. However, Alan James of BLITON makes is clear that there may be another etymology for these places that is to be preferred over Rhydderch:

a2) Names of the ‘Rother’ type are probably rö- + -duβr, see both these elements, but rūδ- + -ar or –duβr is possible. They include:
Glenruther Wig (Penninghame)  PNGall p. 150  + cūl- or *cǖl-, see both of these.
Riddrie Lnk (Glasgow: the area south of the Molendinar Burn)  see Durkan (1986) at p. 284.
Rother YWR  ERNp. 348, PNYWR7 p. 136.
Rutherglen Lnk influenced by Gaelic ruadh, = -*glïnn, early Gaelic –glenn, or Scots ‑glen.
Rutter Force, with Low Rutter, Wml (Drybeck)   PNWml2 p. 99, but see also rejadər and treβ.

(1) Culruther, Glenruther looks like a lost stream-name of the ‘Rother’ type, see rö- and rūδ-. Unless Culruther 1462 was a scribal error, this was presumably close to, but not necessarily the same place as, Glenruther; however, this was earlier Clonriddin (sic) 1137; on the basis of that form MacQueen, PNWigMM p. 112, proposes Gaelic cluain-ridir ‘knight’s meadow’, suggesting a possible association with the Templars or Hospitallers; it would also have been a strategic location during the period of division and conflict in the earldom of Galloway in the third quarter of the twelfth century (A. Livingston pers. comm.). 

On the surface of things, then, the identification of the Carruthers place-name with Caer Rhydderch does not necessarily stand on a firm footing. 

I would like to float another idea for Carruthers.  But before I do, we must ask what the Carruthers place-names are referring to GEOGRAPHICALLY.

When one goes to the map, the first thing that becomes immediately obvious is that between the two Carruthers sites is the mighty Burnswark hillfort with its adjacent Roman siege works.  Now, although some toponymists have tried to make a case for Burn- preserving a Celtic name for hill akin to Welsh bryn.  One advocate of this possibility is Alan James of BLITON.

The problem is that this explanation is simply not viable.  Why?  Carruthers is also right next to a Birrens Hill, and the place-name Birren is found at other sites in Dumfriesshire. An alternate spelling found for Burnswark is Birrenswark. In the words of May Williamson (THE NON-CELTIC PLACE-NAMES OF THE SCOTTISH BORDERS COUNTIES), "There are several other examples of the use of birren in Dmf., but all apply to Celtic or mediaeval fortifications."  She goes on to say:

"“Birren” seems to represent OE byrgen, “burial place, tumulus”: cf Birrens Hill, No. XXVII. “Burren”, which is also found in this area (Jam, sv), may be a dialectal variation, or may represent OE burg-æsn, (cf PN La, 85), ME burwain, burren, from which the form birren may have arisen with
the Southern Scots raising of the ME u to ModSc i. A cognate term, probably Irish in origin, is borran, which appears in NW England (PN CuWe, 135)."

Alan James would add this (via personal communication):

"OE byrȝen is literally 'a burial', so the names may refer to barrows, but the word seems to have been used for features (mounds, cairns etc.) that may not really have been burials. The word itself isn't connected with burh, byriȝ, nor any other word related to fortifications, though there may coincidentally have been forts at all these places. Nor is it a hill word, or only if you count mounds as hills."

If the Burns- element were from a Celtic word for hill, we would expect it to be used of other hills in the region that lacked fortifications.  As it happens, it is not. For this reason I'm disposed to believe that Burnswark (with -wark being the English name for a fortification) is a thoroughly non-Celtic name.

This being so, Carruthers - whatever its origin - may well represent a relic of the earlier Celtic name for the Burnswark fort.  But was the fort called Caer Rydderch from the beginnng?  Or could Rhydderch only have become associated with the place at a later date?

Here is my theory - which may well be an untenable one.  Still, I think it at least worth considering.  Let us first look at the Carruthers place-names and that of Burnswark in relation to the Mabon sites in Dumfriesshire:

The reader may recall that earlier I suggested that the reason that Mabon was said to be the servant of Uther was because Uther reigned where Mabon-worship was centered.  We can see on the map that the Burnswark - or, rather, Caer "Rhydderch" - is between Lochmaben and the Lochmaben Stone at Gretna Green.

Suppose the Burnswark was originally CAER UTHER.  And this place-name was at some point wrong taken for a Caer Rhydderch.  This confusion not only led to the spurious tradition that St. Mungo founded Hoddom nearby, but may even have contributed to the Welsh claim that Rhydderch was involved at the Battle of Arderydd.  I have always had a major problem with Rhydderch fighting in this area, a region controlled by his contemporary Urien of Rheged.  According to P.C. Bartram, the earliest date for Urien's death would be 585-6.  Arderydd was fought in 573.  Urien's powerful successor was his son, Owain, much praised in the early poetry. Yet Urien, mysteriously, is not implicated in the events leading up to the Battle of Arderydd.  Nor is he numbered among the combatants. In fact, he is nowhere to be seen.  This seems truly inexplicable to me - unless we accept the possibility that Rhydderch is an error for Uther.  The Welsh Annals say only that the conflict at Arderydd was between the sons of Eliffer and Gwenddolau.   Later tradition imported famous heroes from all quarters. Even Aedan of Dalriada was made party to the devastating military action, possibly because of his c. 603 battle at Degsastan/Dawston in Liddesdale.

As with Gwenddolau son of Ceidio, Uther (whom I've elsewhere identified with Urien of Rheged) may not have been a personal name, but a place-name.  The latter is thought to come from a British word akin to Irish uachtar, meaning 'high, lofty.' Gwenddolau is, transparently, 'White Dales', and may well be a personification of a place-name.  Caer Uther may, then, have been not the Fort of Uther, but merely the 'High Fort.'

I should hasten to add that we have no evidence the Burnswark continued to be inhabited after it was destroyed by the Romans.  It is the suspected oppidum of the Novantae tribe.

P.S.  Alan James provided me with this explanation for the terminal -s of the Carruthers place-name:

"Suffice to say, -(i)s gets added to place-names in southern Scotland very frequently, apparently by Scots speakers, the evidence coming mainly from the late medieval/ early modern period. The conventional explanation is that at some time the landholding was divided into two or more parts, and this is supported by documentary evidence in some cases. But that's not always likely. I raised the question myself recently in the Facebook Scottish Place-Names group and there was some lively discussion, certainly sensible place-name scholars taking part agreed that it's a phenomenon that needs fuller investigation. So I wouldn't consider the -s in Carruthers in isolation."

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