Local Historical Stories


Early in 1996 Alastair Robertson - one of our local historians was asked if he would write a couple of historical articles for the Alston Moor Newsletter. He thought he could manage three or four but in the event, over 20 years later, they were still going. Once, and only once, he received an unsolicited article from an outside source, this was the reminiscence of a school for wartime evacuees at Nent Hall that came from Mr. Michael Dickinson and it was gratefully included in the series.

They’re a real mixed bag, too random to put into a book, but they’re still worth keeping in a more permanent form, so the Historical Society website seemed the perfect place to have them.

Material for the articles came largely from local sources, from the Alston Moor Historical Society Archives, St. Augustine’s Church Records, Alston Library, the Cumbria County Records Office in Carlisle and the County Records Office Northumberland.

There has been editing in some cases that will be noted at the beginning of each item, otherwise the articles have been left as they were written, complete with occasional references to such things as cement lorries, the millennium, and foot and mouth disease, which are themselves now things of the past (?).
Read on …

Story No 15: Four Dargue, Five Dargue, Six Dargue, More

More dargues
It’s not often that the origin of a place name can be dated to within a few years, but with Four Dargue, a ruined steading above Banks Farm near Alston, we can do just that.

To begin with, what is this strange word, “dargue”? Is it French? Did somebody have a disagreement, a “darguement” about it in the past? The answer is neither. It is pronounced “darg” and comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘doeg-weorc’, meaning a day’s work. At times it could be the day of work that was due to the lord of the manor by his tenants and be referred to as a ‘boon dargue’. In another sense it was the area of land that could be ploughed in a day, but in the north Pennines where there is very little arable farming, the meaning of the word dargue is accepted to be the area of land that could be mown in a day. An example of this is in an account from the end of the 16th century, when the Bishop of Durham’s officers in Weardale who looked after the deer park near Stanhope between Eastgate and Westgate, caused ten days-work of meadow to be mown.

The meaning of Four Dargue now makes complete sense; it was a farmstead that took a total of four days to work, or four days work owed to the lord for rent. And, Four Dargue is not alone, the name “Dargues” occurs as a farm name in Redesdale near Otterburn. There is Nine Dargue in Allendale, Six Dargue is a farmhouse near Wearhead, Sixteen(!) Day’s Work is, or was, a field near Parson Buyers, also in Weardale, and near Langdon Beck in Teesdale, two burns named Five Dargue Syke and Seven Dargue Syke flow through fields with areas roughly in the ratio of 5:7.

But to return to the original point, recorded place names were rather variable in olden times. Literacy was rare since there was not much call for it and any spelling depended upon the pronunciation of the local accent. Vicars, when registering births, marriages and deaths, were more often then not transcribing what they heard. As a consequence, some interesting names are listed.

In 1740, the Parish Register for Alston lists Four Dargue as “Fouldarkhouse” which sounds like an unpleasant place to live in. In 1777, it was Four Day Work House, changing to Four Dark House in 1778. Then in 1781 it became Four Dargue House and Four Dargue in 1785, and Four Dargue it has been ever since.

It is interesting to imagine the Alston accent of 1740, which actually seems not to be so much different today, but it is changing. What the cleric heard as an address to enter in the Parish Register was something like “fower d’wark house”, meaning Four Day Work House.

And what of the people who lived there? In the 1770’s to the 1780’s, Four Dargue was home to the families of Arnison, Hall, Thompson, Price and Wallace, and judging by the turn around of occupants it was a tenancy rather than a freehold in its own right. The buildings that straddle both sides of the farm track down to Banks are of no great size, yet in 1851 the Walton, Woodmass, Smith and Todd households lived there, comprising eight adults and twelve children.

The declining population of Alston Moor was reflected in Four Dargue. As the 19th century progressed, families moved away to leave only the Pearson family in residence in 1881. John Pearson, a lead miner, his wife Sarah and their children had moved there before 1861. By 1881 Sarah, was a widow and Four Dargue farm was described as comprising twenty-one acres. Sarah was helped on the farm by one of her sons and of the other two, one was a coal miner, presumably working just up the hill in the pit on Mount Hooley, and the other was a labourer at the limeworks not far away at the top of North Lonnen.

In 1891, Sarah Pearson was 71 years old but she was still active, giving her occupation as ‘cowkeeper’. At her death, her eldest son, Joseph became the tenant and registered himself in the Trade Directory as a farmer.

By 1910 Four Dargue was empty; Joseph had moved across the Nent valley to take over the farm at Middle Skelgill. The last entry in the trades directories for Four Dargue was in 1906 and today, apart from a holiday cottage that used to be a barn, like so many of the old small farmhouses, Four Dargue is just a heap of stones.

As a footnote, Dargue is an uncommon and localised surname. In all Cumbria there are (at the time of writing) thirty-two Dargue households, of which twenty-four live within a sixteen-mile radius of Appleby-Brough area. In the whole of Northumberland there are just three, while the metropolis of Tyneside has only fifteen scattered about. County Durham has twenty, including a cluster of fourteen living within fifteen miles of Darlington.

There is also a handful of people with the surname of Darkes, Darke and Dark, who must have originally been Dargue, but these amount to a total of only thirteen in all four counties. But what could account for the “clusters”? A line of research is there for someone.

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About Us
Alston Moor Historical Society was founded in 1973 and, due to the nature of Alston Moor, it is a member of both the Northumberland Association of Local History Societies and the Cumbria Federation of Local History Societies.
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