line decor
line decor



What's in a Name?


Maps and manuscripts can be used to establish a continued presence of the Nine Standards over the last 800 years; this is already much older than  previously thought. But the place name itself is yet a third line of evidence that should be followed.
The English Place Name Society's Volume XLIII on Westmorland by A H Smith, 1967 says in Part 2:  "NINE STANDARDS - a set of boundary marks on the hill between Winton and Hartley, from early Modern English stander 'upright pillar', possibly adopted from its use as a mining term for a column of mineral left to support the ceiling of a mine; eg Nine Standards, Jack Standards, Standerstone etc" and he dates its use from 1379. The late Margaret Gelling in a personal communication suggested also its use since the 1459 Pasten Letters "in a transferred mining sense". The oldest use in a clearly mining sense dates from 1605 "He shall so work the mines as he leaves standers for the upholding of the grounds thereof" cited by Welford (1885). So the name is 14th C at least.
The Online Etymology Dictionary of Douglas Harper, 2008, based on a truly formidable array of listed sources, has this:  "STANDARD - mid 12th C meaning a flag or other conspicuous object to serve as a rallying point for a military force, from Old French estandart, probably from the Frankish standhard, literally "stand fast or firm", a compound of words similar to Gothic standan "to stand" and hardus "hard". Possibly 12th C then. 
Perhaps the most rigorous analysis of the word "standard" comes from the free online 780 page Germanic Lexicon Project version of  "An Icelandic-English Dictionary" by Cleasby and Vigfusson, 1874. Page 588 has the entry Standa, stendr, standit meaning something standing or in a standing position (in brief: there are three pages for this entry). The dictionary also has entries for Niu, originally Niun, a cardinal number, nine. Also Niund, f. = a body of nine, a nonand. The word in Old Icelandic was originally written niun but the final 'n' was suppressed in later Norse and Icelandic. So we have Niun Standa or Niun Stendr as the Old Icelandic version of the "Nine Standards". Some time between 865 and 964 AD Old Icelandic gradually evolved into a western form Old Norse and an eastern form Old Danish, though Cleasby asserted that they remained much the same. We cannot know whether the people who did the naming were Vikings, Irish Scandinavians, Danes or Icelanders, the latter known to have left a strong language trace in the Lake District and wider Cumbria.  But the survival of this place name with a striking resemblance in form and meaning to Old Icelandic suggests strongly that the cairns existed in the 9th and 10th centuries, and maybe much earlier.
With this rallying point meaning in mind, the modern place name "standard" is found in at least 24 places in Britain, as can be seen from the "Standard" map. It is notable that 20 of the 24 are in the north of England and the south of Scotland, almost all on prominent ridges above settled areas. Of the rest, one is on a sea stack off the coast of Orkney, and the last three around the coast of Kent. These examples are taken from the OS 1:50,000 series maps. No doubt there are more on the 1:25,000 series.
The number nine is self-explanatory, and may offer few clues as to age, but there are many threads that can be followed when looking at the frequency of its appearance in place names. The fact that there are nine appears to have a much greater or wider significance than simply to indicate the number of cairns or stones actually present on a site, a good subject for a much longer study than this website can accommodate. We have to ask why are there nine so often? But the noun is more helpful, as seen above.
Finally, and very briefly, the site may have had different names in other languages. For example, if the original Gllbert de Gant charter could be located, it is known that it was written in Latin because the phrase "ut aquae coeli descendit" (in English "as Heaven water deals") was quoted from it by an 18th C lawyer in Swaledale as the way watersheds were traditionally divided between adjacent owners. The exact Latin words used to name the Nine Standards would be most revealing and helpful.
There is also the Brythonic or Old Welsh name given in the Brut y Bryttaniat or Chronicle of  the Early Britons, (MS LXI in the Jesus College Oxford Library), to a battle site in the mountains northwest of York known to the British as mynydd daned or "toothed mountain". If this could be definitively identified as Nine Standards Rigg, an apt and striking description, the incident which occurred in the year 504AD would establish the existence of the cairns in the very early 6th C.        

For first report of work completed in the summer see: August 2012

For the second report of work completed in the autumn see: December 2012


We already have quite a few friends who are helping with the project but more needed - please see the friends page for more information about becoming a friend or helping with the project.

To see copies of the original documents mentioned on the History page, see the documents page.

To read an exploration of the linguistic background of Nine Standards, see the page above.

There are quite a few old maps which mention Nine Standards and these can be found on the mapspage.

Nine Standards is a wonderfully photogenic place from any angle and we have added photographs to many of the pages of this website.


    Copyright © Friends of Nine Standards, 2011