Antrum

Attested:  RC Antrum

Where:  Whitby, deduced from its position in RC’s harbour-estuary tour

Name originAntrum is Latin for ‘cave’ (from Greek ἄντρον), but could be applied to any hollow, evidently describing Whitby’s distinctive feature, its narrow harbour entrance, squeezed between cliffs on both sides, leading to a long river-bank port, where goods could interchange between sea-going ships and river barges heading up the river Esk to the Roman fort at Lease Rigg.  Whitby is famous for its synod in AD 664, which prompted Bede to supply a name Streanaeshalch, whose start parallels early Dutch strene and early German streno, meaning ‘strand’ or ‘strain’ in the sense of something extended, like a strip or a stream.  OE halh ‘nook’ is, and probably was, confusable with holh ‘hollow’ and halga ‘saint’.  Bede’s Latin gloss quod interpretatur sinus fari incorporates sinus ‘bent surface’ whose topographical meanings include ‘bay’ and ‘valley’, plus fari, which has many potential translations, but it is usually interpreted as from pharus/φάρος ‘lighthouse’, perhaps implying that the Roman port had a beacon on the cliffs where the Abbey later stood.  It might also be Bede’s word-play on OE beornan ‘to burn’ and beorn ‘prince’, because people of that region were called Beornice or Bernicii, a name that makes little sense in Celtic.

Standard terms of use: You may copy this text freely, provided you acknowledge its source, recognise that it is liable to human error, and try to offer suggestions for improvement.
Last Edited: 2 May 2016