Newburn NBN PS NO453035 1 50m

villam de Nithbren 1150 David I Chrs. no. 171 [= Dunf. Reg. no. 3; granted jointly by David I and Earl Henry to Dunfermline Abbey, with its dependent estates (cum suis appendiciis); Balchrystie NBN granted at the same time]
Nithbren 1150 David I Chrs. no. 172 [= Dunf. Reg. no. 2; probably 1150]
ecclesiam de Nitbren 1152 x 1159 NLS MS Adv. 15.1.18 no. 82 [o.c.; Bp Robert of St Andrews’ confirmation charter; this is the original of the charter copied into the Dunfermline Register and printed as Dunf. Reg. no. 92, which has Nitbr’, where the abbreviation mark is that for –ur]
Nithbren 1154 x 1159 RRS i no. 118 [given to Dunfermline Abbey by David I on day of dedication of Dunfermline church (11 June 1150) ‘cum suis appendiciis’]
homines abbatis de Dunf’ de Nithbren 1150 x 1153 David I Chrs. no. 190 [= Dunf. Reg. no. 15; Newburn men of the abbot of Dunfermline]
ecclesiam de Nithb’ 1160 x 1162 Dunf. Reg. no. 93 [Bp Arnold’s confirmation charter; same abbreviation mark as above (ibid. no. 92)]
Nidbren 1163 Dunf. Reg. no. 237 [‘with its appurtenances and the church’ (cum pertinenciis suis et ecclesiam); Pope Alexander III’s confirmation charter]
ecclesiam de Nithbren 1165 x 1169 Dunf. Reg. no. 94 [Bp Richard’s confirmation charter]
Thoma<s> de Nithbren x 1231 Dunf. Reg. no. 174 [priest; w.]
ecclesia de Nithbren 1243 Paris BN MS latin 1218, fo 2v [Bp David’s church consecration]
ecclesia de Nithbr’ c.1250 Dunf. Reg. no. 313
fabrica de Nythbren 1250 x 1299 Dunf. Reg. no. 334 [Newburn smiddy; NBN Introduction, Med. Marches no. 3]
fabrica de Nithbren 1250 x 1299 Dunf. Reg. no. 335 [NBN Introduction, Med. Marches no. 4]
domum in superiori Nibren 1267 x 1275 Dunf. Reg. no. 314 [‘a house in Upper Newburn’; NBN Introduction, Med. Marches no. 1]
schira de Nibren 1267 x 1275 Dunf. Reg. no. 314
domum in superiori Nibren 1267 x 1275 Dunf. Reg. no. 315 [NBN Introduction, Med. Marches no. 1]
schira de Nibren 1267 x 1275 Dunf. Reg. no. 315
Lamb fiz Austyn de Nibreim 1296 Inst. Pub. 147 [one of the Fife tenants of the bishop of St Andrews who does homage to Edward I at Berwick]
vicaria de Nevbirne 1538 Dunf. Reg. no. 533
Newburneschyre c.1560 s Assumption 24 [Dunfermline Abbey rental; ?73 18 s. 4 d.]
Newbyrneschyre c.1560 s Assumption 25
Newburne c.1560 s Assumption 25 [Dunfermline Abbey rental]
Newburnetoun c.1560 s Assumption 28
Newburneschire 1561 Dunf. Reg. p. 428 [for full definition, see NBN Introduction, Newburnshire]
Newbirnetoune 1561 Dunf. Reg. p. 428 [see preceding]
The mylne of Newbirne 1561 Dunf. Reg. p. 428 [see preceding]
parochia de Newburn 1563 RMS iv no. 1477 [see NBN Introduction, Newburnshire, footnote]
(lands of) Newbirntoun 1563 RMS iv no. 1477 [see NBN Introduction, Newburnshire, footnote]
Newbirne-mylne 1631 Retours (Fife) no. 455 [‘in the mill of Newburn called Newburn Mill’ (molendino de Newbirne nuncupato Newbirne-mylne)]
Newbirneschyre 1631 Retours (Fife) no. 456 [Drumeldrie (Drumeldrie) and Balchrystie (Balchristie) in the parish of Newburnshire]
parochia de Newburne 1632 Retours (Fife) no. 475
Newbirnetoun 1637 Retours (Fife) no. 543 [lands and vill of Newburnton in the parish of Newburn (Newbirne)]
the parochine of New-Birne 1653 Retours (Fife) no. 814
Newbyirn 1642 Gordon MS Fife
Newbirn 1642 Gordon MS Fife [showing site of kirk]
New byirn 1654 Blaeu (Gordon) Fife
Newbyirn K<irk> 1654 Blaeu (Gordon) Fife
Newburne 1681 Retours (Fife) no. 1194 [John Mitchell, portionar of Newburn, two quarters of the toun and lands of Newburnton (Newbirntoune), extending to half the said toun and lands of Newburnton (Newbirntoune), in the parish of Newburn (Newburne); also part of Drumeldrie (Drumeldrie) NBN]
Newbirntoune 1681 Retours (Fife) no. 1194 [see preceding entry]
parochia de Neuburne 1691 Retours (Fife) no. 1322 [David Mitchell, 2 quarters of the vill and lands of Newburnton (Neubirntoun)]
Neubirntoun 1691 Retours (Fife) no. 1322 [see preceding]
Newburn 1753 Roy sheet 18, 1 [= OS Pathf. Wester Newburn]
Newburn Kirk 1753 Roy sheet 18, 1
Newburn Kirk 1775 Ainslie/Fife
Newburn 1828 SGF
Easter Newburn 1855 OS 6 inch 1st edn
Wester Newburn 1855 OS 6 inch 1st edn
Newburn Church 1855 OS 6 inch 1st edn [‘in ruins’]

? ethnonym * Nith + ? Pictish * bren or ? Pictish * pren

‘The hill or tree of the *Nith people’? The first element would appear to be closely related to the people-name (ethnonym) which appears in Bede’s prose life of St Cuthbert as Niduari (see Duncan 1975, 69 and 78 note; also see further discussion below). The same element may also be found in Nydie SSL. Bede got his story about Cuthbert from the anonymous Vita Cuthberti which was written between 698 and 705. In this Life, the saint with two companions travelled from Melrose (Mailros), where he lived from c.664 to 678, to the land of the Picts, where he arrived safely at Niudwæralegio. In evaluating the different readings in this anonymous Life of Cuthbert, it is important to know a little about the manuscript history of each of the texts. The editor, Bertram Colgrave, describes the oldest manuscript, St Omer 267 (O1) as being written in an insular hand of the late ninth or early tenth century, probably at the abbey of Saint-Bertin in St Omer (Département Pas de Calais, France). Another good, relatively early manuscript is A (Arras 812, late tenth century), but it is incomplete (1940, 17). Colgrave bases his text on O1 ‘because it is the oldest ... and of the complete MSS none can rival O1 in nearness to the original and in correctness’. However, had A been complete ‘it would probably have been a more satisfactory MS to use as a basis’ (1940, 45). According to Colgrave the relevant opening lines of Chapter 4 in O1 and A read as follows: ‘Alio quoque tempore de eodem monasterio quod dicitur Mailros, cum duobus fratribus pergens et nauigans ad terram Pictorum, ubi Niudwæralegio[272] prospere peruenerunt. Manserunt autem ibi aliquod dies in magna penuria ...’. For the crucial phrase, another, later manuscript (P) reads ‘ubi dicitur Niuduera iregio’, which justifies Colgrave’s emending of legio to regio, and supplying an extra dicitur. Colgrave therefore translates it as follows: ‘At another time also, he went from the same monastery which is called Melrose with two brothers, and, setting sail for the land of the Picts, they reached the land called the region of the Niduari[273] in safety. They remained there some days in great want ...’ (1940, 82–3).

    Drawing on the anonymous Life of Cuthbert, Bede wrote two Lives, one in verse and one in prose. His verse Life sheds no light on this name, but the prose Life has the following: ‘Quodam etenim tempore pergens de suo monasterio pro necessitatis causa accidentis ad terram Pictorum que Niduari vocatur navigando pervenit, comitantibus cum duobus fratribus’ (cap. xi; Colgrave 1940, 192), that is: ‘At a certain time, setting out from his monastery because of some necessary business, he set sail and came to the land of the Picts which is called Niduari, with two brothers accompanying him.’ For discussion of the Cuthbert Lives, see Watson 1926, 175–7; also also Hunter Blair 1954, 165–8.

    These various forms of the name may all contain the Pictish ethnonym (people-name) Niud or Nid and OE wer ‘man’, i.e. ‘Niud-folk or Nid-folk’.

    One further early appearance of this name comes in a poem composed in the eighth century in honour of St Ninian: the Miracula Nynie Episcopi. When Strecker edited this poem in 1823, he gave the title of its third chapter thus: Quomodo patriam reversus Pictorum nationes, que nature dicuntur, Christi converterit ad gratiam (‘how, returning to his home, he converted to the grace of Christ the nations of the Picts – those who are called Nature’).[274] For this last word, clearly the name of a group of Picts, Strecker could find no satisfactory emendation. It is corrupt in the only surviving manuscript. But the foregoing discussion of Cuthbert’s visit to Pictland suggests an obvious emendation to Niduari or some such form – ‘the Nid-folk’ – as suggested by Levison. The author of the Miracula, as Levison shows, may well have got from Bede, or from Bede’s examplar, a garbled form of *Niduari (Levison 1940, 289).

    There have been other interpretations offered of the Nith element of Newburn. W. J. Watson suggested that it meant ‘new, fresh’, suggesting that the nith element was a Pictish form of Welsh newydd ‘new’. Watson also interprets the second element of the name as Pictish *pren ‘tree’, making Nithbren mean ‘new tree’ or ‘green tree’ (Watson 1926, 54–5, 352; see also Wilkinson 2002, 143–5). While this is phonologically possible, ‘new tree’ or ‘fresh/green tree’ does not seem a particularly helpful way of identifying a tree or a place.

    Before turning to the second element, there are two other published theories on the first element which should be mentioned, though only to be rejected. One was proposed by Levison in his above-mentioned article (1940), to the effect that the name Niduari may have been given them by the Angles (Northumbrians) using OE neothe-(weard), nithe-(weard) ‘down’ (cf the comparative neothera, nithera later nether ‘lower’), and mean ‘low-dwellers’, that is the Picts of the lowlands versus the highlands, cf Bede’s description of the dwelling-places of the southern and northern Picts (HE III, 4). This is unlikely on several counts, not least because the mechanism of survival is difficult to reconstruct or comprehend: how could a seventh-century Germanic exonym (name given from outside) become embedded as the endonym (name used by the locals) of a territory and/or people in a linguistic context which all the evidence suggests was Celtic-speaking for the next 500 years or more?

    Andrew Breeze (2003) shares Levison’s focus on words meaning ‘low’ or ‘down’, but looks further back to a root *ni- ‘down’, which he relates to both English nether ‘down, downwards’ and Sanskrit nitaram ‘further down’. He connects this to the behaviour of streams running through certain kinds of rock and to their ability to disappear, diving below ground. He points out that this is a characteristic of burns in this area, singling out one burn in particular at Easter Newburn which ‘disappears below ground’, using the modern OS map as evidence. Hence, ‘the Picts knew the stream there as Nid, meaning “diving (stream)”, which is what it is’ (Breeze 2003, 367). The main problem with this theory is that the local geology is not characterised by such underground streams, and the above-cited burn at Easter Newburn is in fact simply a small water-course that has been artificially conduited through a modern field drain.

    The second element has generated less debate and interest than the first, but is also not without its problems. The two main contenders are both Pictish, which is entirely in keeping with the proposal that the first element is a Pictish ethnonym. Following Watson’s suggestion that it represents Pictish *pren ‘tree’ (1926, 54–5, 352), it would refer to a special tree for the *Nith people, perhaps where inaugurations look place, comparable to Irish bile ‘sacred tree’. Another possibility is that it derives from Pictish *bren ‘hill, hill-side’, as found probably in Burnturk KTT and Cameron MAI (above, q.v.). This well suits the local topography, since the shire and parish of Newburn lies on the eastern flanks of Largo Law, and takes in the conspicuous Craig Rock (Lahill Craig). It is very difficult to decide on purely phonological grounds which is the more likely.

    Both elements of this name, the specific and the generic, were assimilated to common Sc words (new and burn) in the later middle ages.

    Roy sheet 18, 1 (1753) shows an enclosed estate to the east of Newburn Kirk which he calls Newburn, but this is an error for Newton (of Rires), now Charleton KCQ (PNF 3).

    The NGR given above is of the medieval parish kirk of Newburn, now a ruin. Newburn Kirk is marked as an antiquity on OS Pathf.


This place-name appeared in printed volume 2