1) As a word of Scandinavian origin <i>b?</i> had the meaning of ‘village’ or ‘farmstead’ and as a place-name element it is popular in different parts of Yorkshire, for example Austby, Selby, Whitby.

Less familiar is its later use as a specific in compound terms where it clearly referred to the village or community. In 1390, for example, Henry Wryght and two other men were elected as the bygraves of Over Yeadon

that is as ‘graves’ or officers of the local court: in 1455 and 1463 there are references in Ripon to the Byemillne or Bymilne which seems certain to be the town’s corn mill. In Rastrick, in 1330, the Birfeld was the town field, a word based on the genitive of b?: in 1331 Thomas son of Julian was indicted for allowing his cattle to graze in the Birefeld, contrary to the Bireleghe

that is ‘byrlaw’. Such ‘byrlaws’ were in existence in Yorkshire and other northern counties from the thirteenth century at least. In 1298, for example, a distraint was carried out in Wakefield ‘by resolution of the whole Byrrelaghe’ and yet we have little direct information about how these institutions originated or how they were organised. What is clear is that Byrlaws were territories which had shared by-laws, and officers who were charged with their enforcement: their concern was with boundaries, the management of the open field, trespasses by animals, and similar matters which lay outside the jurisdiction of more important courts.The meaning of ‘birlaw’ appears to change slightly over the years but in that early period it certainly described a territory and in some place-names it stabilised as a distinguishing affix: 1307 the vill of Bramton birlagh. Other examples of its use in this way are late, first recorded in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: 1539 Bradfeld-bierley

1696 Melton Bierly. By that time its meaning in the everyday vocabulary may have been modified: in 1609, for example, Daniel Clayton of Crigglestone was fined for goinge with his draughte between two shuts or divisions of the open field contrarye to a byerlawe and here it seems to be synonymous with by-law. Indeed, in one North Riding village in 1642 assessments were made according to an ancient custom … called a Bylaw .The officers of the birlaw were known as byrlawmen or byrlawgraves and these terms can be compared with ‘bygrave’, referred to above. Examples have been noted over a wide area: 1432 Juratores elegerunt in officium de Birlawmen, Ingleby Arncliffe

1525 it hath bene used of long tyme in Osborne [Ouseburn] … that if their were any cattal impounded … that the bierlegraves … myght delyver the catall so ympounded, having precedence over the pinder

1556 Thomas Wawkington … was Byerlyman of Welborne and after maid pinder

1571 the bylawegraves of Buckden and Starbotton.

spellings byrlaw
dates 1298 1307 1330 1331 1390 1432 1455 1463 1525 1556 1571 1609 1642

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