Greasby - the origin of the name

Nobody knows how Greasby got its name, the spelling of which has changed many times over the years.

There are various theories :-

-  the farm/village (-by) lived in by the bailiff/official (Gerefa-) of the Mercian earl (bailiff's village = Gerefaby).

-  a fortified house with a trench.   

-  the castle or manor house of somebody called Graef.

-  stronghold at a wood

The text of several history books on the subject is shown below.  One of the books shows the words of Professor Mawer, Director of the Survey of English Place-names, writing about the origins of the name Greasby - "No certainty of the meaning of the name is possible".  He's the man most likely to know the correct answer, but he hasn't got one.

Brownbill, 1928, "West Kirby and Hilbre", page 281

The name of the township has roused speculation. The Domesday form Gravesberie has for its first half only one parallel in that record, namely Gravesend - there written Gravesham and Gravesand. This rarity makes it allowable to suggest that the Grave from whom the place takes its name was an official of the Mercian earl, established in the midst of the Norse settlement in Wirral to safeguard the earl's rights and observe the conduct of the colonists. The word occurs in Lancashire later, as in the Graves or Greaves of the various manors of the honor of Clitheroe, though these officers seem to have been the same as the reeves else­where. Etymologists, however, do not allow that grave is a form of the Anglo-Saxon gerefa as is 'reeve'.

pages 313 & 314

GREASBY.  Gravesberie (1086), Grauesberi, Grauesbyri, Grauisby (1093), Grauesbi (c.1155), Grauesby (c.1170).

This is a difficult name. With regard to the change of suffix it is to be noted that in other parts there are a good many examples of fluctuation in early forms between OE. byrig (dat. sg. of burh, 'fortified house') and Scand. by, 'farm', but as a rule the byrig-forms after appearing in Domesday or earlier are then entirely replaced by by -forms. In those cases it is generally assumed that the re­placement of bury by by had been a gradual one, going back to the days when the Vikings first settled. That may be the case here also, or it may be that Gravesbiry being close to so many other by's was unconsciously assimilated to their form at a compara­tively late date. This process might well have been hastened by the difficulty the Normans would have had in pronouncing a name which would naturally tend to be reduced to Gravesbry, with its awkward combination of consonants.

The first element furnishes difficulty to an even greater extent. The modern form, as will be seen from the earlier forms, is misleading in its spelling and this is confirmed by the local pronunciation, which is Grazeby.  The first element looks like a personal name but none is known which would fit the name.  It has been suggested that the first element might be the ON. græfa or the ON. greifi which appears in ME. as greve and greive respectively, with a wide range of meaning from 'governor of a province' to 'farm-bailiff'. These do not however explain the vowel of the early forms of Greasby, and though there is a ME. word grave used in the same sense it does not appear before the fifteenth century and then is probably the Dutch cognate word and not really of English origin at all. OE. graf, 'grove, thicket', will not do as then the name should have become Gro(v)esby.  The only other possibility which remains is that the first element is the OE. græf, 'pit, trench'. The whole name might be OE. græfesbyrig, 'fortified house of (or with) a pit or trench', but compounds of this type are not very common and it is of course very difficult to get any topographical confirmation at this date of a suggestion of this kind. No certainty is possible.

Notes (by Mike)

OE = Old English
ME = Middle English
ON = Old Norse


Williams, 1978,  - "The Story of Greasby"
, page 7, Derivation of the Name

The name Greasby has aroused much speculation.  In areas settled by the Norsemen a common element in place-names is "- by"; a farm, also village and in time town.  From it comes our term by-law.  So it would appear that the name is of Norse origin.  However, it seems really to be of Anglo-Saxon origin for it occurs in the Domesday Book as Gravesberie, that is, Graefes-burh, "the castle of Graef".  Over the centuries it has been written Greavesberi, Grausberi, Grauesbyri, Grausby, Grauesbi, Greseby, Greisbie and Gresbie.  I have heard old people talking about Grazeby!  Professor A. Mawer MA of Liverpool University, Director of the Survey of English Place-names, writes, "No certainty of the meaning of the name is possible".


Cavill 2000 - "Wirral and its Viking Heritage - Major Place Names on the Wirral: A Gazetteer"
page 135

...'Stronghold at a wood', græfe, burh


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