Burton was first recorded in the Domesday Book as ‘Borctune’ with the ‘in-Lonsdale’ first mentioned around 1130.
The traditional explanation for a Burton is a tūn with, or near, a fortification or ‘burh’ – both from Old English. The tūn settlement in this case would almost certainly have had an administrative function.
In the case of Burton-in-Lonsdale, it was presumed that Castle Hill might be a pre-Conquest fortification. However, recent thinking is changing this view.
Early Medieval historian, John Blair, recently proposed that the ‘burh-tūns’ might not have had fortifications themselves. He argues that they developed in Mercia in the 700s and that they were part of a wider complex of sites. These sites were clustered around a royal or important aristocratic centre and formed an administrative whole.
The ‘burh-tūns’ are around 2-4 miles from the centre and are of defensive and/or administrative importance (although not necessarily fortified). They were the equivalent of an outpost – the ‘tūn’ belonging to the ‘burh’ and are often on routes or frontiers.
Blair noted that in the north-west they seem to control river valleys leading up to the Pennines. This Burton is at a crossing of the River Greta before it flows into the Lune.
So where would the centre here have been? Probably either Whittington (4 miles) or the Roman fort just across the Lune at Burrow (3 miles). Whittington itself is a type of place-name that first appeared after 760.
The important Domesday lordship of Whittington had belonged to King Harold’s brother Tosti, the Northumbrian Earl.
It helped to control the Lune Valley from Gressingham to Sedbergh via Arkholme, Newton, Whittington and Burrow (on opposite sides of the river), Casterton and Barbon.
It then also helped control the Greta valley via Cantsfield, Burton, Barnoldswick and Ingleton. The part of the key Aire Gap route (A65) between Ingleton and Casterton was covered via Ireby and Leck.
From Hutton Roof to the west and Ingleborough to the east, a watch could be kept over the wider area.
Blair remarks that Roman places that became ‘burhs’ would usually be called ‘burh’ rather than ‘chester/caster/cester’. He also observes that places called Chesterton or Casterton are often connected to Roman ‘-ceaster’ places. So, this perhaps makes it more likely that Burrow was the ‘burh’ centre that Burton was connected to, with Casterton also linked.
The photo shows Burton around the 1930s-50s with Ingleborough looming in the background.