Capernwray is an unusual placename. It is first mentioned around 1200 as ‘Coupmanwra’ and in 1212 as ‘Koupemoneswra’.
The first part comes from the Old Norse ‘kaupmađr’ meaning ‘merchant’. This might mean a merchant or it might possibly be a personal name – no doubt reflecting what great traders the Vikings were. The second part is from the Old Norse ‘(v)rá’ meaning ‘corner’.
It therefore means either ‘merchant’s corner’ or ‘Merchant’s corner’ depending on whether it refers to a trader or a person. So, it might have been owned by someone called Merchant or be a place that is either owned by a merchant or possibly somewhere where merchants met to trade.
On the face of it, it seems unlikely that this is somewhere where merchants might meet to trade. However, the site of Capernwray Old Hall is not far to the north of Over Kellet (which is sited on a crossroads) and close to the River Keer – although there still seem better places to trade!
Two similar placenames can be found in the old West Riding of Yorkshire at Capon Hall near Malham and Copmanroyd near Otley (a ‘royd’ being a clearing). Then in York there is Copmanthorpe in the ancient St Mary Bishophill Junior area. Similar names are the lost ‘chapmoneswyk’ or ‘the trader’s wic’ near Peover Superior in Cheshire, between Northwich and Macclesfield. Chapman being the Old English (Anglo-Saxon) equivalent.
Capernwray seems to have been a small manor within the township of Over Kellet. The current Capernwray Hall was built in 1844 well away from the original site on enclosed common land – replacing an earlier 1805 house. At the Hall used to be a piece of a stone cross dating from the 700s or 800s, but this very likely came from Lancaster as the family who owned the Hall also owned the ‘Living’ of St Mary’s, Lancaster – today’s Priory Church.
The photo shows the current Capernwray Hall in 1907.