Village of the Week: What is in the name of Wetwang and why does it have a celebrity mayor?

A small unassuming village nestled in the Yorkshire Wolds doesn’t at first glance appear soremarkable.Yet, hardly ever has a place like this gained so much national attention, never mind a mention in parliamentary records, just because of its name.

Wetwang, to the west of Driffield as you head back to York, is probably one of the most perused village names in the country. It has certainly featured in a fair few “listicles” of the country’s most unusual place names including some by The Yorkshire Post.

Crackpot in Swaledale and Land of Nod in the East Riding are two of my favourites that may appear on these pages in future.

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However, there are several theories as to how Wetwang, a village that now has around 760 residents, did become so-called.

Village Feature, Wetwang.St Nicholas Church.Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024Village Feature, Wetwang.St Nicholas Church.Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024
Village Feature, Wetwang.St Nicholas Church.Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024

Some are not suitable for printing in this publication but other theories are because Wetwang is located at the crossroads of the A166 and B1248. Its Viking name is Vertvanger, meaning ‘meeting place’ or ‘place of justice’, and given that there is evidence that Wetwang was occupied prior to the Domesday Book – that explanation would fit.

Another suggestion is from the Old Norse ‘vaett-vangr’, or 'field for the trial of a legal action', while it has been muted that it was the "Wet Field" compared to the nearby dry field at Driffield.

In any case here it is – Wetwang and a village that was farming and agriculture orientated.

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So, a carucate is the area of land a man with eight oxen can plough in a season, sometimes said to be around 120 acres. In Wetwang there were 13 and a half of them available.

Village Feature, Wetwang, is one of the most unusual village names. Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024Village Feature, Wetwang, is one of the most unusual village names. Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024
Village Feature, Wetwang, is one of the most unusual village names. Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024

Many years previous to that though, from 1200BC, Wetwang had its place in the Iron Age, as towards the north of the village there is a place called Wetwang Slack which is an Iron Age archaeological site.

There are three chariot burial inhumations, which are skeletal human remains above the remains of a dismantled cart or chariot, and they all are aligned north to south with the head pointing north.

The first burial contained a young male found with pig bones on top of the body and parts of a chariot. The second burial had a young adult female, also buried with pig bones, fittings from the chariot and horse equipment. This has been dubbed the Wetwang woman with experts saying it was “one of the most significant and exciting Middle Iron Age burials ever found in Britain". In the final site, on the top of a dismantled chariot was the body of a young adult.

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Archaeological investigation took place here at Wetwang Slack in 2001 and 2002 and many of the finds excavated from the site are now housed in the British Museum.

Village Feature, Wetwang.Wetwang Bowling Club. Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024Village Feature, Wetwang.Wetwang Bowling Club. Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024
Village Feature, Wetwang.Wetwang Bowling Club. Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024

Bringing the history a little more tangible, the main street through the village was then, and still is, Main Street.

The Wetwang village website says that in 1870 it was home to four joiners and wheelwrights, four blacksmiths, three boot and shoemakers, one rope maker, one corn miller, a doctor, two innkeepers, three carriers, three butchers, a saddler, three tailors, a vet, a schoolmaster, a clergyman, twelve farmers, three grocers and three dressmakers.

There are two farms now, many have made way for houses over the years, and the traditional trades are no longer there. The pubs are still serving locals and passers by and there is the most fantastic chippy.

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Deep Blue fish and chips is well worth a little drive out for and, despite living in the place to go for fish and chips, I can say with conviction and a rumbling tummy that these are just as good.

Village Feature, Wetwang.Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024Village Feature, Wetwang.Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024
Village Feature, Wetwang.Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024

There are some other places worth taking a look at if you do want to see for yourself one of the most unusually named villages in the country.

The Mill House is quite an unusual building and was built in 1760 with its ground floor below ground level and some iron water pumps are still visible as you wander around the village.

They are outside the school, at the top of Station Hill and outside Woods Court). The pumps brought up water from underground cisterns before water was piped into the village in 1938.

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There did used to be a railway station at Wetwang and it opened in 1853 on the Malton & Driffield Railway. It was the busiest passenger station on the line.

The station closed to passengers in 1950 and closed completely in 1958 when the freight services stopped. Now converted into two houses the station is still visible from the village pond as you look up Station Hill.

And, there is Wetwang House. The village website says it was the scene of the Great Fire of Wetwang in 1927 but I am struggling to find any more information on that and would appreciate any readers being able to fill me in.

Village Feature, Wetwang. Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024Village Feature, Wetwang. Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024
Village Feature, Wetwang. Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024

However, it is said that the house is part of two of the only working farms left in the village.

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One of the highlights of village is life is the Scarecrow Festival which took place last weekend. It makes for quite the spectacle as ‘visiting’ scarecrows are also encouraged to join in the fun for the weekend.

No account, however, of Wetwang would be complete without mention of the prestigious ‘Mayor of Wetwang’ title.

This was created for the Bradford born journalist and television presenter, Richard Whiteley, who was a local favourite on shows such as Calendar and Countdown.

It was his amusement at the name of Wetwang that led to him being granted the honorary title of "Mayor of Wetwang" in 1998.

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Following Whiteley’s death in 2005 at the age of 61, which along with his title was talked about in parliament, the title was passed to television weatherman Paul Hudson who hails from Keighley originally.

He was chosen by 66 of the 152 villagers who voted for a list of nominated replacements and the role requires him to attend two village events per year.

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