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In Norfolk a landing stage for unloading boats is called a 'staithe'. The Norfolk Broads and rivers are dotted with staithes. Notices proclaim things like 'Public Staithe', or Private Staithe'. But I do not ever recall seeing the word 'staithe' outside of Norfolk. Does anyone else know of staithes? It comes from the Old Norse 'stoth' meaning 'landing stage'.

Does no one else in Britain recognise the word 'staithe'? If that is the case, this is very interesting. Patricia Poussa in her article 'Dickens as Sociolinguist' links many Norfolk words to Scandinavian languages.

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    Coastal Northeast United States: not around here. Typically we would refer to such things as a pier, jetty, or dock.
    – Lumberjack
    Oct 25, 2013 at 20:00
  • Never heard of it in the WI+northern IL region either.
    – Kevin
    Oct 25, 2013 at 20:36
  • It appears to be not unknown in Yorkshire.
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 25, 2013 at 22:46
  • A search of boat design.net yielded exactly one hit for staithe from 2011. Don't you love it when you get exactly one return on your search? The member who wrote it listed his location as "The heights of High Wycombe, not too far from Rive" if that helps. boatdesign.net/threads/viking-tumblehome-sterns.37323/…. This "rive" bit might have been a truncation of River Thames - just guessing.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jul 1, 2018 at 10:44
  • @AndrewLeach yes, there is the coastal village and small harbour of Staithes between Whitby and Saltburn.
    – WS2
    Jul 1, 2018 at 10:52

9 Answers 9

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The OED says that the word is now local only, and suggests that one consult the English Dialect Dictionary.

It also says that second and third senses are current only in places where the Scandinavian influence was strong. That would seem to suggest that the first sense may still be current in certain other places than that, but still local.

staithe

[steɪð], sb. Now local.

Forms: 1 stæþ (dat. staþe, stæþe), 2 steþ, 3 staþe, 5-8 (9 Dicts.) stathe, 6 stath, 7 stayth, 8 steath(e, 6-9 staith, 6- staithe; also 9 dial. steeth, stay, etc.: see Eng. Dial. Dict.

Etymology: In sense (def#1), repr. OE. stæþ neut. (? once masc.) = OS. stad̶ bank, shore, OHG. stad masc., neut. (MHG. stat, inflected stad-, mod.G. dial. staa), Goth. staþa dat. (masc . or neut.):-OTeut. *staþo- f. *sta-: see stand v. In senses (def#2) and (def#3), which are not evidenced in OE. and are current only in districts where Scandinavian influence is strong, the word prob. represents (or has coalesced with) the cognate ONor. sto̧ð fem.(:-*staþwō) landing-stage (Norw. stød). Cf. also OHG. stado wk. masc. (MHG. stade, mod.G. dial. staden) and MHG. gistat neut. (mod.G. gestade) landing-place.

1. The land bordering on water, a bank, shore.

  • C. 893 Ælfred Oros. i. i. §22 - Of ðæm mere ðe Truso standeð in staðe.
  • O.E. Chron. (Parker MS.) an. 894, - Æt Butting tune on Sæferne staþe.
  • A. 1000 Riddles iii. 6 (Gr.) - Streamas staþu beatað.
  • A. 1000 Riddles xxiii. 19 - Brohte hwæþre beornas ofer burnan & hyra bloncan mid from stæðe heaum.
  • C. 1050 Suppl. Ælfric’s Gloss. in Wr.-Wülcker 177 - Ripa, stæþ. [11.. Ibid. 546 steþ.]
  • C. 1205 Lay. 7 - He wonede at Ernleȝe..vppen Seuarne staþe.

2. A landing-stage, wharf; esp. a waterside depôt for coals brought from the collieries for shipment, furnished with staging and shoots for loading vessels.

  • 1338 Orig. Chartulary of Tinmouth Monastery 172 in Brand Hist. Newcastle (1789) II. 255 - Domus quam predictus prior et suus conventus..habent in predicta villa Novi Castri super le Stathes.
  • C. 1390 in Gross Gild Merch. II. 169 [Lynn Regis] - Unam communem placeam vocatam le commen stathe cum pertinenciis.
  • 1420 Eng. Misc. (Surtees) 17 - We, serchours of the masons and wryghtes of the cite of York..awarde and deme yt a lyne be drawn straight fra ye corner of ye stathe of ye chauntery..un to ye nexte corner of ye stathe of ye common place.
  • C. 1440 Promp . Parv. 473/1 - Stathe, waterys syde, stacio.
  • 1519 in Archæologia XXV. 418 - For caryeng of ye same ij cads [of Red Heryngs] to ye Common Stathe, ij d.
  • 1653 Lilburn Tryed & Cast 4 - [He] sold a thousand pounds worth of Coales that were upon the Staithes.
  • 1667 Primatt City & C. Build. 26 - You may consider what Stayths or Wharffs there be upon the River.
  • 1708 J. C. Compl. Collier (1845) 49 - The Rivers are not Navigable for Ships, so high as they Keys or Coal-Steaths.
  • 1833 Ht. Martineau Tale of Tyne i. 1 - Train after train of coal-waggons slid by on the rail-road from the pit to the staithe.
  • 1862 Smiles Engineers III. 11 - Arrived at the staiths, the waggons are emptied at once into the ships waiting alongside for cargo.
  • 1905 Times 4 Mar. 9/6 - At midnight last night the River Tyne Commissioners’ new staithes..were totally destroyed by fire.

3. An embankment.

  • 1698 De la Pryme Diary (Surtees) 185 - Their tyde..is fenced out with huge stathes, for if all the water might be suffered to come in that would, it would..dround..the whole Levels.
  • 1839 Stonehouse Axholme 52 - The fertility of the soil..would induce th e inhabitants..by means of staiths and embankments, to reclaim the land thus formed.
  • 1876 Whitby Gloss. s.v. Steeath, - Staithes, masonry to prevent the ground as a foundation from being washed away.

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  • Excellent material there. Shame there are no recent Norfolk examples. We spend a lot of time there and usually stay in a road called Staitheway Road. In fact the place where we stay has its own mooring staithe.
    – WS2
    Apr 11, 2016 at 18:22
  • I apologise for it having taken so long for me to accept this. I had quite lost touch.
    – WS2
    Apr 11, 2016 at 20:55
  • I think you’re misreading the OED note. It says that sense 1 is attested in OE and is an inherited word, whereas senses 2 and 3 are probably really a separate word, borrowed from Scandinavian. It does say 2 and 3 are current only in Scando-influenced areas, but the fact that sense 1 doesn’t have any attestations after 1200 makes me think the intended meaning is that sense 2 and 3 are only current in some places, but sense 1 is completely dead. Their use of “repr.” here probably means that they’re using staithe as a transliteration of the OE word; it’s not a ModE word at all. Mar 6, 2018 at 22:22
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Staith was a word commonly used for the storage structures in railway goods yards for coals. It seems to have derived from staiths in maritime use. Brocketts glossary of north country words (1829) defines a staith as 'a place to lay up and to load coals at'. It seems to have been used as such from the early days of railways in the north east. It is commonly spelt with or without an 'e' on the end. Some websites list 'staith as having Anglo-Saxon roots whereas Staithe is listed as being of Danish origin. It no longer appears in many dictionaries and seems to be falling out of use, but there are many place names all the way down the east and onto the south coast incorporating the word in either form and so is still used as a place name, including pubs and restaurants.

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  • @Mari-Lou What an opus you have discovered there! You will have seen my comment to tchrist.
    – WS2
    Apr 11, 2016 at 18:29
  • @WS2 the link I only discovered thanks to Kirtley's mentioning, and I'm glad you accepted tchrist's answer now, it's extremely thorough.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 11, 2016 at 19:08
  • @Mari-LouA Yes I have apologised for overlooking to do that.
    – WS2
    Apr 11, 2016 at 20:56
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In Yorkshire, on the rive Ouse, up to Goole, there are many 'Staithes'along the way. Marked on the charts, there is Crably Staith, Grove Staith, Bank House Staith, to name but a few. Interestingly the spellings are all without the 'e', (On ABP charts). As you pass the points, there is rarely a full landing stage or jetty, but there is evidence from a pile of rocks, that perhaps there used to be. It still seems like a North East of England description, influence by the Norse language.

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  • Very interesting. There is also the village of Staithes, on the coast between Whitby and Saltburn.
    – WS2
    Jul 1, 2018 at 11:01
  • There is also Burton Stather on the Trent bank just upstream of the point where the Ouse and Trent come together to form the Humber. Most of it is at the top of a tall bluff but Stather Road runs down to the river bank, the wharf and the point where the ferry used to leave. I've always thought that Stather was a variation of Staithe.
    – BoldBen
    Feb 8, 2020 at 15:05
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A coal staithe is still used in railway circles to refer to a sort of ground level open-air-three-sided 'bunker' where coal is poured into. They would be common in goods yards, and often alongside a coalmerchants' yard.

I expect this is related to the idea of it being a wharf of sorts.

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The Stockton Coal Staithes were once noteworthy as being the destination of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, but I haven't heard the word used for anything else (apart from, as Andrew Leach mentioned, the village of Staithes). I didn't know until your question that this wasn't a North-East dialect word.

The Oxford Online Dictionary says

(in the north and east of England) a landing stage for loading or unloading cargo boats.

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    It does seem remarkable that after about 14 centuries that it is only in the areas settled by the Vikings that a particular word is known. Astonishingly, I have heard it said that osteo-arthritis in the finger joints, present in many Viking remains, has a higher incidence on the east coast of Britain. It is also a condition from which I suffer myself, as did several of my older relatives, now deceased.
    – WS2
    Oct 26, 2013 at 7:37
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The word is well known on Tyneside in north east England, where large staithes were used to enable coal from local mines to be unloaded from coal trains onto colliers (coal-carrying vessels) on the River Tyne. I'm aware of two, of which one (Dunston Staithes) still exists, though it's not been used for many years. It's a huge structure, and was used as a centrepiece of the 1990 Gateshead Garden Festival. I suppose that its continued existence as a local landmark is one reason why the word is still used in this area. The staithes were a major part of the huge coal export industry in this area ("taking coals to Newcastle", dealt with elsewhere on this site). Incidentally, there's a new riverside housing development overlooking Dunston Staithes, but annoyingly it's spelt "Staiths South Back" - omitting the 'e' in Staiths...

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  • Yes, Geordie G, it seems to be an east-coast word, used in the Tyne & Wear area, and in Norfolk. Whilst you have your coal staithes, anyone who has ever had a holiday on the Norfolk Broads will be familiar with the staithes (jetties) where you moor your boat. But I have not yet heard of an example from Humberside or Lincolnshire.
    – WS2
    Dec 4, 2013 at 9:18
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There is a village on the River Parrett in Somerset called Stathe. Almost certainly a word of Viking origin. The traditional commercial vessel of this river, the Bridgwater Barge, is said to have had a traditional Viking construcion.

Robert Morfee

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  • How interesting! Presumable the village would have provided "staithe" facilities for the barges.
    – WS2
    Jul 1, 2018 at 10:46
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In Hull there are several staithes in the Old Town. They run from High Street -the oldest street- down to the riverside where boats were loaded and emptied. Look for: Scale Lane Staithe, Bishop Lane Staithe, Church Lane Staithe, Chapel Lane Staithe etc. Come and have a look.

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Look on the map for the village/town of Staithes further down than Tyneside and further up than Norfolk, near Whitby.

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  • How interesting. Your answer is most apposite. Clearly the name will derive from the abundance of mooring for fishing and other vessels. There are also, I notice, a number of roads named Staithes Road, particularly in Lancashire - Preston, Wythenshawe. Perhaps they derive from someone's surname. Though a search for it as a family name reveals nothing.
    – WS2
    Oct 2, 2016 at 18:42
  • @WS2 It was apposite when Andrew Leach and Brian Hooper mentioned it years ago. Oct 2, 2016 at 20:30
  • @EdwinAshworth Keep calm and carry on Edwin. Apologies to Andrew Leach and Brian Hooper - but they're big lads (and I wouldn't expect either of them to do a Donald Trump and start twittering about it at 3.00am).
    – WS2
    Oct 2, 2016 at 20:56

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