The particular siting of Knaresborough may well be due to the easily defended location – the castle remains stand on a rocky outcrop 120 feet above the river. Ancient Britons gave the Nidd its name over 2000 years ago, although very little evidence of iron age or subsequent Roman occupation remains.
The origin of the name of Knaresborough is not altogether clear, although one of two sources seems most probable. The origin of “borough” is not in dispute, being derived from “burgh”, an Anglo-Saxon word for fortress or fortified settlement. “Knare” may come either from the name of a chieftain, such that the whole means something like “Cenheard’s fortress”; or it may derive from “knar” – a rocky outcrop – thus giving Knaresborough the appellation of “the fortress on the rock”, which would fit the location very well. The development of the name of the town is explored in ‘From Chenaresburg to Knaresborough’.
Several ancient name derivations survive around the town – “gate” is a Scandinavian word for street and survives in “Briggate” – the street leading to the bridge, “Kirkgate” – the street leading to the church, “Tentergate” – the place where cloth is stretched for drying on “tenterhooks”; “ing” means meadow, “Gracious” as in Gracious Street, probably derives from Anglo-Saxon “gracht-huys” – the houses on the ditch.
The very first mention of Knaresborough is in the Domesday book, begun in 1086 only twenty years after the conquest by order of William, as “the Manor of Chenaresburg”, there being no mention of a castle at this time. Thus it is the time of William the Conqueror and the Norman invasion which sees the beginnings of the town of Knaresborough when Serlo de Burgh was granted the Manor of Knaresborough as a reward for his part in the invasion.