Sunday, 27 January 2013

Dorset Place Names

A couple of years ago my Dorset Place Names was published. With talks coming up in the county on the subject of the origins of place names, here is a taster.


Nationally better known for the chalk figure here, it is often overlooked that there is a settlement of this name here. Domesday gives this as simply Cernel, yet by 1288 this is seen as Cerne Abbatis. The two elements have quite different origins, the addition is clearly a reference to this being held by the local abbey, while the main name comes from a Celtic river name. Here is the name of the River Cerne, itself taken from a Celtic term carn meaning 'cairn, heap of stones'. Now even today a cairn is a marker and it is easy to see this as the same thing historically, although whether this was a marker for this place or if it was a route marker is unclear.

Local names include Acerman Street, telling of the 'place of the farm workers', and Andrews Lane which was home to the family of Samuel Andrews.

The local pub is the Cerne Giant, the chalk figure has been the subject of much debate in recent times as to its age. Generally thought to be at least Saxon and even pre-Roman, there is no mention of this figure before the 17th century. By cutting trenches a foot wide and one foot deep a figure of a naked man has been created, standing 180 feet high and 157 feet wide. In 1996 archaeologists discovered his left hand had once held a cloak and there had been a disembodied head at its feet. No conclusion was reached as to the age of the figure, or of who or what it represents. Doubtless the arguments will continue for some time to come.

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Cornwall Place Names

With the up-coming release of Cornwall Place Names talks in the county on that very subject are on the horizon. Thus here is a taster.


A rather unusual name listed as Dobbewalles in 1619, for it describes 'the walls of the Dobbe family'. The A38 by-pass has two so-called bat bridges, these are designed to continue the lines of the hedgerows removed for the construction of the road, thus keeping the bats on course and away from the speeding traffic below.

Bosigran is a local name recorded as Boschygarn in 1361 and is thought to refer to 'the dwelling at the lost place of Chycarn'. Appearing as Coldruscot in 1418, Caduscot is an Old Cornish name meaning 'the ridge across a wood'. Connon Bridge is a corruption of the original 'bridge at or of the convent'. Coombe is from Old English cumb or 'the valley'. Two Waters Foot tells us it is at 'the foot of two streams'

Doublebois still betrays its French origins, the name describing 'the wood split into two parts'. Found as Pennant in 1357, the Old Cornish name of Pennant describes its location 'at the head of the valley'. Plashford is an Old English name from plaesc ford 'the marshy ford'. Seen as Polmena in 1627, Polmenna is a name describing 'the pool at the hillside'.

St Pinnock, listed as Pynnoke in 1442, is another place taking its name from one of the many Cornish saints. East Taphouse is 'the eastern alehouse', east of Middle Alehouse and East Alehouse, which are found under Braddock. Trevelmond is a combination of Middle English atte and the French bel mont and speaking of this being found 'at the fair hill'.

A pub named the Highwayman suggests an image of a mysterious figure more associated with acts of derring-do rather than that of a murderous robber. Both piracy and smuggling also seem to attract such romanticism. However as the pub has only been here since 1963 the image of the villain has been taken to represent what effectively is a pub on a highway.

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Cambridgeshire Place Names

With the up-coming release of Cambridgeshire Place Names talks in the county on that very subject are on the horizon. Thus here is a taster.


Domesday lists this name as Barentone, a name taking a Saxon personal name and adding Old English tun to refer to 'Bara's farmstead'.

One local road has the unusual name of Whole Way. This comes from old English holh weg and refers to 'the road through the hollow', it covers the way to Harlton. Stead Lane takes its name from stede, simply meaning 'place, position' and referring to a certain spot on the road, not the destination.

Cracknow Hill means 'crack waggon hill', a reference to how steep it is, thus likely to break any waggon, particularly an overladen one. Edix Hill Hole may be a diminutive for Edward, while there is no doubt the original reference was to the Saxon cemetery here. Fox Hill Down Farm describes the 'hill or valley (ostensibly different aspects of the same thing) by the nook frequented by foxes', Wilsmere Down Farm was originally 'Wulfmaer's down or slope', and Balk Plantation is from balke a word denoting 'an unworked ridge separating two cultivated strips'.

Barrington Hall was once home to the Bendyshe family. While the building and spacious grounds date back to the seventeenth century, with later obviously Georgian improvements, the family can trace their family back much further and are one of the oldest in the county.

The local here has one of the most common names in the country, indeed the Royal Oak is probably second only to the Red Lion in popularity. It commemorates one of the most famous episodes in English history when, following defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, Charles II and his aide Colonel Carless hid in the Boscobel Oak while the Parliamentarians walked just feet below them during this stage of the pursuit. Years later, at the Restoration of the Monarchy, the king's birthday of 29th May was declared Royal Oak Day.

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Somerset Place Names

A couple of years ago my Somerset Place Names was published. Recently I was asked the origin of the cathedral city of Wells and, having sold that person a copy of the book, offer the full entry for this delightful corner of England which can boast the smallest population of any cathedral city in England.


We hardly need the records of Willan from 1050 and that of Welle in 1086 to see this is from Old English wella to describe 'the springs'.

The Fountain Inn may be heraldic, representing the Master Mariners or Company of Plumbers but, considering the meaning of the name of the city, most likely refers to the local spring. The Globe Inn represents a simple image and also hints that all are welcome, while the Kings Head refers to the monarchy in general, and the scenic splendour to the northwest is marked by the name of the Cheddar Valley Inn.

The streets of this small city have their own tale to tell. What was changed to Union Street in the middle of the 19th century had formerly been Grope Street, a name which tells us it was narrow and poorly lit, hence pedestrians having to grope their way along in the dark. Priest Row was probably named after the 13th century priest who lived here. Vicar's Close was named after another cleric, Thomas de Devnysche, who bequeathed this land to the city for development in his 14th century will. Wet Lane no longer exists for it is now called Broad Street, although on the day the author visited both names were equally appropriate.

Ash Lane took its name from the ash trees which grew around here. Chamberlain Street was named after the official who decided to clean up what had previously been, both in name and in actuality, Beggar Street. Market Street also enjoyed a change of name from Mede Street, the former name showing this had previously been the back way into the centre while the present version is self-explanatory. Moniers Lane is named after the respected Peter le Monier, a moneyer who plied his 'trade' between Dartmouth, Exeter, Wells and Bristol and everywhere in between during the 13th century. Sadler Street remembers John Sadler, a 15th century merchant who received a 'necessary pardon' after the Wars of the Roses, for he had backed the losing side but his worth to the city saved him. Tucker Street shows cloth making was here from an early time for this was an early alternative name for a weaver.

Of course the city has a long association with the church and the streets also reflect this. The cathedral is dedicated to St Andrew, founded in 705 the present building dates from 1180, the name was transferred to St Andrews Street. St Cuthbert Street takes its name from the church, this being the third building dedicated to St Cuthbert and dates from the 13th century. St Thomas Street leads to the church built by Teulon, the architect being hired by Dean Jenkyns to cater for the poor of the parish. Sadly the benefactor did not live to see the beginning of the work which was completed in three years. Furthermore neither did his widow, Troth Jenkyns, who also died before the church opened to parishioners, from a chill she caught during the ceremony of laying the foundation stone.

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.