The name of the game
British placenames are so good you can read the map for entertainment rather than navigation. Hardington Mandeville, Bradford Peverell, Carlton Scroop — they sound like characters in a novel. In fact, PG Wodehouse often raided the atlas when writing.
Lord Emsworth is named after a town in Hampshire, while a village in the same county gave Reginald Shipton-Bellinger his surname. There’s plenty of silliness out there — Great Snoring in Norfolk, Matching Tye in Essex, Fryup in Yorkshire. Some good old-fashioned smut, too: Lusty Glaze, Pant, Bell End and a couple of Twatts. Kent boasts a Thong and it’s only a mile or so from Shorne.
But enough of your sniggers. British placenames are educational, telling the history of who was where, when.
Pen’ (as in Penzance) denotes a Celtic settlement; it means “hill” (as does the Old English “dle’’ so Pendle Hill in Lancashire means “Hill Hill Hill”. Then the Romans built their military camps or “castra’’, so Britain got Colchester, Leicester, Doncaster and the like.
Any name ending with “ton’’ or “ham’’ is probably Anglo-Saxon — the former meant “farm”, the latter “homestead”. There’s a Ham near Sandwich in Kent, so a road sign pointing to them both reads Ham Sandwich, and is constantly being nicked.
When the Vikings turned up, they used their own word for homestead, “by”. Hence Whitby, Derby, Ashby and so on. Then William the Conqueror gave land to his French mates, and Ashby got its de-laZouche, just as Leighton Buzzard owes its name to Theobald de Busar rather than birds of prey.
A “ley’’ ending denotes a meadow or clearing. The one settled by someone called Wemba became Wembley, meaning football fans are right to chant it as three syllables.