Names that spell out Bri­tain’s glo­ri­ously ec­cen­tric his­tory

Daily Mail - - News - by Mark Ma­son

One of the great­est things about Bri­tain is our col­lec­tion of bizarre and amus­ing place names. They’re so good you can read a map for en­ter­tain­ment rather than nav­i­ga­tion.

Hard­ing­ton Man­dev­ille, Brad­ford Peverell, Carl­ton Scroop — they sound like char­ac­ters in a novel. In fact, P.G. Wode­house of­ten raided the at­las when look­ing for names of char­ac­ters: Lord emsworth of Bland­ings Cas­tle is named af­ter a town in Hamp­shire, while a vil­lage in the same county gave an­other Wode­house char­ac­ter her sur­name: Lady Mil­li­cent Ship­ton-Bellinger (daugh­ter of the fifth earl of Brang­bolton).

There’s plenty of silli­ness out there — Great Snor­ing in nor­folk, Match­ing Tye in es­sex, Fryup in York­shire.

Surely it says some­thing about this na­tion’s sense of hu­mour that we let th­ese names per­sist, and in­deed re­joice in them? You can visit Wran­gle in Lin­colnshire or Six­penny Han­d­ley in Dorset. In Stafford­shire, you can lit­er­ally find your­self at Log­ger­heads, while Le­ices­ter­shire of­fers Bar­ton in the Beans.

There are un­usual names north of the border, too. You might want to avoid the Scot­tish vil­lage of Dull (it’s twinned with Bor­ing, Ohio), but Mag­gieknock­ater sounds fun (it means ‘plain of the hilly ridge’). Mean­while, Wales has a Splott (an area of Cardiff where broad­caster John Humphrys was brought up) and north­ern Ire­land a Strana­gal­willy.

As that ex­am­ple shows, some names ap­peal to ‘end of the pier’ hu­mour. There are places called Lusty Glaze, Pant and Thong. Once you throw in Tarty, Feltwell Bully Hole Bot­tom and Scratchy Bot­tom, the map be­comes a risqué sea­side post­card.

BUT it’s not all snig­gers. Our place names can be ed­u­ca­tional, telling the his­tory of who lived where, when. ‘ Pen’ (as in Pen­zance) de­notes a Celtic set­tle­ment: it means ‘hill’ (as does Old english ‘- dle’, so Pen­dle Hill in Lan­cashire means ‘Hill Hill Hill’). When the Ro­mans built mil­i­tary camps or ‘cas­tra’, we got Colch­ester, Le­ices­ter, Don­caster.

Any name end­ing ‘ton’ or ‘ham’ is prob­a­bly An­glo- Saxon: the for­mer meant ‘farm’, the lat­ter ‘ home­stead’. Birm­ing­ham, for in­stance, was orig­i­nally the home­stead of some­one called Be­orma.

There’s also a vil­lage called Ham near Sand­wich in Kent. The road sign point­ing to them both reads ‘Ham Sand­wich’, and is con­stantly be­ing stolen. When the Vik­ings turned up, they used their own word for home­stead: ‘by’. Hence we got Whitby, Derby, Ashby.

Then Wil­liam the Con­queror gave land to his French sup­port­ers, who added their own names to the places in ques­tion. The Ashby in Le­ices­ter­shire be­came Ashby-de- la- Zouche. When Theobald de Busar ar­rived in Bed­ford­shire, Leighton be­came Leighton Buz­zard — noth­ing to do with birds of prey.

A ‘-ley’ end­ing sig­ni­fies a meadow or clear­ing. The one set­tled by some­one called Wemba be­came Wem­b­ley, so foot­ball fans are right to chant three syl­la­bles. In es­sex a clear­ing set­tled by ugga be­came ug­ley: you can un­der­stand why its WI branch changed their name from the ug­ley Women’s In­sti­tute to the Women’s In­sti­tute of ug­ley.

‘Chip­ping’ — as in Chip­ping nor­ton and Chip­ping Sod­bury — in­di­cates a market town. It de­rives from the old word for market, ‘chepe’. This is also the ori­gin of Cheap­side, a street in the City of London. The streets that lead off it are where dif­fer­ent prod­ucts were sold: Milk Street, Bread Street, Honey Lane and so on.

Pro­nun­ci­a­tions are no­to­ri­ously tricky. Mouse­hole in Corn­wall is ‘Mowzel’, Kirkcud­bright in Dum­fries and Gal­loway is ‘Kirkoo­bree’ and Tin­twistle, Der­byshire, is ‘Tin­sel’ — birth­place of de­signer Vivi­enne West­wood. Amer­i­cans are fa­mous for say­ing ‘ed­in­bur­row’, but we shouldn’t forget the Cana­dian who pro­nounced Lough­bor­ough as ‘Looga-ba­rooga.’

There’s also con­fu­sion when sev­eral places share the same name. This is usu­ally be­cause the mean­ing is so com­mon — Ashby sim­ply de­notes a farm near some ash trees. While the La Zouche fam­ily added a twist to their Ashby, other places round the coun­try be­came Ashby Magna, Ashby Parva, West Ashby, Cas­tle Ashby and so on. The one in northamp­ton­shire be­came Cold Ashby for the very sim­ple rea­son that it was cold there.

Two places called Mans­field have ended up united in a way so ridicu­lous it could only be the work of the english aris­toc­racy. The one in not­ting­hamshire had an earl­dom, as did that in Mid­dle­sex, but in 1843 the ti­tles were united. The cur­rent holder is there­fore the 9th earl of Mans­field and the 8th earl of Mans­field.

More up­per class lu­nacy at Chatsworth House in Der­byshire, which for cen­turies has been the home of the Duke of Devon­shire. This is sim­ply be­cause the clerk writ­ing out the orig­i­nal deeds wrote the wrong name: the ti­tle was sup­posed to be ‘ Duke of Der­byshire’. In much the same way, the cen­tral London area known as Covent Gar­den started life as the gar­den of a con­vent, but some­one missed out the ‘n’.

It’s no sur­prise our na­tion of crossword lovers and Scrab­ble ad­dicts en­joys a ver­bal anal­y­sis of place names.

West­ward Ho! in Devon is the only one with an ex­cla­ma­tion mark. The vil­lage de­vel­oped af­ter Charles Kings­ley’s 1855 novel of the same name (set in nearby Bide­ford) be­came a best­seller, bring­ing tourists to the area. In Shrop­shire, there’s Ruy­ton-XI-Towns, the only name con­tain­ing a cap­i­tal X — it’s pro­nounced ‘eleven’, be­cause Ruy­ton was the big­gest town in a group of 11.

Ae, a vil­lage near Dum­fries, holds the ti­tle of short­est name. Brick­le­hamp­ton in Worces­ter­shire is the long­est name not to re­peat any letters (14 — more than half the al­pha­bet). But of course the very long­est is Llan­fair­p­wll­gwyn­gyll­gogerych­wyrn­drob­wl­l­l­lan­tysil­i­o­gogogoch. The Welsh vil­lage cheated slightly, choos­ing the name in the 1860s as a pub­lic­ity stunt. That didn’t stop Chan­nel 4 weath­er­man Liam Dut­ton in­clud­ing it in a 2015 fore­cast. His suc­cess­ful pro­nun­ci­a­tion has been viewed more than 15 mil­lion times on YouTube. Some places have ti­died up their names to avoid laughs. not­ting­ham used to be Snot­ting­ham — in Saxon times ‘snot’ meant ‘wise’, so the chief­tain who ruled the area called him­self that.

But in other ar­eas hu­mour still reigns. There are places called Curry Mal­let, up­loders, nether Wal­lop and Droop. There’s a Pud­dle­town, a new In­ven­tion, a Thrump­ton, a north Pid­dle and a Wet­wang.

You can visit Queen Camel and Sandy Balls (the two are not con­nected). You can have a laugh in Gig­gleswick, go crazy in Crack­pot or bounce around in Jump. In Lin­colnshire, on the sign at a turn­ing for two tiny vil­lages read­ing ‘To Mavis en­derby and Old Bol­ing­broke’, some­one has added ‘. . . the gift of a son’.

It’s even pos­si­ble to play games with them. I once gave a friend a list of five names, four gen­uine, the other a spoof. The list was north Pid­dle, Cat­brain, Mud­ford Sock, West Stut­ter­ing and Ogle. My friend had to spot the fake — and failed.

Can you do bet­ter? The an­swer is ac­tu­ally West Stut­ter­ing.

Chuck­les all the way: A few of our fun­ni­est sign­posts

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