Sunday, 23 December 2012

Buckinghamshire Place Names

Recently published by Fineleaf , both as a paperback and now as an ebook, my look at the place names of Buckinghamshire includes the town of Beaconsfield. As a taster here is something from this new book.


An Old English place name from beacen feld which describes 'the open land by the beacon or signal fire'. The name appears in a document of 1184 as Bekenesfelds. Incidentally none of the early forms explain why the place name is pronounced 'beckon-' rather than the 'beacon-'.

Copshrews Court is a rather corrupted version of a name describing 'the coppice row of trees'; Hall Barn began life as 'Healla's mor or mashland'; from the thirteenth century the Gregory family were at Gregory's Farm; Hyde Farm, a reminder of the manor called Hide seen since the fourteenth century as a area usually described as equal to 120 acres but this depends largely on the quality of the soil; Butler's Court was home to John Botiler in 1443; Wilton Park was the manor of Thomas de Whelton by 1344; and Holloway's Farm was home to the family of Henry Holweye in 1370.

The most common pub name in the country is the Red Lion. As with the vast majority of 'coloured animal' names this is heraldic. Most Red Lions represent Scotland and date from the accession of James VI of Scotland as James I of England. Earlier examples point to John of Gaunt, the most powerful man in England during the fourteenth century. Such is the popularity of the name that many of the more recent names must be considered to have been chosen simply because the name of the Red Lion is synonymous with the public house.

Along similar lines is the Royal Standard of England, a name dating from the seventeenth century when Charles II visited the premises. Named after one of the most successful of British writers is the Charles Dickens. The Prince of Wales is a common name, most refer to the man who went on to become Edward VII who, until recently, had held the title for longer than anyone.

The Greyhound depicts the famous mail coach which ran between London and Birmingham. The addition of 'jolly' to a name is an early trick used by inn-keepers to suggest a good time was to be had within. In the case of the Jolly Cricketers the addition was to an existing name, one taken from it being the base for the local cricket team.

Former prime minister Benjamin Disraeli was member of parliament for Beaconsfield. As a favourite of Queen Victoria he was made Earl of Beaconsfield in 1876. During the latter part of the nineteenth century, when towns and cities across the land saw an explosion in residential development, Beaconsfield had been so much in the public eye it was an obvious choice for street names everywhere. Names which are still seen today.

Bekonscot is a created name, a phonetic spelling of the pronunciation of Beacon- and substituting -cot for -field as the originator came from Ascot, while also suggesting this place is smaller. For this is indeed smaller, a model village created from the 1920s by accountant Roland Callingham (1881-1961) in his large back garden. With the assistance of his gardener, cook, maid and chauffeur they designed the layout which is a virtual snapshot of English rural life in the decade leading up to the Second World War.

Together they adapted existing features to the landscape. The former swimming pool became a sea, a rockery readily took on the appearance of rolling hills, and the leading model railway designers Bassett-Lowke were called in for the railway. The latter is worthy of special mention as this gauge 1 layout would scale up to ten miles, and still features trains which have been running for some 50 years, each of the ten locomotives covering an average of 2,000 miles every year. Since 1978 the model has been owned by the Church Army, who have welcomed fifteen million visitors enabling them to donate around five million pounds to charity.

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.

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