Princes Risborough and Monks Risborough
Early records give this as Hrisanbyrge in 903 and as Riseberge in 1086, the basic name coming from Old English hrisen beorg and telling of ‘the hill where brushwood grows’. The additions, thus distinguishing between them, show early possession by the monks of Christchurch in Canterbury, while the royal was none other than the Black Prince. However the extremely popular royal probably never saw the place named after him more than once. Until the manor passed into his hands in 1433, the place was simply a royal manor and most often known as Magna Risborough, this Latin for ‘great’.
Street names of Princes Risborough begin with Abbot’s Way and Cannon Place, both marking the site of ‘the manor of the abbot’. Merton Close was cut on land owned by Merton College, Oxford while St Teresa’s Close is predictably a reminder of the church dedicated to that saint.
Local names include Askett or ‘the eastern cottages’; Green Hailey is from heg leah ‘the clearing where hay is cut’; Meadle is the ‘meadow hill’ from maed hyll; Owlswick points to ‘the dairy farm of a man called Wulfr or Ulfr’; Alscot is derived from ‘Aelfsige’s cottages’; Coombe takes its name from William atte Coumbe; from culfre dun comes the name of Culverton or ‘pigeon hill’; Darrillshill is ‘the animal fold’ from deor fald; Lacey Green speaks of leasowe or ‘pasture’; the ‘long dairy farm’ is seen on maps as Longwick; Loosley Row takes its name from hlose leah and describes ‘the pig sty clearing’; Stocken Farm was located around ‘the tree stumps’ which gave it a name; and the odd name of Wardrobes refers to Juliana atte Wardrobe who, in 1338, held demised land at King’s Risborough. The hamlet of Meadle figured prominently during the English Civil War, located between the lines of the Royalists to the north in Oxford and the Parliamentarians in London to the south. A lasting reminder of armed conflict is found in Armour Farm, albeit a much later engagement. It was here armaments were stored during both World Wars.
The modern name of Whiteleaf is corrupt, as evidenced by the records of Whitt Light in 1541 and, better still, by Whitcliffe Cross in 1766. Here the origin is nothing to do with fauna but comes from hwit cliffe or ‘the white cliff or bank’ and describes the chalk soil which abounds in the hills around here. As can be seen from the image below, the chalk cliff has fallen away and the turf removed to form a cross on the hillside. Traditionally the cross was formed by Christians who adapted it from an early phallic symbol. As with many such stories the archaeology does not support this idea. Neither part of the cross seems to have existed much before 1800 and, even if the supposed phallic part did, it could just as easily have been a natural landslip.
Grimsdyke is a name which is derived from Old English grim dic ‘the ditch frequented by a goblin’. A story is associated with this place, a tale of Jane Shore who was starved to death on the order of King Richard III (reigned 1483-5). He also ordered the execution of a baker, who was accused of trying to give Jane a penny loaf. Such stories are often associated with place names with the element grim, and there are also reports of ghosts and fairies attributed to this place. That this story came after the event is supported by an alternative telling of the story where Jane Shaw (note the different spelling) was a mistress of Edward IV d1479 and was accused of being a witch by the future King Richard III. It seems neither narrative is likely true, both being created to suit the rumours about the place. Indeed it may be both were invented to explain the telling of a similar tale in a ballad connected with a place known as ‘Shoreditch’.
The White Horse at Princes Risborough is another heraldic image, chosen to represent the Saxon kingdom of Wessex, the county of Kent, and the royal house of Hanover. One member of this royal house was the Sailor King, so called because he served in the Royal Navy. He is commemorated here in the name of the King William IV. From the adage “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” comes the name of the Bird in Hand, although nearly all depict the gloved hand of a falconer and trained bird of prey. With a sign showing the Three Crowns of the name, the reference is to James I, who was the first monarch to rule a united England, Scotland and Wales. The Black Prince is named after Edward, Prince of Wales (1330-76) called such because of the unusual colour of his armour. His early death, due to ill-health, was a great loss to a nation who lauded his military skill and humanitarian outlook. The Pink and Lily is an unusual, possibly unique, combination putting together two very colourful flowers. The Whip points to horseracing, the sign depicting an image of the jockey urging his mount on to victory.
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.