Sunday, 8 December 2013

Berkshire Place Names

This week the publication of Berkshire Place Names by Fineleaf Editions means there are now 43 books of mine on the shelves, more than half on the subject of place names.

To promote the book I was interviewed on BBC Berkshire by the delightful Anne Diamond. Among the names discussed was that of Wargrave, a name from Old English waer graf speaks of 'the grove by the weir'. This name is seen in the Domesday survey of 1086 as Weregrave.

From baer meaning 'swine pasture' comes Bear Grove, Bear Place, Bear Ash, and Bear Hill. Similarly Culham Court, Upper Culham Farm, Middle Culham Farm, and Lower Culham Farm share an origin in either cylen ham 'the homestead near a kiln or kilns' or cylen hamm 'the hemmed-in land with a kiln or kilns'. Worley's Farm is from horu leah 'the dirty woodland clearing'. Bottom Boles Wood has had a complicated and tortuous evolution but originated in 'the bottom place of the rounded hills'. Highcockett literally means 'cocked hat', a description of the shape of the field. Knowl Hill takes cnol or ‘rounded hill’ and adds the modern equivalent.

Pubs named the Greyhound have three possible origins. The most obvious is the breed of dog, one bred for hunting but it was the chase which was more important than the statistically unlikely kill. It was also the name of a famous stagecoach, one running from London to Birmingham and a second from the capital to Exeter. However the most common is heraldic, this being found on the coat of arms of the dukes of Newcastle, an important landowner. The White Hart also began as an heraldic device, one representing Richard II but has lasted when it became the generic name for every public house.

The Seven Stars has stood for more than four centuries, it being the traditional meeting place for workers at the now-defunct Star Brick Works. The addition of ‘seven’ is either for alliteration or luck, most likely both. Many pubs known simply as the ‘George’ refer to the saint and not any of the six kings. Indeed, there seems to be a general tendency for pubs known as the George and Dragon to lose the mythical beast. Yet in Wargrave the reverse is true, for this leaves no doubt in the possibly unique name of the St George and Dragon.

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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