Sunday 29 November 2009

No Peaks in the Peak District?

Last week I spoke about the place name of Shrewsbury. Speaking to a fellow historian in the week I heard the same thing I hear from every Derbyshire man and woman when I speak in and around Derbyshire and the Peak District - hence I was told there are no peaks in the Peak District, that this comes from the tribe of this name.

It will come as no surprise to find I disagree, there are peaks in the Peak District and there are even peaks in the Norfolk Broads. The problem lies in our understanding of 'peak', which brings about images of the Matterhorn, when all it really describes is a summit. If we describe a 'peak' on a graph we don't expect to see high points, we are just talking about the high point on that line. Similarly the peaks of the Peaks District are merely the contour lines with the highest numerical values, not soaring summits but gentle rises - and even these can look rather different when viewed from alternative vantage points below. Thus the Peak District did give the name to the tribe.

The area of the National Forest not only is not national, but contains more acres without trees than with trees.

Sunday 22 November 2009

The Shrew in Shrewsbury

Last week I mentioned being invited to speak at the 14th Annual Wellington Literary Festival, which has now been confirmed for 20th October 2010, the venue to be announced. Of course I have already given some thought to this look at my book Shropshire Place Names and, as I throw it open to a Q&A session at the end, will try to anticipate the sort of questions I will be faced with.

Having spoken in Shropshire on the subject before, and been interviewed for a number of publications, I know exactly what the first question about Shropshire will be and it concerns the pronunciation of the county town. Shrewsbury - is it 'shrew' or 'shrow'? I have found if I give the answer directly those who disgree will continue to do so, hence I now answer the question with a question - How is the county pronounced?

Of course the answer is never in doubt that Shrop- rhymes with 'shop'. However this county name is, like so many others, taken from that of the county town. Warwickshire is from Warwick, Gloucestershire from Gloucester, Oxfordshire from Oxford, Worcestershire from Worcester and - which is less obvious - Shropshire from Shrewsbury. Examinging the first element of both we find Old English or Saxon scrobb meaning 'scrubland'. Note this is pronounced as in 'shrub' so as to be 'shrobe'. The town name is scrobb burh or 'the fortified place in scrubland', however sometime in the past the first element has been mistaken for a personal name, hence the addition of a seemingly possessive 's' and the loss of the soft consonant sound 'bb' - not surprising as it is very difficult to say 'shrobesberry' and thus it has become 'sh-rows-berry'. Pronunciation as 'shrew' is only because the name is spelled as 'shrew' and is a comparatively modern occurrence.

Hence the county is therefore Shrewsbury-shire or, with the dropping of burh, from scrobb scir with the latter meaning 'the meeting place'. To find 'p' instead of 'b' is perfectly reasonable and thus the first part of the county name should not rhyme with 'shop' but be 'shrope-shire'.

Will this put an end to any idea of the 'shrew' pronunciation of Shrewsbury? Not a chance.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Right Place at the Right Time

This week has seen the final touches applied to both North Devon Place Names and South Devon Place Names, while Dorset Place Names will also be printed and packed up before the end of this week. As the end of the calendar year approaches so does the deadlines to finish the final two books for which I have contracts.

Next week I shall be delivering the three finished manuscripts and illustrations, while continuing on to Somerset to spend a couple of days seeking out 40 or 50 decent illustrations and those snippets and anecdotal gems which make a book out of what would otherwise be a dictionary of place names.

I have also been invited to speak at another three venues, a local history group in Staffordshire in March, a group of metal detectorists at the beginning of February, and I am to be on the list for the 14th Annual Literary Festival in Wellington, Shropshire in October of next year.

This week I also learned, albeit probably later than most authors, that Amazon have introduced Kindle Stores, a way for authors to list their work digitally. The eBook can then be uploaded on payment of an agreed amount - not all have to be books, of course, articles, poems, songs, music, jokes, even money-saving tips. Rest assured I shall be investigating the potential here and reporting back for like all authors I have a number of items which I consider worthy of publication but have yet to find the right niche.

Often that is the case, not that the piece is substandard but is being offered to the wrong place and/or at the wrong time. Some years ago I had had a book proposal accepted, contracts signed, written and page proofs had even been printed and edited. It was when we were clearing up the final queries that something interesting came to light. Among the paperwork for the book proposal I found a letter of mine offering the idea for that book to the same publisher. Pinned to the back was a polite rejection of the idea, dated nine months before the idea was accepted. Even more surprising the letter came from the same person working at the same company. Which proves if you are satisfied you cannot improve upon the piece and still keep receiving rejections no matter how well you tailor your writing to suit the publication or publisher, it still has to be looked at by the right person at the right time.

Sunday 8 November 2009

Hampshire Place Names

I must admit to be a little surprised to find another book arrive on the doorstep this week. While I was aware there were others due out at any time, I can't recall having two books released so closely. However Hampshire Place Names is now on the shelves and, if anyone should see a copy, please feel free to comment. Alternatively if you'd like one (would make a good Christmas present) feel free to get in touch.

As before I have included the 'blurb' (technical term for the bit that appears on the back of a book to give a brief idea of what is inside) for this book.

Ever wondered why our towns and villages are so named? Were they a deliberate creation by our ancestors or did they evolve naturally over time? Which town took its name fromone of the last surviving wolves in England? Where is there a name referring to an 18th century vegetarian delicacy? Who killed a king and had a pub named after him? And where was there a ford for games or sport?
In these pages we examine the origins of the names with which we are otherwise so familiar. Towns, villages, districts, hills, streams, woods, farms, fields, streets and even pubs are examined and explained. Some of the definitions give a glimpse of life in the earlier days of the settlement, and for the author there is nothing more satisfying than finding a name which gives such a snapshot. The definitions are supported by anecdotal evidence, bringing to life the individuals and events which have influenced the places and the way these names have developed.
This is not just a dictionary but a history and will prove invaluable not only for those who live and work in the county but also visitors and tourists, historians and former inhabitants, indeed anyone with an interest in Hampshire.

Sunday 1 November 2009

A New Publication

My next book, South Staffordshire Street Names, hit the shelves recently. A work which I enjoyed producing as much as any for it gives an insight into parts of history which may otherwise be overlooked. For example, were it not for this book perhaps the only man in the long history of Tamworth who was legally able to carry explosives during peacetime will have been forgotten - now there's a man who merits a road named after him! Or the midwife who cycled into a village as holiday cover for just two short weeks, staying for over forty years and retired having earned the MBE for her services, that's as good a reason as any I know for a street name.
If you find see a copy feel free to comment (or if you want one shout!). To whet your appetite I have posted the cover image and there follows the so-called 'blurb' from the back cover:

Around the towns of Cannock Chase, Tamworth and Lichfield and the villages around South Staffordshire are over a thousand roads, streets, lanes, avenues, drives, crofts, boulevards, ways, courts and walks. But where do these names come from? How 'new' is New Street? What is the origin of Quonian's Lane? Who was Sister Dora? Which lane remembers the trainer of a Grand National winner? Where in landlocked Staffordshire is there a theme of North Sea oil and gas fields?
Within this book every street from the ancient trunk road of Watling Street to the most recent cul-de-sac are examined. Names with histories dating from before the Roman occupation, those marking the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons, the conquest by the Normans and every royal house since, right up to the modern era and the countless themes for new estates - all the explanations are to be found here.
National figures, local personalities, trades, landowners, pastimes, the landscape, public houses, religion and folklore have all contributed to the names of the routes we travel every day. A must for every historian, an invaluable guide to every tourist and a lasting reminder of the county for any who live and work here, or who have their roots within South Staffordshire. Not just a dictionary but a guide with histories, anecdotal material, pointers to people and events of the past, and an interesting read sure to get us all taking more notice of the name on the sign at the end of every street.