Sunday, 29 December 2013


As this will be my last post of the year and the media is full of what has happened in the last twelve months, I thought I would offer some thoughts of my own. Over the last twelve months or so, some five books in the Through Time series with my name on have been released. As the name suggests these compare modern images with similar views from yesteryear and below I offer a taster from these books, where the older view in each case date from around a century ago.

In these images from Tamworth Through Time we see identical views looking up the hill in my home town of Tamworth, with Tamworth Castle on the right. The road is known as Holloway because it was quite literally hollowed out by the constant passage of wheels, hooves and feet as they crossed the River Tame at what was for centuries the only bridge for miles over this river.

A view of Dr Samuel Johnson’s Birthplace from Lichfield Through Time. Born here in September 1709, he was a sickly baby and his aunt is held to have announced on seeing him for the first time how she ‘would not have picked up such a poor creature in the street’.

From Stafford Through Time come these views of Stafford Common Station. The old image is at it appeared in August 1968, with the modern view from below the bridge featured in the earlier picture.

Two very different scenes from Solihulll Through Time but taken from the same position. What is now Riverdale Drive opposite Malvern Park was previously the former Solihull Brickworks. However there is one remaining landmark, out of shot to the left in both these images, of a Post Office pillar box which is still in daily use.

When photographing English Riviera Through Time, my favourite part of the world, I was struck by something clearly evidenced by these images. First we see the village of Galmpton around 1907, the home of Agatha Christie is situated behind the camera. Note the sapling in the old image is the same tree as that dominating the modern view. This is also true of the background which is devoid of trees in the old image but, although largely hidden in the modern view, litter the scene today.

The same is true in this view of Anstey’s Cove where vegetation is the dominant feature in the twenty-first century.

As usual 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. Meanwhile I shall take this opportunity to say to one and all a very Happy New Year and wish for you everything you would wish for yourselves.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Origins of Pub Names

As this is the season when nearly all of us will be raising a glass or two, and the subject of pub names was raised over luncheon last week – in a pub, of course - I have decided to point out the origin of a selection of pub names. Thus if the beer or wine fails to entertain, you might have something to talk about.

Although it may seem odd, the inn sign pre-dates the first recognisable inns in this country by a significant period of time. Once upon a time every family brewed their own ale. It made sense as the water could rarely be trusted to be safe to drink and the boiling part of the brewing process effectively sterilises the liquid sufficiently to ensure it is safe to drink.

In order to earn a copper or two, some settlements would offer some of the brew to travellers on the road. Such refreshment, perhaps accompanied by a hunk of bread and pottage or similar, brought much-needed revenue to the household. We are not talking about the larger communities where the main road ran straight through the village but more isolated communities.

Yet these services would have to be advertised as any well-worn path was unlikely to run past the front door. Hence to draw attention to the home brew a sheaf of barley would be tied to a prominent tree. The bole of a large tree with its lower branches removed with be noticeable enough. With a sheaf of barley tied at or just above eye level, they would be guaranteed to receive a thirsty guest or two before long. These marked and still-living trees were known as ale stakes and are easy to see as the forerunner of the modern pub sign. This is how the logical order of pub – name – sign was, in reality, quite the reverse.

In later years landlords and owners were quick to realise the sign was the equivalent of advertising hoarding of its day. Just as modern advertisers use humour and eye-catching imagery to give their product any edge over the competition, so early inns employed every trick they could think of to bring in the customers. There was one big difference, however. Today we read the name, yet literacy is a fairly modern development and our forefathers will have had to recognise the image on the sign and be able read the message it contained.

Red Lion - At its peak there were more pubs known as the Red Lion in England than any other. Numbers once exceeded six hundred but in the twenty-first century this has fallen. For such a common name the name has only been seen since the seventeenth century and, rather ironically, the most common pub name in England is representative of the monarchy of Scotland.

It began as a device on the coat of arms of the most powerful man in England in the fourteenth century, John of Gaunt. His vast riches would, in today’s money, be worth in excess of £100 billion, making him one of the twenty wealthiest people in history. His successors went on to become kings of England through lines resulting in Henry IV and Henry VII and, of course, their descendants. While few pub names can be traced to the fourteenth century and directly to John of Gaunt himself, his red lion symbol did come to England through a more circuitous route. Of his fifteen named children, four with Katherine Swynford were later legitimised by royal decree, taking the surname Beaufort. Their descendants thereafter became every ruler in Scotland from 1437 and, following the accession of the House of Stuart in 1603, every monarch of England.

Royal Oak - One of the three most common pub names in England this was unheard of before the middle of the seventeenth century, for it remembers one of the best known narratives in the history of our islands. The oak tree in question is the Boscobel Oak, a large specimen in Shifnal, Shropshire and where Charles II and his aide Colonel Carless hid from noon to nightfall to escape the Parliamentarian soldiers. Following his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, King Charles was aided by a number of his supporters as he attempted to flee the country. After a number of close shaves he was smuggled to France by members of the Pendrell family disguised as a woodman, complete with a severe haircut and stained face and arms to make it look as if he was used to working outside. Nine years later at the Restoration of the Monarchy the 29th of May, the date of the king's birthday, being chosen as the official date and thereafter was known as Royal Oak Day.

The present tree is not the original, this was destroyed by souvenir hunters in the 17th and 18th centuries who removed pieces of bark and even whole branches. A second tree, from an acorn of the first, known as the Son of the Royal Oak grew until it was badly damaged by a storm in 2000. A third tree was planted as a sapling by Prince Charles in 2001, this had been grown from an acorn taken from the 'Son' and is thus 'the grandson'. Modern-day souvenir hunters can still acquire a piece of the history, for other grandchildren of the Boscobel Oak are on sale here. Buyers receive their small oak along with a certificate of authenticity.

Stewponey – A pub in Staffordshire which should correctly be the Stewponey and Foley Arms, for the family who made their fortune from iron. This pub near Stourbridge earned its first name when a British soldier came to run the pub after seeing action during the Peninsular Wars in Spain.

His military career now over, he brought with him his new wife, a Spanish woman born in Estepona. It was his intention to add the name of her place of birth to the sign but, as none of the locals were fluent Spanish speakers, it acquired the name of Stewponey.

Sun and Slipper – The local at Mamble in Shropshire was first recorded as an inn in 1642, when it was known as the Sun. This device found on the coat of arms of the Blount family. This coaching inn once offered a maintenance service for the coaches, including changing the brake of ‘slipper’ which was soon added to the name. During the twentieth century the name was changed to the Dog and Duck but, after a veritable outcry from patrons, quickly reverted to its original name.

Tame Otter - The river has not only given a name to the town of Tamworth in Staffordshire but also this pub in nearby Hopwas. For a time this was known as the Chequers, although in recent years it has reverted to its original name of the Tame Otter. As expected the sign-painter depicts the animal Lutra lutra, once hunted for its fur and in danger of extinction the European otter is now making a comeback. Yet the engaging creature has not given its name to the pub, this comes from a simple rowing boat. Shallow, blunt-ended and for just one man, this particular vessel is rarely found away from the Trent and its tributaries. It is possible the boat, used by fishermen, was named from the water mammal but there is no evidence to confirm or refute this.

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. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Izaak Walton – The Compleat Angler.

December 15th 1683 saw the death of arguably the most famous British angler. On this, the 330th anniversary of his passing, I am reminded of a story which featured in my Paranormal Staffordshire.


Across the M6 from Stone is the tiny hamlet of Shallowford. The watery reference is appropriate, for here is the former home of Izaak Walton, author of The Compleat Angler, first published in 1653.

Featured on the cover of my book, Walton’s black-and-white thatched cottage is now a museum, a testimony to the man who is known as a fisherman but loved the countryside as a whole. This delightful building throws its doors open to the public for only limited times of the year. Any activity outside the normal opening hours seems to bother Miriam, the resident ghost here. Lights and electrical equipment turn on and off without warning, while her presence is almost always accompanied by a distinct drop in temperature. Why she is referred to as Miriam is a mystery; indeed the only reason for suggesting she is female is down to a psychic stating she is a busy lady.

There is a second, less well-documented presence that has not been named. However, there is no doubt as to his gender, for he has been seen walking through a hedge and following the line of an old path before vanishing from sight. He wears a costume dating to the seventeenth century. Perhaps, if not the man himself, he is a friend and colleague of Izaak Walton. If so, he would be sure to have much information to add to the museum, although maybe this would further irritate Miriam.

As always 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.

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.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Northamptonshire Ghosts

Last week I mentioned two books in the pipeline, both a collection of ghost stories. Last week I covered Warwickshire, offered a story and appealed for personal experiences. This week the other volume, this time Northamptonshire, and again should anyone have any tales to tell within the county I would be delighted to hear from you.

As with last week I offer a taster, this time we travel to Abington and a very strange tale indeed. It is September of 2002 and a lovely antique china cabinet was purchased for Julia Warren by her daughter. Almost immediately problems began for Mrs Warren. Not wishing to appear ungrateful she tried to ignore the chills and difficulty with the doors but eventually was forced to admit defeat.

The cabinet doors were locked and, as the key was missing, seemingly would remain so. However on more than one occasion a cabinet door was found off its hinges. Yet the crunch came when Mrs Warren saw a figure standing alongside the now unwanted gift. She described this as a woman, very tall and gaunt, wearing clothing from the 1930s and appearing more miserable than anyone Mrs Warren had ever seen in her life.

Thankfully her daughter fully understood and advised her mother she had bought it from Trends on the Wellingborough Road. Hence one day manager Mark Kypta had a visit from Mrs Warren asking him to take the cabinet back. She required no refund, wanting nothing more than to get the cabinet out of her house and so the cabinet was, once again, back at Trends.

This was not the end of the story for no sooner had the cabinet been returned to the retail outlet than it began causing problems for Mark Kypta. At first he tried to find the previous owner but when that drew a blank he left it in his shop until he could decide upon his next move. It was then the cabinet began to create problems. On the second occasion the troublesome door was found wide open in the morning, when still no key had been found, he decided it had to go.

Hence the local press were approached to announce Trends were to auction off the cabinet, with the proceeds going to charity. Did anyone bid on a haunted cabinet? Was a key ever found? Does the cabinet still exist and is its guardian now content with their new home? Presumably as nothing has been heard the answer to all three questions must be in the affirmative.

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.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Warwickshire Ghosts

My last book of ghost stories appeared in 2011, Paranormal Staffordshire my fourth of this genre. I have always enjoyed re-telling the experiences of others, the settings and background to each I find equally as interesting as the event itself. As another couple of books are in the pipeline, no publishing date yet, I thought it time to throw appeal for personal experiences in the county of Warwickshire.

To whet the appetite I offer the following taster of what is to come with the story of John Smith from Gaydon.

While it is not true today, John has certainly been the most common male christian name overall. As a surname Smith remains the most common. Thus logically the most common man’s name is John Smith. Those who argue this is not the case as they have never met anyone called John Smith and that Mr and Mrs Smith would never call their son ‘John’ have clearly never been to Gaydon or the Gaydon Inn.

Once the pub was the headquarters for an infamous bunch of ruffians who had justifiably earned a reputation as thugs and thieves. Their leader was no other than one John Smith. Yet when he was caught and hanged the problems refused to go away, at best a temporary lull ensued until his son stepped up to continue in his father’s footsteps. He not only continued the family tradition but also continued the family name for he was John Smith Jnr. Again he followed his father in being caught, and eventually followed him in being tried at Warwick and hanged there.

First his captors took the wise step of holding him prisoner in the Gaydon Inn. To attempt the journey during the hours of darkness would doubtless have resulted in the rest of the gang freeing him within the first mile or two. His ‘accommodation’ for the night was the inn’s attic. Here, in 1789, John Smith Jnr spent some of his last hours carving his initials in a roof beam. The following day he was taken to Warwick where he met the same fate as his father. Well, almost the same.

A woman by the name of Elizabeth Beere had followed him to Warwick. They had been lovers for some years and, as with any girl who had lost her heart to the bad guy, his death was no barrier and she steadfastly refused to abandon him. Normally the body would have been taken back to Gaydon, the scene of his misdemeanours, where he would be hung from a gibbet. The body would rot and, as flesh and bone broke away from the stinking corpse, would serve as a warning to others who may be tempted to break the law.

Elizabeth Beere was determined this would not happen to her beloved John and begged his body should be returned to her for why should she suffer the sight of his rotting remains when she had done nothing wrong? Eventually her argument won the day and she was permitted to dispose of the body as she saw fit. Obviously Elizabeth was quite certain she would be successful for she had brought a donkey with her to Warwick for the sole purpose of transporting the corpse of John Smith Jnr back to his home.

Elizabeth walked back to Gaydon, leading the donkey with its unusual load. The body was buried, although whether it was granted a grave in consecrated ground is unknown as there is nothing recorded. Perhaps one clue that it was not given a Christian burial is found in the attic of the Gaydon Inn. Over the succeeding two centuries many reports have spoken of footsteps heard as if someone was pacing the attic which, when examined, was found empty.

Is this the restless soul of highwayman John Smith Jnr? And is that the sound of him as he continues to carve his initials into the wooden beam?

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.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Origins of English Place Names

This week saw me complete negotiations for more books on the origins of place names. These, together with previously released volumes, mean I will have penned and published something on every English county by the time the last of these is released by the summer of 2014. I make no apologies for taking this opportunity to define the names of the counties and include a shameless plug for each volume and include a link to each. The list appears in the same chronological order these books were and/or wiil be released.

My first book was Staffordshire Place Names in 1996. The county, as with so many names, simply adds Old English scir to the name of the county town. The Saxon ‘shire’ was an administrative region, created when they realised something was required between the hundred and the nation. When it comes to Stafford, we see two elements where staeth ford speaks of ‘the river crossing near the landing place’. It stands to reason the landing place would have been at the highest navigable point upstream, a place which would also have been shallow enough to ford. I should add that while this book is now out of print, there will be an e-book version out within the next few months.

Next came Warwickshire Place Names which is already available as an e-book. Another ‘shire’ attached to the name of the county town. Here we see Warwick from Old English waering wic or ‘the dwellings at the weir’.

Examining Worcestershire Place Names we see another scir or ‘administrative district’, this time following the city of Worcester, named as ‘the Roman stronghold of the Weogora tribe’. These Celtic peoples are thought to have been named as ‘the dwellers at the winding river’.

On to Derbyshire Place Names and the city of Derby. Here another scir with Old Scandinavian deor by telling of ‘the farmstead where deer are found’.

In Leicestershire and Rutland Place Names two counties were covered. With Leicester we see another Celtic tribe named. Although ‘the Roman stronghold of the people called Ligore’, again with scir, features a tribal name which has never been understood. In Rutland we have a place name which was adopted as the county name, this referring to ‘the estate of a man called Rota’.

South to yet another scir and Oxfordshire Place Names with the city of spires being named from far humbler beginnings, this ‘the ford used by oxen’.

My next volume was Shropshire Place Names and a county town where pronunciation will never be agreed, at least not by Salopians. So we will ignore Shrewsbury and define Shropshire and find another scir or ‘administrative district’. The first element comes from Old English scrob meaning ‘scrubland’, thus correctly it should be Shrobshire, although the question of where this ‘scrubland’ was found remains. The answer is the county town, for Shrewsbury began as scrob’s-bury and shows why it should be pronounced Shro- and not read as Shrew- for it is the spelling of Shrewsbury which is in error and as a wise professor once told me, no name was ever mispronounced before the people could read. I am already aware the ‘correct’ pronunciation is becoming less popular and already I am wondering when the ‘incorrect’ form will become the accepted version.

No such problems when tackling Nottinghamshire Place Names where this scir suffixes the city named as ‘the homestead of the family or followers of a man named Snot’. Whilst I’m sure the residents would not appreciate the initial ‘S’ being reinstalled, they might be interested to learn the name refers to Snot’s followers, not Snot himself. Thus it is likely he was never here and this settlement may well have been named posthumously.

With Hampshire Place Names the county town is Southampton, this recorded simply as Hamtun in 825 and telling of ‘the farmstead of the hemmed-in land or promontory’. The question of why ‘south’ was always answered with Northampton being on the other end of a ancient trade route. While there may have been a regular supply of goods along a road, this is not the correct Northampton, that is in Hampshire although, for reasons nobody has ever understood, that suddenly changed the suffix and is today known as Northington.

Sharing a suffix with other Roman strongholds, the name which resulted in Gloucestershire Place Names comes from ‘the Roman stronghold called Glevum’, this a Celtic place name meaning ‘bright place’.

No scir for Dorset Place Names although it is derived from another major settlement within its borders. Today known as Dorchester, the county name simply an abbreviated version, telling of ‘the Roman stronghold known as Durnovaria’. As with the previous name this is a Celtic place name describing ‘place with large pebbles’.

Back to the suffix scir or ‘administrative district’ for Northamptonshire Place Names. As we have seen this has nothing to do with Southampton and does not share the same meaning. Here ‘the northern home farmstead’ distinguishes it from other ham tuns much closer to home.

No scir for Somerset Place Names and yet, like neighbouring Dorset, is based on a local place name. Here the county speaks of it being that of ‘the settlers around Somerton’, itself telling of its humble beginnings as ‘the farmstead used only in summer’.

The large county of Devon, covered in two volumes by firstly South Devon Place Names and the forthcoming 2014 release of North Devon Place Names, has no scir today but did originally. Here is ‘the administrative district of the Devonians or Dummonii’.

Another two volumes were released for the southeast county of Sussex, now officially split in two and covered by East Sussex Place Names andWest Sussex Place Names. As with the other counties sharing this suffix the reference is to the Saxons, here is ‘the territory of the south Saxons’ – now correctly, and rather confusingly, the east south Saxons and the west south Saxons.

Another scir is found in Herefordshire Place Names where we find ‘the administrative district of the ford capable of carrying an army’. Note the relevant part is ‘capable’, for Hereford does not tell us an army was marching back and forth but says it was of good size and solidly built.

With the county town of Chester leading to Cheshire Place Names, this is ‘the administrative district of the Roman stronghold’ from Old English caster scir.

With Buckinghamshire Place Names we see Old English inga hamm and a Saxon personal name speaking of ‘the administrative district of the hemmed-in land of the family or followers of a man called Bucca’.

North to the find Cambridgeshire Place Names and ‘the administrative district of the place at the bridge over the River Granta’ otherwise known as the Cam – this odd change is entirely down to Norman error.

Down south and another large county split into East Kent Place Names and West Kent Place Names. As a name, Kent has never really been understood. Clearly it is different from other counties and this is down to it once being a Saxon kingdom in its own right, although the name is certainly Celtic. Possibly this is ‘the coastal district’ but an origin of ‘land of the hosts or armies’ can also be seen.

Back to the scir for Bedfordshire Place Names and ‘the administrative district of the ford of a man called Beda’.

Another scir in the Home Counties and Hertfordshire Place Names where ‘the administrative district of the ford frequented by harts’ is the origin.

On the east coast is the large county covered by Lincolnshire Place Names where we find the Roman influence once more. Here the city dominated by its cathedral gives us ‘the administrative district of the Roman colony by the pool’. That ‘colony’ was for retired legionaires.

Publishing in early December 2013 Berkshire Place Names is an oddity in being a scir but without a town called ‘Berk’. Here the term describes the region as ‘the administrative district of the hilly place’, what we know as the Berkshire Downs.

Appearing in early 2014 Surrey Place Names is no scir but comes from Old English suther ge and tells of ‘the southern district’.

Another early 2014 release is Essex Place Names which, as with Sussex, speaks of itself as ‘the territory of the East Saxons’.

Set for the spring of 2014 Middlesex Place Names covers ‘the territory of the middle Saxons’.

Another scir and Lancashire Place Names will be out early next year. Here the basis is the town of Lancaster, thus this ‘the administrative district of the Roman stronghold on the River Lune’ – where the river name is understood as ‘healthy, pure’.

Spring 2014 will see Cumbria Place Names which is a modern county name based on an eighth century record speaking of ‘the territory of the Cymry or Cumbrian Britons’.

The Scilly Isles are covered in the 2014 release of Cornwall Place Names. As with the previous name, this refers to the native Celtic peoples in ‘the territory of the Cornovii tribes’.

Another new county in a 2014 release is Isle of Wight Place Names where the island, so often said to refer to the ‘white’ chalk lands, is from a Celtic word speaking of ‘the place of the division’, that the two channels between here and the mainland known as the Solent. Note the name Solent has never been understood, although it has been given to the river which eroded this valley in the millennia before our islands were severed from mainland Europe with the rising of sea level at the end of the last Ice Age.

Spring of 2014 will also see the release of County Durham Place Names where the word ‘county’ is added to differentiate between the city and the shire. Here is the dun holmr or ‘hill of drier land in the marsh’.

Also available in early 2014 is the neighbouring county covered by Northumberland Place Names and another scir in all but name. This former Saxon kingdom was much larger than the present county and it is that kingdom of ‘the territory of the Northhymbre’ or ‘those living north of the Humber’ which has led to the modern name.

Also publishing in May 2014 is Suffolk Place Names and ‘the territory of the southern people of the East Angles’.

Spring 2014 and Wiltshire Place Names and ‘the administrative disctive of Wilton’, the town itself ‘the farmstead near a spring or stream’.

In the summer of 2014 we will see four volumes for Yorkshire. The county town of the original county giving us ‘the administrative district of the yew tree estate’. Not only the vast area covered by the original county but the tremendous number of small settlements means one volume would be very heavy and very expensive. Eventually it was decided to combine the three ridings and three counties to produce four volumes entitled North Yorkshire Place Names, South Yorkshire Place Names, East Yorkshire Place Names, and West Yorkshire Place Names

Finally towards the end of 2014 Isle of Man Place Names will appear. True this is neither a scir nor a county but a place I wanted to write about and to examine its place names. The island’s name is thought to be derived from an early leader by the name of Manu, although traditionally this was said to be named after the fabled Irish sea deity Manannan mac Lir.

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.

Sunday, 10 November 2013


When Munzly suggested I look at the origins of some trade names I felt sure I had covered the subject before. A quick search and I find my memory was a little off, for it was not a blog but a crossword produced many years ago. On the subject of crosswords, the only writing challenge I accepted but failed to meet was when a magazine asked for a 15x15 grid where every answer was related to tobacco and smoking. While I saw it as a near impossible task I could not resist trying. In fact I found it easier to quit smoking than I did the challenge.

As the subject of trade and product names is vast, I decided to opt for just 26, one from each letter of the alphabet. These were chosen mainly because they have been on the shelves for such a long time and because I found the product name of interest, and not because I’m being sponsored by any of them (yet). For the first I did consider using ACME, which everyone will recognize as the name stamped on every package sent to Wile E. Coyote and containing any number of items he hoped would see an end to the abysmal Road Runner. Yet many years before Warner Brothers produced the first cartoon featuring this duo, the name had been used by a Birmingham company, J Hudson and Co soon after it was founded in 1883. This firm produced whistles. Included in the range was the famous police whistle, referees whistles, and even an attempt to fool Japanese soldiers in the Asian jungles in thinking they were being stalked by tigers – the sound was realistic enough, as I witnessed, its failure was down to the rattling noises made when transporting the large metal item which looked nothing like a whistle. Of particular interest to us here is the Acme Thunderer, a whistle which uses the Greek acme meaning ‘high point’ to suggest this was the epitome of whistles. Today such names would never be allowed, unlike the following.

Atora – which makes such wonderful things as steak and kidney pudding, is the shredded fat from a bull. Initially the company’s supplies came from South America where the Spanish for ‘from a bull’ was a toro and the name was born.

Britvic – although the company no longer exists their juices the produced still have the name derived from British Vitamin Products.

Cherry Blossom – it always seemed an odd choice for shoe polish with an aroma nothing like that of the flower of the fruit tree. As a name it was used for a soap, suitably perfumed, and sold in a tin by the Chiswick Soap Company of London. The soap had been off the shelves for a reasonable period when the name (and apparently the tin) was revived for the name of the show polish.

Dettol – when this disinfectant was first produced in the 1930s it was going to be called Disinfectol, but this was considered too clinical and quickly abbreviated.

England’s Glory – was suggested by the trademark, that of the battleship featured on the front of the matchbox ever since it was first produced in 1870. Despite a number of changes of ownership, HMS Devastation still appears on the front and the message from the name is a patriotic one. It does strike me (pun intended) it was a good idea not to use the name of the vessel for the product.

Findus – began when two Swedish chocolate producers united as Fruit Industries, none of which produced anything fishy or frozen.

Gloy – a glue name suggested by gloia the Greek for ‘glue’.

Harpic – was a product named from its inventor, Harry Pickup, who registered the Harpic Manufacturing Company in 1924.

Indesit – was a trade name developed as an acronym from the manufacturer, Industria Elettrodomestici Italia (the Italian Domestic Appliances Industry).

Jubilee – the name of the hose clip is often said to have been inspired by a jubilee when the product was launched and yet 8th February 1929, the launch date, is nowhere near any obvious jubilee and thus was probably named to suggest a prestigious occasion (one marked only by the appearance of a hose clip).

Kalamazoo – is a Birmingham firm which first used this as a product name when one of the owners brought back the loose-leafed binder from the USA with sole rights to producing this in Britain, the name of the company changed to Kalamazoo some time later in 1943.

Lion Brand – and a lesson to anyone when trying to market a product. I am often asked why there are so many pubs featuring oddly-coloured animals – the Red Lion is still among the commonest of pub names – and the answer was it is heraldic, the same as so many pub names. It made sense to use imagery when the written name was pointless as so many potential customers were illiterate. On the face of it using a lion as an emblem seems a reasonable idea, with different coloured lions showing the differing grades of paper. Yet it seems nobody bothered to point out to the owner, one John Dickinson, the illiterate would be unlikely to buy any writing paper.

Marmite – having written an article on this product some years ago I am fascinated by its history, although I do number among those who find the taste quite unpalatable. The name comes from the shape of the pot depicted on the label, this being a French vessel known as a marmite.

Nivea – is the feminine form of the Latin niveus or ‘snowy’. This points to colour and cooling properties of the cream, while also suggesting it keeps the skin of the user a similar colour.

Oxo – is beef extract, thus the ‘ox’ with the addition of the suffix ‘–o’ making it nicely symmetrical and an obvious product name.

Persil – while this is the French word for ‘parsley’ this is not the reason for the name, although it is the reason for a sprig of parsley being used as a trademark. The name comes from two ingredients in bleach and included in the original recipe, perborate and silicate.

Quaker Oats – the origin was never recorded but is said to have become obvious to American Henry D Seymour, a co-founder of the company, when he found a reference to the Quakers in a book. The attributes of both the oatmeal and the religious group – purity, honesty, and strength – were seen as similar.

Radox – originally not a bath product but one used solely in a foot bath and said to come from ‘radiated oxygen’, which the manufacturers claimed was one of the advantages of using it.

Sindy – a doll first marketed in the 1950s and chosen from a shortlist of four as the most popular after a street survey. In truth the public voted for Cindy on the original list but the makers saw they could never register a popular girl’s name as a trademark and so tweaked the spelling.

Toblerone – was originally made by the Swiss chocolate company Tobler. Italian is one of the four official languages of Switzerland and –one (which should rhyme with minestrone) means ‘big’.

Umbro – comes from the company’s founders, the Humphreys Brothers.

Vick – named after North Carolina chemist Dr Joshua Vick. However he did not create the menthol gel, that was a former employee of his who later became his brother-in-law Lunsford Richardson who originally wanted to call it Richardson’s Croup and Pneumonia Cure Salve but changed his mind.

Wolseley – the car manufacturer employed the later founder of the Austin company, Herbert Austin who, until 1893, had been employed in Australia by the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Company.

Xerox – is from xeros, the Greek word for ‘dry’ and described the process of copying which had previously used liquids.

Yorkie – produced by Rowntree Mackintosh, whose headquarters were in the city of York.

Zebrite – originally marketed as Zebra from 1890 until it became Zebrite in 1952. It was used to on the grate, changing it from dirty to clean, a ‘black and white’ concept mirrored by the wrapper. The change in name put greater emphasis on the ‘bright’ idea.

As always 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.

Sunday, 3 November 2013


For the third week in a row the subject has been suggested by a reader, Munzly suggesting I have a look at some of the walls of the world and how the names developed. Two walls, historical boundaries between Roman-occupied Britain and the peoples to the north, were covered in a recent post. Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall were named after the Roman rulers at the time. Hadrian’s name means he was ‘from Hadria’, a town in northern Italy which also gave a name to the Adriatic Sea, while Antoninius is derived from the Greek for ‘flower’.

Having got this far it became clear I needed to understand just what a ‘wall’ is. This may sound a ludicrous idea but even the two examples above have little in common with a ‘wall’ as we would know it. In Hadrian’s Wall at least there is some evidence of ‘building’, albeit it follows a natural outcrop of rock to take reduce construction to a bare minimum. In the case of the Antonine Wall there is no recognizable ‘building’ but a large bank of stone and earth, which may explain why it took 12 years to complete but was abandoned just 20 years later. Hence as we are looking at ‘walls’ from an etymological viewpoint, for the purposes of identification a ‘wall’ is considered a ‘wall’ by virtue of its name only. This is also the reason for listing them alphabetically.

Anastasian Wall – found in Turkey and built to defend the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire and Constantinople from invading tribes coming from the east. Named after the Emperor Anastasius, ruler 491-518, it does show good evidence it was here in some form at least a hundred years before this. His name, the male version of the better-known Anastasia, means ‘resurrection’ and a reference to his religious background. Perhaps it is as well the wall did not adopt his nickname of Dicorus – (Biggus Dicorus?) – which, despite the reminder of the Monty Python character, comes from the Greek meaning ‘two-pupils’ and pointing to his differently-coloured eyes, one black and one blue.

Aurelian Walls – a third century AD construction around Rome, named after Emperor Aurelius whose name meant ‘golden’.

Cheolli Jangseong – historically is the 11th century construction in North Korea, although there is another of the 7th century in what is now China referred to by this name. The Korean wall is the origin of the name, it meaning ‘Thousand Li Wall’, the Li a unit of measurement roughly equal to 500 metres and itself coming from the average diameter of a village.

Great Wall of China - is not only the longest but the best known of them all. It was not built as one wall but joined together several others built over many years. As with Hadrians Wall it takes a natural defensive line. It seems the wall was never referred to by any name other than the Great Wall when it was joined up, the various smaller parts simply referred to as ‘the wall’ by those who built them. We often hear how this is last man-made object we can see as spacecraft retreat further from the planet. This was never true as it is a long line (or long lines before joined together) and would easily become invisible among the pyramids or temples. It is certainly not visible from the Moon, this particular gem of myth first appearing in writing in a letter by William Stukeley in 1754!

Danevirke – 20 miles of defensive earthwork across the Cimbrian Peninsular constructed duing the Viking age and last used for military purposes in 1864. Constructed in several phases which, with the aid of dendrochronolgy, shows it was completed around AD950 and started at least five centuries earlier. The name is easy to see as referring to ‘the earthwork of the Danes’ although, as with nearly all place names, this will have been named by the Germanic tribes and then taken by the Danes themselves. Had the Danes named this feature it would be known as ‘our earthwork’.

Fossatum Africae – is Latin for ‘the African Ditch’. Built by the Romans in North Africa, it is said to measure some 450 miles, although modern evidence is somewhat fragmented, and protected the Roman Empire’s interests having defeated the Carthagians. The defensive feature is an earthwork, the embankment created by using the earth moved in creating the ditch on the far side (from the point of view of the defenders) thus effectively doubling its height. The eagle-eyed will have spotted this is not a ‘wall’ but a ‘ditch’. However it has been included as from an etymological viewpoint they are the same thing. Here in Britain the Old English dic has given us both ‘ditch’ and ‘dyke’, the southern pronunciation as ‘ditch’ pointing to where the soil had been removed, the northern pronunciation of ‘dyke’ and where the spoil had been heaped up.

Kremlin Wall – strictly speaking I am not going back on my earlier statement that I would not define walls taking the name of the place it was meant to defend. For while we associate the name with one place, it should correctly be known as the Moscow Kremlin as the term is Russian for ‘fortress’ and this is not the only example. Note today’s Kremlin Wall can be traced back to at least 1169 when it was little more than a wooden palisade or fence. Somehow the ‘Fence in Moscow’ does not sound as daunting as ‘Kremlin’.

Long Walls – I included this name, despite its obvious meaning, because of its significance in history. In the fifth century BC these walls – the North Long Wall and the South Long Wall – formed a corridor between Athens and its port of Piraeus and Faliro during the Peloponnesian Wars between the city states of Athens and Sparta. Ignoring those portions of the walls which were really the defensive walls around the city of Athens and the ports, the Long Walls were, at most, just five miles in length.

Offa’s Dyke – the defensive earthwork between England and Wales was constructed in the eighth century between the Saxon kingdom of Mercia and the Welsh kingdom of Powys. Named after the Merican king Offa, it is known to the Welsh as Clawdd Offa – interestingly the name Offa means ‘king’.

Red Snake – is the name archaeologists give to the Great Wall of Gorgan in Iran, a reference to its shape and the colour of the bricks. At 120 miles in length it is known by several other names including its Persian name of Sadd-i-Iskandar meaning ‘the barrier of Alexander’ as Alexander the Great is said to have ridden through here when marching east. Other than the Great Wall of China it is the longest defensive wall known.

Serpent’s Wall – a 2nd century construction running across the Ukraine and built to keep out the Huns, Goths, and Visigoths. It is not a modern description of its course but derived from the enemy tribes’ association with the winged dragon or wyvern.

Wat’s Dyke - for a short distance the route mirrors that of Offa’s Dyke. This name has never been understood although as a personal name is certainly common.

Western Wall – the accepted international name for that part of Jerusalem most often known as the Wailing Wall but probably based on a misunderstanding. The term ‘Western Wall’ is found in an ancient document referring to the Old City Walls of Jerusalem, yet there is nothing to suggest this particular wall is the one being referred to. Its popular name of Wailing Wall is, of course, from the mourning of the destruction of the temple by those followers of the Hebrew faith. The Arabic name of el-Mabka similarly translates as ‘place of weeping’, while the alternative Arabic name of al-Buraq comes from the name of Muhammad’s winged steed Buraq who was tethered here.

There are many others named after the cities which they were designed to protect. Many of these I have covered in earlier posts on the origins of those place names and, in the case of those in Britain, try my books such as Cheshire Place Names in the case of Chester.

At the risk of being inundated with requests, as usual 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.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Buckinghamshire Place Names

As with last week this post began as a suggestion from a reader. Thank you, Susie. Hope you enjoy the following adapted from my Buckinghamshire Place Names published by Fineleaf Editions.

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.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Floral Folklore

My blog always asks for suggestions or ideas for themes or subjects and I have recently been contacted and asked to put some thought into some of the unofficial names for the native flora of the British Isles. Never one to resist a challenge, I offer this selection given in alphabetical order for ease of reference only.

Bird’s foot trefoil has no less than three alternative names. All four are derived from the appearance of the plant which is said to resemble the toes of a bird – hence the official common name of bird’s foot trefoil and one alternative of hens and chickens. Looking closely at the flowers also reveals why this is known as Dutchman’s clogs, while the colours have given us bacon and eggs – albeit the ‘bacon’ looks a little pale for my liking.

Coltsfoot is also known as coughwort as it was used as a cough remedy until quite recently. Indeed the Latin name of Tussilago farfara tells us this. Resembling a small dandelion with no foliage, leaves appear after the flowers have gone over, it appears in fields before dandelions and some odd idea it was the result of the movement of livestock has led to names such as Ass’s foot, Bull’s foot, Foal’s foot, Foalswort, and Horse foot.

Columbine is the Latin word for ‘dove’, for the flower is said to resemble five doves huddled together and hanging upside-down. Personally I can see no bird at all but it is easy to see where the alternative name of Granny’s bonnet comes from, it does indeed resemble the old bonnets worn by all the women featured in Little House on the Prairie.

Comfrey was used to make a salve or poultice to treat external wounds or burns. Today internal treatments are strongly discouraged as it is believed it contains a toxin which may cause liver damage. However this must surely have been how comfrey was used in the past to earn the alternative names of boneset and knitbone.

Cow parsley is known as Queen Anne’s lace, Lady’s lace, Fairy lace, and Hedge parsley, the last telling us where it is likely to be found growing. The others share ‘lace’, an apt description of the lace-like appearance of the clusters of small white flowers.

Daisies, which comes from ‘day’s eye’ as they open in sunlight and close at night, are also known as bruisewort. Once it was gathered by Roman slaves and the juice extracted to soak the bandages used to bind wounds. Such is still used in homeopathy.

Dandelion gets its name from the French for ‘lion’s tooth’. However the French also refer to it as pis-de-lit, much as we speak of them as wet-the-beds and clearly derived from the myth that picking these common weeds will make one wet the bed that night. For once there is a modicum of truth in this myth, for the plant does contain a mild diuretic, increasing kidney function and may contribute to bed wetting. Yet many other plants contain much greater diuretics and these are never blamed for bed wetting.

Foxgloves are described as Dead-man’s bells, Fairy thimbles and Witches thimbles, all describing their appearance which, it has to be said, are slightly more easier to imagine than the idea of Reynard’s gloves.

Goat’s beard, a name which hardly fits the appearance of the flower or plant, has a more apt alternative name of Johnny-go-to-bed-at-noon for the flower only opens in the morning sunlight.

Knapweed are also known as loggerheads, hardheads, starthistles and bastketflowers, all various impressions describing the flower’s appearances. I doubt if I am not the only one to associate the name with a luxuriantly-moustached constable from children’s television of yesteryear.

Lady’s smock, Fairy flower, Cuckooflower and Milkmaids can all be explained by the idea these were sacred to the fairy-folk and brining it indoors was considered very bad luck.

Lesser celandine is also described as Pilewort, and it was indeed used to cure haemorrhoids.

Lords-and-Ladies, Devils and Angels, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, all three are names for an arum which have highly uncertain origins. However we do know the origin of the name of Cuckoo pint, the bird’s name is used in a number of alternative names while the ‘pint’ is a shortened form of ‘pintle’, itself meaning ‘penis’ and a description of the pollen-bearing part of the flower.

Meadow saffron is most often known as Naked ladies. These crocus-like flowers bloom in autumn and described as ‘naked’ as the spikes bearing the flowers appear after the leaves have died back.

Pennyroyal is referred to as Pudding grass, a name recalling its use as an ingredient in many of the recipes cooked by the ancient Greeks and Roman cultures.

Ramsons, the name coming from Old English rhamsa, is the wild garlic used by the peoples of our shores for centuries. The odour has led to it being known as Stink bombs and Stinking nanny.

Rosebay willow-herb is also known as Fireweed, a reference to its bitter flavour which increases as toxins build up throughout the growing season.

Soapwort is the common name of a plant also referred to as Bouncing Bett and Sweet Betty, probably female alternatives to another name of Wild Sweet William.

Stinking iris and Roast beef plant are alternatives for a plant which some say produces an obnoxious aroma when the leaves are crushed said to be reminiscently ‘beefy’.

Toadflax is also known as butter and eggs, a reference to the colour as are butter haycocks, and also bread and butter. It has also been recorded as brideweed, bridewort, bunny haycocks, bunny mouths, continental weed, deadman’s bones, devils flax, devils flower, doggies, dragon bushes, false flax, flaxweed, fluellen, gallweed, gallwort, impudent lawyer, Jacob’s ladder, lion’s mouth, monkey flower, rabbit flower, rancid, ransted, wild tobacco and wild snapdragon.

Wall pennywort is also known as Navelwort which, along with the scientific name of Umbilicus, describe the round leaves with a central depression. Note every one an 'innie', not a single 'outie'.

Wild pansy, the species from which all cultivated pansies have been produced, is also known as heartsease, heart’s delight, tickle-me-fancy, Jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me, comes-and-cuddle-me, three faces in a hood, and love-in-idleness are all references to its use in herbalism to treat epilepsy, asthma, skin diseases, eczema, bronchitis, colds, bronchitis, whooping cough, rheumatism, and cystitis.

Once again I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Emperor Claudius is Dead

On this day in 54AD Emperor Claudius was poisoned in suspicious circumstances and his 17 year old stepson Nero succeeds him. Never being the greatest student of Latin – I gave up after a year of mindless chanting of ‘amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant’ and all the other verbs I’ll never remember – I do have an interest in links between Latin and Old English, Middle English and Modern English. And I began to think about the meaning of the names of the Roman emperors.

The first emperor was Augustus, whose full name of Imperator Gaius Julius Divi Filius Caesar Octavianus Augustus included Augustus, a title more than a true name, which comes from Latin augere (meaning ’to increase’). This is translated as ‘the illustrious one’ and a title which comes from religious beginnings and a symbol of the holder’s authority over the populace but one which exceeded constitutional status while falling short of god-hood. He is recorded as dying from natural causes.

Tiberius followed, whole ruled as Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus. The origin of the name is obscure, although it seems impossible if Tiberius is not from the river Tiber or the city of Tibur. Tiberius is sometimes said to have died of natural causes, others point to assassination and likely at the hands of his successor.

Caligula was that successor, his full name Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus did not include the name by which he is remembered. This is derived from the footwear worn by his father’s soldiers, the caliga. Hence Caligula means ‘little soldier’s boot’ and doubtless a name which he resented. We do know he was assassinated, although the conspiracy involved so many it encompassed several senators and members of the Praetorian Guard.

Claudius was next in the line. Full name of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, Claudius is derived from claudus meaning ’lame, crippled’. As stated his death was most suspicious. It is generally thought his wife was to blame, Agrippina wanting to see her son Nero in charge.

Nero’s reputation has not improved with the centuries. Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, he was named as a baby when his mother clearly had his future well-planned for his name means ‘great and powerful’. He certainly remained in full control of his own destiny to the very end for he committed suicide when he heard the senate declared him an enemy of Rome.

Galba was next in the year known for having four emperors. Galba Servius Sulpicius Galba Caesar Augustus, his name meaning ‘paunchy, fat’, seized power in January and was murdered by the Praetorian Guard led by his successor seven months later.

Otho only lasted three months. Marcus Salvius Otho Caesar Augustus, his name meaning ‘wealth’, committed suicide after defeat in the Battle of Bedriacum to his successor.

Vitellius was the victor at the Battle of Bedriacum. Aulus Vitellius Germanicus Augustus, his name means ‘calf’ (and probably more suitable for Nero considering his mother’s actions), and was murdered by Vespasian’s troops.

No points for guessing Vespasian was the next holder of the office. Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus was the first emperor for 65 years (since Augustus) known to have died from natural causes. Less is known of the origin of his name, which could either represent vesper ‘evening, west’ or vespa ‘wasp’.

Titus is also said to have died from ‘natural causes’, although this simply means nobody killed him nor did he take his own life but died from the plague - which sounds anything but natural. Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus can define every one of his names but for the one he was given at birth. The origin is obscure, all we do know is it was in use by the time Romulus founded the city in the eighth century BC.

Domitian was next, something of a traditional emperor in that he was assassinated, this time by members of the court. Known as Titus Flavius Caesar Domitianus Augustus, his birth name means ‘tamed’.

Nerva followed, his name meaning ‘strength’. In full Marcus Cocceius Nerva Caesar Augustus, this emperor died from natural causes just over a year after he became emperor.

Caesar Marcus Ulpius Nerva Traianus Augustus also died from natural causes. Trajan, as he is remembered, is a name understood to mean ‘the kind-hearted soldier’.

Caesar Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus Augustus, another who died from natural causes, is better known as Hadrian. Sadly his name does not mean ‘builder of walls’ but ‘from Hadria’. This town in northern Italy has a name which is also seen in that of the Adriatic Sea.

Thereafter the emperors are not as well known or remembered, thus I shall stop here – and not because Antoninius shares an origin with the modern Anthony in coming from the Greek anthos for ‘flower’. However, as ever, 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.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

A Writer’s Research

As the majority of my writing recalls events which happened before anyone I’ve ever known was born, it takes a great deal of research to produce the finished work. Personally I find all research to be enjoyable, although that for my recent release of Bloody British History Stafford published by The History Press was particularly enjoyable and I’m very much looking forward to producing further volumes.

In preparing the Stafford volume I ploughed through every local newspaper released for the area from the early nineteenth century until the end of the Second World War. I lost count of the number of reels of microfilm I saw scrolling past but soon learned where to find the relevant columns. This would have saved some time had I not been distracted by some of the reporting of the day. Some of the news items would hardly be considered worthy of even a mention today. The reporting style, too, was most entertaining. One story, covered in Bloody British History Stafford, concerns the large fire destroying much of the town centre in 1887. Many volunteers pitched in to aid the firemen, some being interviewed by the local reporter. I found the quotes most amusing. Such eloquence from witnesses regularly given free supplies of thirst-quenching ale during their rest breaks, with not even a hint of a grammatical slip.

Not suitable for inclusion in the book were a number of stories which I made a note of simply because I found them so entertaining. For example can we imagine a modern headline proclaiming how wondrous it must be to live in a certain terraced house as recently the combined ages of the four residents surpassed three hundred years!

With modern transportation methods meat is brought into our towns and cities in easily handled sizes to be trimmed and cut for the customer. Once the slaughterhouses were situated within the town, the animals brought in alive. Several stories were related regarding the cattle and their attempts to avoid the butcher’s slab, always assuming they knew of their destination. It was common for butchers to bring the animal to their premises, the beast led by a halter to its final destination. One butcher could not understand where all his halters were disappearing to, so instigated a thorough search of his servants’ rooms. He found the remains of the halters, each minus the ends, within the skirts. It seems his employee desired a very full skirt in the style of the day, however could not afford the metal hoops to fill them out and found a suitable replacement in the halters.

Escaped animals, presumably those not tethered by a halter, were quite commonplace. One evening in May of 1858, Mr Bridgwood, a butcher in Eastgate Street, lost control of a bullock. It ran into the yard of the New Inn where a young lady was targeted. She fled and escaped when a young child wandered into the path of the now rather angry bullock. The child was knocked down and would have suffered worse than the minor bruising had it not been for the intervention by a man who “seizing a large stick laying conveniently at hand, applied it with vigour to the forehead of the enraged brute.” Others managed to tether its legs, making it topple over and enabling them to break its legs, thus preventing it escaping and allowing the butcher to kill it where it lay – in the middle of Stafford.

However one narrative of Victorian pomposity appeared in an edition from May 1864. The newspaper reported how, while it was mindful a Smithfield (meat market) was a necessity, it was appalled that these creatures were still allowed to roam the streets on the way to the abattoir. It seems on the day of the May Fair two animals were highlighted as to why this must be dealt a most severe and final blow. Firstly one rampaged through the crowded streets until apprehended. However it was the second, a cow which attracted the most attention when it decided “to venture into the District Bank, perhaps in order to pay a call on the mayor.” There is no explanation as to why the mayor was in the bank, nor why they thought the cow may be seeking the man out. However it seems likely the mayor had done something to irritate the newspaper in recent weeks, or maybe he was just extremely unpopular. Yet things deteriorated shortly afterwards when, as the newspaper reported, “in the presence of both sexes of all ages the screams and dismay was apparent to all as it did the unthinkable – it calved. An indecent disgrace and disgusting filth for any town to be forced to endure.” A letter the following week echoed the editor’s sentiments in saying “in 1864 and within 130 miles of the Metropolis (London) this should be allowed to happen!” I still wonder how far from the Metropolis a cow would need to be to give birth in public and for it to be considered acceptable?

Incidentally, I shall be signing copies of Bloody British History Stafford at Waterstones in Stafford from 10am on Saturday October 19th 2013. Look forward to meeting you there.

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.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Imagery in Writing

When it comes to fiction images are provided by the author in the text. However I don’t write fiction and thus need to find images to illustrate the subject in question.

Sometimes the subject hardly lends itself well to imagery, such as my books on place names. Whilst views of the villages and hamlets seems obvious, as the photographs are reproduced in black and white the subject has to be a simple one and a general view of the place simply does not work. In some counties I have been lucky enough to find an attractive village sign, usually showing something of what can be found locally. At other times I have to resort to snapping the local signposts – at least these reproduce well in black and white.

When it comes to my books on the paranormal the same problem arises. I can photograph the location or even the venue of the story but images of the event are impossible – at least I’ve never told a story where an accompanying image exists. Other subjects proved equally problematical, albeit for different reasons. Those on ancient tracks would have benefited from an aerial view, but this will obviously increase the expense dramatically.

When I started writing twenty years ago my camera contained a film, indeed I must have been one of the last to switch to digital photography. The advantages of digital photography are twofold. Firstly it is very much cheaper, there being no film to buy or development costs which means we can take as many images as we desire to ensure the best result. I now habitually take as many as half a dozen well-nigh identical shots to ensure I have a choice. Digital cameras also have the screen to enable us to see the finished result there and then, thus any awful images can be discarded immediately.

Generally speaking my books feature historical subjects. Clearly I can’t take an image of the Saxons in the place whose name I’m defining and images don’t exist prior to the invention of the camera. When it came to more recent history, such as when looking for old images for my five Through Time books and in particular the railways as they were before the closures in the 1960s in my look at the heritage railways in the post-Beeching era. Not having any material myself I had to resort to looking elsewhere for images. Of course these are subject to copyright and I am extremely grateful to those who freely offered the use of photographs from their personal collections.

I do feel my photographic skills have improved over the years. I particularly enjoyed the challenge of taking a modern view of an image first pictured 50, 75 and even over a century ago in the Through Time books. The question is, is all this worth the effort. Just how useful a tool is a photograph? Do images really do anything but break up the text? I sincerely hope so as I have recently spent many hours and endless miles driving around Cornwall, Northumberland, and the Home Counties just to capture enough images for five or six forthcoming books.

As always 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.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Naming Musical Instruments.

Few cannot be aware of the naming of comparatively recent instruments - such as the sousaphone, after John Philip Sousa, and the moog synthesizer, from Robert Moog – but what about more traditional instruments? Where did their names originate? Purely for ease of reference these are listed in alphabetical order.

Balalaika – is a difficult one for it appears to have no etymological value whatsoever. While the first reference is found in a Russian document dated 1688, the very similar term balabaika is also used in Ukrainian records shortly afterwards. One theory suggests it was loaned to both from one of the many sub-languages – there are twenty-seven in Russia and eighteen in Ukraine alone - found throughout this region probably wherever the instrument was first developed.

Banjo – came through the southern US term bandore but is ultimately from the Greek pandoura, a three-stringed lute.

Bassoon – a late-ish instrument of the oboe family. It’s low pitch meant the use of the Italian basso as the basis of the name.

Bouzuki – is a Greek stringed instrument borrowed from the Turkish ‘bozuk’ which means ‘broken’ or sometimes ‘modified’. Here the later seems more likely as the original instrument was formed from a solid block of wood but later modified into the instrument we see today.

Bugle – from the Middle English and Old French words for ‘buffalo’, presumably the idea was the instrument resembled the water buffalo in some way.

Castanets – derived from the shape the Spanish castaneta is ultimately from the Latin castanea or ‘chestnut’, this small concave piece of wood was thought to resemble the chestnut.

Cello – an abbreviation of violoncello, it being a member of the violin family and explained under its family name.

Clavichord – an instrument produced from the fifteenth century and named from the Latin clavis ‘key’ and chorda ‘string’, which is exactly how the instrument is played.

Cornet – named from the shape, not because it resembles something to hold ice-cream but through Middle English from Old French and ultimately from Latin cornu or ‘horn’.

Cymbals – an instrument which has been used at least since its first record of use by the Assyrians some six thousand years ago, although the name is from the Green kumbos meaning ‘cup’.

Drum – undoubtedly the oldest instrument, evidence of drums have been found from Neolithic times, yet the word is comparatively recent from the Late German trommel.

Euphonium – a wind instrument related to the tuba whose name derives from the Greek euphonos ‘pleasant sound’.

Glockenspiel – a recent instrument, not seen until the nineteenth century, and derived from the German for ‘bell play’.

Guitar – a surprisingly modern term for an instrument which is certainly much older than the name. A 3,300-year-old carving of a Hittite playing a stringed instrument is the oldest known, although that particular item is referred to as a chordophone. English ‘guitar’, German ‘gitarre’, Spanish ‘guitarra’, Arabic ‘qitara’, and even Latin ‘cithara’ are all thought to originate from the Ancient Greek ‘kithara’, itself a kind of lute with just two strings.

Jew’s harp – suggestions that this should be jaw’s harp are untrue as the instrument existed thousands of years before the word ‘jaw’ was ever heard. In the same way the term Jew’s harp is also nothing to do with the Jews for the instrument was almost certainly known well before the Jews were called such and no link between the two has ever been found.

Lute – brought to Europe by the Moors when they came to Spain in the eleventh century, the name can be traced to the Arabic al-ud meaning literally ‘the wood’.

Lyre – from the Macedonian Greek ruratae meaning ‘the lyricists’ and thus named for those who produced the words which were accompanied by lyre.

Oboe – named from the French haut bois ‘high wood’.

Ocarina – this egg-shaped instrument is named for its appearance, coming from Italian oca or ‘goose’.

Panpipe – named from their association with the Greek god Pan but certainly not their original name as this simple instrument was certainly known in Neolithic times.

Piano – originating in piano e forte, Italian meaning ‘soft and loud’, a good description of the qualities of this instrument.

Piccolo – another of Italian derivation, here the name describes the ‘small flute’.

Sackbut – the precursor of the trombone, this was named from its resemblance to an earlier weapon known as a saqueboute which described its use to pull riders from the saddle.

Saxophone – invented in 1840 by Adolphe Sax.

Sistrum – a jingling percussion instrument known to the Egyptians and named by them from their word meaning ‘to shake’.

Sitar – ultimately from the Persian and Urdu, itself composed of two words: sih ‘three’ and tar ‘string’.

Tambourine – actually gives the opportunity to define two instruments. The tambourine is derived from the tambour, the circular frame used to hold embroidery and to which small cymbals were attached to produce a tambourine. The tambour was named as it resembled the tabor, a small percussion instrument from the Persian tabira meaning ‘drum’.

Trumpet – from the Old French trompette which simply describes the flared shape at the larger end.

Tuba – derived from the Italian for ‘trumpet’.

Ukulele – a name which is derived from the Hawaiian meaning ‘jumping flea’, possibly because of the movement of the fingers when it is played. However, there is a traditional explanation that it comes from the nickname of one of the best players of the ukulele. One Edward William Purvis, an officer of King Kalakaua, was apparently known as ‘jumping flea’ because of his small stature and his propensity for fidgeting.

Violin – thought to ultimately derived from the Latin verb vitulari meaning ‘be joyful’.

Xylophone – known by the ninth century in Africa, its popularity in Europe grew from the fifteenth century. The modern name is derived from the Greek xulon ‘wood’ + phone.

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.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Pronunciation Problems

I came across an old photograph the other day. A family I lost touch with years ago. Oddly the first thing which came to mind about them was their mispronunciation of just one word. They thought the word ‘filthy’ was pronounced ‘thilthy’. Clearly this is similar to the archetypal Cockney in Ealing comedies where the eighth letter of the alphabet was dropped when it should be there but preceded every word which should begin with a vowel.

On the subject of the eighth letter, the same reason has led to the letter H being pronounced ‘haitch’ when the dictionary clearly states the word is ‘aitch’. Such a mispronunciation must have been a problem at some earlier time for it to have been included in the dictionary. Today it seems to be the most common word beginning with a vowel to be mispronounced as beginning with the ‘h’. Ironically while previous generations corrected their children for dropping their aitches, today nothing is done about adding ‘haitches’ to aitch – if you get my point.

Similarly nobody seems to correct the name of the second month. This is of course February and not Febuary, although at least the UK has not suffered the similar American problem of library instead of library – or should I say has not yet had that problem.

On the subject of our American cousins, we so often hear the word ‘supposedly’ said as ‘supposably’ in broadcasts it is now catching on in the UK, too.

While mentioning UK broadcasting, I must be eternally grateful to the BBC for giving Lorne Spicer the elbow from a daytime slot which I was subjected to on my weekly visit to a relative. No longer am I subjected to this woman making a mockery of the English language and constantly saying jew-le-ree instead of jewelry. I also hold her responsible for ‘collections’ losing a syllable and rarely heard as anything but ‘clections’ today.

However the gold medal will be awarded to newsreader Alistair Stewart OBE. Joining ITN in 1980, he has been the mainstay of ITV’s news broadcasts ever since. You would think this a man whose credentials show his knowledge of his native is tongue better than most. However on many occasions I have heard him speak of someone being charged or convicted of ‘burgle-ree’ instead of ‘burglary’.

I often find pronunciation a problem when it comes to place names. There is the argument as to whether it is Shrewsbury or Shrowsbury, although this is by no means the only one and when travelling around giving talks on the origins of place names have heard Fowey, Leominster, Knaresborough, Warwick, and many others mispronounced.

A professor once told me how no place name was mispronounced until the majority could read. Of course this was not entirely accurate but does point out it is invariably the spelling which is wrong.

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.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Mythology in Place Names

It is quite surprising to find the number of subjects which have contributed to our modern place names. I recently penned an article examining those places named as they were where certain culinary supplies could be found. Believe it or not there is a village in England named for being where a certain kind of tree was renowned as a source of skewers, of all things!

One of the more interesting sources is, as the title of the post indicates, the mythologies of our islands. A little thought and I recalled some interesting names and the stories behind them. I have taken examples from around Britain. Included are stories from the Cotswolds, the Pennines, the Lake District, Cornwall, the principality of Wales, and north of the border to Scotland.

The Devil’s Churchyard, Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire Hyde Farm gets its name from that Saxon measurement of land, the hide. Most often said to equal 120 acres, this is simply an average because the ‘measurement’ refers to productivity and not area. It is extremely difficult to quantify a hide, the reason can be seen in the accepted definition of “the amount of land required to feed one family for one year” where there are so many variables – the size of the family, quality of the soil, skills of the farmer, choice of crops, all have to be taken into consideration. During the twentieth century Hyde Farm had been associated with flight. Today it is owned by the local gliding club but was once a base of operations for the Royal Air Force. This military presence had the effect of isolating the farmworkers as much as it did the official personal who had made it their temporary home. Even after the end of the Second World War rationing remained in force for a number of years, making life hard for all and particularly so for those who were just starting on married life. It was a warm day when one farmworker broke for lunch. Recently married, both he and his wife worked long hours and would have looked forward to the few hours each day they spent together. Perhaps that was where the young man’s mind went when he entered a small copse away from the heat of the sun and cab of the tractor to open his lunch box. Having just taken a second bite his thoughts were interrupted by a most awful noise from the depths of the copse. Looking up he saw a mist and, as he watched, it began to gather into a most unnatural form. This was enough for the poor man who fled, leaping into his tractor and driving off as fast as the lumbering farm machine would allow. Not being a local man he was unaware of the reputation of the copse as a place of evil. An area where no bird was heard to sing, of inexplicable darkness, where chills were felt on the warmest of days. Many years before the community, tired of trecking to neighbouring villages for Sunday worship, had asked for their own church to be built and this field had been selected. Agreement was reached and eventually work started. Foundations were laid down and walls rose reaching half their eventual height. During the night something happened and the sight which greeted the workers when they returned next morning astonished them. Before them were no walls but a collection of stone blocks strewn around the site but not seemingly having fallen. They built them back up again but, once more, they returned next day to find the walls dismantled. Four more times this happened and the workers abandoned the site. No reason was ever found for this act of superhuman vandalism, yet the community soon offered their own explanation. Ever since this field has been known as the Devil’s Churchyard. N ear here is Hanging Hill Field where Edge Farm takes its name from the hamlet, itself referring to its position on the edge of the Cotswold Hills. The field name comes as no surprise, there are many ‘hanging’ names coming from Old English hangra describing it as ‘overhanging’ or looming over the land below. Many of these names have attracted ominous and macabre definitions, examples where creative etymologies have survived as they are much more interesting than the true definition. Yet in the case of Hanging Hill Field, which seems so obviously to be situated in an area where the less glamorous definition fits perfectly, the reverse is the case. During a discussion one evening a labourer was bragging of his prowess with the scythe. He boasted long and loud of how this particular field posed no problems and could be mown by him on his own in but a single day. Remember he had no modern equipment, merely a scythe which he wielded by hand. Likely much of his purported ability came from the bottle and his companions at the local inn had soon wagered heavily against him accomplishing such a formidable task. It will come as no surprise to learn he failed. The next time he was seen he was dead, hanging from a tree at the end of a noose. Whether his suicide was due to embarrassment or because he could not afford to settle his losses, we shall never know. No mention of the name of Hanging Hill Field is found before the story. To this day reports continue of the ghostly sound of the labourer, an eerie swishing of his blade as he continues to cut the stems as midnight approaches.

Devil’s Mustard Hill, Stenkrith in the Pennines Place names can be transferred from one feature to another. Hills can be named from rivers and vice versa and in the Eden Valley is just such an example. Nearby Kirkby Stephen is Stenkrith Park and Devil’s Mustard Hill. Here we find a hill named from a feature in the valley below. Here the River Eden tumbles over rocks and boulders on its way to the sea at the Solway Firth. Even during the summer months when the river level is at its lowest this is still a turbulent river. When in spate the current is a frightening sight to behold. For those who know where to look among the tree-lined banks it is possible to see a feature either in or out of the stream bed, depending upon the water level, which is the origin of the name of the hill above. The crystal-clear water enables us to see strange circular holes in rocks here. This is the result of untold centuries of erosion by pebbles swirling around in the current. Although the origin of these holes is clear, it has not stopped the idea of these being a result of the Devil milling his mustard being perpetuated down the centuries.

Dunmail Raise in the Lake District Dunmail was the last king of Cumberland. Whilst he may or may not have existed little of what is known seems to have any basis in fact, making him as legendary as King Arthur. What is fact is the historical record from the year 945AD. The Saxon King Edmund I led an army which conquered Strathclyde and enabled him to cede the Dunmail’s kingdom to Malcolm I of Scotland, Edmund’s ally in the campaign. From this point legend takes over and speaks of the beaten Dunmail retreating into the Lake District with the combined Saxon and Scots forces in hot pursuit. Heavily outnumbered, Dunmail decided to face his opponents in most defensible spot he could reach, a pass linking Grasmere and Thirlmere. However his position was hopeless and he was killed, some stories say at the hands of Edmund himself. His sons were blinded and his supporters ordered to pile the rocks on top of the dead king’s remains. Those rocks can still be seen today as the cairn known as Dunmail Raise. The second element is from Old Norse hreysi or ‘cairn’. Not all Dunmail’s men were captured or killed. Some made good their escape with the crown of the king of Cumberland. They made for the 3,117 feet high Helvellyn or, more precisely, Grisedale Tarn which is found on its slopes 1,400 feet below the summit. Here the crown was flung far out to sink into the depths of this mountainside lake. It is said the souls of the long-dead warriors return once each year to Grisdale. Having retrieved the crown from the lake they march to Dunmail Raise, rap on the stones with their spears and hear the reply from their king: “Not yet, not yet; wait awhile my warriors.”

The Merry Maidens, Cornwall Near St Buryan is this ring of stones also known as Dawn’s Men, itself from the Cornish Dans Maen or ‘stone dance’. This circle is comprised of nineteen granite megaliths, each approximately four feet in height and approximately ten to twelve feet apart. These form a circle a little over eighty feet in diameter. This is not a perfect circle. A larger gap to the east gives the impression of a missing stone but archaeological evidence does not support this, indeed it suggests there were probably only eighteen stones originally, perhaps the extra megalith coming from a second circle to the south just 250 yards away but this was destroyed before the end of the nineteenth century. Legend has it this was the result of nineteen maidens punished by being turned to stone. Their only crime was dancing on the Sabbath. To the northeast are two standing stones, each ten feet high and known as the Pipers. Again turning them to stone was their punishment by being turned to stone for playing for the dancers on a Sunday. Of course the three hundred yards between the two would make hearing the pipers rather difficult for the dancers, yet folklore has the answer there, too. It is said the pipers heard the church clock in St Buryan strike midnight, thus making it Sunday. The pipers turned and ran up the hill, away from the dancers, who continued their dance without music.

Bryn Saith Marchog can only be in the principality of Wales A place name meaning ‘the hill of the seven horsemen or knights’ and named from a local legend. It recalls the seven men left here by Bran the Blessed to guard his lands while he was away in Ireland. Earlier Bran had given the hand of his sister Branwen to the Irish king Matholwch. Much feasting ensues to celebrate the betrothal but the arrival of their half-brother Efnisien puts an end to the festivities for he is greatly displeased he was not consulted. He takes his anger out on Matholwch’s horses who are mutilated. Bran ensures peace is restored by offering a magical cauldron to his Iish counterpart, it having the power of restoring life to the dead, although the individual is left mute for the rest of his or her days. When Branwen travels to Ireland with her husband she is treated badly, despite bearing him a son named Gwern. She summons help by taming a starling and sending a message across the Irish Sea to her homeland. When the British king and his forces are spotted, the Irish retreat, destroying every bridge to prevent pursuit. Yet the giant form of Bran lays himself down for his men to use him as a living bridge. Matholwch tries to appease the invaders but eventually terrible bloody war is waged. Eventually just six individuals remain alive, Branwen and five of her brother’s men returning home with the severed head of Bran the Blessed. Not an Irishman remained and the race would have been extinct had it not been for five pregnant women found residing in Wales, who returned to repopulate their homeland. Branwen dies of grief that two lands have been decimated solely because of her. Meanwhile the head of Bran the Blessed was given the burial he had instructed. First his men feasted for seven years in Harlech, accompanied by three singing birds and their former king’s cranium. Travelling to Gwales in Penfro they make camp for four score (eighty) years, then finally head to London where the head is buried in the White Mount ensuring it it faced France. Legend maintains that as long as the head is undisturbed no invaders could cross the sea to Britain.

Novar is north of the border to Scotland. A place name from Scottish Gaelic taigh an fhuamhair and describing ‘the house of the giant’. Local legends point to just one individual associated with this place, the fabled giant Fingal otherwise known as Finn MacCool. This legendary hunter of Irish mythology was named Deimne as a child but acquired the nickname Finn when his hair turned white prematurely. The Scottish name Fingal does not appear before the eighteenth century and the writings of the poet James Macpherson, this probably indicates the poet chose the name to fit the legends. Finn MacCool’s best known exploit sees him up against the giant Cuhullin. While sucking his thumb, this enabled him to see anything he chose no matter where, he saw his rival intended to confront him. Knowing he was sure to lose in direct competition, he turned to his wife Oona for assistance. First she dressed Finn as a baby and hides him away, then turned her hand to make griddle cakes. When Cuhullin arrived he tried to intimidate the giant’s wife by breaking rocks with just his middle finger. However she has the last laugh when Cuhullin bites into one of her griddle cakes and chips his tooth. Oona accused Cuhullin of being boastful and weak, saying her husband eats the cakes every day without trouble. When Finn apparently returns, he eats a griddle cake without any problem. Cuhullin suspects foul play and Oona did indeed hide griddle irons inside the cake she offered him but not that of her husband. When Cuhullin put his finger into the mouth of Finn to see for himself how sharp these teeth really were, the latter bit off the tip of the middle finger, the source of his rival’s great strength and size. Cuhullin shrank down to the size of a mere man and fled lest he be beaten by the giant Finn.

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.