Sunday, 6 January 2013

Somerset Place Names

A couple of years ago my Somerset Place Names was published. Recently I was asked the origin of the cathedral city of Wells and, having sold that person a copy of the book, offer the full entry for this delightful corner of England which can boast the smallest population of any cathedral city in England.


We hardly need the records of Willan from 1050 and that of Welle in 1086 to see this is from Old English wella to describe 'the springs'.

The Fountain Inn may be heraldic, representing the Master Mariners or Company of Plumbers but, considering the meaning of the name of the city, most likely refers to the local spring. The Globe Inn represents a simple image and also hints that all are welcome, while the Kings Head refers to the monarchy in general, and the scenic splendour to the northwest is marked by the name of the Cheddar Valley Inn.

The streets of this small city have their own tale to tell. What was changed to Union Street in the middle of the 19th century had formerly been Grope Street, a name which tells us it was narrow and poorly lit, hence pedestrians having to grope their way along in the dark. Priest Row was probably named after the 13th century priest who lived here. Vicar's Close was named after another cleric, Thomas de Devnysche, who bequeathed this land to the city for development in his 14th century will. Wet Lane no longer exists for it is now called Broad Street, although on the day the author visited both names were equally appropriate.

Ash Lane took its name from the ash trees which grew around here. Chamberlain Street was named after the official who decided to clean up what had previously been, both in name and in actuality, Beggar Street. Market Street also enjoyed a change of name from Mede Street, the former name showing this had previously been the back way into the centre while the present version is self-explanatory. Moniers Lane is named after the respected Peter le Monier, a moneyer who plied his 'trade' between Dartmouth, Exeter, Wells and Bristol and everywhere in between during the 13th century. Sadler Street remembers John Sadler, a 15th century merchant who received a 'necessary pardon' after the Wars of the Roses, for he had backed the losing side but his worth to the city saved him. Tucker Street shows cloth making was here from an early time for this was an early alternative name for a weaver.

Of course the city has a long association with the church and the streets also reflect this. The cathedral is dedicated to St Andrew, founded in 705 the present building dates from 1180, the name was transferred to St Andrews Street. St Cuthbert Street takes its name from the church, this being the third building dedicated to St Cuthbert and dates from the 13th century. St Thomas Street leads to the church built by Teulon, the architect being hired by Dean Jenkyns to cater for the poor of the parish. Sadly the benefactor did not live to see the beginning of the work which was completed in three years. Furthermore neither did his widow, Troth Jenkyns, who also died before the church opened to parishioners, from a chill she caught during the ceremony of laying the foundation stone.

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

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