Sunday, 21 April 2013

Devizes in Wiltshire

A snippet from one of the forthcoming books on the origins of place names. This time it is the county of Wiltshire and the town of Devizes.

Recorded as Divises in the 11th century, this name is one of the very few places in England of Old French origin. Here the name is from devise to describe the '(place at) the boundaries'.

Locally we find Dunkirk, a common minor name in England referring to the Flemish town which was an English possession during the 17th century. The Brittox describes its location near the castle gates, this being fortified by stockades, and Castle Street is of obvious derivation as indeed is Long Street. Trafalgar Place, too, is clearly a reminder of one of the pivotal battles in history.

Hillworth Road speaks of its destination, Wharf Street was cut alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal, Morris's Lane remembers a prominent local family, and Estcourt Street was named after Thomas Estcourt, MP for Devizes from 1835 who served as Home Secretary in the Earl of Derby's government of 1859.

Pub names featuring animals are often heraldic, when a colour is specified they are always from a coat of arms. The White Bear refers to the earls of Kent, the Pelican Inn could refer to Corpus Christi College in Oxford, the Dolphin is featured in many crests and particularly those associated with the sea, while the Black Swan was a mythical creature and a symbol of a rare individual until the discovery of Australia where black swans are indigenous.

The locality would have given a name to the Bridge Inn, The Millstream, and the Southgate Inn; an association with the church is seen in the Bell by the Green and the Lamb Inn; hunting was the inspiration for the names of the Fox & Hounds and Hare & Hounds; and patriotism gave us the Queens Head and the British Lion. The Cavalier will have spawned numerous stories with suggested etymologies, when the most likely is simply it makes a splendid image for a sign, although it does also suggest a royalist and a patriot.

The message at the Four Seasons is telling us it is open all year round, while making an attractive sign usually depicting four separate images. Finally there is the Moonrakers, a name which is said to have originally come from Wiltshire. Locals tell the story of how the Customs and Excise men came looking for smugglers, finding them dredging the waters apparently to retrieve casks of brandy. However the leader of the group, pretending to by an idiot, told them they had seen a large cheese in the waters and were trying to find it. The customs men soon realised the supposed 'cheese' was in fact the reflection of the full moon.

The Three Crowns show the nations of England, Scotland and Ireland all coming under one monarch; George & Dragon clearly points to the patron saint of England and his most famous enemy.

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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