Sunday, 30 June 2013

Cambridgeshire Place Names

With the release of my volume looking at the origins of the place names of Cambridgeshire I thought a brief extract would be appropriate. I have chosen the entry which looks at the Undertakers and Adventurers, field names found all over the fenland and not for the reasons one might expect.


Found in 948 as Cotenham and as Coteham in 1086, here is a name from a Saxon personal name and Old English ham and referring to ‘Cotta’s homestead’.

Twenty Pence Road ran alongside a place known for its ‘twenty pens or folds’ in 1596. Alboro Close is from ald burh or ‘the old fortification’. Chear Fenn comes from Old English cear, meaning literally ‘turn’ and describing this twisting way through the fenland. The Lots tells us this was an allocation of land, one of several areas shared amongst a number of locals.

Setchel Fen was known as ‘the enclosure where sedge grows; Smithey Fen tells of the ‘smooth, low-lying land’; while early records of Top Moor show this was known as ‘Taeppa’s marsh’. Individuals who are remembered in the landscape include Jabez Ablett, after whom Ablett’s Row is named, Edward Mason gave his name to Mason’s Pastures both here in 1840, William Taylor was associated with Taylor’s Lodge in 1780, and Lamb’s Cross home to Henry Lamb in 1279.

Time and again in the fenlands of Cambridgeshire we find the field name of the Undertakers. This is not, as we might think, a sign of a burial ground or those who made their living by disposing of corpses. This always refers to fenland which has been drained, the very name tells us those who undertook to dig the drains and ditches did so on the basis they would receive a share of the reclaimed land in return, thereafter turning to farming. Of course the Undertakers were far more numerous than the Adventurers, a name also seen around reclaimed land for they too received land in return for investing money supporting the Undertakers while they were working.

The Hop Bind is a pub name which is derived from the hop, the fruit which is used in brewing. The name is not quite correct, for the true description is a hop bine where the plant grows in a helix around a supporting frame or another plant. The Jolly Millers suggests an association with those in the trade and would be particularly content to be there, the addition of ‘Jolly’ being a common invitation. The Waggon and Horses reminds us of the only way of transporting large quantities of goods until the building of the canals, public houses often acting as agents and distributors.

The local church has a strange narrative told regarding its construction. It made sense to build the church as close to the centre of the community as possible, collectively this makes everyone’s journey as short as possible. The church of All Saints had stood at one point of the village and, when it was agreed to move it, began to remove the blocks of stone and transport them to the new site. However next morning it was discovered every stone had been returned to the original site. On hearing the news the parishioners were so troubled they decided it would be better to leave their church where it stood.

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, 23 June 2013

Fazeley in Staffordshire

From my volume South Staffordshire Street Names comes this excerpt looking at the origins of every street name in Fazeley, near Tamworth, Staffordshire. Even those who have never heard of the place will have heard of the most famous development here, the theme park of Drayton Manor Park, itself occupying the estate of the former lords of the manor, the Peel family. This name may ring a bell as the man who is often considered the founder of the police force.

Undoubtedly the major influence on Fazeley over the last two centuries has been the Peel family, both directly and indirectly and in a number of ways. While Peel Court takes the family name, Drayton Manor Drive served their estate of that name, Swiss Lodge Drive was named for the style of building found there. Victoria Road and Albert Steet recall the visit to the Peel estate in 1843 by the queen and her consort.

Destination names are also represented by Atherstone Street, Coleshill Road and Coleshill Street, Lichfield Street, and Tamworth Road. Brook End marks the termination of the Bourne Brook, and of course Bourne Avenue refers to the same thing; Broomfield Avenue the club of that name, itself an old field name; Mill Lane led to the old mill, New Mill Lane to the more recent mill on Bourne Brook; New Street was aptly named when it was first developed; and Tame Court takes the name of the nearby river. Marina View is a new development which affords excellent views of the marina. The Anson family were still resident at Bonehill Lodge at the end of the 19th century, hence the name of Anson Court.

Tolson Avenue remembers one of Fazeley's major employers. Wm Tolson Ltd was the mill known to all as Tolson's Old Mill and this road was cut on this land. William Tolson took over the mill from the Peels in the 1830s and, 50 years later, had built his own factory. The huge building on the banks of the canal was, as with the vast majority of Victorian factories, powered by steam. The adjacent canal and the springs not only supplied ample water to drive the machinery, but also provided the perfect artery for transporting goods into Birmingham and beyond.

Buxton Avenue marks the family who include Samuel Buxton, owner of the Bleachworks in 1835, and Dr Thomas Buxton, landowner in 1939. Mayfair Drive marks the location of the Mayfair Garage, demolished in the late 20th century.

The Deer Park Estate has its own theme reflecting the deer found on the former Drayton estate. Deer Park Road, Fallow Road and Reindeer Road speak for themselves, yet others are much less obvious. Sambra Road features the name of a deer native to southern Asia; Rangifer Road features the scientific name for the caribou; Dama Road is the scientific name for the fallow deer; and Mayama Road should have been named Mazama after the deer from South America, however it seems as if someone has written it longhand and it has been misread as a 'y' instead of 'z'.

As with most places there are a number of names which have been coined for reasons unknown and, without records being kept, the origins are a mystery. Beekes Croft, Burlington Court, Tongue Terrace, Victory Terrace, Wrighton Grove and Yorksand have produced a number of suggestions, all of which appear to have been given after the naming of the places rather than the reverse.

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, 16 June 2013

Hampshire Place Names

An excerpt from the book which came out in 2010 and a look at the entry for Brockenhurst which includes one of the most informative pub names I have ever found.

With just two records of note, as Broceste in 1086 and Brocheherst in 1158, the first element here is uncertain and there are two possible meanings. The more likely is a personal name followed by hyrst and thus ‘Broca’s wooded hill’. However the first element may be brocen which can still be seen as ‘broken’ and understood to be ‘undulating wooded hill’.

Locally we find Connigers Copse, a name which speaks of the time at the end of the twelfth century when rabbits were introduced to this country by the Normans. This reference to ‘the rabbit warren coppice’ reminds us that the animals which many see as pests were introduced for food and, within a few short years, they had escaped into the wild and had quite literally bred like rabbits resulting in the population we see today. Rhinefield is a regional name which began life as a field name, for the early forms from the fourteenth century of Ryefeld and Riefelde point to ‘the rye open land’.

Seen as Reidon in 1284, Reydone in 1333, and Roydon in 1573, the name of Roydon is derived from raege-dun or ‘the hill of the female roe deer’. Setley is first seen as Setle in 1331 and, although enclosing any plantation against wild animals was considered illegal until the law was changed in 1483, this can only refer to ‘the set out or planted woodland’. The name of Hincheslea tells us it was where ‘hind calves frequented a woodland clearing’ and possibly shows these immature females were being kept for meat and their hides.

Brockenhurst has some of the most informative pub names in the county, perhaps even the country. While the Filly is clearly a reference to the female New Forest ponies under the age of four, it is a very unusual name. The Morant Arms remembers Edward Morant who, in 1770, came to Brockenhurst House which he purchased for over six thousand pounds. However this was not the end of his spending for he completely rebuilt the home, a resplendent Georgian mansion with beautifully laid-out grounds and over 3,000 acres of land in total. His fortune came from the family estates in Jamaica. He is also remembered as being an amateur cricketer of considerable ability who organised many matches here at the end of the eighteenth century. The Turfcutters Arms is not what it may seem, for the ‘turf’ is a reference to a slab of peat which was dug hereabouts as a fuel.

However there can be none more unique a pub name than the Snakecatcher. Brusher Mills was born Henry (known as Harry) Mills in March 1840, one of eight children. He lived in the hut of a former charcoal burner, a simple affair with a bed of dry bracken, a chair, firewood kept in an old biscuit tin, a single spoon he had fashioned himself, and his tin of tobacco. He was not ashamed of his simple home, would often invite visitors inside for a cup of tea (plenty of sugar but no milk). A cleft palate made his speech difficult to comprehend, although tradtion has it that this was the result of a gypsy curse.

Harry ‘Brusher’ Mills was the snakecatcher, he caught adders to earn a living. Leaving his home in the early morning he would walk miles around the New Forest every day, a tin with holes in one hand, a sack over his shoulder, and a second sack carrying the tools of his trade - scissors, knives, tweezers and a forked stick. The adders would be caught, killed and stripped of the fat which would be melted down to produce an embrocation used for a multitude of ailments and troubles, including sprains, bruises, rheumatism, and, of course, adder bites. Such cures were trusted, which was not surprising, as other commonly held beliefs were that touching the body of a hanged man was the only way to rid a person of St Vitus Dance, while fits would be banished by eating the livers of no less than forty green frogs.

The majority of his catches were grass snakes, which he could sell the skins of as souvenirs. During his lifetime it is estimated Brusher, a name thought to be derived from the way he brushed the bracken aside to find his quarry, caught almost 30,000 snakes of which only one in every eight was an adder.

Harry died at the age of 65, the result of heart condition. His last meal of meat, bread and pickles was unfinished, the drink still alongside on the table, and he was found in an outhouse of his favourite pub, then called the Railway Tavern but today renamed the Snakecatcher in his honour.

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, 9 June 2013

Haunted Worcestershire

With the interest shown in the excerpts from my other ghostly books I decided to pull this story from my Haunted Worcestershire. This was a particular favourite of mine and, even if you are unconvinced, it still makes for a good tale.

Hagley Hall is one of the loveliest stately homes in the land. Set in a varied and rolling landscape, new wonders are revealed at every turn. A delightful mix of flowerbeds, winding paths, woodland and water provided artists with inspirational views. Within the house itself more delights are found in every room. Architecture and decoration are among the finest in the land, the thousands of visitors each and every year are adequate testimony to the work done by the inhabitants since the Lyttelton's built the first house and laid out the original gardens.

The Lyttelton's have been around Worcestershire since the twelfth century and possibly longer. However our story starts on 30th January 1744 and the birth of Thomas, destined to be the second Lord Lyttelton. He was only in his third year when his mother died, his childhood overseen by a succession of tutors and distant family members. Reaching his adulthood he was a source of great displeasure to his father. He lived a wild life, given over to questionable conduct which, while not illegal, was not that befitting a man of his birth. However it was common among the young men of his age and he was by no means the worst of his generation. On the death of his father in 1773 the title passed to him, although his erratic behaviour in his early life led to him being more commonly referred to as 'The Bad Lyttelton' or even 'The Wicked Lyttelton'.

On his return from office in Ireland he was already suffering ill health, fits, headaches, and chronic indigestion which was more likely heart disease. His life was made bearable through medicines and regular bed rest, particularly following an attack. It was on one such occasion in 1779 that he retired early to bed on the night of November 24th. A servant brought him the medicine and left him when ordered to do so. Thomas was not alone for long when he was disturbed by the fluttering of wings within the room. He listened and heard footsteps approaching his bed whereupon he sat up and was stunned to see the loveliest woman he had ever seen alongside his bed. Clad all in white she had a small bird perched on her hand and she spoke to him. He was speechless as he heard her tell he was to prepare himself for death. When he enquired how long he had she replied by midnight on the third day.

Next morning his discomfort was evident and, over breakfast, he told his guests of the events of the previous night. He dismissed it as a dream, saying of how he had forgotten to release a robin trapped in the greenhouse a few days before which was clearly still playing on his mind. Any chance of convincing everyone else the matter was but a trivial one was made impossible by his evident stress and low spirits. Reports of two quite superb speeches in the House of Lords later that day suggested his mood was much improved. The second and third days also saw him in fine spirits, both in mind and body. Yet by the time they were seated for dinner the gloom was again descending.

His friends and colleagues, concerned that the woman in white's prophecy may lead to tragedy, contrived to get every clock and watch in the place put forward by thirty minutes. Thus when Lord Lyttelton retired at half past eleven, feeling drawn and exhausted, it was only eleven o'clock. As the appointed hour approached Lyttelton repeatedly checked watches to ensure they were still working. Eventually both watches read fifteen minutes after midnight and, confident that he was now safe, summoned his valet to bring him his medicine. From the next room the servant heard the unmistakeable sounds of laboured breathing, he returned to find the life ebbing from his master. Summoning help Lyttelton's cousins, including Lord Fortescue, ran to the bedside. They arrived just in time to see the death of Thomas Lyttelton at the moment the clocks all said half past twelve, in reality midnight - exactly as foretold by the ghost in white.

Meanwhile at that very same moment of his death Lyttelton appeared at the side of the bed of a Mr Andrews, one of his closest friends. Andrews thought it some sort of prank and rang for a servant to prepare a room immediately. By the time the servant arrived Andrews was alone. He dressed and organised a thorough search. However the only news of Thomas Lyttelton came in the form of a messenger, telling of the passing of the peer at the age of thirty-five.

It has been suggested that the woman in white was Lyttelton's mother. Yet although he could not have had any recollection of her as she died when he was very young, he would certainly have seen her portrait hanging around his home. Since that time there has not been any similar reports of hauntings at Hagley, so her identity remains a mystery.

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, 2 June 2013

Ley Lines Across the Midlands - Beacon Hill to Oadby

A recent conversation asking about my book on ancient trackways prompted me to reproduce one of the walks from the book.

Not all leys forge a straight line through what remains of England's wildernesses. Once these trackways linked the major population centres, so we should not be too surprised to find a ley forging its way straight through a major city. Indeed the only surprising thing about it is that it can still be traced under the concrete of modern society.

In order to trace this ancient track we must start outside the city of Leicester to the northwest. Bradgate Park is not only three hundred and fifty hectares of ancient deer park and the birthplace of Lady Jane Grey, but is the setting for the folly known as Old John's Tower. It is a fairly modest construction as follies go, just two storeys but at over one hundred and seventy metres above sea level affords magnificent views around the Leicestershire countryside.

It was not built as a ley line marker of course. Indeed the construction only dates from the 18th century when, according to some reports, it allowed ladies a view of the race course which circled the top of this hill. A rough circle of stones surrounds this hill - could they have marked out the course? The arch which makes this one of the county's most easily recognised sights, making the silhouette on the skyline look not unlike a very large beer mug, was added in 1786.

Originally this was the sight of an old windmill belonging to Old John, in turn becoming the name of the present building. Legend has it that this employee of the 5th Earl of Stamford was killed in quite unusual circumstances. It seems that a party was being held to mark the 21st birthday of the earl's son. A rather boisterous male assemblage seemed to think it would be a good idea to build a bonfire around the flagpole there. Sadly when the fire started it brought the pole crashing down upon the unfortunate Old John killing him instantly. A highly fanciful tale probably created to explain the name and having no basis in truth.

However this is not the start of the ley. From here it is quite easy to see the beginning to the northwest. Indeed it is difficult to miss the two hundred and forty-five metre high Beacon Hill, the site of a Bronze Age hill fort and the second highest point in the county. No obvious signs of the ancient settlement remain, however there is a small toposcope. Here a brass plate sits on top of a stone plinth, the radiating lines showing points of interest visible in that direction (including Old John's Folly). It is claimed that Lincoln Cathedral is visible from this point, yet even though it was the clearest of days I could not make out the building with its two great towers standing high above the surrounding city.

Beacon hill is not just an ancient sighting point, it also has what has become known as a 'trig pillar' - short for triangulation pillar. Standing around one metre high these concrete markers are found dotted throughout the country and were erected to support a theodolite. Every single pillar was designed to be visible from two others, hence the triangle, and are placed on the highest point in the area. Today it is often only possible to see one other point, however it is perhaps no surprise to find how often they stand on, or very close to, an ancient ley. By using these detailed and remarkably accurate maps of Britain were produced. While the modern GPS systems are undoubtedly more accurate, they are only marginally so and are simply easier to read than basic maps.

Each of these pillars carries a unique number and there are a number slightly different designs despite the basic shape, making collection of their designation and a photograph (with the collector, of course) an unusual hobby. At one time there were over six thousand of these dotted around the country, around seventy per cent of which still survive.

Extending the line southeast between the two we find we eventually close in on Bradgate Road just as it is entering Anstey. To the north of this road, the final three fields prior to the houses exhibit signs of earlier habitation. The unmistakable signs of an earlier settlement can be seen from aerial photographs. It is thought that this represents elements from a number of historical periods, although without recent field archaeology it is impossible to say when the earliest settlers arrived.

The very name of Anstey may well be a clue to the existence of a ley, for it has been defined as '(place at) the narrow path'. If further evidence is required there is also a path which is still sometimes referred to locally as The Leys.

A little further along the sixteen kilometre course the ley hits two makers in the village of Anstey, frequently referred to as 'the Gateway to the Forest' (ie Charnwood). Firstly comes the church of St Mary, the oldest parts of which are known to date from 1220. That Christian places of worship replaced former pagan sites is certain. Indeed it is likely the mandate from the Vatican was not 'convert the people', when envoys were sent to England, but 'convert their places of worship'.

Just a little further on near Gynsall Lane and alongside the A46 is Anstey Stone. For as long as anyone could remember the stone was horizontal until a local farmer stood it on its end, returning it to its former position rising two metres above the surrounding land.

One of the major road junctions in the area is next, the roundabout where the A50 meets the A453. Once a crossroads and lying directly on the ley, the meeting of Glenfrith Way and New Parks Way with the Groby Road has appeared on maps for centuries - although not until recently were they so named!

Following the the line we rejoin the A50 trunk road at Frog Island. The name suggests one thing but is clearly not an island as we would know it. However in times past it may well have been an effective island as it was (at least for the majority of the time) an isolated patch of dry land bordered by the River Soar to the north and surrounded by marshland. The exact site of this dry land coincides with the ley line and its (now) well hidden marker stone.

The ley also crosses the site of the Britella plastics factory on Frog Island. As mentioned in the first chapter there are those who consider ley lines a magnet for ghosts, doubtless the workers at that factory during the 1970s would agree. Unexplained damage to machinery and feelings of cold so unnerved the workers they demanded an exorcism be performed or industrial action would be taken.

Just further along we come to All Saint's Church, a fourteenth century building which, along with the adjoining roads, was declared a conservation area in 1999. However it may be argued that it is not the church that is the marker but High Cross Street which runs alongside, the name adding weight to this argument. It should be noted that while the church is probably the stronger marker, it may not have been built on the exact site of the original pagan temple and thus the road name is the more likely marker.

Quite a jump to the final marker, six kilometres to the fourteenth century Oadby church of St Peter's. Such a distance may seem to make the suggestion of this being on the ley a little hard to believe. Yet we should remember that this part of Leicester is heavily populated, has been for many years, so any markers laid down centuries ago will have been decimated.

Today the steeple is still visible from quite a distance and there is no doubt it is still the local landmark. Indeed nothing is likely to have stood out more since the monks built the first known chapel on this site in 1075. This seems an unusual point for the terminus of the ley, however there are no modern signs of a continuation. It is possible it joins another here which followed the general line of the modern A6. Either way this sixteen kilometre track packs a lot of history into its short course.

Admittedly I was not expecting this walk to be among the most enjoyable as it passes right through the centre of the city of Leicester. Not that I have anything against this city, simply that it is less punishing to walk across farmland than a concrete jungle. However I was pleasantly surprised and time passed remarkably quickly. It was indeed a most pleasant day.

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.