A Children's Guide to Shropshire Place-Names
Place-names that tell us about castles and strongholds
If you live in Shropshire, you may already know quite a lot about castles there, in towns like Shrewsbury and Ludlow, and of course at Stokesay. But Wulfwynn says that place-names tell us about all sorts of castle sites, including some that are now hidden. Shall we go and have a look for some?
Caerbre is in Marrington, near Chirbury. You may recognise this as a Welsh-sounding name, and if so, you’d be right! Because Wulfwynn says that this is a place-name made up of two Welsh words: caer ‘fort, castle’ and bre ‘hill’, giving us a hill-fort!
Wulfwynn tells us that this is a very old castle indeed, and that you will find it in Meadowtown, close to the border with Wales. It refers to an Iron-Age hill-fort which sits on top of one of the biggest hills in Meadowtown. The Iron Age
came just before the Roman period, so from about 800 BCE up to 43 CE, more than 2,500 years ago!
According to Wulfwynn, Broseley is quite an exciting name. It means ‘the open woodland of the fort-guardian’. It suggests that in the Anglo-Saxon period, a person who was a fort-guardian lived there, although we don’t know anything about the fort that the guardian looked after. Can you imagine what the fort looked like, and who lived there?
Chirbury means ‘church fort or manor’, and usually it would be quite difficult to tell whether this meant that Chirbury was an Anglo-Saxon fort. But Wulfwynn says that in the tenth century, Æthelflæd, the female ruler of Mercia built a fort at Chirbury. Æthelflæd was the daughter of King Alfred the Great, and Mercia was an Anglo-Saxon territory that once stretched from Shropshire right across England to the east coast.
Oh, this is a great name! I bet the person who lived there hundreds of years ago was called Trevor! Uh-oh, Wulfynn is raising her eyebrows, so that can't be right. She says that Treverward is another settlement that's very close to the border with Wales. This name is made from a combination of Old English, the language of the Anglo-Saxons, and Welsh. The first part of the name is in Welsh, and it means 'settlement'. Taken together, the whole name means 'settlement of the stronghold-guardian'.
Bishop’s Castle is a town quite close to the border with Wales. Wulfwynn says that a castle was first built there in the twelfth century by the Bishop of Hereford who owned the great estate of Lydbury North, of which Bishop’s Castle was a part. Because of this, at first it was called Lydbury Castle, and it was only called Bishop’s Castle from the thirteenth century onward, around the time that King John signed Magna Carta. Wulfwynn tells us that the castle is no longer there, but that you can still visit the site where it once stood.
Wow, that's exciting, isn't it? Wulfwynn says that 'stronghold' is another word that has a similar meaning to fort, or castle. I think I'd have liked to have been a stronghold-guardian - how about you?
What have we learned?
There are lots of forts and castles in Shropshire, aren’t there? Have you noticed that lots of them are found in the western-most part of Shropshire. Can you think why that might have been the case? These names have helped us to learn about different types of castles, forts and strongholds in Shropshire. Some were very, very old, like the Iron-Age fort at Meadowtown. And others were much more recent, like the one at Bishop’s Castle. They would all have looked very different too. There are still lots of brilliant Shropshire place-names for us to explore – so come on, let’s go and look at some more!
What shall we look at next?
just click on the links below to go to each chapter!