A Children's Guide to Shropshire Place-Names
Place-names that tell us about the languages spoken in Shropshire
Place-names that tell us about the languages that were used in Shropshire
Because place-names were written down, they can tell us lots about the languages that have been used in Shropshire during its long history. Sometimes, place-names were written in languages that were spoken in Shropshire – like Welsh, British and Old English, and sometimes they were noted in languages that were usually just written down. These were the languages of administration, like Latin and Anglo-Norman. Anglo-Norman was a version of French used in medieval England. Other names were influenced by languages - like Old Norse - that were spoken elsewhere in England. Shall we go and find out more about these languages? How many different languages do you think we’ll find in Shropshire place-names?
Ash Magna & Ash Parva
Well, these names sound quite exciting, don’t you think? Ash Magna sounds like a place where a volcano once erupted, filling the sky with a big black cloud that rained ash down on all the people… What’s that Wulfwynn? I’m getting carried away again? Oh dear, you’d better tell us what it really means then.
Wulfwynn says that magna and parva are both Latin words. Latin is a very old language that was once the language of the Romans. Magna means ‘big’, and parva means ‘small’. Latin was usually the language that official documents were
written in in medieval times, and so it seems likely that a clerk or scribe added Latin words to these place-names, so that he could tell which one he was writing about. So these aren’t named after volcanoes, but after places that had ash-trees! Wulfwynn says that if both places were just called Ash, it would be hard to tell which one people meant, so they became ‘Big Ash’ (Ash Magna) and ‘Little Ash’ (Ash Parva)!
Wulfwynn says that even she finds this place-name quite hard, because it is a British name. British was the language that was spoken in Britain before the Anglo-Saxons arrived, and it is the ancestor of the Welsh language. Hodnet means ‘pleasant valley’, and I think that it sounds like a very nice place to live, don’t you?
In medieval times, Wulfwynn says, Oswestry, which was a name created by the Anglo-Saxons, also had a Welsh name – Croesoswallt. Oswestry means ‘Oswald’s tree or cross’, and that’s exactly what it means in the Welsh version of the name! So, in the Middle Ages, Oswestry was known by English and Welsh names.
Beauregard is a place in Clunbury – Can you tell what language this name is written in? It’s French! Beauregard means ‘beautiful outlook’, and it was a very common place-name in France, although this is the only time it’s used in England. Beauregard was first written down in the fourteenth century, in medieval times. Who do you think named Beauregard?
Cantreyn is in Astley Abbotts. Wulfwynn says that this is one of her favourite place-names, because it means ‘singing frog’ in Old French, the language that pre-dated modern French. She says that this place was named after the noisy frogs that
lived nearby. Have you ever heard a frog singing? I don’t know about you, but that’s definitely something that I’m going to put on my ‘to-do’ list!
Hale Bank is the name of a field in Onibury – I think that this field-name sounds very English, don’t you? Have you put this one in here to check that we are paying attention, Wulfwynn? Oh, Wulfwynn says that the
word ‘bank’ was not originally English, but Old Norse! Old Norse was the language that the Vikings spoke, and although hardly any Vikings lived in Shropshire, their language had a huge impact on the English language right across England.
What have we learned?
Goodness me, I didn’t realise that place-names could tell us so much about the languages used in Shropshire hundreds of years ago, did you? We’ve learned about languages that were spoken before the Anglo-Saxons arrived, like British; and we’ve learned that some names were written down in Welsh. There are lots of examples of Welsh names throughout this book – can you find them all, do you think? As well as the Anglo-Saxons, more people who arrived from other countries also influenced Shropshire place-names, including the Vikings, the Normans and the French! And we’ve learned that sometimes, languages that were no longer spoken but were used to write things down – like Latin – also helped to shape our place-names. I had no idea that Shropshire place-names were made up of so many different languages, did you?
What shall we look at next?
just click on the links below to go to each chapter!