A Children's Guide to Shropshire Place-Names
Place-names that tell us about magical creatures
This sounds very exciting! Wulfwynn says that if you want to learn about fantastic beasts and where to find them, then medieval Shropshire is a very good place to start! Shall we go with her and meet some of Shropshire’s strangest inhabitants?
Near and Far Diagonal
These are fields in Brompton near Shrewsbury. They sound a bit boring, don’t they, but I’m guessing that they won’t be. Shhh! Can you hear that rumbling sound, Wulfwynn? Whatever is it? Wulfwynn wants us to guess: a creature with a scaly back and long tail…huge wings for soaring into the sky… Can you guess what it is yet? Wulfwynn says that it breathes fire. Oh! It must be a dragon! This field-name doesn’t sound very much like it could refer to a dragon, does it? Wulfwynn tells us, however, that an earlier spelling of this name was drakenal, which meant
‘dragon’s nook’. The Old English word for dragon was draca. This tells us that medieval people living in Brompton believed that a dragon lived in one of their fields! How very exciting! Wulfwynn says that dragons were often thought to have been guarding treasure – and that seems to have been the case at a place called Drake Ley Heath in Stanton upon Hine Heath. This name means ‘dragon mound’, and mounds were often places where buried treasure could be found. Was that what the Brompton dragon was up to in his nook, do you think?
What a strange sounding-name! Do we need to get our dusters and polish out? Oh, Wulfwynn is laughing, so I don’t think so – thank goodness for that, I hate housework! She says that Dustbatch is the name of a field in Highley, and we can tell from the earliest spellings of this name that it was once called Thursbache, which means ‘giant’s stream’. Giants featured frequently in the Anglo-Saxon imagination – if you have been reading Beowulf in class, you will have heard about the giant called Grendel. Wulfwynn doesn’t know the name of the Highley giant. Or at least, she’s not telling us if she does!
This is the name of a field in Much Wenlock. Wulfwynn says we must tread carefully and quietly over this field because we don’t want to disturb the…goblins! Ooh, goblins, wow! She says that Pouckpytt means ‘goblin pit’, and the first part of this name comes from the Old English word puca.
This kind of goblin was quite mischievous, and we can imagine the Much Wenlock goblin lying in wait in his pit to make people jump as they walked past! Wulfwynn also knows lots of other goblin-related places – how about Powkehole Field in Claverley. Or my favourite one of all: Poukhole between the Drains in Kempton near Lydbury North. Why do you think goblins like hiding in pits and holes?
This is another field-name, this time it's in Shifnal. This field-name is probably making you think of pigs, isn’t it? The ‘sty’ used here isn’t a pig-sty, though. Wulfwynn tells us that this word meant ‘a climbing path’,
and that the whole name means ‘the climbing path of the spectre or goblin’. So, this could be yet another goblin! Wulfwynn says that there was also a Goblin Styles Field in Pontesbury. It’s beginning to sound as though there were goblins all over medieval Shropshire!
What have we learned?
These place-names show us a hidden medieval world of giants, dragons and lots and lots of goblins! From names like these, we can learn quite a lot about Anglo-Saxon beliefs, especially that people thought that these creatures lived in the Shropshire landscape. The creatures we have met in this chapter have been in streams, hills, pits and nooks, and also near paths and stiles. According to Wulfwynn, if you were to walk around in medieval Shropshire, you would soon meet a goblin, a dragon or a giant! It’s a good job you were there to keep us safe, Wulfwynn! Let’s see what else place-names can tell us about Shropshire’s past!
What shall we look at next?
just click on the links below to go to each chapter!