A Children's Guide to Shropshire Place-Names
Place-names that tell us how people travelled about
When you travel a long way, I imagine that you use a map, or even a satnav to plan your route. Wulfwynn is looking puzzled – she doesn’t know what either of those things are, and she says that the Anglo-Saxons used place-names to help them to get around and find their way. That sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Shall we have a look at some of these names and see what she means?
In the medieval period, crossing rivers and streams could be very difficult. Wulfwynn explains that a ford was a place at which the level of the water was low enough for people to be able to cross on foot, on horseback, or with a cart, so these were very important landscape features. Burford means ‘the ford by the fort or stronghold’, and so this would have helped people to locate the ford when travelling through Burford.
Even though the name Bridgnorth was first written down in medieval times, the way we say it hasn’t changed very much for about 800 years! Wulfwynn says that Bridgnorth was once just called ‘Bridge’, and that this was because bridges were quite rare in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Back then, local people would have known where ‘Bridge’ was, but when more bridges began to be built, the place-name changed to Bridgnorth, so that people knew which bridge was being referred to. Bridges would have provided a much easier and safer way of crossing the River Severn.
Pottersload is a place in Alveley, close to the River Severn – Wulfwynn says that this is another name that helped medieval people to cross the River Severn. She says that the last part of Pottersload is an Old English word – ge-lad – which has a very particular meaning of ‘difficult crossing’. This name would have helped people to decide whether to try this tricky crossing, or to carry on a bit further and look for an easier place to cross the river.
This sounds like quite a strange name, doesn’t it? Wulfwynn says that’s partly because Hints is a very old name indeed, one that was probably created by the Britons – the people of Britain who lived in Shropshire before the Anglo-Saxons arrived. This name means ‘road’ or ‘path’, and the village lies very close to a Bronze-Age road.
Harpswood is in Morville. This sounds like a place where people once played music doesn’t it? I can just imagine everyone settling down on a blanket in the woods to listen! Ah, Wulfwynn says that’s not right, and that Harpswood is a much more exciting name. She says that we can tell from the medieval spellings of this name that it would have been written as here-pæðes-ford, which
means ‘ford of the army road’. There are two letters in those words that are strange, and that’s because they are no longer part of our alphabet. The first one – æ – is called the letter ‘ash’, and it sounds like the ‘a’ in ‘cat’. The second letter – ð – is the letter ‘eth’, and it sounds like ‘th’, as in ‘the’, ‘this’ and ‘that’. An army road sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Where were the soldiers going, do you think?
This is the name of a field in Bishop’s Castle – that’s quite a funny-sounding name, isn’t it? I can’t think what it might mean. Wulfwynn says you might not recognise it, because it is from a Welsh word – pompren – which means ‘foot bridge over a watercourse’. She says that a bridge like this might have been made out of planks of wood, so it would have been quite a small bridge. You’d have needed quite good balance to cross it, I think!
Pinkham is the name of a street in Cleobury Mortimer – Wulfwynn says that although this is now a street-name, it used to be the name for a whole district in Cleobury Mortimer, next to the River Rea. She tells us that this name was formed from an old Shropshire word – pinkern, which means ‘narrow boat’, and refers to a very narrow kind of boat that was used on the River Severn.
What have we learned?
Place-names can tell us quite a lot about how medieval people travelled around the county. Looking at these names, we’ve found out about how people travelled in Shropshire from the Bronze Age to the medieval period and beyond! Place-names helped people to find their way in a time before everyone could use maps, especially helping them to cross major obstacles like rivers and streams. There are more place-names for us to look at – shall we carry on exploring?
What shall we look at next?
just click on the links below to go to each chapter!