Ryan Taylor English Place-Names


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By Ryan Taylor

The death of Victor Watts in late 2003 removed one of the great lights of toponymy in Britain. Fortunately, his great work The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place Names was already with his publisher and is now available.

There are a number of other one-volume sources for English place-names, but most are old and none are as comprehensive as Watts'. For parishes, hamlets, and towns, an entry should be found here, with earliest references, meaning and name variations.

For example, the entry for Buckland Brewer in Devonshire:

(9) - Brewer Devon SS 4120. 'B held by the Brewer family'. Boclande Bruere 1290, Bruweresbocland 1360. Earlier simply Bocheland 1086, Bockland 1219. William Briwerre held the manor in 1219. Also known as Northboclaunde 1312 for distinction from Buckland Filleigh. D 88.

This can be understood as follows:

(9) - Brewer : it is the ninth entry under 'Buckland'

SS 4120 : A reference from The South Saxons, edited by Peter Brandon (1978)

Boclande Bruere was found, in a document dated 1290

Bruweresbocland was found, in a document dated 1360

Earlier it was simply known as Bocheland (in 1086) or Bockland (in 1219), before it became necessary to differentiate among the various places named Buckland in Devon.

William Briwerre (Brewer) was lord of the manor in 1219, hence the distinctive name.

Variously, it was known as Northboclaunde (North Buckland) for distinction from Buckland Filleigh, another Devon village nearby.

D 88: A reference to The Place-Names of Devon, by Glover, Mawer and Stenton (1931)

It is easy to see that the short entries contain a great deal of information and reflect a formidable learning. They can also be used to lead to more detailed resources, such as The Place-Names of Devon.

This latter title is part of the English Place-Name Society series, currently at 76 volumes and counting. Entries in these volumes are organized by parish and include small locations and even individual houses (English houses are often named, and the names may date from medieval times). They are most useful for genealogical purposes, but are expensive to buy (especially the older ones). Check in larger or academic libraries to find them.

Victor Watt's volume is also pricey, but will be widely available in libraries, where it will provide useful historical information.

Posted March 10, 2004
Column copyright © 2004 Ryan Taylor

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