Updated: 16 July 1997



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Ware, Wye, Hooe, How, Wem, Watford, Wetherby or Notter...

I have done a lot of travelling around the UK on business, and I find place names fascinating. There's a serious side to this - I'm interested in how British place names have developed from a wide range of linguistic roots: Anglo-Saxon, Welsh, Gaelic, Norse, French, Modern English and even Latin. But you can also find some names that are just amusing in their own right.

Here are a few I've come across. Most of them are English place names. Contributions will be gratefully received.

  • Matching Tye (Essex): it is a matter of great regret that the next village is not called Shirt.
  • Hints (Staffordshire): The village name sign reads: "HINTS - Please drive carefully" ....but that's only one hint.
  • Hungerford and Wantage (Berkshire and Oxfordshire): An exit from the M4 motorway that surely no-one wishes to take.
  • Knockin (Shropshire): The village store is, of course, called The Knockin Shop.
  • Loggerheads (Staffordshire): Some place to be at...
  • Maidenhead (Berkshire): Legend has it that there was a removals (trucking) company called "Maidenhead Removals".
  • Wyre Piddle (Worcestershire): Sounds painful!
  • New Invention (Shropshire, or is it Powys?): The name sign invariably bears the graffito "Patent Applied For" under the name.
  • Penisarwaun (Gwynedd): The Guardian reported that a man calling a government office in London from this village was asked to spell his address. When he reached the fifth letter of the village name, the female clerk shouted "Pervert!" and slammed the phone down.
  • Penistone (South Yorkshire): Another place not to spell out to your maiden aunt.
  • Pity Me, Shiney Row, Quaking Houses, Unthank, Haltwhistle, Toronto, Quebec, New York, Philadelphia (Durham, Northumberland and Tyne & Wear): an area good for both unusual place names and names travelling the "wrong" way across the Atlantic.
  • Shitterton (Dorset): The ancient village name literally means "The village on the stream used as an open sewer". Trust the late 20th century to want to change the name to Sitterton, against the wishes of the inhabitants.
  • Shrewsbury (Shropshire): Most ancient towns can produce a few strange street names. For example: Dogpole (which doesn't mean that at all) and Grope Lane (which meant what it says). No, Brother Cadfael doesn't have a street named after him yet.
  • Thame (Oxfordshire): As they say locally, "We be Thame by name and tame by nature".
  • Towcester (Northamptonshire): Pronounced just as if you were going to brown your bread in it. Cf. Gloucester, Leicester, Bicester, Worcester. Galdeford, a street in Ludlow (Shropshire) is spoken "Jailford". Ratlinghope (Shropshire) is pronounced Ratchup, and Finchale (Durham) is Finkle.
    Scotland, of course, has its own way of pronouncing names: ask for a train ticket to Milngavie (Strathclyde) but remember to pronounce it Mul-guy.
  • Wigwig (Shropshire): Included solely because I like it.

Copyright © 1997 Richard Burnham