Echoes from the Past
In this paper, we will explore the origins and meanings of some of the place-names that are associated with enclosures, roads, lanes, streams and districts, as recorded in maps of the Stonnall area and other documents.
Most of the names selected for interpretation are instantly recognisable because they are, of course, in everyday use. However, some of the selections are now virtually obsolete and exist only in old documents. These have been chosen because they can tell us something about the physical and historical environment in which the Stonnall area evolved over many hundreds and, indeed, thousands of years.Sources of the place-names
We will refer to several documents as sources, including:-
- The Tithe Map Survey of the Parish of Shenstone, which was conducted in the early 19th century. This document contains the names of every enclosure in the parish, along with the names of every district, hamlet and village, together with the names of most roads and lanes. Items quoted from this source are annotated TMS.
- The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Shenstone, 1769, by Rev Henry Sanders, the one-time curate of the parish in the mid-18th century. Annotated RHS.
- Various editions of the Ordnance Survey of the parish. Annotated OS.
- Records of late mediaeval local court proceedings, known as the Pipe Rolls, in which some of the names of local features and their dialectal alternatives are preserved. Annotated PR.
- The Estate Map of Stonnall, dating from 1818. This high-quality map may have originated from the various Acts of Inclosure of the 18th century. It preserves the names of every enclosure and owner of the time. Annotated EM.
Diversity of language
As we will see, the place-names in this locality are derived from several languages that have been spoken in this part of the West Midlands during several periods in history and prehistory. These languages include:-
Welsh (or more properly Brittonic) and its immediate precursor, Old British
Welsh and its ancestor language, Old British, have given rise to many place-names throughout Britain. The language had an impact on local place-names because this area was part of the territory of the Iron Age Celtic tribe known as the Cornavii.
The number of Brittonic place-names in this collection - more than 20 - relating to quite a small area in and around the Parish of Shenstone - may come as a surprise to some. It is almost certainly the case, however, that more remain to be uncovered. Whereas some, such as Leomansley, Lynn and Hints, have been acknowledged as Celtic and represented as such in the Oxford Dictionary of Place-names, other more obscure and less well-known examples, such as Greensbury Farm, Curborough Road and Barracks Lane, have been revealed as Brittonic for the first time as a result of this research.
Latin was brought to this country as a result of the Roman Conquest in 43AD.
English and its precursor, Anglo-Saxon
Conventionally, Anglo-Saxon was said to have been brought to this country through migration from Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany following the collapse of Roman administration in about 410AD. However, based on new linguistic and genetic evidence, this view has now become controversial since some scholars have suggested that Germanic migration had commenced at a point in prehistoric times, that is, even before the Roman Conquest took place.
French was brought to this country as a consequence of the Norman Conquest in 1066.
This arrived probably as a result of Danish incursions in the early Middle Ages.
How the information is formatted
Every name is interpreted and annotated with an etymology as necessary and a brief discussion of any relevant information. This is followed lastly by a long-form interpretation of the implied meaning in quotation marks.
Alder Car TMS
The name of six contiguous enclosures in Lower Stonnall, very near to Shenstone. The Car element appears to be Old Scandinavian kjarr, meaning marsh. Shenstone is very close to Watling Street, which was the border of the Danelaw. Some Danish influence could quite easily have strayed over the border.
"The alder woodland near a marsh or former marsh"
Barracks Lane OS
Barracks is one of a number of anglicised Brittonic compounds that is present in the area. It is made up of metathesised bre, as barr, meaning hill and the dismissive diminutive suffix -ach. The terminating 's' is an intrusion influenced by the similarly-sounding generic name of premises that accommodate military personnel. Why would our Brittonic ancestors refer to the hill on Barracks Lane contemptuously as 'little'? Well, it is necessary to bear in mind that Barracks Lane is essentially part of an ancient by-pass that connects Chester Road to Watling Street that avoids the formidable Shire Oak Hill. Incidentally, we see the barr element in Great Barr, Barr Beacon and Perry Barr. See Curborough and Gainsborough for other examples and a fuller explanation of the anglicised bre element.
"The hill that is easier to climb"
Black Walls TMS
Black Walls is an enclosure recorded as field number A148 in the Tithe Map survey. It is the slope leading from the top of Lazy Hill where water drains to the relatively low and flat Stonnall Gorse. The Anglo-Saxon name would have been rendered as Blaec Waelles. The word waelle was used to indicate a source of water (not necessarily suitable for human consumption) that caused a dark colouration to the soil, hence the adjective black. In this case, the word waelle has been given the plural ending 's'. The other A-S way of forming a plural was to add an 'n', depending on which dialect of the language was in use. This seems to show that at least two dialects of A-S were brought into the area by Germanic migrants. See Wallong.
"The damp, black earth oozing water at various points"
Borrowcop appears to be a Welsh compound of berw, meaning hill and copa, meaning top. This interpretation fits the topography of the area perfectly.
"The top of the hill "
BossesTMS, RHS, OS, PR, EM
The Bosses is derived from the Old French noun bosc, meaning wood, ultimately derived the Latin noun boscus, with the same meaning. Thus the name became established after the Norman Conquest.
"The homestead in the woods"
Bullmoor Lane TMS, RHS, OS
Bullmoor looks decidedly English until, that is, one realises it doesn't make any sense. Bulls are confined in meadows and never let loose on moorland. However, if a Brittonic source is considered, things start to add up, especially after viewing the topography of the area (see map and photo). The two elements are pwll, meaning pool and mawr, meaning big. This interpretation fits the topography of the area perfectly. Interestingly, some local people pronounce Bullmoor as Boohmah. This tendency to truncate words has been brought about by the linguistic phenomena known as syncope, which is the loss loss of an internal sound, and apocope, which is the loss of a terminating sound. These influences are especially prevalent in the Celtic languages. See Caldmore.
"The big pool"
Caldmore (Walsall) OS
This appears to be a Brittonic name made up of caled = hard + mawr = big or much. The area must have featured outcrops of rock before it was built up. Most local people pronounce this as Kahmah, with both syncope and apocope at play here. See Bullmoor Lane, with which Caldmore must share an identical linguistic connection.
"The rocky place"
Cannock is derived from a Brittonic word similar to Welsh cnwch, meaning hill.
"The place on or by a hill"
Cartersfield Lane TMS, RHS, OS, EM
Before the introduction of the internal combustion engine, the use of horses and carts was the only method of road haulage. The problem with this means of carriage was that hills with a steep gradient were inaccessible to carts drawn by a single horse. To avoid this, carters would find alternative routes around problem areas. Cartersfield Lane was such a route, which enabled drivers to get around Shire Oak Hill. The lane may also have been noted for the number of carts that were parked in a field outside the Fighting Cocks which, now a farm, was almost certainly a public house in an earlier manifestation.
"The lane habitually used by many carters"
Castle Hill/The Castles TMS, RHS, OS, EM
Castle Hill, alternatively The Castles, receives its name from the Iron Age fortification that is still visible from the adjacent Castle Hill Road. The word castle is a borrowing from Old French castel, but is derived ultimately from the Latin castellum, meaning stronghold. As the word castle was introduced to this country as a result of the Norman Conquest in 1066, the site must have had a different name before that event. See Old Fort.
Chesterfield TMS, RHS, OS, PR, EM
Chester is derived from Anglo-Saxon ceaster, meaning fortified town or city, ultimately a borrowing from Latin castrum, meaning fortified place. Chesterfield is near the Roman settlement of Letocetum, present-day Wall near Lichfield. See Kesterton Croft and Lichfield.
"The open space near the fortification"
Chester Road TMS, RHS, OS, EM
Chester Road was used undoubtedly as a route to Chester. However, this might be a red herring because the road could easily have received the name from the ancient fortification or ceaster at Castle Hill. The proximity of Kesterton Croft would seem to support this view. See Kesterton Croft.
"The road that goes to Chester"
- or -
"The road that passes by the fortification"
Crane Brook TMS, OS, PR, EM
Where Crane Brook meets Footherley Brook in Shenstone, the stream meanders very markedly (see above). In the old days, these meanders were often referred to as horns because of their shape. In fact, Tamhorn near Tamworth gets its name because of a bend in the River Tame nearby. Anyway, the Brittonic word for horn was cern and this could have easily metathesised to crane.
"The meandering stream"
At the time of the Tithe Map survey, Crankling was the collective name of 7 conjoined fields adjacent to Lynn Lane and Raikes Lane between Lynn and Shenstone. The first element crank- is of Brittonic derivation, with the meaning elevation of ground, or hill. The second element -ling is the fairly common English diminutive, but under the circumstances one might have expected the rather similar Celtic diminutive -in. If the original name was indeed Crankin, then the replacement of the Brittonic suffix with an Anglo-Saxon equivalent must have been done at a time when local people still understood the meaning of the first element. This would strongly and intriguingly indicate a period of bilingualism in the area.
"The field with a little hill in it"
Cricket Lane (Lichfield) OS
Cricket Lane is another name with a Brittonic element: crick = crug (pr. crig), which means tumulus; The element -et is a diminutive suffix but, unlike the first element, would appear to be from a non-Celtic source (see the Commentary below for a full discussion). Cricket Lane is a short road that connects Tamworth Road and London Road. When crossing London Road from Cricket Lane, one enters Knowle Lane. Knowle is an alternative spelling of knoll and, of course, by the side of that lane there is a hillock, or knoll, that is reputed to be a tumulus.
"The short lane towards the tumulus"
Curborough Road (Lichfield) OS
The second element is Brittonic bre, meaning hill that has been anglicised to become borough and the cur element is the Brittonic preposition ger, meaning near. The centre of Lichfield is at a very low and flat area, but on the north side, beginninging at Stowe Pool and Netherstowe, there is a marked rise towards Eastern Avenue and beyond.
"The nearby hill"
Dimbles Hill/Lane (Lichfield) OS
Dimbles is an alternative spelling of dimples. This indicates some clefts in the ground in the area, possibly in the form of pools (cf German: Tümpel = pool).
"An area with hollows" water-filled, possibly.
Druid Heath TMS, RHS, OS, PR, EM
Druid Heath appears to be a reference to the Celtic priestly class, whose ritual practices seem to have included the worship of trees. Druid comes from an old word meaning tree. The related Welsh word derw (pr. derroo) means oak tree. However, an alternative derivation for Druid Heath has been attributed by some commentators to the name of a mediaeval landowner.
"The uncultivated piece of land where some druids once lived" possibly.
Footherley TMS, RHS, OS, EM
An earlier form recorded in a mediaeval court case is Fouderley. The first element foother- is derived from a Celtic word similar to the Welsh word ffrwd, (pr. frood), meaning stream and is thus a reference to Footherley Brook that flows through the hamlet. The second element -ley is either the Anglo-Saxon suffix indicating a clearing, but more probably it is the Welsh noun lle meaning place. The original Brittonic name can be reconstructed as Ffrwd y Lle (pr. frood uh hle) which would with metathesis naturally be anglicised to Footherley.
"The place where there is a stream that flows across the road"
Fox Covey/Covert TMS, OS
The first word is quite obviously a reference to the common fox, Vulpes vulpes. The second comes from the Norman French covert, meaning a covering (in this case of trees and other wild vegetation), in the sense of hiding or hidden.
"The place where foxes hide"
Frog Lane (Lichfield) OS
This is best understood with reference to the Old British place-name, Eborakon, which was the original name of the city of York. It consists of two elements: ebor, which means yew, and akon, which means having, possessing: ie the place of yews. It developed subsequently into Eforag in Old Welsh and finally into Efrog in Modern Welsh. Frog Lane is likely to have developed in exactly the same way. The initial 'e' was lost when the name was anglicised to its present-day form after its true meaning had been forgotten within local culture.
"The lane that passes some yew trees"
Gainsborough/Greensborough/Greensbury TMS, OS
The name of a farm and hill near Chester Road. The oldest version of the name seems to be Greensbury (see map below). The spelling of the present iteration of the name Gainsborough is probably influenced by that of the Lincolnshire town, although its etymology is almost certainly different. The element greens appears superficially to refer to the colour, but this may well be false friend and the element is virtually certainly a reference to a personal name or topograhical feature perhaps, as we will see, from a Brittonic source. The second element, whether borough or bury, might seem to be derived from the same Anglo-Saxon word burg, meaning fortified enclosure. However, there is no evidence whatsoever of fortifications at Greensbury Hill. Therefore, bearing in mind the topography of the area, the Brittonic word bre, meaning hill is suggested as the source. This would have been anglicised readily as bury or borough. The presence of the Brittonic second element increases the likelihood that the first element is derived from the same language. Indeed, the Celtic word griyano meaning gravel/coarse sand, might be exactly what we are looking for. Modern Welsh graen = grain. Incidentally, the farm was the setting of the discovery of an ancient grave and hoard in 1824, that was found buried in sand. There was also a sand quarry nearby and Gravelly Lane is not far away.
"The enclosure on a sandy, gravelly hill"
Garth (Lichfield) OS
The Garth in Lichfield is undoubtedly a Brittonic name and is identical to the Modern Welsh word garth, which means hill or enclosure. Both interpretations are applicable in this case.
"The enclosure on a hill"
Gorse TMS, OS, EM
Recorded in six locations in Stonnall, Lynn, Shenstone Footherley and not far away at Weeford (Stonnall Gorse, Gorsey Piece , Gorsey Leasow, Footherley Gorse and Weeford Gorse), Gorse is one of the most challenging items in this collection. Despite the seemingly obvious reference to the gorse plant, Ulex europaeus, also known as furze, the problem is that, in each and every instance, the plant could not have found a suitable environment to flourish. This is because gorse requires dry, well-drained areas in a relatively high places, whereas all the examples of the place-name Gorse in this locality occur in in relatively low, wet and boggy places. For example, Footherley Gorse is adjacent to Footherley Brook. Clearly, an explanation for the name must be sought elsewhere. The only reasonable explanation is an origin in the Celtic-speaking Iron Age pointing to a common ancestor of Welsh y gors, meaning the marsh. Gorsey seems to retain a vestige of the Brittonic plural suffix -ydd.
"A marshy place, a place of swamps"
Lazy Hill (to the left) and Castle Hill (to the right). In the background on the horizon to the left, the slope once known as Black Walls. To its right, the trees of the Fox Covey. © Julian Ward-Davies
Grove Hill TMS, OS, EM
Grove is an English word indicating a small group of trees (from A-S graf). The earliest Ordnance Survey map of the area shows five trees on top of the hill where there is now only one.
"The hill where there is a small group of trees"
Hademore Farm (Whittington) OS
This is certainly completely Brittonic and is made up of had, meaning seed, and mawr, meaning big or much. The intervening 'e' is probably a vestige of the Brittonic plural suffix. The place is likely to have been a seeds supplier in the pre-English era.
"The farm that supplies seeds"
Hints EM, OS, RHS
Hints is a hamlet situated on Watling Street. There can be no doubt that this name is derived from the Old British word for way and it retains a vestige of the Brittonic male suffix -os, now lost in the Modern Welsh form, hynt, meaning way.
"The place on the main road"
Kesterton Croft TMS
Kesterton Croft is recorded as field number A2 in the Tithe Map survey of the Parish of Shenstone. The first element, Kester-, is undoubtedly another form of the Anglo-Saxon word ceaster that was borrowed from Latin. The second element, -ton, indicates a homestead or a group of dwellings and gives rise to the Modern English word town. Kesterton Croft is only a stone's throw from the hill fort at Castle Hill, which might lead us to believe that Kesterton means the settlement near the fortification. Croft is an A-S word meaning small field. See Chester-.
"The small field that belongs to the homestead near the fortification"
Knaves Castle TMS, RHS, OS
Knaves Castle was an Iron Age, pre-Roman fortification located on Watling Street. As such, it was an outpost belonging to the Iron Age Celtic tribe, the Cornavii. The name Knave is likely to be a contraction of that tribal name.
"The fortification that belongs to the Cornavii"
Centre: the five trees of Grove Hill.
Lower left: the location of Stonnall Gorse next to the wooded area known as the Fox Covey.
Middle left: the Iron Age Castle Old Fort.
Lammas Fields (Shenstone) TMS
This is a contraction of two A-S words: hlaf means loaf and mas is the same as the element in Christmas. Lammas was celebrated, primarily in the form of a church service, for the gathering in of grain around August 1.
" field where there is an annual harvest festival"
Lazy Hill TMS, RHS, OS, EM
The word Lazy seems to be derived from a Germanic source, meaning tired in this context. Certainly, the gradient of Lazy Hill presents a formidable challenge to most pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles.
"The hill that makes one weary"
The first element leoman is undoubtedly the Old British word for elm and is very similar to the contemporary Welsh word for that tree. The second element is either the Anglo-Saxon suffix indicating a clearing, but more probably it is the Welsh noun lle meaning place. The 's' is probably a late intrusion. The Brittonic name can be reconstructed as Leoman y Lle.
"The elm woodland"
Lichfield RHS, OS, PR
Lichfield is a bilingual composite made up of a contraction of Letocetum, the name of the Roman settlement at Wall, and the A-S noun field. The name Letocetum (pr. leeto-cheetum) was based on an Old British precursor, meaning grey woods. In Modern Welsh, this would be rendered as Llwyd Coed and Lichfield is referred to as Caerlwytgoed.
"The open space near the Roman station at Letocetum"
Lynn/Lyndon TMS, RHS, OS, PR, EM
Lynn is derived from the Welsh word llyn, meaning lake. We should expect that the area was liable to flooding and the presence of semi-permanent standing water when the place-name was coined in the Iron Age. This type of watery incursion continued into the 20th century and is thus still within living memory. Lyndon was a synonym for the hamlet used frequently by Rev Sanders. Although the name has fallen out of usage, it survived in the name of Lyndon Cottage (now demolished) into the 20th century. The second syllable -don may be a Celtic language element referring to the Iron Age fortification at Castle Hill. If so, Lyndon, or something very similar, might have been the Iron Age name for the whole of the Stonnall area. See Quebb.
Lynn: "The place where there are many pools, bogs and floods"
Lyndon: "The place where there are many pools, bogs and floods near the fortification"
Mill Lane takes its name from the steam mill that was located in Lower Stonnall between about 1840 and 1900. Mill Lane that extends from the junction of Church Road and Wall Heath Lane was formerly known as Lower Stonnall Lane and Mill Lane that extends from Lynn Lane was formerly known as Quebb Lane. See Stonnall and Quebb.
"The lane that leads to the mill"
Muckley is derived from the Anglo-Saxon adjective muckle, meaning big, (as opposed to mickle, meaning small). The second element -ley is almost certainly the A-S suffix meaning clearing. Muckle is related to the Modern English word much.
"The large clearing where two major roads cross each other"
Ogley Hay RHS, OS
Ogley Hay appears to be Brittonic and Anglo-Saxon hybrid. Og and lle are Celtic words for harrow and place respectively and must date from the Cornovian Iron Age, whereas hay appears to be derived from the A-S word haeg, meaning fence.
"The fenced-off ploughed field that is used for growing crops"
Old Fort TMS, RHS, OS, EM
Old Fort is a straightforward English descriptive name for the ancient fortification at Castle Hill, but the name might be much older than this would imply. When Dr Plott visited Stonnall in the late 1600s to examine the hill fort, a local informant, Mr Brown, told him that the fort's ancient name was Hen Castell, which translates from Welsh as Old Fort.
"The ancient fortification"
Pen Brook RHS
Pen Brook rises at a point between Castle Hill and Lazy Hill and then flows through Stonnall and Lynn to Shenstone where it meets Black Brook. Pen is a Welsh word that means end.
"The stream that flows from the end of the valley"
Pinglefield (Shenstone) TMS
This is made up of three elements: pin is the Brittonic word for end, le is almost certainly the Brittonic word for place and field is the A-S word meaning open space. It is thus one of several bilingual names in the area. The g in the Pingle element is an intrusion induced by the preceding n. The area received its name because, when travelling from Shenstone, it is at the end of Streetway Road.
"The place that is at the end of the road"
Ponesfield Lane (Lichfield) TMS, OS
Ponesfield would appear to be a Brittonic/Anglo-Saxon hybrid. The element pone is the Brittonic word pwn, meaning bale (eg of hay).
"The lane that passes by a hayfield"
Pouk Lane TMS, OS
Pouk is undoubtedly of Brittonic origin. The original word is represented in present-day Welsh as pwca (pr pooka) meaning elf or pixie.
"The lane in an area that is inhabited by elves"
Quebb Brook/Lane/Meadow TMS, RHS, EM
Now fallen out of usage, Quebb is recorded in the Tithe Map survey, the Estate Map and by Rev Sanders. It means marsh and is an ancient descriptive name for the once-boggy area in Lynn and the district of Wall Heath. Quebb Brook has now virtually disappeared, but its course is still marked by a crooked boundary hedge in Mill Lane. Even after the marsh was drained, the name persisted as Quebb Meadow and Quebb Lane near Lynn Lane. The name must have been coined by some of the earliest Anglo-Saxon migrants into the Stonnall area. The word is still represented in several European languages in the Germanic area.
Raikes Lane TMS, RHS, OS, PR
This name appears to be the A-S word hraca meaning throat, or when applied to a place-name, a narrow passage. Raikes Lane is indeed very narrow.
"The very narrow lane"
Shenstone TMS, RHS, OS, PR
There seems to have been two dialectal forms of this name. Of the two, possibly the oldest form Senestan has lost out to Shenstone, the form in contemporary usage. However, they both have the same meaning, which is shiny stone, possibly a reference to the reflective cobbles that are present in the soil.
"The place of shiny stones"
Shire Oak TMS, OS
The word shire indicates an administrative area, not necessarily corresponding to the contemporary usage of county. The tree once marked the boundary between the Parish of Shenstone and the Parish of Walsall and was located near Holly Lane on Lichfield-Walsall Road, Walsall Wood.
"The oak tree at the parish boundary"
Stonnall TMS, RHS, OS, PR, EM
There seems to have been two dialectal forms of this name. The first, spelled variously as Stonnall, Stonall, Stonnal, etc, has become the standard version, now rendered universally as Stonnall. The second, attested as a variant in the mediaeval records of local court proceedings, is recorded as Stonwall. It is this version that provides us with the key to understanding the name of the village. The first element ston- is a reference to the stony ground that is a left-over from glacial activity during the last Ice Age. The second element -wall is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word waelle, meaning a place where there is water, that is, a place liable to flooding and where there is semi-permanent standing water. These characteristics were common occurrences and features through to the 20th century and still manifest themselves from time to time in the present day. We can reconstruct the earliest form of the name as it was expressed in Anglo-Saxon as Stanigwaelle. See the related Wall Heath and Wallong.
"The stony place where there is a lot of water"
The names have been appended to an early 20th century Ordnance Survey map.
Note Gorse Farm (lower left), taking its name from Stonnall Gorse.
Thorneyhurst Lane TMS, OS, EM
The first element denotes an area where such things as hawthorn, brambles, etc predominate. The second element is a development of A-S hyrst, meaning thicket.
"The lane that passes by a thorny thicket"
Wall Heath TMS, RHS, OS, EM
Wall Heath was a district name applied to the names of six fields enclosed by Wall Heath Lane, Lynn Lane and the two Mill Lanes. Here we encounter the Anglo-Saxon word waelle yet again and we can infer that the name arose from the tendency of that area to produce flooding, semi-permanent standing water and marshes. Heath denotes uncultivated, a condition imposed by excessive and widespread waterlogging, no doubt.
"The uncultivated area where there is a lot of water"
Wallong TMS, RHS, EM
Wallong was a district name applied to four fields. These are now occupied by Westwick Close, Thornes Croft and St Peter's Close. The name is another plural form, waellen, of the Anglo-Saxon word waelle, with the meaning multiple sources of water or pools. In this case, the plural has been indicated with the terminating 'n'. The tendency for flooding in the area has persisted to recent times. Sometimes a pool would freeze over in winter and local residents would skate on it. Sometimes a pool would spill over into Main Street and cause flooding outside the school. Westwick Close has been flooded at least once since it was built in the early 1960s.
"The place where there are pools of water"
Watling Street RHS, OS
Watling is a slightly anglicised form of the Welsh word gwyddel, meaning foreign, or more specifically Irish, with the addition, possibly satirically, of the Welsh diminutive suffix -in. Remembering that the road extends all the way from Holyhead to the south-east, it undoubtedly received this name because, for centuries, the road was used by Irish people en route to find seasonal work in Britain.
"The route that is used a lot by Irish people"
Well Piece TMS, EM
Here we encounter the Anglo-Saxon word waelle once again. Significantly, the field is next to the former Wallong enclosures and Pen Brook flows at its eastern boundary. Undoubtedly, the field was once susceptible to flooding. The name may have been reinforced by local residents who could have used the brook as a source of water before the days of domestic supplies. The enclosure is now the playing field for Stonnall.
"The place where there is water"
Whitacre Lane TMS, EM
Whitacre is usually interpreted as white acre, ie white field, but why a field would be white for long enough periods of time so as to induce such a name is beyond reason. A Brittonic original must now be considered. Taking the second element first, acer is one of the Welsh words for acre and it is pronounced in the same way as it is in English. However the Welsh word would seem to be a borrowing from English. Therefore, another bilingual compound should offer an explanation. Thus, the first element is descended from the same source as the present-day Welsh word for plough, which is gwydd. Now the name makes sense. Cf Wheatmore Farm in Sutton Coldfield: gwydd + mawr = ploughed much.
"The field that is always ploughed for crops" as opposed to being a field for pasture.
Evidence of Bilingualism
As we have seen, several of the interpreted place-names are, in fact, bilingual. These can be classified in different ways.
- The name is made up of two contiguous elements originating from different languages, eg Crankling. (Brittonic noun + A-S diminutive.)
- The name is made up of one element, or two contiguous elements originating from a single language, but with an associated separate explanatory or descriptive noun originating from a different language, eg Ogley Hay. (Two Brittonic nouns + A-S noun.)
- The name is made up of at least two contiguous elements originating from two different languages, but with an associated separate explanatory or descriptive noun, eg Ponesfield Lane. (Brittonic and A-S nouns + A-S noun.)
As a fairly large number of the interpreted place-names contain Brittonic elements, it is reasonable to suggest that the language continued to be spoken in this part of the West Midlands well into the Middle Ages and, further, certain of the population appeared to have been bilingual Brittonic/Anglo-Saxon speakers. For example, it is extremely unlikely, to say the least, that the person who coined the name Crankling did not understand the Brittonic crank element when applying the Anglo-Saxon diminutive suffix -ling to it. But this raises a huge question: how long did Brittonic survive in the West Midlands?
The response of academia to this question has always been vague, there being no surveys or censuses to speak of in the period from the collapse of Roman rule in about 410AD to the Norman Conquest in 1066. However, there is one place-name in this collection that can provide us with an "at least until" measurement. That place-name is Cricket Lane. It belongs to the third of our classifications above. Let's look at it a bit more closely.
The part of greatest interest is Cricket. As we have noted, it is made up of the Brittonic element crug, meaning tumulus, with the diminutive suffix -et. But this suffix is neither Brittonic nor Anglo-Saxon. It is French. This means that the name was coined some time after the invasion of 1066 that brought the French language to this country. As Cricket is a bilingual place-name, we can conclude that Brittonic was still being spoken in this part of the West Midlands as late as the 11th century.
© Julian Ward-Davies BA Hons 2014. Revised November and December 2019 and January 2020.
Design, image editing and programming are the work of the author.
If you have any information, suggestions and/or photographs relating to the subject matter, no matter how trivial, please contact the author by one of the methods shown below.
Please revisit for additions, amendments and revisions.