What’s in a Place-name? By Katharine Walker and Patrick Keane

Katharine Walker and Patrick Keane

Place-names are the names of locations including villages, rivers, hills, and woods. They have meanings which form an essential geographical reference system. In general, place-names in England contain three broad elements: personal names, natural features and settlement functions. These elements often derive from ancient languages.

As place-names lose their original meaning when new or modified languages become spoken, they are changed or drift to new forms; this can disguise their origins. Place-names also get lost and cease appearing on maps. They provide valuable insights into the historical geography of a landscape and its culture.

Many place-names in the New Forest can be traced back to Old English. This is a West Germanic language that was in use for approximately 700 years until about 100 years after the Norman Conquest in 1066. Other place-names are derived from Latin or Old French.

Beaulieu Hants. Bellus Locus Regis 1205, Beulu c.1300. ‘Beautiful place (of the king)’. OF beau + lieu

Lyndhurst Hants. Linhest 1086 (DB). ‘Wooded hill with lime-trees’. OE lind + hyrst

Minstead Hants. Mintestede 1086 (DB). ‘Place where mint grows or is grown’. OE minte + stede

The Christopher Tower New Forest Reference Library holds a second edition Richardson King and Drivers’ map. The eastern-most third is missing, yet what survives is of exceptional importance. As well as showing timber enclosures made after 1814, it displays annotations of almost 200 place-names. Two-thirds of these names do not appear on published maps or plans. Concentrations occur in the Walks (keepers’ beats) of Burley, Bolderwood, Eyeworth and Bramblehill.

They include:

  • Cold Bath
  • Devils Claw
  • Frying Pan Hole
  • My Lords Bush
  • Speckled Fly
  • Spy Oak
  • Stags Harbour
  • Stupids Hole

Many have a story to tell:

Coal Earth Bottom is a corruption of Coal Hearth Bottom and indicates the use of charcoal kilns in this area.

Myrtle Tree and Pretty Beech are recorded in a list of notable trees drawn up in 1850 in which no locations were given.

Rushmoor Bottom from which Rushmoor has been taken as a prefix for ponies bred by a certain commoning family.

Publisher: James Wyld Scale: 4 inches to 1 mile Date: 1814 annotated c.1855

Further reading

Gelling, M. 2000. Place-Names in the Landscape: The geographical roots of Britain’s place-names. London: Phoenix.

Gover, J.E.B. 1961. The Place Names of Hampshire. Unpublished typescript.

Reeves, R. 2009. An important find for placename research. New Forest History and Archaeology Group Report 1, 9-12.