Pagan and supranormal elements in English Place-names

(updated 25 September 2011)

 


Font Colour Key:

blue = current Modern English place-names;

dark red = first recorded or earlier spellings of English place-names;

green = names or words in Old English (OE), Old High German (OHG) and Old Norse (ON) or cognate terms;

purple = Modern German, Dutch or Scandinavian names or words

 

 


Heathen cults do not appear to have been evenly distributed across England, but instead roll like a tide from the south-east northwards keeping more or less to the centre of the country, until they reach the north-midlands. Heathen place-name elements are rarer north of the Humber or in East Anglia. Place-names can be an invaluable resource for gleaning information about our pre-Christian past, which is very sparsely represented in the extant documentary souces or archaeological excavations. Margaret Gelling [see sources below] argues that some heathen place-names survived the conversion because they were located in inaccessible areas and a number of heathen sanctuaries or bastions of heathendom may have survived for decades. Therefore names indicating them became seen as abnormal and something out of the ordinary and quite possibly explains why some survived. The persecution of pagans by Christians would also have had the effect of pushing pagan worshippers and their sites into remoter places, which presumably ensured their longevity. A certain amount of natural conservatism in place-naming and place-name adoption must also play a role, cf. our Celtic-derived place-names and elements in England. However, care has to be taken when interpreting a reference to a pre-Christian deity in a place-name as indicative of former veneration of the named deity in that location. Some such place-names, particularly those compounded with “grove” or “shrine” may well denote cultic importance, but others, such as those relating to topographical features (e.g. Wansdyke, Roseberry Topping, Grims Dyke etc.) might well refer to nothing more than size and impressiveness of the natural features. These cautionary comments apply in equal measure to most, if not all, the place-names discussed in these two articles.

 

As can been seen from the examples cited below (of which the great majority find agreement among scholars), most place-names indicating pre-Christian worship or else belief in supranormal beings still extant are to be found outside the Danelaw, i.e. in what was Saxon held Dark-Ages and early medieval England. The settlement of the Danes and Norsemen in England probably had little effect in terms of adding to the number of heathen place-names since they quickly became Christian and merged with their Saxon neighbours (although no satisfactory explanation has been given to explain the lack of Anglian theophoric place-names from the Danelaw). However, where the Danes and Norsemen did establish heathen sanctuaries, these may have left their legacies in Scandinavian England's toponymic nomenclature because these sites would no doubt have been considered remarkable and worthy of distinction by the Christian majority (even though this attention was negative). In the south of England it is known, for example, that heathendom still survived in Kent as late as the 660s and in Wessex the 640s and later. Therefore there had been a century or more for heathen associated place-names to take root and become firmly established in these areas.

 

It is possible that some pagan place-names were more likely to endure when paganism had become exceptional than when it was normal social practice. I.e. most people were by then Christian and it is not safe to assume that a pagan place-name denotes a very early settlement.

 

There is a notable absence of pagan place-names in the north-east and East Anglia. Possible reasons why may be:

-          lethargy in these areas of popular heathenism

-          changes in nomenclature due to the Danish settlements

-          obliteration by particularly zealous Christian kings.

 

The names most closely associated with paganism can be divided into two broad groups: 1) gods and 2) shrines (e.g. weoh, hearg etc.). These form two discrete groups, thus there is no English equivalent of Odense (Óðinn’s ví), a common type of name in  Scandinavia. Our place-names in England reveal to us the most popular gods among the pagan Saxons and locate many former heathen sanctuary sites. These place-names lie with the region south of an imaginary line between Stafford to Ipswich and east of another such line from Stafford to Weymouth. Theophoric names and others associated with heathenism must by their nature be early and some will date from just after the Migration Period itself. They belong to early settled areas, the majority being in the south and east of England and are often on hills, in groves, close to pagan cemeteries or the most ancient strata of English villages. Those place-names that still survive to inform of the pre-Christian past must have been in widespread and popular use for a long time before the conversion in order to have survived, as well as often being somewhat inaccessible, as Gelling has suggested [see above]. Archaeological studies conducted in this country and elsewhere (such as Scandinavia), combined with the little that can be gleaned from documentary sources, leads to the conclusion that on occasions churches now stand on sites that were once pagan shrines, but this situation hardly seems to have been common. Although we know a great deal about Anglo-Saxon burial customs, archaeology has told us almost nothing about the pagan Saxons' cultic practices or sanctuaries. Place-names provide a valuable source of information (which still needs to be evaluated very carefully). The most recent general work on theophoric place-names in England has been done by Gelling (1987 in the booklist) and in this she earmarks some 43 toponyms as being fairly certain, with some reservations. This study is important because it tempers some of the earlier enthusiastic excesses on this theme by the likes of Stenton, Ekwall and Dickins.

 

The most common second element of English theophoric toponyms is –leah, whether associated with a shrine or a god (14 in all according to Gelling). This would have had the meaning “sacred grove”, cf. the common ON lundr.

 

1) Current place-names: The Anglo-Saxon parallel to Óðinn was Woden, whose name is remembered in Wednesday as well as several place-names (however we simply do not know if the Anglo-Saxons viewed the god in the same way as he is represented in Icelandic sources, written down some 600 years later. This comment applies to all comparisons that can be made between English and Norse gods). Woden is only recorded as a god-name, therefore it is safe to assume a direct reference to him in place-names which have the name as a first element. Wansdyke (Somer., Wilts.) “Woden's dyke” (903: Wodens dîc), Wednesbury (Staffs.) “Woden's fortification” (1086: Wadnesberie; OE *wodnes beorg), Wednesfield (Staffs.) “Woden's open land” (996: Wodnesfeld, directly corresponding to WN *Óðinsakr), Woodnesborough (Kent) “Woden's hill” (1086: Wansberge or Gollesberge (with Norman substitution of W to G, cf. German Godesberg from earlier Wodnesberg)) from *wodnes beorg was probably a tumulus associated with worship of the god; 1100s.: Wodnesbeorge). Roseberry Topping (NYorks.) was recorded in 1119 as Othenesberg i.e. “Odin's hill” and the form of the name suggests Scandinavian rather than Saxon origin. The present name may have developed from the ancient one, with the initial R- having migrated across from the preposition under. Less certain is Wenslow (Beds.) “Woden's mound?” (1086: Weneslai; 1169: Wodenslawe; OE *wodnes hlæw). If it has been correctly interpreted as a Woden- name, then it would correspond directly in meaning to WN *Óðinshaugr. This and other examples involving (burial) mounds may suggest that the Anglo-Saxons, just as the Norsemen, looked upon Woden as god of the dead. Wensley (Derbys.) “Woden's glade” (1086: Wodnesleie) has a more substantial parallel in West Norse *Óðinslundr, since the former example from Bedfordshire is in an area of the country far less exposed to Norse or Danish influence and much evidence suggests that OE hlæw was often applied to natural hills and artificial mounds not involving burial. Wenslow Hundred (Beds) is also a name of the same origin. Claims that ON Óðinn can be found in Onesacre (Yorks.) “Odin's open land?” (1086: Anesacre) and Onesmoor (Yorks.) “Odin's heath?” are almost certainly wrong. All early forms for both place-names point to an ON personal-name Án, which is known from medieval Norse sources elsewhere. Wormshill (Kent) (1232: Wodnesell, 1242: Wernesholl) is rejected by Gelling as having a non-conclusive early spelling.

 

Grim was another name for Woden, and the Norsemen used the name in the same way for Óðinn - Old Norse Grimr. It was used when Woden was travelling incognito, and the Anglo-Saxons clearly associated him with some of the massive earthworks in the south and west of the country. Even in the Danelaw because of the Anglo-Norse parallels in the use of this name for Woden/Óðinn, an earthwork in Grim- will probably allude to this god. As this pseudonym for Woden is found in some place-names in the west of the country, it has been assumed that the name survived into the Christian period as an active element (now becoming a name for the Devil), since these names are too late to have been coined during the heathen period. For names in Grim- we have: Grims Ditch (Berks., Cambs., Herts., Middlesex, Notts. (2), Oxon. (2), Surrey (2) and Wilts. (3) – one of these last ones called grimes dic in 956) as well as in West Yorks, Grims Dyke (Hants., Oxon.) Gryme's Dyke (Essex - note that only two place-names involving Woden are known from Essex [both lost - see section 2 below] because unlike other Anglo-Saxon royal dynasties, the East Saxon royal house traced its origins back to Seaxnot (a Saxon god) rather than Woden) and Grims Dike (Hants., WYorks.) which all derive from OE *Grimes dîc (recorded first 956 AD). A Grims Bank “Woden's earthwork” occurs in Berkshire and a Grimsbury “fortification attributed to Woden” (1086: Grimberie) is known from Oxon. The burh may have referred to an earthwork. Woden's Dyke (Hants.) was known in 1272 as Grimesdich, confirmation of the belief that (at least in some cases) Grim must denote Woden - a fact still recognised in the late 13th century. Grim’s Hill in the bounds of Hawling (Gloucs.) is identified with a hill crowned by a fort. Also possibly containing Grim are the Neolithic flint mines Grimes Graves (Norfolk) and a Grimspound on Dartmoor (Devon). As with names in Thur- etc., care has to be taken not to confuse this nickname for Woden with the many personal names incorporating this name as an element or else stand-alone within both the Danelaw and Saxon dominated England. The possibilities are perhaps further complicated by OE grîma “ghost, spectre”.

 

There are twice as many Grim-names as Woden-names and therefore it is doubtful whether all the Grim-names had Woden in mind. Some may be later and be a pseudonym for the Devil, cf. Devil’s Ditch. Furthermore, many Grim names will go back to a personal name, e.g. Grimsby.

 

And so we move onto Thunor (OE Þûnor (cf. WN Þórr)), the god of thunder, whose name appears for certain only in Saxon and Jutish areas (suggesting he was little known among the Angles). His name including all extant forms is mainly found compounded with –lêah. We find him in: Thunderfield (Surrey) “Thunor's plain” (880: Þunresfeld, has parallels in WN *Þórsakr, *Þórsvin which are characteristic of eastern Scandinavia and reflects a role of Thunor as a fertility god), Thunderley Hall (Essex) “hall at Thunor's clearing” (1086: Tunresleam), Thundersley (Essex) “Thunor's clearing” (1086: Thunreslea) - Thursley (Surrey) recalls the above-mentioned Thundersley being a mere syncopated version of it, Thundridge (Herts.) “Thunor's ridge” (1086: Tonrinch – Gelling (1961) considers the spelling non-conclusive), Thurstable (Essex) “Thunor's pillar” (1066-87: Thurstapell; OE stapoll “pillar, column” – disputed by Gelling as a name in ME Thur). Tusmore (Oxon.) is disputed by Gelling (1086: Toresmere). There is a Thunderlow Hundred in Essex Þûnor + hlæw “Thunor’s mound”. As far as the former Danelaw and Norse settled regions of England are concerned, all names in Thor- or Thur- look certain to derive from the personal names Thor, Thur, which were very much in fashion in these areas for several centuries (and even adopted in numbers by their Anglo-Saxon neighbours).

 

Tiw the Norse and Germanic god of war (OE Tîw; cf. ON Týr) is less common and it is possible that by the time some of the later places were named, his cult was already old. He appears in our word Tuesday and the place-names: Tuesley (Surrey) “Tiw's clearing” (1086: Tiwesle), Tuesnoad (Kent) “Tiw's piece of woodland”, Tysoe (Warwicks.) “spur of land dedicated to the war-god Tíw” (1086: Tiheshoche; OE *Tîges hôh). This is near a site of a hill-carved horse where the Anglo-Saxons won a victory in battle. A place-name found in Hertfordshire, Tewin (944/6: Tiwingum) may possibly denote “the people of Tîwa” i.e. those who venerated Tîw, but this explanation is disputed. Toponyms involving the OE patronymic suffix -ing usually refer to a clan-leader or some natural feature of the landscape and so “followers of (the chief) Tiwa” is more likely.

 

Freefolk (Hants.) “Frig's people” (1086: Frigefolc) possibly names the mother of the gods Frig (OE Frîg). The same may be found in Froyle (Hants.) “Frig's hill” (1086: Froli; probably OE *frêohyll) and Frobury (Hants.) “Frig's hill” (1185: Frolebiri) once probably also OE *frêohyll. Worthy of mention are also Fridaythorpe (E. Yorks.) probably OE *Frigedægesþorp “the village of Frig's day” and Fretherne (Gloucs.) possibly “Frig's thorn-bush” (1086: Fridorne). However, more recent scholarship has thrown considerable doubt on all these putative Frig names. It seems unlikely that the Hants. names with their persistent -o- spellings can derive from Frîg and more reasonably can be said to derive from freo “free”. There are no OE spellings for them. Fridaythorpe may well be derived from an unusual but secular personal name and Fretherne, it has been argued, derives from OE frioðu “peace, refuge”, possibly by extension a meeting-place (thorn-trees were often landmarks). The current weight of critical opinion now disfavours association with the goddess Frig in these place-names.

 

Similarly dubious are those names which have been supposed to contain evidence that the Anglo-Saxons venerated Balder, ie. Baldersby (Yorks.) (1086: Baldrebi), Balderstone (Lancs.) (1323: Baldreston), Balderton (Notts.) (1086: Baldretune), as well as two names recorded in Anglo-Saxon times, Bealderslêah and Bealderesbeorg. As far as I know there is no evidence whatever that the pagan Saxons even knew of the deity who in later Norse sources is called Baldr. It is much more likely that these place-names, including the vanished ones, involve the not uncommon OE personal name B(e)aldhere (we would expect to find a genitive singular form of Baldrs- to be able to even consider entertaining the possibility of the Old Norse god here).

 

OE god “god, God” hardly appears in English place-names and there is only one example which seems reasonably certain, while a couple of others remain a possibility. Compare that with the situation in Denmark (Gud-) or Iceland (Goð(a)-) for example [see Scandinavian section] and in England this term is conspicuous by its absence. The instance where OE god seems likely is Gadshill (2 instances from Kent) “god's hill” (one of the Kent examples will be represented in 973: Godeshylle), where it is possible than an earlier heathen name took on Christian connotations. Ekwall regards the near identical Godshill in Wight (although probably not the one in Hants.) as meaning the same as the Kent example above (1100s: Godeshella; 1270: Godeshull). Mills, on the other hand, entertains the possibility of god being behind Godshill in Hants. (1230: Godshull) and Reaney cites the Sussex place-name Godshill Farm as containing OE god (1315: Godeshulle, but this would more reasonably be “the hill of a man called God (or Gode)”). No other toponyms I know of are thought to likely contain this element in a heathen context. Godstow in Oxon. for example, can instantly be dismissed since -stow (OE stôw) is only found with the meaning “holy place” in later Christian contexts. Many other place-names in God- can be easily explained as compounding the OE personal-names God or Gôda, initimate or shortened forms of compound names such as Godric or Godwine etc. On the other hand, it seems more reasonable to entertain the idea of OE god being associated with very small localities or nature-names rather than with habitations and more major settlements (cf. the Danish Gudensø, Gudenå, Gudbjerg or Icelandic Goðhóll, Goðafoss and Goðafjall). Reaney cites Godsfield (Hants.) “open land of a deity?”, Godswell Grove (Wilts.) “divine well in a grove?” (but early form of 1189 Godeswell tends to suggest a personal-name), Godsell Farm (Wilts.) “god's hill?” (1225: Godeshulle - “God’s hill” but may be the personal-name Goda (Godus is recorded in 1086 for Wilts.) cf. Godshill also in Wilts.), Gadsey Brook (Beds.) “brook with an island consecrated to a god?” (1239: Godeshoslade - probably God, a pet form of a name in God-), and from the plural god(en)a he derives two instances of Godley (i) Ches., Macclesfield Hundred, 1220: Goddaley, 1285/6: Godele, Godelay, Godelee, Godelei, 1364: Godley; ii) Surrey, Godley Hundred, 1060: Goddelie, 1086: Godelie) “grove of the gods?” (the EPNS volumes however read God(d)a + lêah i.e. “God(d)a’s clearing” in both cases) and Godney (Somer.) “island of the gods?” (971: Godeneia; cf. parallels in Norwegian Torsøy, Swedish Onsjö, Icelandic Helgey etc.). The putative cases from Hants., Wilts. and Beds. are from early (and therefore originally heathen) settled areas and this rules out any associations with Christianity in these names. That all of the above place-names can derive from an Old English personal-name seems very unlikely and we have to reckon on at least some of them compounding OE god. Reaney suggests a possible instance of OE gyden “goddess” in a Westbourne hundred-name recorded only once in 1086 as Ghidenetroi, conceivably OE *gydenne-trêow “tree of the goddess” but if true, it does not have a parallel elsewhere, as far as I know [however, see the lost Frig names in section 2 below].

 

OE ês, ôs “god” has been postulated for Easole (Kent) (824: æt Oesewalum) being compounded with walu “ridge”. Eisey (Wilts) (775-8: Eseg) being ês + ieg “island” and Easewrithe Hundred (Sussex) being wrið “thicket” may also be such names. It may as Gelling points out only be chance that more pagan place-names in walu, ieg or wrið are not extant.

 

Three words show the strength that the heathen cults once had in England, because taken as a whole they occur quite frequently: ealh “shrine” (cf. Gothic alhs “shrine”, OSwed. al(a) and OE ealgian “protect, defend”), hearg or hearh “hill sanctuary, sacred grove, temple” (cf. ODan. *hargh, ON hörgr, OSwed. *hargher and OHG harug (the last of these meaning “sacred grove”) < Gmic. *haruga) and weoh, wîg “idol; shrine, sacred spot” (cf. ON , ODan. , OSax. wih these all meant “temple, holy place” < Gmic. *wîha). An often cited example of the first of these is Alkham in Kent (c.1100: Ealhham; OE *Ealh-hâm) “homestead by a heathen shrine”. But concerning ealh, literary evidence does not point in OE so clearly to a pagan building as do hearg and weoh.

 

There are (as noted above) no cases of hearg or weoh compounded with a heathen god probably because the sanctuaries would have contained images of or altars to several gods.

 

Hearg often comes out as modern Harrow. E.g.: Harrow-on-the-Hill (Middlesex) (825: æt Hearge) an early church was probably built over the hearg there, Harrowden (Beds.) (1086: Herghetone) and (Great) Harrowden (Northants.) (1086: Hargedone) are probably OE *hearga-dûn “hill with heathen shrines”. In Birdbrook (Essex) a prominent hill called Harrowdown is connected with a Harewe in a 1300s document. Also worthy of mention is Peper Harrow (Surrey) “shrine of the pipers” (1086: Pipereherge). Note that all these sites are on hills. Arrowfield Top (Worcs) probably contains hearg + feld (open land). Philippson claims a Harrowick (Beds.).

 

Weoh, wîg is a very common element and it is often compounded with OE dûn “hill” or lêah “woodland glade, clearing”, suggesting that favourite spots for this type of shrine were hill-tops or forest clearings. Generally speaking, weoh becomes Wee- and wîg becomes Wy- or Wye-. Those sites which seem reasonably certain to derive from this element are: Wye (Kent) “holy site, shrine” (839: an Uuiæ), Willey (Surrey) (909: weo lêage), Wheely Down, Weyhill (Hants) (c.1270: La Wou), Weedon Beck (Northants.) (1086: Wedone), Weedon (Bucks.) “shrine hill” (944: Weodûn), Weoley (Worcs.) (1264: Welegh; OE *wêo-lêah) “shrine near a woodland glade”, Weeley (Essex) (1000s: Willgelea; OE *wêo-lêah “shrine near a woodland glade”), Weeford (Staffs.) (1086: Weforde), Wyham (Lincs.) (1086: Widun; OE wêoum, the dative plural of OE wêoh). Gelling, however, questions (p.101) whether Weoley, Weyhill and Weeford [above] can really derive from weoh. On the other hand she adds her own suggestions to the canon of weoh-wîg names: Wysall (Notts.) “hill spur of a heathen shrine” (1086: Wisoc; OE *wîg-hôh) and possibly also Wyfordby (Leics.) “shrine near a settlement by a ford” (1086: Wivordebie; OE *wîgford). An adjective weoh “holy” is postulated for Wembury (Devon), and two lost names Weondune (where the battle of Brunanburh took place) and Weonfelda (Berks). Gelling discounts Weeley and also claims Whyly (Sussex) for which only late spellings are extant, is not a pagan name. Wing (Bucks) and Wingfield (Suffolk) may contain ingas-group names, but this seems open to doubt as no unequivocal group names in weoh or hearg have yet been found.

 

Hoff Lunn (Westmorland) is probably of Scandinavian origin and indicates the presence of a heathen shrine there (Old Norse hof), as the word hardly occurs in native English place-names (1363: Hoffelund). The second element ON -lundr makes this interpretation even more likely.

 

Three terms - two from OE and one from ON - are found denoting “barrow, tumulus” in the English landscape. These are OE (West Saxon) beorg (Anglian berg), hlæw or hlâw and ON haugr. However care must be taken before deciding for certain that a toponym incorporating one of these elements denotes a former burial mound because all three terms are also commonly used for natural hills in the landscape. Investigations will need to be made into local historical documents for evidence of folk tradition of a burial mound(s) in the area and occasionally archaeological excavations have proved conclusive. The nature of the mound itself (i.e. does it have a hollow in its top (a possible indication of earlier grave-robbing)? Where does it lie in relation to the parish church?) may gave clues to its earlier functions if it can be proven to be man-made. By no means all artificial mounds were used as burial sites and may have had other uses, such as meeting-places, landmarks or surveillance points.

 

Of the three terms, beorg is more common in the south of the country and haugr, as we would expect, is known from those regions of northern and eastern England settled by Danes and Norsemen. If a mound is no longer visible, still greater care is needed with suspected instances of beorg, since this word was often confused in Middle English spellings with the similar sounding burh “fortress, town” or its dative form byrig and sometimes even with bearu “grove”. Ideally, all beorg names would have become -barrow or -berrow in modern spellings but sometimes the word has been preserved as -borough or -bury, the usual products of burh and byrig respectively. In the Midlands and north of the country it has often proved impossible to distinguish between the Anglian form berg and the ON element berg “hill” (the meanings do not overlap exactly). Despite these problems of interpretation (and determining the function of the barrow if it still exists) many man-made mounds are known to exist and some have certainly been the sites of heathen burials. The rather common Barrow Hill has undoubtedly been a tumulus in many cases. Two sites from Gloucestershire, Longborough (1086: Langeberge) and Lambrough (notice their meanings have been confused by medieval scribes) both mean “long barrow” and derive from OE *langan beorge. Two mounds whose names indicate that they have either been looted or were at some point containing grave-goods are Brokenborough (Wilts.) “broken barrow” (956: Brokene beregge; OE *brocenan beorge) and Idle Barrow (Berks.) “empty, useless barrow” (Gelling 1988, p. 132). There are far too many instances of the word found either alone, or especially, compounded, to cite them here. However we can note that the word is found in the simplex form (both singular and plural) e.g. Barras (Suffolk) shows the plural (OE beorgas) while Barrow (Somer.) (1232: la Bergh), Barugh (NYorks.) (1086: Berch), Burgh (Surrey) (1086: Berge) and Berrow (Somer.) (973: at Burgh) all represent the singular. As a second element in compounds beorg, berg is even more frequent. For example: Greenborough (Bucks., Kent) “green hill, mound”, Hillborough (Kent) “holy mound, hill” (OE hâlig), Stoborough (Somer.) “hill with stones” (1086: Stanberge; OE stân) or Wolborough (Devon) “wolves' hill” (1086: Ulveberie; OE *wulfa-beorg). As suggested in the paragraph on hlæw below, obviously artificial hills or mounds containing personal-names have a much higher probability of having associations with pre-Christian belief, for example: Baltonsborough (Somer.) “Bealdhûn's mound” (744: Balteresberghe), Symondsbury (Dorset) “Sigemund's mound” (1086: Simondesberge) or Inkberrow (Worcs.) “Inta's mounds” (789: Intanbeorgas). Nevertheless, great care must be exercised before concluding that even a man-made barrow from the Anglo-Saxon period unquestionably had a role to play in heathen worship or beliefs. For a more extensive and varied list of toponyms containing beorg see for example Smith, Vol.I, pp.29-30.

 

OE hlæw as a rule gives the modern form -lew, while hlâw gives -low (-law in northern England). Sometimes both forms are replaced by -ley (see for example Dragley below). This word is more widespread than beorg but in the north of the country is often used to denote “hill” (Gelling 1988, p. 134). The term is well known from OE literature in connection with a dragon sitting upon a mound and guarding a pile of treasure [for which, see below], as well as serving to denote “burial mound”. Indeed, the number of place-names in -hlæw is one of the distinctive features of the Derbyshire landscape and from this county Kenneth Cameron claims that of the c.70 instances which have early recorded forms, 30+ are unquestionably burial mounds. He further calculates that about 1 in 6 of the early forms with -hlæw compound an OE monothematic personal name - a situation which strongly connects the mounds to a preservation and commemoration function. As such this element is known in its simplex form in the singular Lew (Oxon. - a tumulus is in the vicinity of the village - 984: Hlæwe) and the plural Lewes (Sussex) “(site of the burial) mounds” - (961: Læwas; OE *Hlæwas). Of the many compounding OE personal names, Taplow (Bucks.) and Offlow (Staffs.) are especially interesting. At the site of the first of these excavations have uncovered adorned buckles and grave-goods, probably belonging to Tæppa (1086: Thapeslau), the man whom it seems was important enough to merit his own burial mound (probably a 7th century chieftain). The second of these “Offa's mound” although not directly connected to the great Offa of Mercia himself (whom it may well pre-date), is in the right region and of antiquity enough to be in some way connected to the Merican royal house, if only by name. Slightly more mundane instances are Bledlow (Bucks.) “*Bledda's mound” (900s: Bleddanhlæw), Thriplow (Cambs.) “*Tryppa's mound” (1086: Trepeslau), Publow (Somer.) “Pubba's mound” (1219: Pubelawe) and Osmotherley (Lancs.) “Ásmundr's mound” (1246: Asemunderlawe). Hlæw or hlâw also appear compounded with plant/tree names, e.g. Bartlow (Cambs.) “birch-mound” (1232: Berkelawe; OE beorc), adjectives e.g. Greenlow (Lancs.) “green mound”, animals e.g. Foxlow Field (Cambs.) “fox-hill” (1235: Flaxlewe), words denoting customs or belief e.g. Wardlow (Derbys.) “look-out hill” (1258: Wardelawe; OE weard “watch”) see also Drakelow below, and meeting-places e.g. Mutlow (Ches.) “hill for meetings” (1354: Motlowe; OE *(ge)môt-hlâw). More examples are cited in Smith, Vol. I, p. 250. As with beorg above, certain conditions need to be met regarding derivation of name elements, location and situation, age, local history and possible archaeological finds before one can claim with any confidence that a particular barrow is likely to have had a pre-Christian religious function.

 

ON haugr “mound, hill” is typically preserved in modern spellings as Howe(-) and must have come into use after Danes and Norsemen began to settle down and make their own homes in England during the late 800s onwards. It is more difficult to recognise as a meaningful element in the cases where it has been syncopated to -a or -o in modern place-names. Nor is it always easy to distinguish from OE hôh “hill-spur”, although if the first element of a compound incorporating it is a Scandinavian word, haugr has probably been the source. As a hundred-name, it often denotes “grave-mound, barrow” (Ekwall, p.225). Well-known examples of the simplex form are Howe (Norfolk) “barrow” (1086: Hou, Howa), identical Howe in north Yorkshire (1086: Hou) and Hoon (Derbys.) “at/by the hill mounds” (1086: Hougen; ON haugum, dative plural of haugr). Compounded forms can vary a great deal in elements they incorporate, e.g. Clitheroe (Lancs) “song-thrush mound” (1102: Cliderhou; ON *kliðra-haugr), Candleshoe (Lincs) “*Calunôþ's mound” (1086: Calnodeshou), Haverstoe (Lincs) “Hávarðr's mound” (1086: Hawardeshou; ON *Hávarðar-haugr), Stanghow (Yorks.) “mound with a pole” (1272: Stanghou; ON stöng “pole”), Carlinghow (WYorks.) “old woman's (or witch's) hill” (1307: Kerlinghowe; ON kerling “hag, old woman”), Dringhoe (EYorks.) “hill of the brave young men” (1086: Dringolme; ON drengr), Birka (WYorks.) “birch-hill” (ON birka) or Hackinsall (Lancs) “Hacun's mound” (1190: Hacunesho). As in the case of the two words for “mound, hill” discussed above, incorporation of a personal-name increases greatly the likelihood that a particular mound was used as a heathen grave-mound. It is known for certain that many haugar were used simply as look-out points or as meeting-places for various kinds of local administrative assemblies.

 

ON lundr “(sacred) grove” is found in England, although as we would expect, it never gained the frequency it has in Sweden, for example. Nevertheless there is no question of its importation into England as a toponymic element in Danish and Norse settled areas, competing in some contexts with native lêah. Whether it ever carried the meaning “sacred grove”, as in many sites in Scandinavia, is much harder to ascertain. But bearing in mind the Scandinavian settlers were probably, by and large, quickly converted to Christianity and nowhere is lundr found with a theophoric name (cf. the Swedish Närlunda, Fröslunda, Torslunda or Danish Torslunde, Tislum), the likelihood of this element to denote “sacred grove” greatly diminishes. However when found compounded with a Scandinavian personal-name as a first element, the possibility that such a site at some point had some kind of ritual function could be entertained. Where it is a matter of wapentakes, important meeting-places for things “assemblies” (ON þing, ODan. thing) in Scandinavian England, we might be dealing with sites which were considered important and functioned as sacred groves. Thus we find Aveland (Lincs.) “Ave's grove” and Framland (Leics.) “Fráni's grove”. Lundr is quite often confused and becomes -land as a final element in compounds, but it is also found as a simplex in such forms as Lound (Lincs., Notts., Suffolk) “grove” (1086: Lund or Lunda), Lount, Lunt (Lancs. - 1251: Lund) and sometimes Lund itself (Lancs. (1268: le Lund), EYorks. (1086: Lont), WYorks.). It is most frequent in various kinds of compounds, including those with personal-names: Birklands (Bassetlaw Wapentake, Notts.) “grove with birch-trees” (1251: Birkelunde, 1252: Birkelound, 1325: Birkeland; ON birki + lundr), Timberland (Lincs.) “grove where timber is obtained” (1086: Timberlunt), Kirkland (Lancs.) “church grove” (1230: Kirkelund), Owlands (NYorks.) “wolf-grove” (medieval Ulvelundes - gen. pl. of ON úlfr), Natland (Westmorland) “Nate's grove” (1175: Natalund), Snelland (Lincs.) “Snjallr's grove” (1086: Sneleslunt), Swanland (EYorks.) “Svanr or Sveinn's grove” (1189: Suenelund). The lack of theophoric names combined with lundr, its frequent association with nature-names, animal-names and personal-names, as well as apparently early confusion with OE and ON land (which is easy to understand), add up to the impression that a meaning of “sacred grove” was uncommon, probably early and often superceded by other later meanings.

 

Popular beliefs survived for much longer than heathen gods, both among the English and Dano-Norse immigrants. Belief in supranormal beings can be seen in: Shincliffe (Co. Durham) (1085: Scinneclif) from OE scinna “ghost, spectre” and which was presumably believed to haunt this cliff. There is also a Skinburness (Cumbria) “headland near a stronghold haunted by a ghost” (1175: Skyneburg, 1298: Skynburneyse; OE scinna + burh + later addition of ON nes) - the sound and orthographical change of sc- to sk- is due to Scandinavian influence. Another word used by the Anglo-Saxons to denote ghosts or apparitions was grîma. Such is believed to be the first element in Grimley (Worcs.) “woodland glade of the spectre” (851: Grimanlêa) and with some corruption Greenhill (Worcs.) “hill of the spectre” (816: Grimeshyll). In this last example however, we may simply be dealing with occurences of the personal names Grima or Grim. Fairly certain instances are Grimescar (Morley Wapentake, WYorks.) probably “spectre’s skerry” (1771: Grimscar; OE grîma + ON sker “skerry”, but alternatively the first element may be ON grímr “masked person” (EPNS); cf. the Óðinsheiti Grímr) and Grimeshaws (Upper Claro Wapentake, WYorks.) “goblin mound” (1543: Grymhowe, 1846: Grimeshaw; OE grîma + ON haugr “mound”). Further claimants for this element are Greenacre (Kent) with OE æcer “cultivated land” and Grimshaw (Lancs.) “wood haunted by a spectre” (OE sceaga). The first of these is unlikely, since features like hills, woods, holes and pits are associated with haunting rather than open land. Shobrooke (Devon) “goblin-brook” (938: Sceocabroc), Shuckton (Derbys.) “goblin's farmstead” (1330: Shuktone), Shuckburgh (Warwicks.) “goblin-hill” (1086: Socheberge), Shucknall (Hereford) “goblin-hill” (1377: Shokenhulle), Shocklach (Ches.) “bog haunted by a spectre” (1086: Socheliche; OE *læcc “bog, stream”), Shugden Head (Morley Wapentake, WYorks.) “demon haunted valley” (1488: Shugdenhall, 1492: Shukden; OE denu “valley”), as well as Shucklow Warren (Bucks.) (OE scucca + hlâw) and Shuckborough, Shugborough (both Staffs.), all contain the element OE scucca, sceocca “goblin” (or possibly “demon”). However, Shacklow (Derbys.) probably derives from the OE personal name Scæcca.

 

An ON word which is uncommon in the place-names of Scandinavian England is skyrsi, meaning “spectre, phantom”. It is however thought to appear in Skirse Gill (i) East Staincliffe Wapentake (Rylstone), WYorks. (1840: Skirsgill Bridge) and ii) Ewcross Wapentake, WYorks. (1690: Skirsgill) which are both “spectre’s gorge” (ON skyrsi + gil “ravine, gorge”)), in addition to Skirsgill (West Staincliffe Wapentake, WYorks. (1580: Skirskell “spectre’s spring”; ON skyrsi + kelda “spring, well”)).

 

An OE word related in meaning, pûca “goblin, sprite” (usually preserved as Puck-, Pook-) is known to appear in Puckeridge (Herts.) “stream of the goblin” (1314: Pokerich; OE *pûca-ric), Purbrook (Hants.) “brook haunted by a demon” (1248: Pukebrok). Smith (p.74) supplies further instances (including some from the derivative pûcel) but based upon their modern forms none of these seem likely to me (Puxton (Worcs.) for example has been proven not to derive from pûca). Further examples are cited by Gelling, e.g. Puck Pit, Puck Pits and Puckshole all names of small localities in Gloucestershire. From Sussex alone, according to Reaney, we find Pookhill (Alciston Hundred, 1350: Poukehale, 1457: Pokehale “goblin nook” from pûca + healh “nook, corner of land”), Pookreed (Shiplake Hundred, probably from personal-name Henry Pouke, see EPNS VII, pt. 2), Poppets (Dumpford Hundred, 1350: Poukeput, 1386: Pokeputte “goblin haunted hollow”; OE pûca + pyt “pit, hollow”), Puckscroft (Steyning Hundred, in 1614 both Powkhill and Powcrofts are found; probably pûca + hyll originally), Puckstye Farm (Hartfield Hundred, 1287: Pukestie, 1327: Powkestie “goblin-path” from OE pûca + stîg; there is a steep hill there (EPNS)), as well as Puckshot Farm (Godalming Hundred, Surrey) “hut visited by a goblin” (1332: Pokshudde, 1377: Pokeshedde, 1483: Pukkyshud, 1596: Puckshott; OE pûca + scydd “shed, hut”), Popple Drove (Cambs.), Poppetts Hill (Oxon.), Puckwell (Wilts.) and Puck Shipton (Wilts.) “cow-shed haunted by a goblin” (1303: Puckeshepene). Field-names in Wiltshire compounding pûca are also found e.g. Pookscroft, Puck Hay and Pock Ridge. From Hampshire we have local names Purbrook (1248: Pukebrok), Pugdells (1263: Pukedelle) and from Cambridgeshire Pock Field (1190: Pokefelde). From the north of England can be added Pugneys (Agbrigg Wapentake, WYorks.) “goblin’s nook of land” (1310: Pukenhale, 1323: Pokenhale, 1699: Pugnall, 1709: Pignall, 1845: Pugnals; OE pûca + halh “nook of land” (EPNS)). The derivative and diminutive pûcel “little goblin” is known from Putshole (Hartland, Devon; 1301: Puchelahole), Puxley in Northants. (1086: Pocheslei, 1161: Pocheslea; OE pûcel + lêah “glade”) and 2 instances of Pucklechurch (Gloucs. (950: æt Puclan cyrican, 1167: Pokelekirche), and a Wilts. field-name) “goblin haunted church”, as well as a lost name compounding OE pûcel + cirice + mædwe [see section 2 below]. Mills derives the Pucklechurch in Gloucestershire from an OE hypothetical name *Pûcela but this is a weaker argument I think than the derivation from pûcel, since to find an otherwise unrecorded OE name compounded three times only with “church” would be unlikely indeed. Two dubious instances from Surrey are Pookpit (Loxfield Camden Hundred) and Pook’s Wood (Hawksborough Hundred) which probably contain the personal names le Poke and (John) Pooke respectively (see EPNS VII, pt. 2).

 

Worth noting here is Elveden (Suffolk) “elf-haunted valley?” (1086: Eluedena; OE *elfadenu?) but this derivation is still disputed, the alternative being OE elfitu “swan” (Mills leaves the question open but Ekwall is certain it is *elfetdenu “swan valley”). Smith (p.149) offers Alveden (Lancs.) “elf-haunted valley” (potentially the same derivation as Elveden above), Elva Hill (Cumbria) “elves' hill” (which may in fact be another instance of Elf hall (Cumberland, 1631: Elfe-hole “elf’s hole” (EPNS)) and an adjectival offshoot Elvenfen (Lancs.) “fen associated with elves?”. While derivation from an hypocoristic OE personal-name Ælfa is possible in at least some of these names, OE elf seems to be behind most of them. Finally, OE dwerg “dwarf” very probably appears in two northern English place-names, Dwarriden (Upper Strafforth Wapentake, WYorks.) “dwarf's valley” (1290: Dueridene, 1335: Dwerydene, 1362: Dwarriden; OE dwerg + denu) and Dwerryhouse (Lancs.).

 

The early Anglo-Saxons also believed in giants, a common word for which was þyrs (but many place-names in the Scandinavian settled counties with this element will stem from ON þurs - also “giant” - where it is often compounded with words for ravine or fen). This belief is attested by Thursford (Norfolk) “giant's-ford” (1086: Tureforde; OE *þyrsford), Tusmore (Oxon.) “lake haunted by a giant or demon” (1086: Toresmere; OE *þyrs-mere - but see section on Thor above!), Thursden (Lancs.) “giant's valley” (1324: Thirsedeneheved), Thirst House (a cave in Derbyshire; 1417: Tursthous), Thruss Pits (Notts.) and Thirlspott (Cumb.) “giant's deep hole” (1616: Thirspott, 1622: Thrispott, 1774: Threspat; even the late forms point to *þyrspott, with pott an unmutated version of pytt; there is a Thirlmere closeby, i.e. OE *þyrs-mere “lake visited by a giant” (EPNS)). OE þyrs is also to be found in a number of now lost toponyms [see section 2 below]. The ON word þurs is to be found in Thrushgill (Lancs.) “giant's ravine” (1631: Thursgill, ON *þurs-gil), Thrispin Head (Upper Claro Wapentake, WYorks.) originally “giant’s fen” (medieval Thursefen, 1576: Thrisfen, 1769: Thrisfen-Head; ON þurs + OE fenn “fen, marsh”) and Thursgill (Ewcross Wapentake, WYorks.) “giant’s ravine” (1220-50: Thursegilemos; ON þurs + gil + OE mos “bog”) as well as in several now lost place-names [see section 2]. The ON personal name Þûr may be in some of the above names. An OE synonym ent Reaney claims to be preserved in Andyke “giant's ditch?” in Barton Stacey, Hants. (1200s: Auntediche) but on the form of the early spelling, it looks by no means certain. He also supplies a lost place-name containing this word [see section 2]. ON troll “troll, ogre, sub-human being” is thought to appear in Trollers Gill (East Staincliffe Wapentake, WYorks.) originally “the troll’s arse” (1817: Trowlers Gill; ON troll + OE ears “arse” + ON gil “ravine”; the name refers to a large bank in the ravine (EPNS)).

 

An Old English word for witch, hægtesse (cf. German Hexe, Norwegian hekse), is also attested, in the places of Hascombe (Surrey) (1232: Hescumb) and Hescombe (Somer.) (1086: Hascecomba) - both mean “the witch's valley” (OE cumb “valley, hollow”). A further possible instance is Hessenford (Cornwall) “witch's ford?” but as yet I have no independent corroboration of this. Concerning Carlinghow (WYorks.) “old woman's hill” (1307: Kerlinghowe; ON kerling “hag, old woman”) and the identical in meaning Carling Howe (NYorks.) (medieval Kerlinghou), it is by no means unreasonable to conceive of them having an original meaning of “witch's hill”.

 

A word which probably originally meant “evil wizard” in ON but later shifted meaning to “devil, demon” is skratti (glossed in modern Icelandic as “galdrakarl, seiðmaður; púki”, cf. OE pûca) i.e. retaining both meanings, OHG scrato “demon”, (cf. also Norwegian skratt “cackling, loud laughter” - original demonic associations seem likely), while on the pre-Christian Glavendrup Stone, from Odense amt, Fyn, Denmark, we find a curse carved: at rita : sa : uarþi : is : stain : thansi : ailti : iþa.... aft : annan : traki “May he become a “ræte” who damages this stone or drags it (away to stand) in memory of another”. Niels Åge Nielsen says ræte has a parallel in ON skratti “wizard, magician”, and probably carries unmanly implications and homosexuality. ræte could have a cognate in skratti or seiðsskratti and the later due to sound changes, although the precise relationship ræte may have had with skratti seems to have been obscured). The term is thought to be evidenced in: Scarthing Moor, Scratta (Norfolk), Scratta Wood (Worksop, Notts.), Scrathawe (Northants.), Scrathowes (Allerton Wapentake, NYorks.; 1388: Scrathowe), Scratters (EYorks.; 1200s: Scrathou) “Devil's mound”, as well as a lost name [see section 2 below]. The word also survives in the northern dialect phrase Awd Scrat i.e. “The Devil”.

 

Finally, as indicated earlier, the concept of fire-breathing, flying dragons was very real to the Anglo-Saxon mind: king and peasant alike. It not only features in Beowulf but also in the Riddles, while The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for 793 is a clear statement of this aspect of folk-belief: ...ond wæron ge seowene fyrene dracan on þam lyfte fleogende. If not flying through the air, dragons were to be found in barrows or caves. It comes as no surprise then to find it in several English place-names: the well-attested Drakelow (Beds., Derbys., Worcs.) “dragon's mound” (942 (Derbys.): æt dracan hlawen; OE dracan hlâw) - no doubt it was thought to guard over some treasure like the dragon in Bêowulf, in addition to Drakedale (Ryedale Wapentake, NYorks., 1376: Drakedalehevid; the first element is draca and the second, heafod “head”), Drakehill (Godalming Hundred, Surrey) “dragon hill” (1318: Drakehull, 1521: Drakhulle, now called St. Catherines Hill), Drake Hill (Upper Strafforth Wapentake, WYorks.) a field-name originally meaning “dragon’s mound” (1335: Drakehowe; OE draca + ON haugr “mound”), Drakeholes (Bassetlaw Wapentake, Notts., 1695: Drake-Holes, 1716: Drake hole) apparently “hollows inhabited by a dragon”, Drakenage Farm (Warwicks., 1183: Drakenes, Drakenech, 1232: Drakenech, 1387: Draken egge) apparently “dragon’s edge” (OE draca + ecg; the spot is at end of a long, low hill (EPNS)), Drake North (Wilts., 940-6: to þes dracenhorde i.e. “dragon's gold-hoard”, 1518: Drakenworthe, 1539: Drakenorth Coppice) and Drake Pits Wood in Lower Claro Wapentake, WYorks. (c.1180: Drakepot “dragon hole”, from OE draca + pott “hole, hollow”). Gelling (1988, p. 142) cites a more localised example in Dragley in Ulverton (Lancs.) “dragon's mound” (c.1270 Drakelow), with the same elements as Drakelow above. A field-name in Surrey Dragberry (1384: Drakeberghe) appears to have meant “dragon's mound” (OE draca + beorg). Regarding a partial synonym in OE, wrym “reptile, serpent; dragon”, Ekwall considers that only one of several modern place-names in Worm- may denote “dragon”, while the context or spellings of the rest imply “reptiles”. This is Worminster (Somer.) “dragon's hill?” (946: Wormester; OE *wyrmes-torr). It is much easier to be certain of the draca- names. The dragon's role apart from vexing humans was to watch over its gold-hoard. According to Gelling (1988, p.142) this function is preserved in several place-names: Hurdlow (Derbys.) “hoard-mound” (1244: Hordlawe; OE *hord-hlæw), Hordley (Shrops.) “hoard-glade” (1086: Hordelei; OE *hordlêah), Goldsworth (Woking Hundred, Surrey) ostensibly meaning “enclosure associated with gold” (but originally meaning “the gold hoard or treasure”, 1229: la Goldhorde, 1294: ate Goldhorde, 1548: Goldhourd, 1603: Goldword) and Goldhard in Tandridge Hundred, Surrey “gold-hoard or buried treasure” (OE goldhord). Gollard Farm in Amport, Hants., originally meant “gold-hoard or buried treasure” (1248: la Goldhord, 1327: atte Goldhord, 1548: Goldhurd (EPNS)). The fact that these locations record the presence of a gold-hoard may suggest that the treasure was discovered and taken sometime during the Anglo-Saxon period but may also indicate the existence of a burial-mound which is no longer visible.

 

Presumably related to the dragon, since the Anglo-Saxons appear to have conceived of it as being in serpentine form, is OE nicor “water monster”. One current toponym appears to compound this element, Nicker Wood in Upper Strafforth Wapentake, WYorks. The name is first recorded in 1841 but apparently compounds OE nicor + wudu “wood” (EPNS), while several lost names with the element nicor are recorded in section 2.

 

Concerning the number of so-called animal-head names postulated by Professor Dickins, Gelling (1961) considers there to be too many of them compared to other pagan place-names for them all to be pagan-related. Two quite possible ones are Manshead (Beds.) and Swinehead (Gloucs).

 

Philippson notes the veneration of water in Anglo-Saxon England, there are many holy wells dotted around the landscape: to halgan wyllan (800, Gloucs), of halgan wylle (854, Devon), on halig wylle (970, Suffolk), on halgan wylle (979, Somerset). There are frequent place-names with these elements: Holywell (Oxon., Derbys., Lincs., Kent, Somerset), Halliwell (Lancs) and Hallikeld (Yorks. – ON keld “spring”) just to name a few.


2) Lost place-names: Many have been recorded in medieval and earlier sources: Wodnes beorg (Hants. and at Alton Prior, Wilts. – now called “Adam’s Grave”, possibly an attempt to Christianize a site with obstinately pagan associations) “Woden's barrow” (burial mounds which correspond directly to 1119: Othensberg, WN *Óðinsberg - see Scandinavian section, although this is a natural hill and not a tumulus), Wodnes denu (in West Overton, Wilts.) “Woden's valley”, Woddes geat (Wilts.) – these last two Woden names are on the line of the ancient earthwork there; on wodnesdene (939, Wilts.), Wodnes dene (Hants., recorded 939) “Woden's valley”, ofer wodnes dic (903, Wilts.), on wodnes dic (961, Somerset), Wodnesfeld (Widdington in Essex, Gloucs.) “Woden's open land”, æt wodnes beorge (ASC, 715),Wednysfeld (Theydon, Essex) “Woden's open land” (but late spelling from 1446 makes this doubtful), Wodneslawe (Beds.) “Woden's mound”, Grymesdich (Herts.) “Woden's dyke”, Grimesdich (Middlesex) “Woden's dyke”, Þunreslêa (Southants.) “Thunor's glade” (has a parallel in WN *Þórslundr), Thunres lêa (in the bounds of Droxford, Hants.), Thunreslêa (939; in the bounds of Millbrook, Hants.) “Thunor's glade”, Thunores hlæw (near Manston, Kent) “Thunor's mound”, on þunres lêa (Hants.) “Thunor's glade”, on þunorslege (in the bounds of Barnhorne, Sussex) “Thunor's grove”, to ðunres felda (854; in the bounds of Hardenhuish, Wilts.) “Thunor's open land”, on þunres feld (947, Surrey), besides there are several examples of æt Ðunresfelda, Tislêa (Hants.) “Tiw's glade” is disputed (recorded 1023), in Tyes mere (Worcs.) “Tiw's lake” (recorded 849), Godeshoslade (1239), Cusan weoh (in Farnham, Herts.) “Cusa's shrine”, Weondune (where the battle of Brunanburh took place) and Weonfelda (Berks), ealhflêot (in the bounds of Graveney, Kent) “river by a shrine”, æt hæðnum herge (921) “at the heathen shrines”, Nikerpoll (Sussex, Wilts.), Nycharpool (Lincs.) “water-monster pool” (OE nicor “water-monster”), Nickerwells (Lincs.), Nikresaker (Cambs.) “cultivated land associated with a water-monster”, Nikersmadwe (Essex) “meadow associated with a water-monster”, þyrs pyt (Warwicks.) “giant's pit”, þrispit (1250 from Cambs.) “giant's pit”, þyrspit (872-4 from Worcs.) “giant's pit”, Therspettes (1256 from Northumb.) “giants' pits?”, Thursput (1280 from Notts.) “giant's pit”, Thurspyttys (1491 from Derbys.) “giant's pit”, innon þone þyrs pyt (872, Warwicks), Thirsqueche (1292 from Notts.) “giant's thicket”, Thruslane (York) “giant's narrow road” (ON þurs), Thursmare (EYorks.) “giant's marsh” (ON þurs + marr “marsh, fen”), Thursgill (1384 from Cumbria) “giant's ravine” (OE þyrs + gil), Thirsley Holme a field-name in Morley Wapentake, WYorks., was recorded in 1596 (OE þyrs “giant” + OE lêah “glade” + ON holmr “islet”), Thirslande and Thyrspec are two lost field-names from Lower Strafforth Wapentake, WYorks., both recorded in 1268, they compound OE þyrs “giant” with either OE land “open land” or pêac “knoll, hill” (EPNS), Thurescloch (1267), Thyrspoone (1568 from Cumbria), Thrushhowe (1578 from Cumbria) “giant's mound” (ON þurs + haugr “mound”), Thirsepol (c.1275 from Notts.) “giant's pool” (OE þyrs + pôl), Thruspole (1565 from Notts.) “giant's pool” (ON þurs + OE pôl), Thrushpulle (1577 from Notts.) “giant's pool” (ON þurs + OE pôl), to ænta dic (1026) “giant's ditch” (OE ent “giant”), on entan hlêw (940) “giant’s mound”, Dwarfholes (Warwicks.) from OE dwerg “dwarf”, scuccan hlau (Bucks.) “spectre's mound” (OE scucca + hlæw), Shuckelawe (c.1215 from Oxon.) “spectre's mound” (OE scucca + hlæw), Shokeforth-brooke (Morley Wapentake, WYorks.) “spectre’s ford”, recorded in 1412-14 (OE scucca + ford), Scratgate (Cumbria) “demon's (or warlock's) street” (ON skratti + gata), Poukstrete (Sussex) “goblin's road”, Poukebrugge (Oxon.) “bridge haunted by a goblin”, on pucan wylle (772) “goblin’s well”, Poculchurchmede (recorded 1529 in Wilts.) “church-meadow haunted by a goblin” (OE pûcel), drakenhorde (940-6 from Wilts.; now Drake North) “dragon-hoard”, Drakenhord (field-name, recorded c.1230 from Oxon.), Drakestone (field-name from Oxon.), Drakenhull (1318 field-name from Artington, Surrey) “dragon-hill”, Drakehov (Osgoldcross Wapentake, WYorks.) recorded c.1220 “dragon’s mound” (OE draca + ON haugr “mound”), Goldwhurd is a now lost name recorded in 1610 from Tandridge Hundred, Surrey originally meaning “gold-hoard or buried treasure” (OE goldhord), Frîgedæges treow (EYorks.) “day of Frig's tree” (recorded 1047) and Frîgedægæs east (EYorks.) “east Frig's-day” (recorded 1047) [but see the reservations on the Frig names above]. Thures lege in Ayston (Rutland) probably contains an Anglo-Scandinavian personal name.

 

 

*sources for the English names are:


A Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills, Oxford U.P., Oxford, 1998;
Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte by Jan de Vries, 2 vols., Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1970;
English Place-Names by Kenneth Cameron, London, 1961;
English Place-Name Elements by A.H. Smith, 2 Vols., English Place-Name Society Vols. 25 + 26, Cambridge U.P., 1987;
“Further Thoughts on Pagan Place-Names”. Gelling, Margaret. In Place-Name Evidence for the Anglo-Saxon Invasion and Scandinavian Settlements, English Place-Name Society, Nottingham, 1987. pp. 99-114;

Germanisches Heidentum bei den Angelsachsen by Philippson, E.A. Leipzig: Verlag von Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1929.
Introduction to the Survey of English Place-names. (Vol 1) ed. Mawer, A. & Stenton, F.M. Part 1: Introduction, Part 2: The Chief Elements used in English Place-names. Cambridge U.P., Cambridge, 1924-5;
Íslensk Orðabók by Árni Böðvarsson, Menningarsjóður/Mál og Menning, Reykjavík, 1996;
Myth and Religion of the North by Gabriel Turville-Petre, London, 1964;

Place-names and Anglo-Saxon Paganism by Gelling, Margaret. Repr. University of Birmingham Historical Journal Vol. VIII, No. 1, 1961.
Problems of Place-Name Study. (Being a Course of Three Lectures delivered at King's College). Mawer, A., Cambridge U.P., Cambridge, 1920;
Rites and Religions of the Anglo-Saxons by Gale R. Owen, Dorset Press, 1985; (use with care)
Runes and their origin. Denmark and Elsewhere by Erik Moltke, Nationalmuseets Forlag, København, 1985;
Signposts to the Past by Margaret Gelling, Phillimore, Sussex, 1988;
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names by E. Ekwall, Oxford, 1960;
The Lost Gods of England by Brian Branston, London, 1957;
The Origin of English Place-names by Reaney, P.H., Routledge & Keegan Paul, London, 1960; (better than Cameron above for linguistic aspects and detail).

* Credits: Many thanks to Dr Paul Cavill of the English Place-Name Society (based at the University of Nottingham) for his expert comments, helpful advice and patient answering of my persistent questions for the England section.

 

© Edward Sproston 2011

E-mail the author



Free Web Counter
Free Web Counter