Hunts place-names – Flora

Happy Easter to everyone! And happy anniversary to me, since apparently I started this blog up exactly 2 years ago.

This is part of my little mini series on a sample of Huntingdonshire place-names, where I look at what they were originally named and discuss what this could mean about the area (for example, what was farmed there?) or the people living there (who were they?).

(Catch up with part 1part 2, and part 3 or browse my whole place-names tag)

Daily challenge update: I am still two blogs behind where I numerically should be, oops! Will do my very best to get two up today! More information on the daily challenge here.

On to plants and crops in place-names! (Pop back here if you missed animals)

  • Brampton – Bramble or Broom Farm

To clear things up, we are of course not talking about wooden sticks for brushing here. The Wildlife Trust gives an excellent definition and picture here of the plant involved. Now, as a thoroughly townie child I have no idea why you would want to cultivate plants that I see growing everywhere, but I suppose brambles are a delicious food source and according to the Wildlife Trust broom may actually have been used for making brooms. Feel free to enlighten me.

The Old English words in contention are brame or brom. the first recorded spelling is unhelpful in curing the confusion: Brantune. Stupid Domesday.

  • Leighton Bromswold – Leek or Garlic Farm On/Above Brun’s High Woodland/Clearing

Isn’t that a mouthful? To take the plant element first: that’s Old English leac.

(Fact which amuses me and probably no-one else; I have typed leah “clearing/woodland” enough that WordPress now accepts it as a word and just tried to auto-correct leac to it)

So this isn’t a question of two possible words; this is one word with two possible meanings. Since leek and garlic are related, this at least makes some sense. Onion is also related, and a quick hunt in the online Old English dictionary shows that the Anglo-Saxons knew that very well:

leac – leek (or sometimes garlic)

garleac – garlic

efeleac/eneleac – onion (also could be cipe)

The “farm” word is just tun, which we’ve come across before.

The Bromswold bit is added a lot later: in 1254 we get Letton super Bruneswald. Clearly written in Latin, because super certainly didn’t mean it was a great place to go to. Then we have the name Brun, a clear genitive es, and wald, which is a regional variant of weald, which we came across yesterday as another one of those irritating words which can mean clearing and can be woodland. Argh.

  • Ramsey – Garlic Island, or Hraefn’s Island

Yes, there is yet another possible word for garlic: hramsa. Different type of garlic? Wild vs farmed? No idea. Second element is Old English eg for island. First spelling is Hramesege in about 1000, and we also get Ramesige in 1034.

I’ll be back for Ramsey in a later post, to talk about why it’s called an island!

  • Bythorn – By Thorn

Simplest name ever. OE bi + OE thyrne.  You can see it settling into basically what it is today even in the earliest spelling: Bitherna in 960. I mean, then Domesday Book comes along again with Bierne but that’s always an issue.

The thing which makes this name interesting is that this place-name has an odd structure. Most place-names that I looked at are made up of a second element which references a place, such as a farm or enclosure, and a first element which tells you what was grown/made/looked after on that farm. This is just … just a direction. Near the thorns. There must have been an awful lot of thorns for that to be memorable enough to make a lasting name!

  • Warboys – Watch Bush, or Wearda’s Bush

This is made up of the Old English word weard, meaning watch or protection (or alternately a man’s name Wearda) and the Old English busc for bush. Earliest form:  Weardebusc  974, and in the Domesday book it’s Wardebusc (see this fantastic website).

However, the cool thing about its modern form, Warboys, is that it indicates that the second bush element got influenced strongly by the Old French bois for wood. I don’t have the data to find out when this started affecting the spelling, but I would have thought somewhere between the 12th and 14th centuries?

Thanks for reading! Enjoy Easter in whichever way suits you! I will be eating my body weight in Easter Eggs and going on a long Pokemon Go walk to hatch and collect more Pokemon Eggs. But hey, that’s just me.


Hunts place-names – Flora

2 thoughts on “Hunts place-names – Flora

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