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You are in: Derby > Places > Places features > What's in a name? Derbyshire's places give up their secrets.

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Sign of history

What's in a name? Derbyshire's places give up their secrets.

Author Anthony Poulton-Smith has been seeking out the strange and wonderful to compile a guide to Derbyshire's place names.

Having been interested in ley lines (ancient trackways) for many years, it was an obvious step to begin looking at the origins of place names - often the only remaining sign of a ley line marker.

But these days, Anthony Poulton-Smith is more of an interpreter than a dowser after researching for his latest book, Derbyshire Place Names (Sutton Publishing).

Anthony Poulton-Smith

Anthony Poulton-Smith

Place names in England originate from three ancient languages - Anglo-Saxon is dominant in the south, the Scandinavian languages in the North, and Old British or Celtic which is still found in the landscape as the long-standing (and often simplistic) names of features such as hills and rivers.

Derbyshire was influenced by all three factors and is reflected in the names we find today.

These names have basically two elements, the first is invariably either a personal name or an adjective, while the latter tells us what the place was.

The Basic Rules

Many will have noticed our towns and villages share common endings such as -ton, -ham, -field, -by, -chester, -worth, -don, -hall, etc., and these are easily seen to be -tun (settlement), -ham (homestead), -feld (farmland), -by (village), -caester (Roman stronghold), -worthig (enclosure), -dun (hill), -halh (nook of land) respectively. The first element can often prove much harder to define, especially when a personal name is concerned.

Thus it is vital to find as many early records of the name as possible - and as those available to us in the modern era are certainly copies, the risk of errors creeping in as each successive copy is made makes the task of finding the origins increasingly difficult when few early forms are available.

However, many years of research has enabled researchers to define most major place names and a few of interest in Derbyshire include:

Derby: a Scandinavian name meaning 'the village where deer are seen'.

Matlock: 'the oak tree(s) where a moot (meeting) is held' comes from Saxon.

Derwent: comes from an Old British word telling us of 'the river where oak trees are common'.

Dore: Old British for 'pass' probably better seen as 'door'.

Dove: Old British speaking of the 'black or dark' river.

Ireton: Here the Saxons give us a glimpse of the town's early history as this is 'the settlement of the Irish'.

Eyam: A much-corrupted form of the Saxon word for an 'island', used here to describe an isolated community - prophetic considering centuries later the place was cut off from the outside world after an outbreak of the plague.

Killamarsh: another Saxon name '(place at) Cynewald's marsh'.

Ilkeston: the Saxon personal name here is followed not by Saxon -tun­ but by ­-dun and is '(place at) Ealac's hill'.

Highlow: a seeming oxymoron in modern times, early forms show this to be '(place at) the high hill', the second element being Saxon -hlaw, which makes far more sense.

Ible: 'Ibba's hollow or valley' is another Saxon name.

Hungry Bentley: the common name Bentley always means '(place at) the clearing where bent grass is seen', and the number of places mean a second element is required in order to clarify which Bentley is being spoken of. Hungry Bentley tells us the land was of poor agricultural quality (and people may well go hungry) while Fenny Bentley speaks of wet or marshy lands (quite likely seasonal).

Locko: a strange and much-corrupted name which has two Saxon elements both referring to an enclosure.

Flushing Meadow? No... Toilet Wood!

Names of smaller places in Derbyshire of note include the mines - while Old Twelve Meers Mine does indeed speak of a dozen pools, there is no reason to believe the seasonal flooding always created twelve or indeed if that number was a minimum or maximum; while Bacon And Beans Mine has no true value in place name study for it was created simply to be memorable (and it clearly worked).

Finally, two minor names found near Matlock: Fantom Hag was once said to be haunted, while the modern Toilet Wood gives a very different impression than the original 'toil at wood' - amazing the difference one vowel can make.

A representative sample of comments received

Derby means the place of wild animals The "Der" does not mean (in modern English)"Deer" Rather, "Der" is an old Saxon word which means "animal" as in German "Tier" or in Burns "mice and other small deer"
Michael lamplough

Repton = Repingdon (1669) = the Hill (don) of the People (-ing) of Rep
Alan Passmore

Just got back from a camping trip near Whatstandwell and was wondering what it meant (apart from the 'well' part which seems obvious). Originally I'm from Heanor which I'm told means windy ridge.
James Cox

In my school days we had a very good history teacherand comedian. He made you laugh at things and this had a tendancy to make you remember the details of the lesson. talking of place names he said Alfreton was originally Alfreds Town. He did write a book on local history but I never bought it to read
Colin Rodgers

Glapwell is derived from either 'stream of a man named Glappa' or 'stream where the buckbean plant grows', the original Saxon is unclear. Broughton is a common place-name 'farmstead by a brook', from Saxon broc-tun, pronunciation is relevant only to the specific region (so you should be pronouncing it Bror-ton!). Starvehimvalley doesn't appear to have Saxon or even Middle English origins, so is probably a name coined in relatively recent times - perhaps a comment on a farmer's inability to grow even enough to feed himself?
Anthony Poulton-Smith

Where would Glapwell come from in the study?
Paul, Nottingham

OK here's one. I'm from the North East where Broughton is pronounced 'Brow-ton' but in Nottingham where I live now, it's pronounced 'Bror-ton'. I refuse to pronounce it Bror-ton so end up having to explain. I know I am right...

Me and my ex-boyfriend Dave used to walk our dog up "Wee-Dog lane" near Kirk Ireton!!!!!
Lucy Fleetwood

Between Ripley and Ambergate there is an area called 'Starvehimvalley'. How did this name come about?
Mike Kelley, Khartoum, Sudan

We have 'Mystery Creek' just outside Cambridge; Bethlehem, Judea, Jerusalem and Palestine all near Tauranga on the east coast, and finally Bum's Rush which is a little tiny place near Hamilton!!!
Derek Flint, Cambridge New Zealand

last updated: 03/04/2008 at 13:37
created: 30/03/2005

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why is ringing roger the outcrop above edale derbyshire so named
quentin hood

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