July 29, 2016

What's in a name?

Sea+mere =  large lake
What's in a name? Well, despite Juliet's assertion that names don't matter* there can be quite a lot of information in a name - particularly if it's a place name in the UK.

For this week's Five on Friday (to join in with Amy at Love Made My Home) I'm going to take a look at a few place names to show you how to get more out of your travels.  As we drive along even the swiftest motorway we see signs for all kinds of places that we've never been and are never likely to visit. But we can probably glean some information about them - just from those signs.
(Don't assume the photos match the text!)

Streetview snip
Huttons Ambo
Let's start with one of my favourites. Driving along the A64 through North Yorkshire, near Malton, you'll pass a sign for Huttons Ambo. There are lots of places in England called Hutton but, as far as I know, only one Huttons. There's a reason for that. Hutton comes from two Old English words, hoh and tun meaning a hill spur and a farmstead. Hence Hutton is a farmstead near a hill spur. Now, if you drive along the side road that's signposted Huttons Ambo you will find High Hutton and Low Hutton but you'll never find the mythical Huttons Ambo, because it doesn't exist. Ambo is Latin for 'both', so the sign is directing you to 'both Huttons', rather than a single place.

Of course you can't always tell much from the name as it appears today. Modern place names have been handed down for many years, In the case of some towns that existed in Roman times that can be as long as 2,000 years. One of the earliest written records of English places was the Domesday Book; a survey of towns and villages carried out on the orders of William the Conquerer in 1086, very shortly after he won the Battle of Hastings. He wanted to know exactly how many people he now ruled and exactly what they were worth (for tax purposes). Domesday is a useful, although sometimes misleading, source about place names. On the other hand it can be surprisingly enlightening.

Over the intervening period the pronunciation of place names can have changed dramatically, and their spelling has often changed beyond recognition. Take Stiffkey, for example, on the Norfolk coast. How would you pronounce it?  I'm willing to bet you'd be wrong! Domesday lists it as Stiuekai, which is much more like what the locals call it today - Stukey. On the other hand, the actual word comes from two Old English terms styfic and eg, meaning an island in a marsh, with tree stumps. (Now try the nearby town of Happisburgh and see how long it takes you to come up with the modern pronunciation of Hazebruh. No, I don't understand either!)

Skarthi's Burh
A note for my Transatlantic readers. There are lots of towns that end with the suffix -borough in the UK. Please note, they are not pronounced 'borrow'. Borough (and similar endings like Edin-burgh) are all pronounced 'bruh' like the first syllable of brother. There's a reason for that. It's because all those endings come from an Old English word burh, meaning a stronghold or fortified town. The first half of the name then tells you something else about the place. In Scarborough's case it's the name of the guy who founded it - one Skarthi (sometimes written Skardi because of the nordic rune 'thorn' that looks like d but is pronounced th) who was the Viking lord who turned up in 966 and established a settlement there. Previously it had been the site of a Roman signal station, but Skarthi's Burh was the first town. There are other 'borough' towns, such as Boroughbridge, where the etymology is obvious, but beware. Borough Green, for example, is thought to stem from beorg, meaning hill.

Breedon on the Hill
The church, Breedon on the Hill
While we're on the topic of hills let's look at an oddity. The waves of people who settled or conquered Britain over the years all had their own language and all gave their own names to the places they found. But it has led to some strange anomalies. Are you all familiar with the story of the Australian settlers who asked a local the name of the strange, bounding animal they saw in the distance? They received the reply 'kangaroo' and the animal has been known as such in English ever since. Apparently 'kangaroo' is aboriginal for 'I don't know'. (This story is possibly apocryphal. Kangaroo.)

Now imagine a Saxon settler wandering through the land that would later be known as Leicestershire and spotting a high hill that looks like a safe place to set up a village. The conversation possibly went a little like this.
Saxon: "Excuse me good man, what is the name of that fine cliff in the distance?"
Celt: "Bree"
Saxon: "Thank you, my woad-painted friend. I shall settle my village there and I shall call it Bree Hill."
(Or in his language, Bree Don, because that's the old Saxon word for hill.)

Many years later the village has become known as Breedon and map makers, to distinguish it from lots of other Breedons in the country, call it Breedon on the Hill - or Hill Hill on the Hill. You can't miss it. Just drive up the A42 through Leicestershire and you'll see it without any trouble at all. (Of course the village is actually at the BOTTOM of the hill because it's too steep to make living at the top workable. Only the church is at the top.)

West farmstead owned by Queen Edith. (Wife of Ed the Confessor)
Manorial names
So how can I round this up? There are so many different place names, and so many reasons for those names, that limiting myself to just five is almost impossible.  I could pick another favourite at random. Marsh Gibbon sounds exotic, doesn't it? But actually it just means marshy land owned by the Gibwen family. Higham Ferrers? Main (high) enclosure (ham) belonging to the Ferrers family. You'll find such manorial suffixes all over the country. Many of them are French-sounding. That's because the people who first wrote down the names in any meaningful way were French Normans, remember? Domesday and all that. Of course, the previous names were often possessive too. Goadby Marwood, for example, means farmstead of a man called Goadi, now owned by the Marwood family.

So now you know. Next time you go on a journey take note of any interesting places you spot, then see if you can find out how they got their names. But first go visit Amy at Love Made My Home and see what other fives people have found for you this week.

*What's in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet. Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet.
Huttons Ambo Village Website. http://huttonsambo.blogspot.co.uk/p/about-huttons-ambo.html
Mills, A. D. 1998 Dictionary of English Place-Names. Oxford University Press.

July 22, 2016


Well done to anyone who understands the title of this post. It probably means you won't learn much from it - because you're already in the know!

In this week's Five on Friday - to join in with Amy at Love Made My Home - we're going for a wander by the canal. Britain's canal system was the 18th century equivalent of today's motorways. They carried most freight, and often carried people too. Even at four miles an hour (walking pace) it was often faster (and definitely smoother) than travelling by road.

So let's start with some boats.
Narrow boats in the heart of Birmingham
Canal boats were also known as narrowboats. There's a reason for that. Most of them were no more than  seven feet wide and the gauge was determined by the earliest engineers who designed the canals to be not much more than 15 - 20 feet wide. Why?  Well, every yard of the 2,000 plus miles had to be dug by hand. And when they were complete they had to be supplied with water. Imagine you make the canal just three feet wider: that's 95,040 cubic feet of soil and rock to remove for each mile; and 592,000 gallons of water to find to fill it back. So they built them narrow.

A lock flight at Stourbridge
The engineering involved in getting up and down hill was pretty tough too. That meant building locks; a complex means of raising and lowering a body of water, in a block, with a boat floating on top. The earliest locks, on James Brindley's 1769 stretch of canal, from the coalfields of Wednesbury to the heart of Birmingham, were made to take only one boat at a time - to simplify the required engineering work.

Rope wear
Of course the earliest boats weren't mechanised. They were hauled by heavy horses, by means of long ropes. The ropes were often wet because they had dragged into the water and then they picked up sharp stones and clinker from the towpath as the bargees made their way along. This turned them into very effective rasps, and you can see evidence if you look carefully. The photo above shows rope wear on a bridge parapet where boats turned a corner.  (Think about the horse in front, turning right to cross a bridge to make its way onto a branch canal. As it goes, the rope is pulled across the brickwork, scraping away the top surface. The boat is dragged around the corner and continues along the way.)
Canal crane
Let's not forget that canal life was tough. The bargees transported goods for hundreds of miles, loading and unloading heavy cargoes at each destination. To help them with the task warehouses had canalside cranes and a very few still exist today. The pictured one, at Shardlow in Derbyshire, sadly doesn't exist any more. The metal work at the bottom (that lifted and turned the arm) is still there, but the woodwork became so rotten that it was removed some years ago for safety's sake.

Measham ware pots

And at the end of the day the boat families were grateful for a pot of tea. Often the bargees owned a magnificent, colourful pot made near the town of Measham in Leicestershire. The decoration often marked an important family event, such as a birth or marriage, and the pots were treasured heirlooms.

So that just leaves the post title. "Gongoozlers" is a canal word for people who stand around watching the boats pass while other people do the work!  It's a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Right. Off you go over to see Amy to find out what other Fives have been posted this week.

July 15, 2016


Bit of a lazy Five this Friday. If you read my other blog you'll know I did a post about a beautiful wrought iron arbour in the garden of Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire. It, and several other garden structures, are listed Grade I because of their historic importance. (Read the History Anorak post if you want to know why they're important.)

So anyway, I thought you might like a look at some of the other garden ornaments at Melbourne and that's this week's post. But I can't be bothered re-writing the information on them, so I've just cut and pasted the official listing from Historic England.

Pedestal with Statue of Perseus in Melbourne Hall Gardens. Pedestal with statue of Perseus, c.1700 by Jan van Nost. Erected as part of a French-style garden, designed by Royal Gardeners to Queen Anne, London and Wise, for Thomas Coke of Melbourne Hall. Stone and lead. Panelled stone pedestal on wide square plinth with life-size figure of Perseus holding Medusa's head, clad in Roman style armour with winged sandals and helmet.

Covered seat
Covered Seat to East of Fountain Pond in Melbourne Hall Gardens (formerly listed with the matching seat as 'Two Alcoves in grounds of Melbourne Hall') Covered garden seat  c.1704 with later repairs. Work carried out by William Cooke of Walcot. Stuccoed brick and timber. Curved timber bench on turned legs fitted into an apsidal structure with stuccoed segmental brick wall covered by domed lead roof, with simple panelled timber jambs and segmental cornice with raised keystone. Built as a pair to similar seat to west.

Fighting cherubs

Two Pairs of Cherubs to South-West of the Grand Basin in Melbourne Hall Gardens (formerly listed as 'Pair of pedestals with figures of fighting cupids on south side of garden, Melbourne Hall') Two pairs of cherubs, c.1700 by Jan van Nost. Stone and lead. Each pair of cherubs stands on a panelled stone pedestal with moulded base and cornice. Western pair are kissing and eastern pair are fighting. These form a group with another two pairs of cherubs on the opposite side of the basin and tell the tale of Castor and his brother Pollux fighting over a bunch of flowers and their eventual reconciliation.

Four Seasons Vase

Pedestal and Four Seasons Vase in Melbourne Hall Gardens. Pedestal with vase, 1705, vase by Jan van Nost and pedestal by Devigne. Stone and lead. Panelled pedestal with moulded base and cornice on stepped square plinth, each panel carved with foliage and swags and with central roundels inscribed 'TC'. Magnificent baroque lead vase over supported by four seated lead monkeys, with gadrooned base to bowl and stem of bowl decorated with frieze of putti and foliage swags. Lid with bulbous base has four scrolled handles, each topped by the head of a Season, with panels between and more swags. The top is surmounted by a lattice work basket bursting with fruit and flowers. The vase was presented by Queen Anne to Thomas Coke.

Sets of steps

Five Flights of Steps between terraces at Melbourne Hall Gardens . Five flights of steps c.1704 with later urns. Work carried out by William Cooke of Walcot. Stone. Two flights of steps to either side of terrace and one central flight. Each flight has ten steps with moulded nosings and low retaining walls to either side terminating in low square piers to either end. The piers are now topped by later gadrooned urns. Each top step is wide and has diamond patterned paving.

Now take a trip over to see Amy at Love Made My Home and find out what other Friday Fives have been submitted this week.

July 08, 2016

Five Blue Pots

We recently had a trip to Derby Museum and Art Gallery because I have a picture in this summer's open art exhibition. (Don't get excited - they accepted everything that was submitted!) The cafe also holds the newly-arranged ceramics gallery, from which I've chosen a selection of blue things for this week's Five on Friday. Joining in with everyone at Amy's Love Made My Home. Click on the link at the bottom to see other people's Fives.


Two plates - known as Pearlware - made at the Cockpit Hill factory in Derby about 1775. This kind of ware was made between about 1740 and 1820. It was designed to look like more expensive porcelain imported from China but was more affordable. This is the kind of porcelain that gave rise to the Willow Pattern.

Coffee can and saucer with a view of Matlock High Tor. Made at the Derby Porcelain Factory in Nottingham Road. Dates can be identified from the production mark on the base of objects. Between 1788 and 1801 the mark was a crown and crossed batons over the letter D.


A pair of vases from the same Nottingham Road factory, decorated by William Watson. The current factory still employs hand painters, although much of the modern porcelain is transfer printed. Factory marks were various designs, but all red, at this stage.


Freedom Casket presented to Alderman John Clark in 1960 when he was given Freedom of the Borough by the city council. I have no idea what he was supposed to keep in it - maybe some sort of proclamation - but there were several of these on display. The painting in the cartouche on the front is a view of the city


Figure of a kingfisher. I really like this one. Made at the Royal Crown Derby factory in Osmaston Road, which still exists. You can do factory tours and see the beautiful items being made and hand decorated. The visitor centre has an excellent tea room where you can eat cake from Royal Derby porcelain and drink tea from their extremely delicate cups.  Very posh!

Now click here to visit Amy and see the other Friday Fives.

July 01, 2016

Five famous people

Here we are again on Friday taking part in Amy's Five on Friday. This week I've been trawling the photo collection for some sculptures of famous people.  Be warned - I have enough of these to make it into several "Five" posts so you might get more in the future.

Meanwhile, let's start with someone you should recognise, even if I got the light very wrong and he's little more than a silhouette in this shot.
Sorry to my overseas readers if this guy isn't familiar to you but his name was Eric Morecambe, and he was half of a comedy duo who were very famous from the 60s onwards in the UK.  In actual fact his name was Eric Bartholomew, but he took his stage name from his home town, Morecambe in Lancashire. And that's where this statue stands. That's Morecambe Bay in the background.

Another comedian - Tony Hancock. You don't really get the full effect here but the sculpture is sheet steel and the image is created by holes of various sizes drilled into it to let light pass through. (Much like an old print plate.) You don't get the scale in this shot either. But the plinth is big enough to sit on. It's in Old Square, Birmingham, close to where he was born. Hancock was known for his dry humour and comedy programmes on TV and radio. Remember The Blood Donor?

Even if you recognise this work you might not realise why I've included it among famous people. Much of Antony Gormley's work is based around nude figures similar to this. The photo is one of the Another Place installation on Crosby Beach near Liverpool. He's one of hundreds of cast iron figures standing looking out to sea. You might be more familiar with his Angel of the North, another - much bigger - cast iron figure, this time with airplane wings, that stands by the A1 near Gateshead. Whatever the size, these Gormley sculptures are actually self portraits. He bases all of these works on his own body. Hence its inclusion as somebody famous!

Famous, but not real. This stands near the gate of Nottingham Castle and tourists flock to see it. He's not one of my favourites. Raised on Errol Flynn movies, I find this child-like face bears no resemblance to the image of Robin Hood I have in my imagination. The locals seem to like him though, and his arrow frequently disappears during student Rag Week.

This chap sits on the quayside in Bristol, contemplating a long sea voyage. I don't know how accurate a portrait it is, but it represents John Cabot, explorer and navigator, who is credited with discovering parts of North America in the late 15th century during the reign of Henry VII. That's how they came up with the name Newfoundland. He's life size, and on a good day you can share a seat with him while you sip a takeaway coffee from the Arnolfini Gallery behind him.

Now please go and visit Any's blog at Love Made My Home to see what other people are sharing this week.