The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Britain, the land of Booze and Bottoms

You can soak up Booze in North Yorkshire or Beer in Devon but, after that, a trip to Wyre Piddle in Worcestershire is a must.

And, while there may be Little Snoring in Norfolk, especially after encountering Spital in the Street in Lincolnshire, everyone can enjoy Rest and Be Thankful in Argyll.

The British affection for place names — particularly silly ones — was recently celebrated with the publication of a dictionary devoted to the origins of the names of towns, cities, villages and other spots throughout the British Isles. Written by Adrian Room, a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the author of more than 30 other reference books, the Penguin Dictionary of British Place Names traces the roots of more than 10,000 places across the country.

“The dictionary delves into the oldest and newest, longest and shortest, most obvious and obscure, yet not forgetting the silliest place names and meanings,” the publishers said.

Not that the book will bring unbridled joy for everyone. Members of the Loose Women’s Institute in Kent, will take little solace from the fact their village got its name from the old English word “hlose” — or place at a pigsty. At least they do not belong to the WI in Ugley, Essex.

Barton in the Beans, in Leicestershire, derives its name from the “barley farm where beans are grown” while Pease Pottage in Sussex is a “place by muddy ground the consistency of pea soup”.

The book could stir up controversy, however. It claims that Pennycomequick, a suburb of Plymouth, literally means a place to get rich quick, while local historians say the name is a corruption of the Celtic for “settlement at the head of the creek valley”. There are minor disappointments, too. Matching Tye in Essex has no connection with high fashion, Tarring Neville in East Sussex is not a form of punishment and Old Sodbury is “a fortified place”, not a miserable old git. But at least Shitterton in Dorset gets its name from “the village on the stream used as an open sewer”.

Some places just have an intrinsically silly sound whatever their original meanings. From Bugthorpe to Blubberhouses, Thwing to Ugglebarnby, Yorkshire appears particularly rich in these. And there are the schoolboys’ favourites like Brown Willy, Pratt’s Bottom, Fartown, Wetwang, Penistone.

Some are too prosaic. John O’Groats was not a Rob Roy figure but Jan de Groot, a 15th-century Dutch bailiff to the earls of Caithness. Mr Room has already written the Dictionary of World Place Names and, for aficionados, it is now possible to organise a themed world tour by visiting, for instance, towns with the names of body parts. After taking in Eye in Suffolk and Tongue in Ayrshire, move on to Nose in Japan, Finger in Tennessee, Chin in Alberta and Elbow in Saskatchewan. Harry’s Armpit in Newfoundland and Gilbert’s Bottom in Montserrat are only for the really adventurous.

While Britons enjoy their oddball names in a quiet, self-amused sort of way, the Americans actively promote them. Visit Peculiar, in Missouri, and you are greeted with a “historical spot marker” that reads: “In 1861-64, while bloody battles raged through the southern states, nothing happened here.”

And if you did not know already, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysilio-gogogoch means either “St Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool of Llantysilio of the red cave” or “St Mary’s by the white aspen over the whirlpool, and St Tysilio’s Church by the red cave”. Obvious, really.

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