Devonshire is a wonderful place in so many ways, not least in it’s dialects and accents – and there are variations across the County! It is also interesting to consider that when you hear American or Australian accents, their drawl echoes that of the crews of the ships of centuries ago who came from the southern rural counties of England such as Devon.
West Devon has many peculiar place names and ways of pronouncing them – here are a few.
You’ll find many places with common endings or components to their names…
‘beare’ or ‘bere’ means a woodland; so does ‘nymett’ with the idea of it being a sacred grove. A ‘leigh’ was a clearing, which became a pasture called a ‘ley’.
‘cote’ or ‘cott’ meant a small cottage or dwelling
‘silver’ or ‘lake’ meant a place was by a stream – today only evident when it floods!
‘buckland’ was a reference to lands that had been recorded in the Domesday Book and over which certain rights were held – ‘book-lands’; Buckland Monachorum was the ‘book-land of the monks’.
‘seale’ or ‘zeal’ was a monastic hall of residence
‘worthy’ is frequent and meant a one-family farm; but take care as if you go to Woofardisworthy you need to pronounce it ‘Woolsery’!
‘ton’ is also very common and was a settlement of farms – tiny, but in it’s day a ‘town’. If there’s an ‘ing’ before the ‘ton’ it was bigger still.
A ‘wic’ (‘weeke’ , ‘wyke’ and others) was a similar thing.
A ‘barton’ was a barn/courtyard as found in larger farmsteads, and is a common name for areas of housing today.
‘Stowe’ means a place with a connection to a saint – so ‘Bridestowe’ means the ‘place of St Brigid’. Don’t get the pronunciation wrong though – it’s ‘Briddastow’!
Nearby is ‘Sourton’; in a col atop the tors, it means a ‘narrow neck of land’ (‘sweora’) and ‘ton’ for a farm. But it isn’t ‘sour’ – it’s ‘Sawtun’.
‘Coombe’ means a valley; in fact ‘Devon’ itself derives from the Celtic ‘dyfnaint’ – land of deep valleys. Ride a bicycle very far in Devon and you’ll agree!
A ‘bury’ will always be found on top of a hill – it mean’s a ‘fortified place or farmstead’.
The Celts also gave us their word for water – ‘ta’ – in ‘tamar’ ‘taw’ and ‘tavy’.
You may also find ‘sampford’ or ‘sandford’ – literally a sandy ford across a river. Sampford Spiney was the sandy ford on land held by the Spiney family – the ending is often a family name as with Tamerton Foliot.
Sticklepath is a nice one – Devon has two, don’t go to the wrong one! ‘Stickle’ means ‘steep’, and both are on steep hillsides.
And of course, Devon being Devon, a ‘tor’ simply means a ‘rocky outcrop’ – and there are a lot of them!
Place names are quite fascinating when you know what they mean, and can make your travels that bit more fun. If you find yourself chatting to an older ‘Demshire Bey’ (Devonshire boy – you can be as old as you like but if you’re younger than your companion you’re still the ‘bey!) ask all about these things, and you’ll find yourself being absorbed into the fabric of the place….