I often wonder about place names when I’m driving along and daydream about turning off to explore these unusually named villages. But of course I’m always en route to somewhere else and don’t take the time out.
I was thinking this while driving down the A303 recently. I’d been staying near a place called Micheldelver Station. A name which has always conjured up images of dwarves tapping and delving away into untold depths below ground, carving out hidden treasures. The ‘station’ bit being an outpost, perhaps for supplies, or for cashing in their hoard, much like the goldhunters of America’s history.
Although, on driving through the village it dawned on me that the station was for the trains.
I drove past other signposts, Queen Camel and Charnage, and I began to scrape together the beginnings of an idea. How about a series of blog posts on the origins of place names?
Did some medieval queen really have a camel? And when did smalltown England become aware of the existence of camels anyway?
And Charnage? This has always made me think of Charn, the land the White Witch came from in The Magician’s Nephew. With that and the similarity to ‘carnage’, what wild and bloody history might this place have?
Then there’s the place on the Plymouth road, Rattery. Is it the English Hamelin? Did they breed them there? (And why? Eurgh!) or was it something to do with the plague?
Intrigued and excited, I couldn’t wait to get home and start googling.
‘Rattery’ is actually a variant on ‘Red Tree’, listed in the Domesday book as ‘Ratreu’. That’s linguistic shifts for you. Although I also discovered that a rattery is a rat breeding business. Now there’s a contradiction in terms – I’m a cat person and I live in the country. Believe me, they don’t need help.
Charnage is listed in the Domesday book as ‘Chedelwick’ and the name has morphed over the centuries.
Queen Camel. Well, the queen referred to is believed to be Queen Eleanor, wife of Henry III. And the poor camel? rather than being a displaced dromedary, this comes from the Celtic word ‘Cantmael’ (canto – district, mael – bare hill).
Oh, and Micheldelver?
Well, it turns out I misread and it’s actually ‘Dever’, which is the local river. Not a dwarf or a mineshaft in sight.
>Sigh< I think I’ll stick to my imagination after all…