NOSTALGIA: Fascinating history of Lancashire place names

What’s in a name? That’s the question asked frequently by members of the Lancashire Place Name Survey.

Friday, 16th October 2015, 7:15 pm
Medieval map with spelling mistakes

The group was set up 15 years ago to research the history of place names throughout the county and involves members studying old maps, tithe records and other documents to see if the names and their spellings, which have sometimes changed over the years, can throw any light on languages spoken in this part of the British Isles many centuries ago.

LPNS spokesman Jennifer Holt said: “These spellings can show in what language the place was named and also what language it has ‘travelled through’. If we have enough examples then it becomes possible to identify areas where particular languages were spoken and so reveal something about Lancashire’s history.”

Pronunciation is another area of interest. There are three villages within the pre-1974 boundaries of Lancashire called Claughton, one near Garstang, one north of Caton near Lancaster, and one close to Liverpool.

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Welsh cartographer HumphreyLlwyd

The Claughton near Garstang is pronounced “Clyton”, the one near Caton is pronounced “Clafton” while the Claughton near Liverpool is pronounced “Clawton.”

Jennifer said: “The root of all three names is probably the same but they have travelled through different languages so are now pronounced differently.”

Some historical geographers rightly stress that not all old maps are accurate. For example, an old abbey in Einsiedeln, Switzerland, possesses an 16th century atlas with a map of the North West of England showing, in the location of Garstang, a place called ‘Barsange’. An ancient spelling of Garstang perhaps? No. The map had been prepared by Denbigh doctor Humphrey Lhuyd, who sent it to Flemish map engraver Abraham Ortelius of Antwerp. Ortelius was then producing a major atlas called the Theatrum Orbis Terrae (The theatre of the orb of the land), with correspondents from throughout Europe sending him data or maps.

Cartographic historian Dr Bill Shannon of Preston suggests Ortelius had difficulty with Humphrey’s writing or spelling, so probably took a guess at several of the spellings on the Welshman’s maps.

Garstang Cherestanc Square

Dr Shannon said: “Unfortunately, Humphrey died before the map went to print, so he never got a chance to correct the proofs. His hand writing was probably pretty horrible, as the Belgian engraver made lots of wrong guesses, of which Barsange is just one – note also Roshaywall for Rochdale. Aughton comes out as Angthon, while Macclesfield is Marxfeld. He had even more problems with some of the Welsh names!”

As well as being interested in the influence of pre-modern English (such as Old English, Norse and Frisian), the 50 or so LPNS members are keen to research the influence of pre-English words on place names and landscape features in the county going back even further back, though are hampered by the lack of old documents in Lancashire pre-circa 1200.

Jennifer said: “Lancashire has a rich and diverse history but we lack the documents which would help to reveal it.

“Some counties in the south of England have charters dating to the 8th century which list all the boundary points. In Lancashire the earliest documents which exist date from the 1200s.”

Cartographic historian Dr Bill Shannon of Preston

Dr Fiona Edmonds, a former pupil of Bolton School and now senior lecturer in Celtic history at Cambridge University’s Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, is to give a talk on the earliest languages spoken in Lancashire, and their impact on the county’s history and place names.

The title of her lecture, is: “Brittonic and Welsh influences on Lancashire history and place names.”

The lecture will take place on October 27 after the (brief) annual meeting of the Lancashire Place Name Survey which begins at 6.30pm at Lancashire Archives office, Bow Lane, Preston, PR1 2RE. The lecture will begin about 7pm.

Tickets (£5) for the lecture must be booked in advance. For further information contact Jennifer Holt at [email protected] or send an SAE and the payment to Jennifer at LPNS, 258 Blackburn Road, Haslingden, BB4 5JF.

Dr Fiona Edmonds, a former pupil of Bolton School and now senior lecturer in Celtic history at Cambridge Universitys Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic.

More information about Lancashire place names can be found at