Thursday, 10 November 2011

Walk up a mental road

Does the name of your home village or town give you a mental image of a past landscape? The name of ‘Anstey’ is a road name, although it seems to be slightly unclear what it exactly means. In addition, we know that the villagers here changed the name from ‘Ansty’ since there is another village of the same name relatively near outside Coventry. One can imagine there were misunderstandings and unnecessary travel behind this decision. ‘Anstig’ is supposed to mean ‘single-file uphill path’. Some Ansties do lie near crossroads. In our village there is a historic crossroads ‘The Nook’.

Many of the villages in the area have Scandinavian names, such as ‘Thurcaston’ or ‘Thurmaston’. ‘Markfield’ in its turn refers to the Mercians. The next village from us is called ‘Cropston’ and its link to agriculture and crops is not difficult to see. ‘Swithland’ behind Cropston got its name from Old Norse word ‘svitha’, ‘land cleared by burning’. The woodland theme is enforced by the names of ‘Woodland’ and ‘Woodland Eaves’. ‘Quorn’ in its turn does not refer to a meatfree mycoprotein but to ‘cweorn’, a millstone. It was shortened from Quorndon, where ‘don’, Old Norse ‘dun,’ refers to a hill.

When driving back from the city centre heading to Anstey the outline of Old John can be seen at a distance. One can then start daydreaming of a day when a Medieval farmer was taking the same path. In the past the traveller moved uphill towards different villages or towns, perhaps towards Swannington, Ratcliffe-on-Soar or Ashby-de-la-Zouch. They chose a road to follow from the Nook onwards across this wooded land with a population from different origins who may have used slash-and-burn techniques brought back from the northern countries. The traveller may also have passed by the stone quarries at Quorn. In this way the place names create a mental map forming a palimpsest of Medieval Leicestershire.

The placename data is from Gelling and Cole’s book The Landscape of Placenames, which I got as a ‘spoil’ after the dismantling of most of the Madingley Hall library.

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