Saturday, 25 February 2012

Things I missed

Other things have got in the way of keeping up this blog over the winter. There are several things I might have posted about. Now I have time to get back to blogging, I'll catch up on some of them.

6 February was the sixtieth anniversary of the accession of the Queen.  Normally the royal family does not celebrate this date,  because it is also the anniversary of the death of  the Queen’s father, King George VI.

George VI was a shy, unassuming family man who had no wish to be king. Following the abdication of Edward VIII, however, he took up the duty and performed it admirably, leading the nation, the Empire and the Commonwealth through the Second World War. 

’Personally, I feel happier now that we have no allies to be polite to,’ he wrote after the fall of France in 1940.  He and the Queen and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret stayed at Windsor throughout the war. The King and Queen travelled daily to London  or other areas that had been bombed. When it was suggested that the Princesses should be sent  to Canada for safety, the Queen is said to have replied ‘Our daughters could not go without me. I cannot leave the King. And the King will never leave.’

The King had served in the Royal Navy in the First World War. He very much wanted to be present, on board HMS Belfast, at the D-Day landings in June 1944. However, he was persuaded not to go by his advisers, who said that it would be too great a responsibility for Belfast’s commander to have him on board, and too great a blow to morale if he should be killed. The King then had the task of convincing Winston Churchill, who had also planned to be on board HMS Belfast, that he too should not take the risk.

The King was able to visit the Normandy beach head, and General Montgomery’s headquarters, ten days after the landings.

The stress of kingship during such a critical period is said to have contributed to the deterioration of the King’s health from the late 1940s. He died in 1952 aged 56. 

Sunday, 19 February 2012

'Mentioned in Domesday'

Many people take pride in the fact that their town or village is mentioned in the Domesday Book, compiled in 1086. However, that is not necessarily a sign of exceptional  antiquity, and neither does the lack of a mention in Domesday mean that a place did not exist then. Many, if not most, English settlements had been established before 1066; many had been established centuries before. The earliest written records of English settlements date from the seventh century. Some of the settlements themselves might have originated, and been given their names, in the late fifth or sixth centuries.

Celtic, Latin, Anglo Saxon, Danish or Norwegian and Norman French have all contributed to the making of English place names.  Thames, Derwent and Avon are all of Celtic origin. Chester, caster and cester all derive from the Latin castra, meaning a military camp.

Ham, ton, ley, stead, wich and wold are a few of the elements used by the Anglo Saxons in naming their settlements. They had many words to describe hills, woods, valleys and farmland.    

In the regions settled by Vikings - the East Midlands and the north of England - many place names are of Scandinavian origin. There - and nowhere else - are the bys, the thorpes and the thwaites. A gate is a street, not an entry way, in areas where Danes settled. Old Norse words for features in the landscape such as beck, fell and gill are found in the north west.  

All place names have meanings, even if some of those meanings have been lost over time. They can tell us who the original settlers were, about the landscape or what the land was used for.  A writer creating a fictional town or village as a setting for a novel might want to check the origin and meaning of the name he or she invents for it. That way the writer can avoid making the mistake the BBC made. While they are quite right to use Wyvern as the name of a fictional county in the south west of England, they are hopelessly wrong in using Holby as the name of a fictional city there.