Clip to Evernote    Print this page

Place-Names and Ritual Landscapes


Place-Names and Ritual Landscapes


Name / element




(OE beorg, beorge)


Denotes a mound of earth, i.e. a barrow, though Barrow usually derived from OE bearu, a grove


tumulus pl. tumuli (Latin)


appears on OS maps to mark barrows of Neolithic and Bronze Age date


cairn (GHaelic carne)


a pile of stones, sometimes covering an ancient burial




used in Cornish dialect to denote a megalithic tomb, often a portal dolmen


well (OE wiell, wella, wælla)


a spring or stream, sometimes a holy well


Font (OE funta)
keld (ON kelda and OE celde)
burn (OE burna)
beck (OE bekkr)
brook (OE brōc


These all signify springs and streams which may, in some cases, be linked with pagan worship. 'Spring' itself was fgrequently associated with coppiced woodland rather than a stream




appears in names like Helliwell, Holwell, Holybourne etc., while Helen Hill may derive from the Celtic goddess Elen


lann or lan (Cornish)


refers to oval enclosures associated wioth early Christian foundations. Generally lan pre-dates eglos, but outside Cornwall, in Wessex oval enclosures with churches can represent the enclosures of burhs of Saxon fortified towns


mether (Cornish)


a saint's grave


eccles (Latin ecclesia,
Cornish eglos, OE ecles)


Thought to indicate the sites of very early Christian churches associated with the survival of Christianity in post-Roman Britain


-minster (Latin monasterium)


settlement associated with a minster church, e.g. Yetminmster, Charminster, Iwerne Minster


plu (Cornish)


a parish


all place-names associated with water


a very high proportion of early churches - more than half of the minsters in the case of Hampshire - have place-names associated with situations by river, springs and wells. Such names are particularly common in dry chalk country


This table is taken from:
Muir, R., "The New Reading the Landscape", 2002, University of Exeter Press, Table 6.1 p. 156

 Next page: Place-Name evidence in Wetland Settings