Weirdly Wonderful British Placenames


It’s not just strange names that make us smile as we research your family history – sometimes it’s the places that seem too weird to be true. Here are a few of our favourites:

Barton in the Beans

The population of this hamlet in Leicestershire was only about 177 in the 1830s. Even now there’s not much more than a Baptist church and a post box. The name comes from the Olde English words, bere, meaning barley and tun, meaning settlement or enclosure. Put together they described an outlying farm or grange. ‘In the beans’ was probably added to distinguish the Leicester Barton from several other places with the same name. Leicestershire was once famous for cultivating broad beans as in the popular saying: “Shake a Leicestershire man by the collar and you can hear the beans rattle in his belly.”

St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe

When we have found reference to this strange place, it has been used to describe addresses within the parish of the Anglican church which bears the same name. The church is on Queen Victoria Street in London, near Blackfriars station. It acquired its name after 1361, when Edward III moved his Royal Wardrobe from the Tower of London to a new storehouse close to the church. The king’s wardrobe at the time consisted of armoury, clothing, jewellery and other personal items. Both the church and the Wardrobe were destroyed in the Great Fire of London, but the church was rebuilt in 1695 to Sir Christopher Wren’s design.

The Devil’s Arse

This is actually the name of a cavern in Castleton, Derbyshire, so we’re cheating a little here, although it was the home to some of Britain’s last troglodytes (cave-dwellers), who built houses inside the cave mouth and made a living from rope-making. The cave was apparently given this fantastical name because of the noises that emanate from inside the cave when flood water is draining away. Its name was changed in 1880 when Queen Victoria was invited to attend a concert there, but its name has reverted to the ruder version in recent years, presumably to attract curious tourists!

Newtown Unthank

Here’s one more Leicestershire village to finish off with. Apparently this place-name has nothing to do with ingratitude, but was derived from a pre-7th century Olde English word, unpance, which literally means ‘without leave.’ It was used to describe a piece of land that was unlawfully occupied. Perhaps the new occupants never actually left and the new settlement became a ‘new town’ in its own right?

Discussion: I hope you enjoyed our bizarre names! What are the weirdest British placenames you’ve found in your research? Please add them to the comments below. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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