Britain’s rudest place names

From Bitchfield to the River Piddle, Wetwang to Nether Wallop, the UK is full of places bearing unusual, amusing and sometimes downright rude names. But where do these names come from?

Shitterton, Dorset

With the help of the University of Nottingham’s Key to English Place Names and the Dictionary of British Place Names, we examine the etymology behind some of the nation’s foul-mouthed farmsteads and vile villages.

Here are 10 of the rudest place names in the UK

Bitchfield

Bitchfield, Lincolnshire
Bitchfield, Lincolnshire ©Bob Harvey

Originally appearing in the Domesday book as Billesfelt, this small Lincolnshire village forms a parish with Lower Bitchfield. As with many places in Britain, over the centuries its pronunciation and meaning has changed.

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According to the Dictionary of British Place Names, the moniker initially signified that it was the open land of a man called Bill: Bills-felt. Alternatively, it could be from Old English, meaning Bill referred to a word for sword, synonymous with the description of a sharp ridge or prominent area of land.

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So contrary to the modern interpretation suggesting a field of female dogs or unpleasant women, Bitchfield describes and area of open land, belonging to a mystery man by the name of Bill, or simply open land on raised ground.


Cocks

Cocks, Cornwall
Cocks, Cornwall ©Tony Atkin

Coming from the Old English for heaps or hillocks, Cocks is most likely a modern spelling of the word Coccs. The area around this tiny village, the parish of Perranzabuloe on the north coast of mid-Cornwall, is rather hilly, so this one is pretty self-explanatory.

Strengthening that view is the road called Cocks Hill, one of the many examples of a name repeating itself when a new wave of invaders did not understand the language of the previous occupiers. For example, the Cheddar in Cheddar Gorge means gorge, the Canvey in Canvey Island means island, and the Beachy in Beachy Head means beautiful headland.


Lower Swell

Lower Swell, Gloucestershire
Lower Swell, Gloucestershire ©Ben Gamble

There are a handful of theories regarding this Gloucestershire village’s name. A “swelle” is an old English word used to describe a mound, literally a swelling of the ground. It is possible that Lower Swell comes from this and its location in relation to local hills, situated on the lower of the hill, or at the bottom of the high ground.

Another theory suggest that it comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “well” meaning spring or well. There is a spring nearby called the Old Lady’s Well, perhaps Swell is a contraction of that name.

Victorian historian Daniel Henry Haigh, an Anglo-Saxon expert, proposed that there was a battle fought near the village by Offa of Mercia. After the battle, he thought that the dead were buried and burnt on the ground where the village church now stands. Haigh believed that Swell was an Anglo-Saxon word for burning or funeral pile. In the Middle Ages the village was known as Little Swell and perhaps the name referred to the place where this small, morbid fire was constructed.


Netherthong

Netherthong, Yorkshire
Netherthong, Yorkshire ©Humphrey Bolton

This Yorkshire village is rather simple to decipher: Nether, meaning lower, and thong meaning a thin strip of land rather than a skimpy undergarment. The Nether exists simply to differentiate the village from the nearby Upperthong, which is on higher ground.


Nether Wallop

The Golden Ball in Nether Wallop
The Golden Ball in Nether Wallop ©Chris Talbot

The rather painful sounding Nether Wallop brings an eye-watering thought to the Hampshire countryside.

It was referred to as “Wollop Inferior” in the Doomsday book and sits on the banks of Wallop Brook, which rises to the surface at nearby Over Wallop.

The term Wallop itself comes from old words for stream (waella) and valley (hop). The Nether part of the name comes from its location, the most southerly – or lower – of the three Wallops.

Despite what the name suggests, it is not a place where people would be punished by blows to the more sensitive areas of the body. Instead, Nether Wallop roughly means the lower village in the valley with the spring.


The River Piddle and the Piddle Valley

Piddlehinton, Dorset
Piddlehinton, Dorset ©Chris Downer

Dorset is home to many an odd place-name and none more so that the likes of the villages surrounding the River Piddle. It is unlikely that this region is so-called due to the contents of the river, although not impossible given what we learnt about other places on this list.

What is more probable is that places like Piddlehinton and Piddletrentide, along with fellow piddle valley dwellings Puddletown and Tolpuddle, evolved from a combination of an old English word for marsh, fen or ditch, “pudd”, and the villages’ location on the river.

Piddlehinton in particular consists of the geographical reference to its proximity to the River Piddle, and to “hiwan”, the members of a family or household, and “ton”, an enclosure, farmstead or village.

In short, Pidddlehinton is probably referring to the farm of the family by the river.


Sheepy Parva and Sheepy Magna

Sheepy Magna
Sheepy Magna ©David Lally

These two Leicestershire villages are, as the name suggests, strongly tied to a history of sheep farming. Magna and Parva simply mean big and small in Latin, while the Sheepy part comes from the Anglian words for Sheep, “scep” and island, “eg”. Eg didn’t necessarily mean island in the middle of a lake or ocean, it could also refer to dry land in a marshy area. It is likely that these villages were originally sheep farms in amongst a largely undrained, waterlogged area.


Shitterton

Shitterton
Shitterton ©Chris Downer

This one actually does what it says on the tin, or should than be can?

Shitterton probably derives from the Old English “scitere” meaning sewer or a stream used as an open sewer and ton (modern equivalent being town) is, fairly obviously, a word used to describe a village, estate or large farmstead. This was quite literally, the place by the sewer.


Wetwang

Wetwang
Wetwang ©Ian S

This is a famous village in the East Riding of Yorkshire because of its unusual name. It even features on a local commercial radio station’s jingle.

It appeared in the Doomsday book as Wetuuangha and there are two plausible theories behind its name.

One is that it directly derives from the Old Norse word vaett-vangr, which describes a field for the trial of a legal action. It is quite possible the name has simply stuck and altered only very slightly since the time of the Viking invasion and settlement in the area.

The second idea is that Wetwang was simply the Wet Field opposing the nearby Dry Field that became Driffield.


Fingeringhoe

Fingeringhoe
Fingeringhoe ©Adrian Cable

Any place name with an “ing” in it refers to the people of a certain person or location, from the Old English “ingas”. Similarly, “hoh”, or “hoe” as it has become here, refers to a heel or protruding piece of land.

The village of Fingringhoe is set on a small bend in the river, possibly the heel of land that the name refers to. The bodily reference is continued with “Fingr”, which means finger. In this case, it’s probably a finger of land with this part of Essex a network of rivers and streams winding their way into the Thames estuary.

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So while on the face of it this may look largely like little more than gibberish, Fingringhoe actually refers to the people of the finger of land, who live on the heel of river.