15 MAY 1936, Page 21


[To the Editor of THE SPECTATOR.]

SIR,—I have been interested by the review in your issue of May 8th by Miss Macaulay of the Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Plare Names. Although I cannot bring to the subject more than the average lively iniagination, considerable natural folly and the resources of native ignorance, to quote Miss Macaulay, I am so amazed that anyone can accept the derivations selected from the Dictionary by Miss Macaulay that I am compelled to voice a protest.

The Clent Hills are very gentle ascents of low elevation, and the most striking features of the countryside are narrow valleys radiating from the hills, and one in particular between the two largest. " I suggest that a more likely origin for the word Clent is contained in the Ancient British Language, of which Welsh is the modem representative. In this language Glyn, meaning a narrow rocky valley, plural Glenydd, is a near phonetic equivalent. Hagley' is surely Ag, meaning a cleft and lle a place. This would agree with the old village nestling under the hill quite well.

I have never been to Margate or Ramsgate, but surely here again the ancient tongue proves a more trustworthy guide -0 the derivation of the names. Taking Margate first, Mor 'means the Sea, ganu to- commence or originate, and Mo gird' n earis a sea shore. Ramsgate—Rhamu means to rise or soar and ganu to commence or originate, from which I conclude Margate is on a low sea shore and-Ramsgate on the cliffs. The striking improbability. of the word Ramsgate being derived from wild garlic, hramsa to quote the Dictionary, is self-evident. I Myself have always found wild garlic associated with trees and woods and not with sea cliffs. Ravenglass similarly is from Rhafu, meaning to spread or diffuse, and glas meaning green. The whole word meaning tract of green. To explain Raven from a proper name Hraefn, is surely to explain the unknown by the unknown.

If there is no foundation for the word Chalfont meaning warm spring, there are Welsh equivalent phonetics that would be at least as likely as the gentleman whose conjectured name is Caedel.

As for Coekbury, Cockfield, Cocking, Cockenhatch—in Welsh Coch means red, and perhaps this may throw light on the legendary gentleman Cocoa, who was not hatched from an egg. I do not think it can be denied that all Etymological Dictionaries strain every possibility or impossi- bility to derive English place names, surnames and words in the English language itself from Teutonic sources. I cannot help, myself, believing that the greater part of our surnames are derived from Celtic languages, as well as place names, and I cannot understand why plausible and easy derivations from the Celtic are not preferred to improbable and strained derivations from the Teutonic tongues. Can it be we are ashamed of our Celtic forefathers and wish to forget all about them am, Sir, yours faithfully, JOHN W. WHITEHOUSE.