The royal family is almost always in the news, and never more so than when there is a wedding in prospect. A new book on the meaning of English place names reminds us that the royals have been leaving their mark on towns and cities round the country for hundreds of years.
There’s been a royal connection with Windsor for almost a thousand years. The name means ‘bank or slope with a windlass’, presumably because the Anglo-Saxons who first settled here built a winch or windlass to help lift goods out of boats and into the village. Then the Saxon king Edward the Confessor took a fancy to the place and after he died William the Conqueror built a castle here. It’s still there, and it is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world.
Queenborough in Kent goes back to the fourteenth century, when Edward III built a castle and a town here and named it in honour of his queen, Philippa. No one is sure why: it may have been to protect the French from sneaking up the river and attacking London; or, given that it happened not long after the Black Death had swept across Europe, it may have been somewhere the king and queen could take refuge in case of plague.
Regis is the Latin for ‘of the king’ and places like Lyme Regis and Bognor Regis have, at various times, enjoyed royal favour. So have Royal Leamington Spa and Royal Tunbridge Wells. Queen Victoria obviously loved spa towns: it was she who granted Leamington Spa the right to call itself ‘royal’ and her son Edward VII who did the same for Tunbridge Wells. For over a hundred years they have been the only ‘royal’ towns in England, but later this year Wootton Bassett will also be given this title because of its role in honouring soldiers who have died in Afghanistan.
And finally, to return to the subject of the royal wedding, the new Princess Catherine was born in Reading, a place whose name tells us only that it was settled by the followers of a man called Reada. The Anglo-Saxons were great ones for nicknames, though, so we think it is likely that the unknown Mr Reada had red hair.
Caroline Taggart, author of The Book of English Place Names: How Our Towns and Villages Got Their Names