Place Names

In 1973 the Rev. Richard Rhys, who was then the Vicar, contributed an article to the Parish Newsletter under this title on the meanings (or probable meanings) of names of Welsh origin in the parish. This is reprinted here with a few modifications and additions.

It may happen quite suddenly that we begin pondering. We repeat the name; we feel it must mean something, that it may even give clue to history and past activity. For a start, let us take the names that contain the syllable PENPenallt, Pentwyn, Penygarn, Cae Pen. The main idea here is the top or head with nothing over and above, and the extended idea of the farthest point or boundary of an area. So Penallt is the top of the allt – the flat on top of the slope; if you said that it means “the hill-top area” you would be correct. Pentwyn means the edge or limit of the twyn, which, as well as meaning a hillock or knoll, can mean open or unenclosed land; so Penallt Common at some time probably extended as far as Pentwyn.

If you study map showing field boundaries you will see that the fields on the twyn are more or less square or rectangular; those on the slopes (the allt) are small and irregular and follow the contour lines. Ruins of long-deserted homesteads can be found amongst these smaller fields – and, of course, the intricate pattern of old lanes that would baffle the majority of explorers. Cae Pen is in this latter region, above the lower part of Lone Lane; it means “the field at the top” – obviously the top of the almost precipitous wooded slope which plunges down to the Wye below it. Penygarn would mean the end or edge of the cairn – a heap of stones, or a stony hill or ridge – which describes its situation exactly.

The name Argoed might be taken to mean simply “on or above the wood” but the first syllable being stressed shows that it is not the preposition ar (on) but that it is a compound word meaning “a wooded enclosure” – perhaps a coppice fenced off from sheep and cattle.

There are several other names which indicate the character of the situation. Lananant (from glan-y-nant) is “the bank of the stream”, land on either side of a brook being so designated; there are farms with the same name at Trellech Grange and at Penyclawdd, both standing beside small streams. “The Glyn” is always referred to with the definite article, from the particular wooded valley on whose southern slope it lies; so is “The Pool” in Tregagle, named from the public cattle-pond on the road junction beside the farm. Massadalla by Penygarn is from maes-y-dalar, literally “field of the headland”, referring to the strip of land beyond the furrows where the ploughing team turned round; it probably indicates the limit of the ploughland in that part of the parish.

To save space I will just mention the other Welsh names. Ty Mawr is simply the big house; Noddfa the place of refuge or safe haven; Cross Vane is the commonly accepted form of croes faen, the stone cross; crossroads were often the site of stone or wooden memorial or preaching crosses in past times. The name Lone Lane seems to say “We Welsh say lon and you English say lane and we both mean the very same thing.” Cae Caws (nowadays called Crick Farm), means a field connected with cheesemaking (or perhaps containing the herb known as “Bread and Cheese”); Cae lles is the bountiful or profitable field, Cae Dee, the black field, which may indicate the presence of an old charcoal-burning site or of a vanished building.

The original name of Moorcroft was Cae Pwll-du, the field of the black pit – perhaps a quarry, but possibly were victims of the Black Death were buried. “The Meend” is a term commonly found along the Welsh Borders, and is related to the Welsh mynydd – mountain or hill; “The Gockett” takes its name from a local (though not the standard) Welsh word for a grouse or moorcock; but the name suggests that it is the red grouse, rather than the black-cock illustrated on the inn sign.

A few names present something of a puzzle. To say that Craig-y-Dorth is loaf-shaped is pure fantasy! Tre-gagle has been interpreted as “place of a warcry” or “place of the cuckoo”, a basin-shaped place (and there is a spot there known as “The Basin”); I have seen Cagle as a mire, where the herds collected in hot weather; something to do with sheep droppings; and once as a maypole – take your choice! “Redwern” seems to be rhyd-wern, “the ford of the alder trees”, but it is high up and far from any stream which would need to be forded; “Lydart” would certainly seem to be llidiart, the Welsh word for a gate, opening or gap in hills.

I think I have indicated how difficult it is to be certain of the exact significance of a place name. But in any case, we will not be dissuaded from speculating.

[from: Penallt – A Village Miscellany]