Envisaging Landscapes and Naming Places with Professor Fiona Edmonds

On Monday we enjoyed a talk at the University of Cumbria's Ambleside campus by Professor Fiona Edmonds, of Lancaster University, entitled "Envisaging Landscapes and Naming Places". 

Such a fascinating subject which was explored excellently. Professor Edmonds is leading a team of researchers completing the digitisation of the OS Name Books for Cumberland and Westmorland. We learned that very few of the OS Name Books survive, only four, with all the others being destroyed in a bombing raid in the Second World War. Fortunately both the Cumberland and Westmorland Name Books survive.

The OS Name Books provide information about place names and building names which informed the first edition Ordnance Survey mapping which took place in the mid-19th century. The OS Name Books help us to imagine life and landscape in the mid Nineteenth Century.

The talk covered the extent to which Victorian developments and priorities (as well as errors in the OS’s cataloguing process) influenced the maps through which people have experienced the Lake District for more than 150 years.  The current study, and therefore the talk, focused on the Name Books for the parish of Grasmere.

Professor Edmonds also discussed the choice of authorities for the names listed in the OS Name Books. We learned how "authorities" were chosen: property owners' opinions were sought first, long term tenants were also considered to be worthy. However, women were not consulted, even property owners such as Harriet Martineau were not deemed worthy of consultation! 

William Wordsworth occurs many times as an "authority" about the pronunciation and spelling of place names. His opinion was particularly important in the case of Dunmail Raise. In The Waggoner Wordsworth mentions Dunmail, or Dyfnwal ab Owain, the last King of Cumbria:

The horses cautiously pursue
Their way, without mishap or fault;
And now have reached that pile of stones,
Heaped over brave King Dunmail's bones;
He who had once supreme command,
Last king of rocky Cumberland
His bones, and those of all his Power,
Slain here in a disastrous hour

The legend also tells us that some of the surviving Cumbrians, taken prisoner by the Saxon Edmund, were ordered to collect rocks to pile on Dunmail's body, forming a cairn that still exists to this day and gives the pass its modern name, Dunmail Raise. There have been many versions of the name Dunmail. Dumbleraise (1576) and Dunismail (1610) amongst others. However, Wordsworth's poem provides the authority for the OS Name Book.

As tourism and tours were becoming such an important element of life in Nineteenth Century Grasmere, tours and guides were accepted as authorities for place name spelling including Otley's Guide and Hudson's Guide.

A really interesting and thought provoking talk which opened our eyes to the history and development of the counties of Westmorland and Cumberland.