Tuesday, 3 April 2012
The magic of Dorset placenames!
I ask you, what other English county has such evocative village and town names as these:
Three Legged Cross
Gussage All Saints
And these are just the first names that occur to me. I could go on and on. They not only conjure up a mental image of picturesque rurality, these names have have a definite hint of magic about them, a bit like a chanting a spell. And quite a few actually live up to the imagined image of an ideal place in an ideal setting! All this said, it can't have been much consolation to underpaid agricultural workers in the nineteenth century to live in a village with a pretty name. One shouldn't forget that. But when I visited Melbury Bubb not two weks ago - a tiny hamlet on a dead-end road, comfortably nestling against a hill - I felt a tranquility and sense of deep history, and there was no suggestion of past rural unhappiness and poverty. The old church was neatly kept, and still relied on candles and oil lamps, with aluminium picnic plates behind each lamp to spread the light a bit more effectively on winter evenings...
Melbury Bubb's church is 'famous' for having a font with upside-down carvings of animals. But I was more intrigued by the oil lamps, and the briefest War Memorial plaque I can recall seeing:
Just two names. The First World War was notorious for stripping men from the countryside to fight in their county regiments. I've seen much longer lists of the fallen than this, even in quite small places. It just shows what a backwater this place has always been. And you do wonder how many people turn up for the services nowadays. It can't be more than a tiny handful; and yet the church and its grounds are so well-kept.
I rather think that Dorset has more placenames with 'Mel' in them than any other county. I certainly feel at home there, with my own name of Melford. But Devon has the first claim on my West Country loyalties.