[Image: Fragment of the Gough Map]
[Image: Fragment of the Gough Map]

Linguistic Geographies: The Gough Map of Great Britain

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Linguistic Evidence

Very little is known about the authorship and transmission of text on manuscript maps, and whether conclusions based on the study of other types of medieval documents apply in this context. The analysis of spellings and forms of place-names on the Gough map produced some encouraging outcomes, which point to the value of linguistic evidence for research on historical maps. This report describes some of the new findings resulting from linguistic investigation. Since we are making the data on which the findings are based available as part of the records for place-names in the online resource, this is also an illustration of the types of research that the resource is designed to support.

1. The use of Anglicized forms of place-names

Both the original makers of the Gough map and the 15th-century reviser used English or Anglicised forms of Welsh and Scottish place-names, even when the native forms were available in the 14th and 15th centuries. Thus, St David's appears on the map as sent dauid, probably in the original hand. According to B. G. Charles's study of the place-names of Pembrokeshire, this name is found in its Latin form, Sancti David and similar, from 1113-5, and as Sein(t) Davi(d) in the thirteenth century.[1] An earlier Welsh name, Mynyw, is attested from 810 to the sixteenth century, and a Welsh form, T? Dewi, from the fifteenth century. Modern Tenby appears on the map as tynbey in the original hand. It is recorded as Tynebeh in 1208-10, Tinbye in 1245 and Tynby in 1369. According to Charles, it contains an Anglicised form of a Welsh element –bych ('small'), which became the Middle English -bigh and later -by, probably by analogy with the place-names of Scandinavian origin.[2] The Welsh form of the name, Dinbych, is attested from 1150, and Dinbych y Pysgod from c.1566.[3]

2. The date of the place-name material on the map

The map does not preserve Old English place-names or their forms. When they are different, which is not uncommon, the map always has post-Conquest versions. The map also does not usually reflect the 11th- and 12th-century forms of place-names. When they were significantly different, often by displaying a lesser degree of reduction or simplification of earlier Old English, Celtic and Old Norse compounds, the map regularly has later Middle English forms. Thus Scarborough appears on the map as scarborgh in the original hand. The earliest attestation of a similar spelling Scareburgh, quoted in the English Place-Name Society (EPNS) volume for Yorkshire, dates from 1414.[4] All 12th- and early 13th-century attestations have the first element in the form Scarthe-/Scarde-, reflecting its derivation from an Old Norse personal name Skarthi. Another example is Peterborough, preserved in the hand of the 15th-century reviser. According to the EPNS volume for Northamptonshire, we know from Bede that the site of the original monastery was called Medeshamstedi, but on its rebuilding after Danish invasions the place became known as Burg.[5] Early Middle English sources, starting with the Domesday Book, contain variations on this name. The modern form, reflecting the dedication of the Abbey to St. Peter, is first noted as Petreburgh, quoted from the Calendar of Close Rolls for 1333. This form became common in the 14th century. Similarly, modern Okehampton appears on the map as okinton, probably in the original hand. It’s earliest close parallel among the spellings recorded in the EPNS volume for Devon is Ochanton, which comes from the Feudal Aids volumes (1899-1920) for 1284.[6] All earlier examples quoted by the EPNS have the first element in a less reduced form Okemen-/Okema-/Okem-, reflecting its derivation from the name of the river Okement. The spellings which are closest to the one used on the map, such as Okington or Okenton, are attested in the 16th century.

The only case that may suggest the scribe’s knowledge of an Anglo-Saxon place-name is an inscription that appears beside a town identified by E. J. S. Parsons as Droitwich.[7] The icon of Droitwich is accompanied by a comment in Latin Hic fit sal (‘Salt is made here’) in the original hand. The place-name has almost completely disappeared, and only …wych was read by Parsons. According to the EPNS volume for Worcestershire, the name Droitwich translates as ‘muddy settlement’.[8] The second part of this compound is Old English wic (‘settlement’), whereas the first is the word ‘dirt’ in one of its Middle English spellings, probably further altered to disguise the ‘unpleasant associations’ of the name. The authors of the EPNS volume comment that ‘The place is low-lying and would doubtless be muddy and “dirty”‘. They also observe that Droitwich had salt-pits already in early Middle Ages. This is in fact attested by its Anglo-Saxon name Saltwic, found in early Middle English copies of Old English charters. In the Domesday Book, however, the town’s name appears simply as Wich. This seems to have been the form used during the early Middle English period. Different forms of the modern name Droitwich are attested, according to the EPNS volume, from 1347.

Scholars have speculated about the significance of the Latin comment concerning the making of salt. Nick Millea notes its economic significance, particularly as information for merchants, whereas Daniel Birkholtz points out the importance of salt as food preservative for an army on the march.[9] Whatever its role, this comment is unique. Considering the above observations, it may simply reflect the mapmaker’s knowledge of an earlier form of the name, though this would be also unique, because the map generally does not display awareness of Anglo-Saxon onomastics.

The majority of place-name spellings found on the Gough map seem to be those first attested from the second or third quarter of the 13th century onwards, though the closest parallels to the spellings on the map seem to be somewhat later, and date from the 14th and 15th, rather than the 13th century.

3. The dialect of the map’s scribes

The spelling of the original scribe does not have pronounced regional features and is consistent with late-medieval London usage. The reviser’s orthography may reflect an influence of south-eastern dialect pronunciation (Kent), visible in a tendency to represent an earlier long or short sound [i] of different origin with the letter . Thus Guisborough (Yorkshire) appears on the map as gesborgh. Though the spelling of the first element was highly variable, no forms with ges- are recorded in the EPNS volume for the North Riding of Yorkshire.[10] Etymologically the name may go back to a rare Old Norse by-name Gígr. Other examples include: Stelton (Stilton) (Old English stigel ‘a stile’), lenne (King’s Lynn) (probably British lindo-, Welsh lynn ‘lake’), chedyngfold (Chiddingfold) (Old English Cidda, personal name), mydhest (Midhurst) (Old English hyrst, ‘wood’), Cau(n)tebrege (Cambridge) (Old English brycg ‘bridge’), as well as salesbery (Salisbury), bery (Bury St Edmunds) and Tilberi (Tilbury), all containing an element which goes back to Old English burg/byrig (‘fort’). Similar spellings, including Gesboro, and a consistent use of the element -beri, are found on the map Angliae Figura (late 1530s), whose author was identified by Peter M. Barber as Maurice Griffiths, bishop of Rochester in Kent.[11] They are, however, absent on the map, Totius Britanniae (c.1400), of unknown origin.[12]

A possibility that the 15th-century reviser of the Gough map was from the south-east, perhaps Kent, is particularly interesting, considering that Kent is one of the most thoroughly overwritten parts of the map. Linguistic evidence, as well as the interests of the reviser, supports the view that in the 15th century the map continued to be used in the south-east of England, probably London.



[1] Charles, B. G., The place-names of Pembrokeshire, 2 vols (Aberystwyth: National Library of Wales, 1992), vol. 1, pp. 283-5.

[2] Charles, The place-names of Pembrokeshire, vol. 2, pp. 557-8.

[3] Owen, Hywel Wyn and Morgan, Richard, Dictionary of the place-names of Wales (Llandysul: Gomer, 2007).

[4] Smith, A. H., The place-names of the North Riding of Yorkshire (Cambridge: CUP, 1928), p. 105.

[5] Gover, J. E. B., Mawer, A and Stenton, F. M., The place-names of Northamptonshire (Cambridge: CUP, 1933).

[6] Gover, J. E. B., Mawer, A and Stenton, F. M., The place-names of Devon, 2 vols (Cambridge: CUP, 1931-1932), vol. 1, p. 202.

[7] Parsons, E. J. S., Map of Great Britain circa A.D. 1360, known as the Gough map: an introduction to the facsimile (Oxford: Printed for the Bodleian Library and the Royal Geographical Society by the University Press, 1958).

[8] Mawer, A. and Stenton, F. M. in collaboration with Houghton, F. T. S., The place-names of Worcestershire (Cambridge: CUP, 1927).

[9] Millea, Nick, The Gough map: the earliest road map of Great Britain? (Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2007), p. 37; Birkholz, Daniel, The king's two maps: cartography and culture in thirteenth-century England (New York; London: Routledge, 2004), p. 124.

[10] Smith, A. H., The place-names of the North Riding of Yorkshire (Cambridge: CUP, 1928), pp. 149-50.

[11] Barber, Peter M., King Henry's map of the British Isles: BL Cotton MS Augustus I i (London: Folio Society, 2009), pp. 94-101.

[12] See reproduction and discussion in Barber, King Henry's map, pp. 31-2.