I recall my mother reciting a poem “I remember, I remember the house where I was born, the little window….”. My own first twenty odd years were spent in a house with a window which looked up to a hill about a mile away, Roundway Hill, near Devizes in Wiltshire. When I was bored or lost in thought with my homework my eyes would be drawn up to that green hill. It was a place for childhood picnics and courting couples to walk. We flew our model aircraft in the large field near its base. In previous years Alan Cobham’s Flying Circus flew there. My two old friends from schooldays and beyond have asked for their ashes to be scattered on the hill. Perhaps I shall join them.
Apparently Roundway had an Iron Age hill fort, and near its base was a spring, ‘Mother Anthony’s Well’, associated with a Roman building, but I did not find it. During the Civil War in 1643 it was the scene of a battle between the Parliamentarians under Waller and Royalists led by Lord Wilmot. The latter forced the Roundhead horsemen over a near precipice, ‘never horse went down or up before’, to end in dead and injured men and horses down the hillside. The promontory is known as ‘Oliver’s Castle’, although he was not there. Similar stories are repeated on hills in Dorset as we may see!
A school friend and I once cycled, to push our bikes up the hill and then remount to ride down a chalky track, to the west, said to be the old coach road to Bath. As the hill is of chalk it contains small fossils and snailshells. Another feature is a dew pond near ‘Oliver’s Castle’.
The meaning of ‘Roundway’ in the Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names is ‘cleared way’.
In February one part of our family came to see us after the storms, and I asked if they had come across flooding. Our son-in-law said “not bad, but the stream near the Nine Stones at Winterborne Abbas was swollen”. I tried to air my knowledge and said “of course, Winterborne means a stream which flows in winter” and he replied, “you could write an article using the meaning of place names”. So this is the result. I note that “Abbas” refers to its possession by the Abbey of Cerne.
Reverting to hills, most of them seem to have been the site of battles. In Dorset, Hambledon Hill, Hod Hill, Badbury Rings, Maiden Castle, Abbotsbury Hill, Eggardon Hill, Waddon Hill, Lewesdon Hill, Pilsdon Pen, Lambert’s Castle and Coney’s Castle all had hill forts in the Iron Age. Many were involved in fights with the Romans, in particular, Hod and Maiden Castle were hard fought for and the latter has been found to have a cemetery of defenders. The Romans stayed on them for a while, with a fort on Hod and a temple on Maiden Castle. Hambledon had a later battle during the Civil War in 1645 when the Dorset “Clubmen” rose against both sides because their homes were being ransacked. Driven from Shaftesbury, 2,000 labourers assembled on Hambledon Hill under the leadership of the rector of Compton Abbas, but were soon routed by fifty dragoons under Cromwell and their leaders shut up in Shroton church for the night. Perhaps not a hill fort, but Bothenhampton Hill, near Bridport, has a story of a battle and the hill running with blood, down Blood Lane to the village. This is said to be during the Monmouth Rebellion when Monmouth’s men entered Bridport. But this seems unlikely as they are believed to have immediately returned to Lyme Regis after a skirmish at the Bull Hotel. Did Bothenhampton have an earlier battle with the story mistaken over the generations?
Now the possible meaning of those names—Hambledon may be “a crooked hill”, Badbury possibly “the stronghold of a man called Badda”, Abbotsbury, “the manor of the abbot”, Waddon perhaps “a hill growing woad”, Pilsdon Pen probably “hill with a peak, or stake”, said to be the highest point in Dorset, not to be confused with Golden Cap, lower but still the highest point on the south coast. Bothenhampton is the “home farm in a valley”.
Descending the hills, we find the Marshwood Vale means “wood by a marsh”, noted for giant oaks, and nearby Morecombelake, home of Dorset Knobs, is “stream in the marshy valley”. Then Charmouth, “Mouth of the River Char—a Celtic river name” reported (in 1625, printed in 1732) to have twice been invaded by the Danes (Vikings?), the first time in 831 AD. Later the Spanish, planning the Armada, thought that landings could be made there, and at Chideock a “Wooded place”. Chideock had a castle in 1379, now all that remains are traces of its moat. Later the castle hid Catholics, some of whom were martyred in the late 1500s at the time of the Reformation.
Eype is “a steep place” and Symondsbury is a “hill or barrow of Sigemund”, perhaps this applies to Colmer’s Hill, which now would be “as painted by Marion”. Nearby a sunken lane runs north, reputed to have been used by smugglers. I am unable to find a meaning for the address of this magazine, Lower Atrim, which sounds like an architectural feature, missing a “u”.
On Tuesday 10th June Pat Hayes will describe “The Shadow of the Workhouse” to Bridport History Society in Bridport United Church MainHall, East Street at 2.30 pm. All welcome, visitors entrance £2-50.
Cecil Amor, Chairman, Bridport History Society. Tel : 01308 456876.