School Resources: Local Place Names

Roman roads of Britain.

Place names can tell us a lot about the history of where we live. They can tell us what a place looked like in the past, how it was used, who lived there, or important events which happened there. Place names can reveal layers of history going back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Many permanent landmarks, such as rivers or hills or have Celtic names, and help us to understand that although our landscape changes, the land we walk on has been walked on for generations. Place names help to bring the past to life.

Exploring place names is a bit like being a place detective. They help children understand chronology by showing how history unfolds on the places they live and move around every day. Thinking about the names of local places sparks imaginations about the people who lived there before, and helps to inspire storytelling.

Some Examples

Stirchley was originally Stirchley Street and before that Stretley Streete, and the “streetly”, in whichever spelling, probably means the “clearing by the road”. In this case, a Roman road. The Anglo-Saxon word straet derived from the Latin via strata meaning ‘a paved or laid road’. Bill Dargue (see link below) says that the “road in question left the Fosse Way at Bourton-on-the-Water heading for the Roman fort and town of Alcester. It then came into Birmingham at Walkers Heath, followed Lifford Lane across the River Rea and on through Stirchley”. This was part of Icknield Street and the only known part of the route locally ran between Breedon Cross and Bournville Lane.

With the River Rea, the “Rea” part likely means to run or flow. The Rea’s source is in the Waseley Hills and it flows to the River Tame in north Birmingham.

The “ruh” of Rowheath may have meant uncultivated (or rough), which would mean that the area was rough grass land, rather than agricultural land.

In 1325 a William de Hazelwell lived in Hazelwell, as did other people with the Hazelwell name after him, but it is uncertain whether the place was named after the family of the family name came from the place. Hazelwell was a manor, and Hazelwell Hall was the timber-framed manor house.

The “raddle” from Raddlebarn means to twist together, or to interweave, and sometimes meant in the making of fences which used thin woven wood. It could also mean reddish, like someone having a ruddy complexion. The name may come from a barn made from raddle fencing, but also there’s clay in the area, so if a wattle and daub technique was used it may have been red. We don’t know, though.

Fordrough possibly comes from “fordraft”, which was a narrow strip of land leading from a dwelling to a road or field.

When you hear the word “ford” near a river, it means a river crossing. Lifford would have been a safe place to cross the River Rea for thousands of years, including being part of the Roman road of Icknield Street. Lifford Hall still stands and was built in 1604. The “lif” part of the name may come from lyf, meaning life or body, but ford names often related to a local landmark.

Metchley Fort was a Roman fort situated near where University Station is. It was situated on the course of Icknield Street. Due to the close proximity of the Roman road and the fort, there is a great deal of scope for teaching local Roman history.

There’s lots more names to find out about too!

A useful resource is written by Bill Dargue, but with old place names there is always speculation, especially the further back in time you go, so there’s always some uncertainty.


Bill Dargue’s website, here.

The image above is Creative Commons, you can see it here.