Place-Names of Flintshire, by Hywel Wyn Owen and Ken Lloyd Gruffydd

By Hywel Wyn Owen, co-author of Place Names of Flintshire

Flintshire is one of the most fascinating counties in Wales in terms of history, and almost all its historical developments are reflected in its place-names – Alun, Clwyd and Elwy are very old Brythonic river names; Prestatyn, Rhuddlan and Hawarden were recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086; while Lixwm, Connah’s Quay and Queensferry emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

But surely all counties in Britain have similar characteristics when it comes to place-names? True, but there are some features of Flintshire’s names which mark it off as worthy of a book like Place-Names of Flintshire.

Although some 86% of the people living in Flintshire today are non-Welsh speaking, around 75% of its names are Welsh (when you count villages, towns, fields, streams and hills), which in itself suggests that it’s worthwhile explaining the origins and meanings of its place-name heritage. Sometimes names can be misleading, and Flintshire has more than its share of those – who would have believed that Bagillt, Gwesbyr and Prestatyn were originally English names (if they were in England they would be Backley, Westbury and Preston), but were modified by Welsh speakers of the Middle Ages into the names we are all familiar with today?

There was substantial in-migration of industrial workers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (largely from England), and it was the perceived moral conduct and alleged riotous behaviour that came with these industrial workers which offended the Nonconformist sensibilities of the locals, who referred to the shanty-towns of the newcomers as Babylon or Sodom.

Place-Names of Flintshire covers the pre-1974 county, including Maelor Saesneg. It comprises all the names on the OS Landranger map, some 800 names in total. And one of the spinoffs of the book is a database of thousands of documentary forms used in determining the derivation of the names, and which is accessible online via the home page of the Welsh Place-Name society – the database was compiled by my collaborator, Ken Lloyd Gruffydd, who sadly died at the beginning of 2015.

This is a book well worth dipping into frequently – mainly because understanding the name helps you know the place.

Emeritus Professor Hywel Wyn Owen is an acknowledged authority on place-names in Wales, and was formerly director of the Place-Name Research Centre at Bangor University. He is a founder member of the Welsh Place-Name Society, Honorary Vice-President of the English Place-Name Society, and former president of the Society for Name Studies in Britain and Ireland.

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