Schedule of place names: Introduction

Pages 332-336

Cardiff Records: Volume 5. Originally published by Cardiff Records Committee, Cardiff, 1905.

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In this section


Schedule of Place=names.

There we have a list of about 1200 names of lordships, manors, towns, villages, hamlets, homesteads, fields, hills, valleys, wells, brooks, rivers, suburbs, streets, houses and cottages in the Cardiff District. It will be found very ample for the whole district—for the municipal borough it is minute.

Place-names have long been recognised as an important ingredient in the materials of local history. In Wales and the Marches they possess a peculiar interest, as comprising the topographical nomenclature of at least three distinct races, viz., the pre-Aryan, the Celtic and the Teutonic. Names referable to the first of these three are rare, but recognisable, and are principally the designations of rivers. Celtic names largely predominate, and are almost all British, though Gaelic examples are not wanting. Saxon, Danish and Norman place-names mark the numerous settlements of Englishmen, from the first Teutonic invasion down to the present time. The Roman occupation has left no traces in the nomenclature of this district, except in the prefix Caer. The following are examples of the place-names of the several races above referred to:—

Pre-Aryan - Taff.

Gaelic - Roath.

British - Llystalybont.

Roman - Caerau.

Saxon - Crockherbtown.

Danish - Womanby.

Norman - Coquemarel.

In very many cases, English influence has modified the pronunciation and spelling of our place-names, that is to say, in speaking English. Thus in English speech we say "Cardiff," but in talking Welsh, "Caerdŷdd." Of a similar kind is the difference between English "Roath" and Welsh "Y Rhâth."

In other instances, the English "comelings" give to a place a name which is a translation of that used by the Welsh "homelings." Thus we have, for the Welsh "Treganna," the English "Canton"; for "Efail-y-dwst," "Dusty Forge"; for "Heol-y-cawl," "Broth Lane," "Porridge Lane," "Worten Street" (now "Wharton Street" and "Working Street,") and Crockherbtown.

Sometimes the English name has a meaning different from the Welsh; as when the Welsh "Eglwys Newydd" (New-church) becomes "Whitchurch," i.e., the White Church or Blessed Church—which in Welsh would have been Eglwys Wen. Still more distinct in meaning are the Welsh "Tyll-goed" (holed trees), English "Fairwater."

Many purely English place-names, bestowed under the régime of the Anglo-Norman lords in the Middle Ages, have fallen into disuse and been forgotten, Welsh names having supplanted them in numerous instances. Examples of this have been pointed out to me be by Mr. John Stuart Corbett. His annotated Ordnance Chart of Cardiff shews such field-names as Barber's Closes and Great Holmead, in the Lordship of Roath, referred to in Ministers' Accounts of the 15th century, in places where such names have been unknown for a couple of hundred years past. The same map gives many thoroughly Welsh names, like Tair Erw Melyn and Erw'r Clochdy, which might be sought for vainly in the mediæval records.

It is probable, however, that (apart from the laudable practice of giving native titles to modern villa residences) there has been no new creation of Welsh place-names in the Cardiff district for nearly a hundred years past. It must even be said that a gradual but steady transformation of Welsh into English place-names has during that period been proceeding. As examples of a very general practice, I may refer to Derwen Deg, which is now always called Fairoak; Cae Syr Dafydd, commonly termed Sir David's Field; and the numerous farms whose Welsh names of Ty Coch, Ty Gwyn and Ty Mawr, are far less seldom heard than their English translations, Red House, White House, and Great House. Besides such translations, cases of nominal perversion are frequent—such as the Dairy Farm for the Deri (oaks)—and our grandchildren will be unusually fortunate if they do not find themselves constrained, by the force of custom, to speak of Pen-y-lan as "Penny Land." Such perversions seem necessarily consequent upon the decline of a Celtic language.

I have endeavoured to give the true and exact English translation of every Welsh place-name; but where the etymology is doubtful, no such attempt has been made—guesses in philology being worse than useless.

So far as possible, the earliest date at which a place-name has been found in writing is mentioned; and, in the case of an obsolete name, the latest also. Various dates are given to some names, where there is importance in the precise period during which the forms were in vogue.

Unless otherwise stated, it may be understood that the place named is within the old town of Cardiff.

Until recent times, the names of our streets were very uncertain. For instance, Wharton Street has, at various overlapping epochs, been called Warton Street, Worten Street, Wortin Street, Working Street, Heol-y-cawl, Broth Lane, Porridge Lane; (fn. 1) and the name Worten Street was applied not only to the present Wharton Street, but also to its continuation across the Hayes, and to Working Street, as far as Mr. Rees' corn stores, whence northward it was termed Waste Lane. Waste Lane extended along the eastern side of what is now St. John's Square, the square's western side being formed by a block of buildings called Middle Row; and Middle Row was at one time continued round the corner eastwards towards Crockherbtown, as far as the East Gate. The present Queen Street represents the ancient King Street to the East Gate, the western portion of which street was also called Running Camp; but the northern side of King Street was the "Middle Row to Crockherbtown," and the lane on the north side of that row was called Smith Street or East Street. In the 17th century Duke Street was sometimes termed Shoemaker Street; but anciently Shoemaker Street was made up of Shoemaker Lane plus the western side of the present St. John's Square, its eastern side being portion of the Middle Row. In the last century that part of St. John's Square was called St. John's Street, and the same name was given to what is now Church Street, and also to what is now Trinity Street. Among the Cardiff street-names confusion reigned supreme. Add to this the radical changes brought about by the demolition of the "Middle Rows" and similar old blocks of buildings, and it will be seen that to fill up this schedule from meagre entries in many different Town Books has been far from an easy task.

The greatest difficulty of all, however, lay in the fact that the original writers of the Rent Rolls were in many cases themselves uncertain as to the whereabouts and identity of the properties, so that the same piece of land or messuage would be scheduled in two or three different places in the same list. In the case of a few properties named in the oldest lists, it is impossible at the present day to say where they were situate, so sparing of details are the original lists.

The Editor would avail himself of this opportunity to urge upon the Corporation and the Burgesses, in the interests of antiquity, a restoration of the instructive old street-names which have been allowed to disappear from the town of Cardiff within the last halfcentury. It would surely be a good thing to restore, for instance, the name "Crockherbtown," while retaining "Queen Street" for that portion of the thoroughfare leading from the canal westward to Duke Street—which last portion had been called "King Street" from ancient times. Two or three ineffectual attempts were made, by innovators on the Town Council, to obtain the abolition of "Crockherbtown" and the extension of the name "Queen Street" to the whole thoroughfare. When at last the Vandals succeeded, it was only by a very narrow majority of votes. To many people it seems a great pity the change was made. Every fourth-rate market town has its "Queen Street"; but "Crockherbtown" is ancient, distinctive and historically interesting. It is, moreover, still a household word in the mouths of genuine Cardiffians, who would rejoice to see it re-instated.

Another obvious improvement would be the alteration of the name "Custom House Street" back to something like the old designation of that thoroughfare. The Custom House has gone from there, so that the present name is incongruous and misleading. The old name was "Whitmore Lane," because it led to the White Moor. During the period when the Docks were being constructed, Whitmore Lane became a somewhat disreputable quarter, and thus acquired an objectionable sound in the ears of our older generation of townsfolk. That may be a reason against the restoration of "Whitmore Lane"; but the thoroughfare might now appropriately receive the name "Whitmoor Street."

Similarly, as the old outlying farms, with quaint Welsh titles, are swallowed up by the irresistible tide of suburban bricks and mortar, care should be taken to perpetuate their names in the nomenclature of the new roads which occupy their sites. This has been done by our landowners to some extent, but by no means so generally as might be expected in the national Welsh metropolis.



  • 1. It seems probable that even in "Crockherbtown" we have another form of the name of what was originally a long, serpentine street, occupied by vendors of kitchen vegetables, and extending from Saint Mary Street north-eastward to the Spital.