Friday, 20 April 2012

A Tale of Two Libraries

Yesterday and today I was in the shocking and unprecedented position (since leaving college) of being able to go to libraries two days running. Yesterday it was scooting off to Oxford to visit the Bodleian and look up the recent volumes of the English Place-Name Society. I found myself in the same position as when I did this last year, that of being unable to remember which ones I'd looked at and which had been published since. However the question was rendered irrelevant by the discovery of the last volume of The Place Names of Dorset,whose previous section had emerged in 1989!

Now it is a rare day indeed that a previously-unknown holy well comes to light, and previously-unknown saint's wells whose names are recorded in the Middle Ages appear as often as the pheonix. Yet this book had one: in the obscure parish of Burstock (I can't even remember what the church looks like, yet I must have been there) in a 13th century document there appears the fontem s'cti Dunstani de Herstonehegh, the Well of St Dunstan at Hursey (as the hamlet now is). It's horribly geekish, and a horribly outré form of geekery, to get excited about this, but I did. It's a very odd well, though. 'Dunstan' appears to be the name of a local family in medieval Hursey, but how the well and the people are related is anything but clear. If the family are prior, why would they have 'sponsored' a holy well? If the well came first, how did they take their name from it?

Then today I was at Lambeth Palace Library looking at the remainder of the papers of Reginald Somerset Ward, the great Anglican spiritual director (to Michael Ramsey, Evelyn Underhill and other luminaries as well as hundreds of lesser figures), in whom I have an interest. That was quite fun too. RSW's writings are often a bit austere but there is a great sense of the living Spirit in them and I never fail but feel refreshed by reading them. Part of the reason RSW seems so stern to modern audiences (in so far as anyone knows him at all) is because of this picture which appears on the front cover of the little book compiled in his memory by his friend Edmund Morgan, the Bishop of Truro:

In the files I came across another photo, very obviously taken on the same occasion as this one, in which the great man has managed to forget to look like a grumpy old git and actually has a bit of a smile. A revelation, in its way, as momentous as a new holy well in my home county.


  1. I'm pleased to hear of your interest in place names - is that where Weeping Cross comes from ?

  2. More folklore than placenames though the two are connected. 'Weeping crosses' are either wayside crosses which have been mutilated in some way (as most have) or ones which stand on ancient funeral routes. There's a saying, 'to go home by Weeping Cross', which means to regret or repent something.