Articles from the Thoroton Society Newsletter


This research started out looking at the origins of the name of Wensor Bridge, today a brick-built structure crossing the River Devon in the Nottinghamshire parish of Shelton. The English Place-name Society (EPNS) records the name’s earliest attribution as being Wendelforthbrigge in 1330. By 1775 the name had become corrupted to the Wensor of today. The EPNS suggests that it originally means “Wendel’s or Waendel’s ford”, where our “Wendel” is considered to be the name of an individual. (1)

As is so often the case, this line of enquiry has led in an unexpected direction and we must bid the bridge farewell for now.

Ethnonym, patronym or mythonym?

The origin and apparent popularity of the personal name “Wendel” in English place-names would seem to be connected to the Germanic tribal name Vandal (2) The medieval Confraternity Book of the Abbey of Reichenau records forms in the German region of Swabia such as Uuentil, Uuentila, Uuandalgarius, Uuentilger, Uuantalmar and Uuentilmar confirming a continental usage too.(3) There is also the possibility that both personal name and the tribal name are connected

with the mythological character Orvandil, who as the Old English Earendel is associated with the dawn and the planet Venus as the Morning Star.(4) The name Wendel is also associated with a number of hillforts and folknames, names which might reasonably originate with individuals, tribal groups or mythological figures. There are several fortifications called Wandlebury across Eastern and Southern Central England.(5)

The Wendel Edges

Another recurring feature of a number of Wendel names is their location on escarpment slopes. Margaret Gelling notes the existence of two place-names Wendelsclif, one in Berkshire and one in Gloucestershire, in which clif is used in the sense of escarpment. Gelling distinguishes between cases of Wendel as a personal name and those “ in which Wendel may be suspected of being a mythological character, and the two instances of Wendlesclif should perhaps be classed with these.”(6) The village of Kingston Winslow lies at the base of the west-facing edge of the Berkshire Downs running south-west to north-east between Ermin Street and the White Horse at Uffington. The Ridge Way and Icknield Street share the same route along the top of the edge and the Neolithic long-barrow, Wayland’s Smithy sits close by. Early forms of Winslow are Wendelesclivam (c.1150), Wendelcliva (1189) Wend(e)lescliue (1242-3) and Wendesclive (1264-5), becoming Kingston Winscliffe, alias Winslowe by 1713.(7)

Cleeve Cloud in Gloucestershire is a limestone outcrop on the Cotswold Edge at Bishops Cloud overlooking Cheltenham. It is the highest hill in the Cotswolds and like Kingston Winslow is part of a monumental landscape, with a hillfort on the western slope and the Belas Knap long barrow close to the summit. Gelling notes that the Cleeve Cloud Wendlesclif is mentioned in a charter of circa 780. In this charter, Offa of Mercia and Ealdred, the sub-king of the Hwicce, grant an estate to the minster and church of St. Michael at Bishops Cleeve (“aet Clife”).(8) The estate being granted to the monastery is described as being “under the rock of the hill which is in the old vocabulary called Wendlesclif on the north side of the stream called Tyrl”/9) It is tempting to interpret the location of a monastery and the use of the term “in the old vocabulary” as referring to the re-purposing of a site of pagan importance to one of Christian worship.

A Mythical Context?

There does seem to be a common quality in which a sense of height and boundary are important features for locations associated with a possible mythical Wendel. This liminal context is shared by those escarpments and hillfort ramparts which may bear his name.

River Devon and the Wandilberwdike

The River Devon begins life in the Leicestershire village of Eaton, above the Vale of Belvoir on the Belvoir Edge. EPNS shows Wandilberwdike to be a minor place-name for the parish of Eaton, presumably the “stream by Wendel’s hill (berg) or fort (burh)”. Another Wandlebury?(10)

EPNS notes that one possible derivation of the river-name Devon is the British *dubno-, meaning “deep” and referring to the steep ravine in which the upper Devon runs. Another liminal quality? (11)

Whether or not Wandilberwdike refers to what becomes the River Devon is not certain. However, it is interesting that further downstream there is a bridge over the Devon with an early attested Wendel name. Could the river have had an alternative name for a while? We know that at least one of Nottinghamshire’s rivers has had a documented name change. The British river-name Clun, which gives us the place-names Clumber and Clowne, was replaced at some stage by Poulter, an English name which is probably a back-formation from the Derbyshire place-name “Palterton”, where the river rises near Bolsover. This name change may be comparatively recent, with Palter first being recorded in 1589, whilst the term Clumber River was used as late as 1707.(12) Presumably there was a period of coexistence before Poulter became the dominant name. Might the British river-name Devon once have had a less successful Old English competitor for a while which was associated with Wendel? Or is the name of the bridge a coincidence?

Wendelsora and Windsor Hill

Like the “Wendel Edges” noted above, Eaton sits upon the prominent escarpment of the Belvoir Edge. Facing towards the north-west, this runs in a south-easterly direction along the southern side of the Vale of Belvoir. So, a mythical Wendel name might be well-suited to a location along the top of the Belvoir Edge. The River Devon leads the way once again. After leaving Eaton, the river heads north-east and through the grounds of Belvoir Castle, skirting the base of Windsor Hill.

The EPNS on-line survey gives the earliest recorded forms as Winsore Hill (1601), Wynser Hill (1605) and WinserHill (1612). Even with Belvoir Castle being a ducal seat, “the transferred name of royal Windsor seems unlikely and the generic may be the Old English ora meaning “a bank, an edge”. (13) If Wendelescliffe has become “Winslow” and Wendelsforth is now “Wensor", might a similar transition occur at Eaton / Belvoir? Could the slope above the Wendelberwdike be a Wendelsora which becomes “Winsore '' by 1601? Is this another Wendel Edge?

The Wendelberg

If Eaton has a stream associated with Wendel’s hill, where is that hill? The high ground on which Belvoir Castle is built would seem to be the most likely candidate. In the context of both local liminal topography and place-names it has many of the qualities of those similar sites in Gloucestershire and Berkshire. The Belvoir Edge of today is perhaps not so clearly the monumental landscape that it may have been for the Early English who settled there, though it would have been more so if there had been a hillfort where the castle now stands. Does Belvoir Castle sit upon the Wendelberg"?

Nick Molyneux


(1), (11) & (12): Place-names of Nottinghamshire; J.E.B. Gover, Allen Mawer and F M. Stenton (1940, reprinted 1999); English Place-name Society; Nottingham.

(6)&(9): Place-Names in the Landscape;Margaret Gelling (1993); J.M. Dent; London. EPNS Website

(3): Tealby, Walshcroft Wapentake, North Riding of Lindsey, Lincolnshire.

(2), (4) & (5): Wensdon Hill, Aspley Guise, Manshead Hundred, Bedfordshire.

(7): Kingston Winslow, Ashford, Shrivenham Hundred, Berkshire.

(10): Wandilberwdike, Eaton, Framland Hundred, Leicestershire.

(13): Windsor Hill, Belvoir, Knipton, Framland Hundred, Leicestershire.

(8): The Electronic Sawyer - online catalogue of Anglo-Saxon charters; S 141 [].