Silverwells, Steven(s)ton and SNSBI

Three members of the REELS team spent last weekend in Steventon (near Oxford), at the annual study conference of the Society for Name Studies in Britain and Ireland (SNSBI). Carole Hough and Simon Taylor gave papers on the project, respectively entitled ‘“All that glisters”: gold and silver in English and Scottish place-names’ and ‘Dating medieval Scottish place-names: from Balbuthie to Stevenston’. Simon focused on place-names containing Gaelic or Scots personal names, while Carole put forward a new interpretation for the place-name Silverwells in Coldingham parish. Previously explained as a reference to silver birch trees, wild plants, silver mining, or silver coins thrown by pilgrims on their way to Coldingham Priory, she suggested that the name alludes instead to the sparkling quality of the water – a possibility supported by comparison with early quotations for silver as a colour adjective in the Oxford English Dictionary, and with stream names such as Silver Beck in northern England.


In addition to a lively discussion following both papers, other delegates contacted REELS after the conference to offer information on further ‘Silver’ place-names. Oliver Padel, a past president of SNSBI, contributed a very rich collection of such names, mainly in Cornwall, which will be tremendously useful as comparative material for the project. Overall, a highly productive weekend!


For further details of a truly excellent conference, including abstracts of all the papers, see

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