Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Quebec & Other Odd-Sounding Places (NZ181437)

What might be called the ‘shrunken village’ of Quebec lies a mile or so NW of Esh Winning in Co.Durham. It is one of the better known of the many odd-sounding placenames which pepper the North-East – and periodically throw locals and outsiders alike into a mildly confused state. I mean, just how do these little settlements get their peculiar names?

Daft place-names fall into various categories, of course. Near to Quebec there is Click-em-Inn Farm (one of several across the UK) – names of this form are probably corruptions of earlier versions. Then there are bright-sounding monikers such as California, Paradise, and the like – applied quite often to dour-looking situates, possibly with a hint of irony or to attract new settlers to an otherwise ordinary area. But what of those spots that are named after not-so-glamorous, out-of-the-way corners of the earth, such as Greenland, New York, Toronto … and, of course, Quebec? The explanation is two-fold. Basically, it’s down to one of two things: geography/topography or historical events. In Quebec’s case it may be down to both.

When new farmsteads, or even individual fields, are created and named, quite often (at certain points in history and as fashion dictates) they may be given labels to tie in with current trends and particular historical events. These days, a modern housing estate or ‘new town’ may be named in honour of some past historical figure or event, or a feature of the landscape; but in times gone by it was often the present which was honoured. And when much of our countryside was so controversially enclosed in the eighteenth century many new names were called upon, for both farmsteads and fields. In the case of little Quebec, it seems, it was the fantastically important victory of our boys over the French in the Battle of Quebec in 1759 which brought the name of the North American province into prominence and, consequently, onto the face of our map. Famous battle + new farmstead/field system = fancy new placename for Co.Durham. In time, a settlement grew around the spot, and Quebec expanded into a village.

However, there is a counter-argument. You may have noticed that many of these new placenames are imported from very distant corners of the globe. And there is a theory that as enclosure often placed particular fields at a considerable distance to their ‘home’ farms, the new tags arose as a sort of mickey-take on their relative remoteness. Places like Quebec, Toronto and New York all seemed a very long way away to eighteenth century farmers; just as some of their newly-allocated fields seemed to be!

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