English Place-name Society

Survey of English Place-Names

A county-by-county guide to the linguistic origins of England’s place-names – a project of the English Place-Name Society, founded 1923.

Much Wenlock

Parish in the County of Shropshire

Historical Forms

  • Wininicas 675-90 S 13th S 901
  • Wenlocan, Wynlocan 9th Saints
  • Wenloch 1086 DB
  • Wenloc 1200 P
  • Wenlac 1200 P 1261-2 ForProc
  • Wuneloch 1138 SAS66
  • Winloc' c.1147 SAS66
  • Wynnlok' 1291-2 Ass
  • Weneloc 1167 P 1290 Ch
  • Wenelach 1196 P 1237 Cl
  • Gueneloch 1191 Gir
  • Wanelak' 1212 Fees
  • Wentlok 1236 Cl
  • Wendlok 1281 Pat 1348
  • Wendlocke 1607 PR(H) 1670 PR(H)
  • Wonloc, Wonlok 1247 SAS66
  • Wanlok 1255 RH 1318 Cl
  • Wellok' 1271-2 Ass
  • Welloke 1319 Ipm

Etymology

ME  muche is a shortened form of muchel 'great'. An affix is first noted 1291-2Ass (Magna Wenlak '), and the Latin form is fairly common, sometimes after the name, till 1535 VE (Wenloke Magna ). Printed calendars of Charter Rolls and Inquisitions for the 14th cent. give Much Wenlok (e ), but this may be the editors' translation of Magna -, so it is not clear how early the vernacular form occurs. It is certainly found in 1550-1RentSur (Moche - Much Wenlok ') and is common after that. PR(L) 2 and PR(H) 8 have Great Wenlock from 1749 to 1756.

The form Wininicas in S 1789 (the document known as St Mildburg's Testament) and S 221 is said by H.P.R. Finberg (Lucerna p. 74, n.1) to be the correct reading of the MSS. The name has more frequently been transcribed as Wimnicas , but even if this were the likelier reading, emendation to Wininicas would be reasonable. The compilers of both documents are likely to have been using the monastery's foundation charter of c.685. Wininicas defies complete explanation, but Win - must surely be Welsh  gwyn 'white'.

The monastery is called Wenlocan , Wynlocan in a 9th-cent. text giving the burial-places of saints, and this is most likely to be the first element of Wininicas with the addition of an element loc (a ).

Wenlock has hitherto been explained as a Welsh name meaning 'white monastery', but this interpretation presents formidable problems. It is difficult to imagine such a name being coined in the late-7th cent. in an area where other place-name evidence does not suggest the late survival of Welsh speech. If the name had been coined at that date, the adjective would have been likely to come after the noun. The etymology assumes that Welsh  loc could mean 'monastery', but this word does not seem likely to have been an active Welsh place-name-forming term c.685. Latin locus , from which Old Welsh  loc , Modern Welsh  llog were derived, did acquire a religious significance, and was adopted into Welsh with the meaning 'monastery'; but although well-represented in place-names in Brittany it is exceedingly rare in Welsh names, and a recent study of the corresponding Cornish word (EPNS LVI/LVII, pp. 151-2) concludes that there is only one instance in Cornish names and points out that the Lok- names in Brittany date from the 11th cent. or later.

It is possible that what we have in Wenlock is rather the English word loca 'enclosed place', which would be a suitable term for a monastery. If this were combined with the first syllable of Wininicas , the whiteness referred to could be that of the limestone of Wenlock Edge, rather than the monastery buildings. Behind the name Wenlock there may be a pre-English district-name meaning something like 'white area'. Rumours in 1986 that a late-Roman Christian church had been found beneath the medieval buildings of the Priory suggested the exciting possibility that the name went back to Roman times. If so, Wenlock would have had the structure usual in Romano-British names, and it would have seemed reasonable to postulate a transient use of Latin locus in the sense 'religious place' at the end of the Roman period. But subsequent information stated that the 'Roman' building did not have features specifically indicating a church, and a recent discussion by Martin and Birthe Biddle in Journ. Brit . Arch. Ass . CXLI contests the claim that it is Roman rather than Anglo-Saxon.

The area treated here is that of the parish in c. 1831, minus detached areas in Harley. The latter were included in the account of Harley in Part 2. There were seven townships: Atterley and Walton, Bourton, Callaughton, Farley (including Wyke and Bradley), Much Wenlock, Presthope, Wigwig and Homer.

Major Settlements