Homeowners should ‘befriend’ their local river to be as knowledgeable as our ancestors, academics claim

Homeowners in wet areas should “befriend their local river” as our ancestors were much better at predicting flooding, academics have claimed.

Dr Richard Jones, director of the Centre for English Local History at the University of Leicester, and Dr Jayne Carroll, director of the Institute for Name-Studies at the University of Nottingham, say place names like Fishlake, one of the most flood-stricken areas of the UK in recent weeks, warn us that “water is never far away”.

But they believe we shouldn’t be abandoning places with watery names and should instead learn about the “rhythms and moods” of the local rivers, as residents one thousand years ago had “profound” local knowledge of their behaviour and this made them more resilient to flooding.

The professors spoke out as torrential rain caused widespread flooding across the country in the last two weeks, deluging more than 800 properties and threatening to destroy thousands more.

Dr Jones, 50, told The Telegraph: “I do think it would be helpful for people to pause and reflect on the names of places they may be wanting to buy or rent a house in.

“Names carry all this information about the local environment and some of it is becoming more and more valuable now – particularly those with a watery connotation.

“If you think about the name of the place you live in that could prompt you to recognise that in the past certain aspects of the environment were important to people in the place.

“Anybody living in close proximity to a river should understand its moods. It’s not something you can learn immediately but over the year you’ll come to understand its dynamic and if it’s angry or placid.

“It is on us to reconnect with the environment and if you know about your river you’re forearmed and forewarned. You can’t be passive – actively go out and befriend the river. Don’t wait for the Environment Agency to warn you there’s water coming.”

Dr Jayne Carroll added: “Place names which refer to water reveal the intimate knowledge of the landscape that the speakers of Old English had. They reveal close observation and understanding of watery behaviour and the characteristics of wet landscapes.”

The professors are quick to point out that place names come with a warning, however.

While the meaning of some will be immediately apparent from their modern spellings, in other cases their original meaning will not be obvious.

Some modern spellings can even be misleading. Waterthorpe, for instance, has nothing to do with water, while the name Uphill does.

Don’t necessarily take names at face value, they advise. Finding out what your place name means sometimes takes a little digging.


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