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Quirk of geography

“If we lose Bell End, we lose everything”


If there’s one thing Britain does well, says Tom Lamont in The Guardian, it’s silly place names. There’s Twatt on Orkney, and another Twatt on Shetland. Cuckoo’s Knob in Wiltshire. Slack Bottom in Yorkshire. Dorset has Shitterton; in Hampshire you’ll find Sandy Balls. Googling some of these places – Three Cocks in Powys, Three Holes in Norfolk – can “go wrong, quickly”. And many locals don’t take kindly to outsiders coming to giggle at their road signs. “People have been taking them away as mementoes,” says Geva Blackett, a councillor for Cock Bridge in Aberdeenshire. “Why do they do it?”

There’s something comforting about the fact that we’ve stuck with all these ridiculous names. When a petition was launched in the West Midlands to rename one unfortunately titled road, it prompted a counter-petition: “Save our beloved Bell End!” Linda George, who led the campaign, says the name should be preserved because it’s a piece of history. “If we lose Bell End,” she says, “we lose everything.” How right she is. The same is true of Fanny Hands Lane in Lincolnshire, and Lady Gardens in Herefordshire, and indeed No 2 Passage in Manchester. They’re all part of what makes Britain British – “weirdo nation that we are”.