The Meaning of 'Wookey Hole'

Reverend John Collinson in 1791 gave his interpretation of the meaning of Wookey Hole in the following passage: "The country which environs it is a rich champaign, faced on the north and east by the lofty ridges of Mendip, and having a pleasing variety of surface, adorned with wood and plentifully watered by a copious rivulet, which turns several mills at a small distance from its source. This source is some way under the great mass of Mendip, but it first emerges at a very remarkable cavern, called Wookey Hole, either from the British Ogof, which signifies a cave, or from the Saxon Voc and Ea, implying an agitated water; and communicating its appellation to the Parish in general."

Sir William Boyd Dawkins further wrote in his 1874 book Cave Hunting: "When the English conquered Somerset from the Brit-Welsh, they translated the Celtic Ogo into Hole, whence the cave and village of Wookey Hole were named, just as they translated a neighbouring hill, called Pen into Knowle, the generic Celtic term in each case being used to specify a particular object. There are many other instances of the like use of a Celtic name by the English conquerors of the Celts. In the limestone plateau of Llanamynech, near Oswestry, there is a cave called The Ogo."


So what gave rise to the word ‘Wookey’? It is true the Welsh word for a cave is gogof or ogof (the 'f' being the equivalent to the English 'v'). These words themselves probably being derived from the Celtic 'wocob' or 'ocob', (pronounced 'wocov' or 'ocov'). From this, with little corruption, we come to 'Wookey'. In a similar manner, the Welsh for soil or earth is 'pridd' and 'pridd du' means black earth or 'pridd dy', earth house.


The word "hole" is attributed to the Saxons and again means cave. The "cave" itself is derived from Latin. So in Wookey Hole Caves we have three words all meaning the same expressed in different languages.


During the centuries its spelling has varied greatly. In A.D. 1065 reference is made to Wokyhole by Bishop Giso. Richard de Bamfeld, two hundred years later, refers to Wokihole, however the Dean and Chapter in 1294 again refer to Wokyhole. Camden prefered Ochie-hole, Godwin in 1601 chose Owky, Drayton in 1612 Ochy and Rogers in his writings spoke of Okey Hole.


Place names, or more strictly plots of land, around Wookey Hole show similar corruption and derivation. Smokham Wood on the left of Green Hill Lane was once The Coonche. Later the land became The Coombe, Smoakham or Smoke Coombe until finally we arrive at its present name. Manganese Ground near Higher Pitts, gets its name from a short, unsuccessful period of mining in 1856. Wattles Hill was once What Hill becoming Whurt Hill then Wattell Hill.


The cricket ground was originally Hurst Batch Close with Horse Paddock running adjacent to the road. The footpath opposite Trouts Bend towards Wattles Wood cuts across a field consisting of what was once two plots of land - Rusley Close and Titlands.


Other land acquired names from their location or condition. Goss Ground, the first clearing beyond Smokham wood as you walk up Green Hill Lane, indicates gorse ground. There was also Stony Ground, Rooks (Rocks) & Rough Pasture and obviously Green Hill itself.



D. Hudsmith

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