Do you know how to pronounce these tricky Suffolk place names?

The village of Hollesley Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The village of Hollesley - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Throughout Suffolk, there are a number of towns and villages that aren’t pronounced as how they look on paper – throwing off those both new to the county, and even people who have lived here their entire lives.   

Local historian Charlie Haylock has spent years studying the county – including its unique dialect and the origins of many of its place names. He is also the author of ‘In a Manner of Speaking’, a book that looks at the history of spoken English.

Dialect specialist, author and local historian Charlie Haylock

Dialect specialist, author and local historian Charlie Haylock - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

“One misconception is that the Suffolk way of saying these place names is a lazy way of pronouncing them and indeed, assumed as incorrect,” he says.  

Here are a few more examples of Suffolk places that are said differently than how they would be in Standard English.  

As well as his own knowledge, Charlie has also consulted ‘Suffolk Place-Names, Their Origins and Meanings’ by A.D. Mills, which he describes as “a fantastic dictionary on the derivation of the names of Suffolk’s towns and villages.” 

Brome  

This Suffolk village has been recorded in the past as ‘Brom’, ‘Brum’, and ‘Brome’ - resulting in discussions still to this day on how it should be pronounced.  

Most Read

“Some of these range from ‘broom’, ‘broam’, and somewhere in between. But I think it’s an example of one of the many English words and names that has several acceptable pronunciations, like ‘lichen’, ‘either’, and ‘garage’.” 

Westhorpe in Suffolk

Westhorpe in Suffolk - Credit: Andrew S Pye

Westhorpe 

Recorded in the Domesday Book 1086 as both ‘Westtorp’ and ‘Westurp’, the latter is an exact replication of the way many Suffolk locals pronounce it today.  

“Once again, I believe this is an example of an old and historic way of saying a Suffolk place name – which in a lot of ways, has more credibility than the more modern Standard English spelling and pronunciation,” adds Charlie.  

Erwarton/Arwarton 

A place of two names, this Suffolk settlement goes by either Arwarton or Erwarton. On Ordnance Survey maps, it’s printed as ‘Arwarton’ - but all of the village’s signposts bar one say ‘Erwarton’. But why?  

“Today, this little village on the Shotley Peninsula is pronounced as ‘arwet'n’ by some of the older locals, but more commonly as ‘erwert'n’ by others. Interestingly, in 1661 Sir Peter Parker, resident of Erwarton Hall was given the title Baronet of Arwarton.” 

Charlie suggests the confusion between the two names comes down to the Great Vowel Shift that took place in the English language between 1400 and 1700.  

“Gradually through time, people started to pronounce their vowels further towards to front of the mouth - rather than at the back - resulting in a change of pronunciation, and in many cases a subsequent change in spelling. The reasons behind this phenomenon still baffles historians today with many different theories being put forward,” he explains.  

English places such as Derby, Hertford and Berkshire would have been pronounced with an ‘er’ sound, but during the Middle English era, it changed to an ‘ar’ sound - with the spelling remaining the same.  

“Perhaps something similar happened in Erwarton, with the pronunciation and spelling changing, but it was inconsistent and is perhaps the reason behind the two different spellings and pronunciations today.” 

Ellough and Sproughton 

Throughout the English language, ‘ough’ can be said a number of ways. One of the most well-known examples is the town of ‘Loughborough’ in Leicestershire, which is pronounced as ‘Luff-bruh’, even though it has two ‘ough’s in it. 

The Suffolk settlements of Ellough and Sproughton however are said as ‘Ella’ and ‘Sprort'n’, respectively.  

“Other examples of ‘ough’ and how you can pronounce it include ‘bough’, ‘bought’ (same as in Sproughton), ‘borough’ (same as in Ellough), ‘cough’, ‘dough’, ‘enough’, and ‘through’.  

To highlight the ‘ough’ dilemma, Charlie has written a limerick about Sproughton: 

Sproughton (pronounced Sprort'n) 

“There was a newcomer to Sproughton, 

Who pronounced it as Sprowton, not Sprort'n, 

and even as Sproot'n and Sprockt'n and Sprufft'n, 

And Sprutt'n and Sprot'n and Sprofft'n, 

But! Not as he ought, as ort in Sproughton!” 

Nowton 

Just outside of Bury is the village of Nowton – but how you pronounce it could all depend on which generation you belong to, according to Charlie. 

“Nowton is one of those Suffolk place names which is veering away from the more traditional, local pronunciation. My great-grandfather was head gardener at Nowton Hall, and my great-grandmother was head cook, and the pronunciation of the village name was handed down through the generations as ‘noat'n’.  

“It is also worth noting that the Oakes family who owned Nowton Hall and were lords of the manor, also referred to it as ‘noat'n’. 

However, the more popular pronunciation today is for the first syllable to rhyme with ‘how’ - making it ‘nowt'n’.  

“This was originally brought about by people from outside the local area saying it as how they thought it should be said when reading the name. Gradually that become the norm for others to follow. It’s fair to say though the traditional and local way of saying Nowton is a more ancient pronunciation and nearer to the original Old English ‘neowe tun’ (which translates as ‘new farmstead settlement’).  

To demonstrate the changing pronunciations, Charlie has penned another limerick:  

Nowton (pronounced Noat'n) 

“I’ll tell you ‘bout a village called Nowton 

It’s not pronounced ‘nowt'n’, but ‘noat'n’ 

Not ‘now’ as in ‘bow’, ‘sow’ and ‘row’ 

But ‘no’ as in ‘bow’, ‘sow’ and ‘row’ 

So! Please! Take note an’ say ‘noat'n’!” 

Frostenden 

To many, this village looks as if it should be pronounced as ‘frost-en-den’, but the ‘t’ is actually silent. 

“It’s said as ‘fross'nd'n’ - and for a very good reason. It’s an ancient pronunciation going back to its Anglo-Saxon roots,” explains Charlie.  

The name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon words ‘denu’, meaning ‘valley’, which was frequented by ‘froscan’ meaning ‘frogs’.  

“From that, one can see how ‘froscandenu’ became ‘frossenden’, and later ‘fross'nd'n. The current spelling of ‘Frostenden’ evolved much later and the ‘t’ is an intrusive letter added in by scribes and cartographers at a subsequent date.” 

Therefore, ‘fross'nd'n’ is a more ancient and credible way of saying the village name. 

The village of Hollesley Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The village of Hollesley - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Hollesley 

Recorded in the Domesday Book as ‘Holeslea’, this settlement’s name comes from Old English and means ‘the woodland clearing (‘leah’) in the hollows (‘holes’)’, and is pronounced as ‘hoseley’ 

“In many English words where the letter ‘l’ follows a vowel, the ‘l’ is very often pronounced as a double-U. Therefore, if the letter ‘o’ is pronounced to rhyme with ‘owe’, the name ‘Hoseley’ becomes apparent,” explains Charlie.  

“The current spelling of Hollesley with a double l came much later, and does not reflect the way it is said.” 

Hoxne 

Located around five miles east-southeast of Diss, Hoxne to many looks like it would be pronounced as ‘hocks-nah’ - but it is instead said as ‘hoxan’.  

“Once again, this can be traced back to Anglo-Saxon times. The name most likely derives from the Old English to describe a ridge of land shaped like a horse’s hock - ‘hōh-sinu’ - which literally translates to ‘heel-sinew’. This accurately describes the ridge of land on which St Peter’s and St Paul’s Church was built on, overlooking the village.  

In the Domesday Book of 1086, the village was recorded with a number of spellings, including ‘Hoxana’.  

“The last letter becomes obsolete when saying the name, and the ‘hoxan’ pronunciation evolves,” adds Charlie.  

The River Deben as seen in Woodbridge

The River Deben as seen in Woodbridge - Credit: Steve Coates/iWitness

River Deben 

The River Deben is pronounced as ‘deeb'n’ - but this often trips up people from outside of Suffolk.  

“This is understandable, as the village of Debenham – which is located at the source of the river – is pronounced as ‘debb'n'm’. This was clearly demonstrated when Sandi Toksvig called it the ‘River Debb'n’ on a recent television show about Suffolk’s hidden gems.” 

Various towns and villages ending in ‘-well’ and ‘-wich’ 

“The letter ‘W’ is an Old English creation, and is found in no other language other than Welsh. This was obtained by putting two Us side-by-side, and joining them up to form a double-U. On the continent, they put two Vs side-by-side and created the double-V which has a different sound similar to V. Hence why the French ex-manager of Arsenal, Arsene Wenger, is pronounced as ‘venger’. Anglo-Saxons creating the double-U is not a commonly-known fact, hence the double-U in English being represented mainly by a double-V but pronounced as a double-U. 

“Having said that, the letter U by itself can also be pronounced as a double-U in words such as ‘quick’, ‘queen’, ‘suite’, ‘persuade’ and ‘suede’. However, in days of yore, the double-U was sometimes pronounced as a U in many place names.” 

This resulted in a number of unique Suffolk pronunciations, such as ‘bard'll’ for Bardwell, which written in the Domesday Book 1086 as ‘Berdeuulla’. This also applies to ‘word'll’ for Wordwell, and Kentwell Hall which is pronounced by many old locals as ‘kent'll’. 

“The same principle applies when saying ‘dunnidge’ for Dunwich, written in the Domesday Book as Duneuuic – with the last letter ‘c’ having the same pronunciation as the ‘c’ in ‘cello’. 

“The double-U being said as a ‘U’ originally applied to Ipswich, eventually being said by many Suffolk natives as ‘Ipsidge’, which incidentally is consistent with the pronunciations of places such as Harwich, Norwich, Greenwich, Dulwich, Woolwich, and West Bromwich to name just a few. But then pronounced as a double-U in places like Nantwich, Droitwich, Prestwick, and of course Walberswick.”