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  • Writer's pictureThe Bridge Burford

Asthal or Asthall?

Alastair Howatson has sent us the following article, which previously appeared in The Chronicle, about the controversial issue of how to spell the name of this village.


Newly-arrived residents in our area may have been surprised to find that whereas the village of Asthall is nowadays always spelt with the double ‘l’, its parish is often, but not always, spelt Asthal, with only the one. We know that the spelling of placenames, and indeed of ordinary words, used to vary wildly but people can be forgiven for thinking that by now we should all have adopted the convenience of a standard spelling. Sharp-eyed new readers of The Chronicle may also have noticed that while Asthal is used for the civil parish on the cover map, the name of the ecclesiastical parish in the list of services (usually) has the spelling Asthall, and editors allow articles to refer to the parish as Asthall.

Well into the nineteenth century the Ordnance Survey had the village as Asthal, but now has it as Asthall while keeping the parish to one ‘l’. When and why the Survey changed the one but not the other is unclear; they must have had some plausible reason, for they took great care with placenames. Whatever that reason, one might expect that by now the parish name would have settled down with the same spelling as the village, especially as only pedants are likely to be worried either way. Still, to their friends pedants are just people who like to get things right and, because rational reasons for spellings are hard to come by, anyone who wants to know the ‘right’ spelling for the parish needs to consider the weight of authority behind each. If, like our cover map, we take the Ordnance Survey as the ultimate authority then it has to be Asthal, and the same is true if we take the view that either the District Council or the Parish Council should know best. Indeed, that spelling appears in the official list of parishes published by the government, and said (by it) to be definitive. On the other hand, Asthall is good enough for a few heavyweights, including the County Council, the Diocese of Oxford and the Victoria County History, a scholarly enough publication.

With the authorities divided we could consider other pros and cons. There are quite good arguments for the single ‘l’. One is that Asthall Leigh has often been spelt as one word (e.g. the old spelling used for the Astally Arms, or the inscription on the Memorial Hall); since three ‘l’s would look ridiculous it is natural to use only one for each part of the name. Another is that the single ‘l’ shows that the name has nothing to do with a hall. (The ‘hall’ bit comes from an Old English word halh, meaning roughly a portion of land naturally enclosed in some way. ‘Ast’ means simply east – compare Westhall, near Burford.) Nevertheless, definitive list or no, the double ‘l’ deserves some support, if only because it seems unnecessary, confusing, and even perverse to spell parish and village differently. Overall, then, we are not much further forward.

But there is consolation, for even in Oxfordshire we are not the only ditherers: the village that is Westcot Barton to the government and to our own District Council is Westcote Barton to the County Council and, in quite recent times at least, Westcott Barton to the Ordnance Survey.

Alastair Howatson


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