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Tenby is a popular seaside resort located in Pembrokeshire in the west of Wales. One of the earliest recorded forms, Dinbych, c1275, contains two elements din and bych. Din is Welsh ‘fort, fortress, stronghold' while bych is Welsh ‘small' (as in bychan) giving ‘small fort'. The location of this early fort is probably the same site as that of the later Norman castle.

Dinbych* was also the name of a settlement in north-east Wales. In order to avoid confusion, the Pembrokeshire Dinbych acquired a descriptive y pysgod (of the fish) add-on, Dinbych y pysgod, 1566, which reflected its importance as a fishing port. There was a daily fish market here in Tudor times.

To non-Welsh speakers, the west Wales Dinbych became Tenby (Tynebegh 1292, Tenby 1482), while its northern namesake became Denbigh.

A 9th century Welsh poem, Edmyg Dinbych,** sings the praises of this place. Today, many people throughout the land are still singing its praises. 

paraphrase of Din and Bych elements by Ifor Williams (translated).

Din is derived from Celtic  dun-on and equates with Gaelic dûn;   Old English tûn (that gave town, and later ton); in Early Norwegian  tûn. Its meaning here is an enclosed place, a yard, court, a cattle yard in front of a house, or around a house; then a farm house, ‘homestead’; then a town, city. The primitive meaning is kept in German ɀaun ‘hedge’.


The gender of Celtic dunon  was neuter, and it appears in many old Celtic names on the Continent, - it was turned to dunum by the Romans, as with other neuter Latin nouns. When the ending was lost, there was no difference between a masculine noun and a neuter noun, and the word took its place among the masculine nouns. In Welsh, the -û- in it became an  -i- ; thus din, a masculine noun. It was given  -as (cf. teyrn-as), for a synonymous word din-as, that also was masculine to begin with, but because tref was feminine, gradually the two became confused and dinas turned feminine (cf. the gender of teyrnas). That accounts for dinas being masculine in old place-names but feminine as a recent noun. But  din has always  been masculine, and it is not followed by a mutation, cf. Din-mael a prince’s stronghold,  today, Dinmel, cf. cilmael, (Kilmayl in 1334), Cil-mel, today Cinmel. Because din is masculine, the second element in Din-bych does not mutate, and therefore one does not have to look for a word such as pych (which may have been the second element if bych had been a mutated form.


The challenge therefore, is to find bych, and settle on its meaning.To have Welsh bych one must assume a Celtic biccos. In Gaelic, -o- in the final syllable affects  a short i that precedes it and turns it into –e-; also two c ‘s (-cc-) were retained for centuries, whereas in Welsh, they became –ch-. From biccos therefore, one had becc in Old Gaelic.  And, as luck would have it, its meaning is bychan (small). Having had becc bychan in Gaelic, we are on confident ground to argue that bych ‘bychan’, is possible in Old Welsh.


Are there traces of such a form? There are, many. You know that we add –an to an adjective sometimes, such as mud, mudan ; in Old Welsh one has tru (cf. tru-garedd), but it became redundant, and today it has been replaced by tru-an. The meaning of the –an suffix was something similar to bach (small)  in today’s language; we are fond of adding bach for fondness or for pity as well as to describe a shortcoming in quantity. Tru -an  implies tru bach – truan bach. Now look at the word bychan. Just as mudan comes from mud, and truan from tru so bychan comes from bych. To a Welshman of yore bychan used to mean the same as bychan bach does to us.


Back once more to Celtic. There, biccos was masculine with bicca feminine. In Welsh, a in the final syllable has disappeared, but before leaving, it turned the –i- in the preceding syllable to e, i.e. bicca became becca, and because –cc- gives –ch-  in our language, bech became the feminine of bych (cf. sych, sech: brych, brech). A long time ago in Welsh, one would have had gŵr bych and gwraig fech! In a thirteenth century charter for Aberconwy Monastery one finds the name of two Eifionydd rivers in an old orthography; one was Dwyw-fawr, y dduwies fawr (the great goddess) and her sister was Dwyw-fech. Here we have Dwyfawr (Dwyfor) and Dwyfech. Later, Dwyfech became Dwyfach, but the name was retained by an old bard from that district who was writing c 1560, and called himself Morys Dwyfech. I maintain that this proves the existance of the bych, bech pairing. As the first became bychan, the second became bechan. There are other traces of the old form bych. Many examples of bychod meaning ychydig (a few) occur in old texts, as in the sentences that became a proverb – ‘Gormodd (gormod) yw bychod o bechodau’ (a few sins are too many); ‘Gwell bychod yng nghod na chod wag’ (better a little in a pocket than an empty pocket); ‘Gwrandaw llawer a dywedir bychod’ (listen to much and say little). This (bychod) is merely a regular noun of bych.I also saw bychdid with a same meaning as it (with the same suffix as in glen-did etc.) Also the old form of ychydig is bychydig! This is another derivative of bych. There are cognate forms in Cornish which I won’t pursue.


To return to Dinbych, we can, without reservation, explain it as din-bych and give it a meaning of ‘little fort’, cf. the contrasting Dinmor near Penmon, Anglesey, namely din mawr, ‘big fort’.  It should be noted that the same name also occurs in Pembrokeshire as Dinbych-y-pysgod today’s Tenby, and there is a referrence to that Dinbych in an ancient poem from the Book of Taliesin.

** for a translation of the poem, please click on:





PENALUN                  PENALLY

The earliest recorded forms show that today's village name Penally was derived from an earlier Pennalun 9th cent., Penn Alun 1136-54, with an ecclesia de Pennaby 1291, becoming Penaly in 1331. The 13th century ecclesia signifies that a Christian church had been established here, see http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/wal/PEM/Penally/Penally1833.htmlis

The Christian tradition of the locality extends as far back as the 5th century to St. Teilo, who was reputedly born here.


Penalun contains two elements - Welsh pen ‘head, headland, promontory, top, hill-top, end, source, chief' and possibly the personal name Alun, giving ‘Alun's headland'.

There are a number of rivers named Alun in Flintshire and elsewhere in Pembrokeshire, but there is no evidence of a stream or river named Alun here. Alun may of course be the lost stream or river-name for the brook presently called the Pill, possibly known earlier as the Ritec.

The Welsh personal name Alun is also popular in Brittany and Cornwall as Alan. An early figure who bore the name was St Alan, a 5th century bishop of Quimper. Another early bearer of the name was St Alan, a 6th century Cornish saint, who has a church dedicated to his memory at St Allen.

There is uncertainty regarding the second element 'alun'.



Most of us think of golf when Trefloyne is mentioned due to the popularity of Trefloyne Golf Club, located outside the village of Penalun/Penally.
The name is much older than the golf club with a very early Treffloyne written in 1397 and Trefloyn 1491.

There is however an earlier name, evidencedas Luin teliau (llwyn, Teilo) in the Book of Llandaf c1150. Teilo is said to have been born at or near to Penally. It is probable that the original name was Tref Llwyn Teilo ‘farm of Teilo's grove', later shortened to Trefllwyn. This in turn became Trellwyn and ultimately an anglicised Trefloyne. Welsh ll becomes fl in English e.g. Llewelyn > Fluellen, Lloyd > Floyd, Lletherhill > Fletherhill etc.

Trellwyn ‘grove farm'.



Many will associate the castle at Maenorbŷr/Manorbier with the Cymro-Norman cleric Geraldus Cambrensis, also known as Gerallt Gymro and Gerald the Welshman. He was born  at the castle in 1146, the son of a Norman father (Guillaume de Barri) and a Welsh mother (Nest ferch Rhys ap Tewdwr). In 1191, he recorded the place-name as Maynaur pir. This consists of Welsh maenor ‘a division of a commote' equating with, but not derived from Eng. ‘manor'and the personal name Pyr.

 ‘The place was clearly the caput of a Welsh territorial division.' B.G.charles.

In 1603, Maner bier appeared in an anglicised form, which is reflected in today's Manorbier


Pyr is reputed to be a sixth century Welsh saint who founded a religious establishment at the eponymous Ynys Byr (Caldey Island). The name Pyr is probably also present in Pentlepoir.





Ynys Bŷr and Caldey Island are two names for the same place. Ynys Bŷr is Welsh for ‘Pyr's island', the same Pyr as in Maenorbyr above (‘kaldey yw ynys pyr  or pyr hwnnw y kauas kastell Maenawr pyr y enw', 15th cent.).

Saint Pyr was not as pious or as holy as one would expect from one of such elevated status.  ‘Pyr is said to have become so drunk one night that on the way back to his cell he fell into a well. He died soon after being pulled out. He was replaced as abbot by Samson, who resigned in disgust when he found that the young monks had become ungovernable due to the laxity of Pyr's rule.' Wikipedia.

Caldey is a later name and belongs to the Viking era. The island, along with many other offshore places in the area, was used for a time by Vikings as a home base.

The name consists of Scandinavian (Old Norse) kaldr and ey meaning ‘cold island'. Other Scandinavian place-names off the Pembrokeshire coast include Skomer ‘cloven island', Skokholm ‘island in the sound', Ramsay ‘Hrafn's island', Blackholm ‘black water-meadow', etc.




Pentlepoir is the name of a small village on the Cilgeti/Kilgetty to Dinbych-y-pysgod/Tenby road. The local pronunciation varies as either pentl poyre, pentl poyer or as a French sounding pent le poo-are. Forms of Pontillpir 1542, Pentlepire 1608, Pantellpyre 1706-9 suggest that the final element is none other than the personal name Pyr cf. Maenorbyr and Ynysbyr. The first part of the place-name (making allowances for vowel deviations and consonant interchanges), is either Welsh pentref giving ‘Pyr's farm/village' or Welsh pen and tyle giving ‘top of Pyr's hill'.




The location of the bridge is on the sea front, at the opposite end to the Wiseman's Bridge Inn. Here the old bridge crosses the stream named Rhath Fechan [1] (the little Rhath). From here the road continues around a sharp bend onwards to White Park Farm [2],  Hean Castle [3] and Saundersfoot.

The earliest record of this bridge in the parish of St. Issells is dated 1598 (PNP p470) [4]. Wiseman however is the name of a family known to have lived in St. Issell's parish (Llanusyllt) in the 14th century. Andrew Wiseman held land here in 1324, while ‘John, son of Andrew, Wysmon' is mentioned as a usurping tenant in 38 Edward III (AD. 1365).

This would suggest that there was a bridge here pre 1598.

Pont Wiseman is a 20th century translation of Wiseman's Bridge.

[1] PNP p465. The other Rhath stream enters the sea at Amroth (am rhath).

[2] White Park Farm was earlier ‘alias Kilvelgy' in 1683.

[3] Hean Castle contains the Welsh hen ‘old' as its first element.

[4] The Place-Names of Pembrokeshire, B.G.Charles.



The two elements are Welsh hen ‘old' and castell ‘castle'. Hen gastell was anglicised as Hencastel 1358, Hean Castle 1654, and Heene Castle 1671. The present mansion house located between Wiseman's Bridge and Coppet Hall, probably sits on the site of the old castle.




St Issells / Llan Usyllt is the name of a church and parish situated near Saundersfoot. Early forms of Llann Vsyllt (llan, Usyllt) and Egluys Hussilt (eglwys, Usyllt) c1300, confirm that the church is dedicated to Saint Usyllt, father to Saint Teilo. Teilo is said to have been born in Penalun (Penally) near Tenby. St. Issells is an anglicised form of Llan-usyllt.







Amroth is the name of a parish and village in Narberth Hundred. Early forms Amrath c1145, Amerath 1330, indicate that the two elements are Welsh am ‘on, about, around’ and rath. The am same element occurs in Amlwch, Anglesey, ‘around the pool or inlet’.

 The second element rath or rhath has been explained as (i) a river name and (ii)fort’ cf. Irish ráth ‘fort’. A glann rath of c.1145 (glan ‘river bank’) suggests a river name. In this case rhath could be related to Welsh rhathu ‘to scrape, to rub, to file’ and would describe a stream or river that scraped or filed away its banks. It may be pertinent here to mention the history of coastal erosion at Amroth and that the stream flowed towards this erosion – am rath..  On the other hand, if the etymology is ‘fort’, and there are other Pembrokeshire rath names with that etymology viz. St. Leonard’s Rath, Dugleddy Hundred; Rath, Rosemarket, Roose Hundred; Rath, Cstlemartin Hundred, then it is possible that the Rath stream took its name from the ‘fort’ that it flowed around – am rath. It is almost certain that the Rath fechan flowed under Wiseman’s Bridge with tributaries called initially West Rath fechan and East Rath fechan. Cwm Rath is located on the eastern tributary. Today the upper stream is known as Fords Lake; in 1609 it was called Combslake.  

Other names containing a rath element within the vicinity of Amroth include Coedrath ‘rath woods’, Cwm Rath ‘Rath valley’ and Penrath ‘Rath head’ i.e. the head of the Rath stream, or 'Rath hill'.


Taking everything into consideration, I tend to support an early rath ‘fort’ with the stream taking its name due to its proximity to this fort am rath. On the other hand, the evidence of coastal erosion may favour the rhathu ‘to scrape, to rub, to file’ link.




Most people these days regard Saundersfoot as a pretty little seaside resort on the south Pembrokeshire coast. The harbour there attracts many sightseers and boat owners and the hostelries and guest houses are also very popular.

Modern Saundersfoot however, grew not because of tourism, but because of the coal industry of the nineteenth century. The harbour was opened for traffic in 1835. Tramways from Thomas Chapel, and later from Stepaside, through Wiseman's Bridge brought coal in horse drawn trams down to the harbour. The tramroad closed in 1939 while the last of the local coal mines closed in the 1950s. The old tramway from Wiseman's Bridge through the tunnels to Saundersfoot is now a popular part of the Pembrokeshire coastal path.     

The earliest recorded forms of the place-name occur as Sanndersfoote 1595 [1], Saunders foot 1602 [2] and Sanders Foot 1764. [3] The first element is the personal name Sanders/Saunders, a pet form of Alexander. These names are very popular in Devon. ‘Walter Elisander held a mill in this area in 1330-1.' [4] It is more than likely that this Elisander family name, shortened to Sander and Saunder, is the one used as the first element in Saundersfoot. 

The second element foot probably refers to a topographical feature, such as land at the mouth of a stream cf. Beckfoot, Cumbria, or the foot of a hill or cliff. cf. Lullingesfote, Devon and Welsh Troed-y-rhiw for ‘foot of a hill'. Saundersfoot is located at the mouth of a stream (it flows into the harbour) and at the foot of a hill.

There is however one other possibility. The yellow flowering plant named alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) grows mainly along the sea coast. It is possible that this is the Alexander or Saunders/Sanders of Saundersfoot, with foot signifying ‘a stream’ or ‘the foot of a hill’. This would give a meaning of ‘the alexander (flower’s) stream’  or ‘the foot of the alexander (flower’s) hill’.

[1] George Owen, ‘The Course of the Strata of Coal and Limestone in Pembrokeshire', 1595.

[2] Owen's Pembrokeshire, 1 p89, 1602.

[3] John Wogan, Hean Castle Estate Map, 1764.

[4] Place-Names of Pembrokeshire,  p551.


CILGETI                     KILGETTY

Cilgeti/Kilgetty is the name of a village in St. Issells parish. It is located around the junction of the old Carmarthen to Pembroke and Tenby to Cardigan roads.The earliest recorded form of the place-name is Kylketty 1330.

It contains two elements, both Welsh, cil ‘nook, retreat' and the personal name Ceti. The same personal name is found in Sgeti/Sketty (ynys & Ceti) near Swansea as well as Maen Ceti on Cefnbryn, Gower, also known as King Arthur's Stone. The personal name Ceti may well be derived from Old Welsh ket ‘gift, generous'.



Stepaside is the name of a village located between Cilgeti and Wiseman's Bridge. The village grew alongside an ironworks opened there in 1849 and the nearby Grove Pit which was sunk a few years later into the slopes of Sardis Mountain.

This is an unusual place-name. It is not unique to St. Issells parish as it is also found in the parish of New Moat, Pembs. as well as in the town of  Aberteifi/Cardigan (Stepside 1851). A village of Stepaside also exists south of Dublin in the Republic of Ireland.

One onomastic tale is told about Oliver Cromwell marching his army through Merrixton Lane, past Camomile Bank Inn, over Stepaside Brook and onwards to Tenby. It was at Camomile Bank Inn that Cromwell told his men to ‘step aside' from the line of march and take refreshment and rest, so giving the name Stepaside to the present day village. [1] This tale does seem a little fanciful and is likely to be the product of a fertile imagination rather than fact.

A more likely explanation may be to do with early bridges at these places. Stepaside Bridge occurs in 1789 at St Issels and there is a Stepaside bridge over the Syfyrnwy river near Clarbeston.

It may be that the early bridges were so narrow that pedestrians had to step aside in order to make way for others.



Starre Gorse is presently the name of a holiday park in Pleasant Valley located between Wiseman's Bridge and Stepaside. Previous names for the earlier farmstead were Starve Goose 1835, Starve Gorse 1850 and Starre gorse 1911.

Starve indicates poor land. Starve Goose falls into the same category of names as Starve Crow Gloucestershire. Starve Gorse indicates gorse land and endorses the poor nature of the land. Starve gorse was changed to Starre Gorse possibly due to scribal error, but probably for respectability.



Merrixton is currently the name of a farm caravan park just off the A477 east of Stepaside and north east of Wiseman's Bridge. Previously a cluster of working farms, they are named as Meyrickston(e) in the will of Richard Fowley 1742, also as Great Merrickston 1753, and Little Little Merrixton 1779. These names contain the same final element, in varying orthography, with x representing cks in the 1779 example.

The two elements are (i) the Welsh personal name Meurig/Meurug (anglicised as Merrick, Meyrick etc.) and (ii) English ton ‘farm' giving Meurig's farm.