The Gue


I was going to do a simple post about where I went yesterday afternoon. You can see it in the picture above. It is Porthleven. Nice clouds, eh? Anyway, I thought I’d check up on a few facts before posting — such as: it’s the southernmost port in mainland Great Britain. While doing so, I came across a reference to one of the streets in the village — The Gue.

Glue, I know about. If memory serves me well, a grue is a nasty beast that might eat unwary players of the old text adventure game Zork. But Gue? Google was no use. All I got was page after page of estate agents’ adverts for properties available (now or long ago) in the street. OED tells us that a gue is, or rather was, a stringed instrument used on the Shetland Islands OR an obsolete word for a rogue. Neither of these meanings seemed very relevant.

Further searching threw up the place-name Gue Graze, which is on the coast close to Mullion, not too far from Porthleven. Gue Graze is a source of soapstone (aka steatite) which was important in the early porcelain industry in England. None of the pages I found said anything about the meaning of the name, however.

Then came the aha! moment. Maybe it is a Cornish word that has undergone an initial consonant mutation k → ɡ. Off to the usual books. I was right. Kew is Cornish for “hollow, enclosure”, and has cognates cau in Welsh and kev in Breton. Once I found this out I realised that almost every day I pass by a street whose name in English is Hea Close. This now has a street sign which bears the Cornish name too — Kew an Hay.

8 thoughts on “The Gue

  1. Nice to hear there’s some Cornish signs being used here and there!

    (BTW – learning Swedish is making my brain hurt!!)

  2. Martin,

    There is now a policy that when signs need to be replaced they have a Cornish version of the name too.

    Lycka till!

    And don’t forget:

    Min svävare är full med ålar.

  3. Just to hurt your brain again! My surname is Gue. Yes that’s right — and nothing to do with “enclosures”. As far as I am able to establish my antecedents originated in France and from a village or area called Gue (maybe with an accent over the ‘e’). I believe that many French prisoners from the Napolionic wars were kept in Cornwall — maybe in Porthleven??
    I think your theory asks a lot for ‘Kew’ to change to ‘Gue’.’Gew’ maybe but ………….
    Maybe little more research?

  4. James,

    Apologies for keep you waiting for a response to your interesting comment. Having rooted around on the web I have discovered that indeed there were Napoleonic War prisoners in Porthleven. Here is quote from
    The construction of the harbour was a tremendous and dangerous engineering achievement. The shingle bar with its stone bridge at the mouth of the south west facing valley had to be removed so ships could enter. Napoleonic War prisoners were used but the construction took 14 years and was not completed until 1825.

    However, I think is much more likely that gue is a mutated form of the Cornish word. It is not a matter of kew → gue. Cornish never had a standard orthography and people spelled words pretty much how they liked. For instance, the word for Cornish, which these days is spelled Kernewek, has in the past had many different spellings, including Cornoack, Carnoack and Kernuak. So kew and cue/kue could easily have been alternative spellings.

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