The building you can see in the picture used to be a pub. Unfortunately, it fell on hard times, was sold, and the building has been converted into student flats.

The name is one I know well. The building is in an area of Plymouth which bears the same name and is quite close to the main railway line from the west country to London. I have passed it many, many times on the train. Apparently, the locals believe that the area was named after the pub rather than vice versa. Wikipedia, however, suggests a “Brythonic derivation of the name Pen y cwm coet, meaning the head of a wooded valley, or Pen y cwm gwyk, referring to the nearby creek, is possible, but must be treated with caution as it is unproven“.

As Sidney Wood points out in a comment on my post about Bessy Beneath Pennycomequick is also a putative earlier name for the town of Falmouth. The Wikipedia article on the town is less cautious about relating this to a Celtic source – Peny-cwm-cuic.

The trouble with all of these derivations is two-fold. First, y as the definite article is Welsh. Cornish has an. Secondly, the word cwm is Welsh. I don’t think Cornish orthography ever used w to represent a vowel sound. Oliver Padel gives comm as the Cornish place-name element meaning “valley” and comments that it occurs very rarely in Cornish names. He hypothesises that the many occurrences of comb or combe in West Country names, either as simplexes or in compounds such as Ilfracombe (Devon) and Wiveliscombe (Somerset) are of English origin. English borrowed the word from Welsh.

So if Pennycomequick does derive from a Celtic source, it would have to be from a name beginning something like pen an comm. The problem is that the Plymouth name is not in Cornwall, but in Devon, and the Falmouth name is only a putative former name, so Pennycomequick does not appear in any of my Cornish place-name reference books.

Photo credit: Google Street View.

6 thoughts on “Pennycomequick

  1. Mind you, Brythonic Dumnonia seems to have remained independent of Wessex until around the 9th century, so Brythonic names in the Plymouth area are to be expected.

  2. Sidney,

    You are welcome.


    Indeed yes. I’ve just come across an interesting discussion on this site on the possible usage of Cornish in Devon during the reign of Edward I (1239-1307).

  3. Hi John,

    The word Combe is sometimes considered to be an english loan word from brythonic, however there is a logical fallacy here.

    The use of ‘Combe’ (or coombe) occurs more frequently in Devon than in any other county, and whilst it is found in counties further east, it diminishes relatively quickly once you leave Devon’s eastern borders.

    So, why would a “loan word” be used with increasing regularity as you head westward out of the more traditional “Anglo-Saxon” regions and into Devon?

    The conclusion is simple. The word is a Celtic word. It is used in Wales (as cwm), and exists in Devon simply because the celtic locals used it. It must only be considered a loan word in English because the Saxons in Devon wrote it down (using their own alphabet). This is how loan words originate.

    Simply spoken, they “loaned it” from the celtic speaking people of the west- and that must have included Devon.

    If that were not the case – why would they use it with increasing regularity as the headed into Devon – where it is the second most common place name element. It does not enjoy that popularity further east, nor on the Welsh borders.

    In Cornwall there are also many ‘Combe’ names, but it should be noted that later Cornish used an alternative (Nant), which although it also occurs in Devon it does so less frequently.

    Could this reflect the state of the language when the Cornish were separated from their celtic brethren in Devon? Or perhaps the language took slightly different paths on either side of the Tamar?

  4. My relations (Fittock) came from Pennycomequick in Plymouth. I have a copy of the 1851 Cencus that indicates this

  5. My Mother was born at number 2 viaduct cottage pennycomequick liskeard Cornwall. She was born 18/07/1918 she was the Grand daughter of Mr Bill & Mrs Nellie Mitchell and the daughter of Geraldine Bamford (Nee Mitchell and William (Bill) Bamford. Bill Bamford was a first world war Australian soldier. Bill, Geraldine & Dorothy migrated to Melbourne Australia in 1920

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