[If the text below uses any of the terms ‘hill-letter’, ‘river-letter’, ‘old-style name’, ‘transitional name’ and ‘inversion-type name’ a reader who is not familiar with those terms may wish to refer briefly to ‘The Celtic names of hillforts’, where an explanation of those terms is given].



The Celtic names of hillforts


Cannington Park


Location: southwest of Combwich in Somerset

OS map reference:  ST 246 405                                                  

Celtic name:  Ucsela, Ucselda or Ucselva

Source: Ptolemy - Uxella


This is a roughly square hillfort surrounding the summit of a hill rising to some 80 metres above the low ground near the river Parrett, the sides of the hill being fairly steep. The west rampart of the fort is fairly close to the summit, but the east rampart is some considerable way down the slope.

The letter x in Romano-British names often stands in for cs and the double letter l will originally have been some other consonant combination, ld or lv being most likely, where the l is l1. Clearly the hillfort was originally called Ucs, meaning ‘steep hill’, and may later have been called Ucsela (assuming the double l in Ptolemy’s form is a mistake) but more probably Ucselda or Ucselva. It would be helpful if archaeologists could establish whether there was originally a small hillfort built around the summit of the hill and whether this early fort was later extended down the eastern hillside. If this were the case then we could conclude that the original hillfort was called Ucs and the later, enlarged fort, extending down the hillside, was then most probably called Ucselva. But Ptolemy applies the name Uxella to the river which is now called the Parrett, so it would appear that the Romans simply adopted the name of the late pre-Roman hillfort for a new settlement or harbour which they built on the banks of the Parrett, perhaps at Combwich itself. It may be noted in passing that the river-letters corresponding to the hill-letters s and l of Ucsela/Ucselda/Ucselva are b and t and these both survive, with the b changed to p, in the modern river-name Parrett. The Celtic name of the river was probably somewhat of the form Baret, the river-letter r indicating that this region was controlled by Celts who used the hill-letter m between the times when it was controlled by those who used the hill-letter s and those who used the hill-letter l1. Ptolemy assigns Uxella to the Dumnoni, who used the hill-letter m, but the name itself tells us that at the date of the Roman invasion the hill-fort was in the hands of the Durotriges, who used the hill-letter l1 (see  'Ptolemy's Celtic tribes in Britain').