English Place-Name Society

History of the English Place-Name Society

The English Place‑Name Society was founded in 1923 with the purpose of carrying out a survey of the place‑names of the whole country. The instigator was Sir Allen Mawer, at that time Professor of English Language in the University of Liverpool. Mawer enlisted the support of leading academics, including historians James Tait and Sir Frank Stenton. The Society sought to attract members who would receive, in return for an annual subscription, one published volume a year. The first volume, published in two parts in 1924, comprised an Introduction to the Survey of English Place‑Names and The Chief Elements Used in English Place‑Names.

R. Wilkinson, The British Isles, 1:200000, 1812

R. Wilkinson, The British Isles, 1:200000, 1812.


The second publication, The Place‑Names of Buckinghamshire, followed in 1925: this was the first of the county survey volumes. Since then the EPNS has, more or less, kept up a publication rate of one volume a year. The current coverage of the country is outlined on the Coverage and Scope of the Survey page. Over recent decades the subscribing membership has remained relatively stable at around 600.

When Mawer moved from Liverpool to University College London in 1929 the Society moved with him. During the war the Society’s office was evacuated (with UCL’s Administration) to Stanstead Bury, a manor house in Hertfordshire, and then – after Mawer’s death in 1942 – moved to the University of Reading, when Stenton took over as Director of the Survey. In 1946 Stenton was succeeded as Director by Bruce Dickins of the University of Cambridge, and the office moved to Dickins’s family house. At this stage Miss Margaret Midgley, later Dr Margaret Gelling, joined the Society as Research Assistant. Five years later the directorship returned to UCL and Professor Hugh Smith, who retained the position for sixteen years before his death in 1967. Professor Kenneth Cameron then became Director, and the office moved to the University of Nottingham. The office, archives and library of the EPNS have remained in the School of English at Nottingham ever since, although the directorship has moved on, to Mr Victor Watts, University of Durham (1993-2002), and Professor Richard Coates, University of Sussex (2003-6), University of the West of England (2006-).

As this account shows, the Society and the Survey have always been intimately linked. However, there is some separation. The Society is made up of its subscribing membership, which elects a council, headed by a President. In turn the council appoints the Director of the Survey, who oversees the work of the various county editors. The Society thus maintains a supervisory role over the Survey, and is responsible for subscription and publication. The Survey on the other hand is the academic research project. It receives Research Council funding (from the British Academy and the AHRC), which helps with the direct costs of research.

The EPNS publishes titles other than the Survey volumes. The first volume of the Journal of the English Place-Name Society appeared in 1969. The Journal carries scholarly articles and the annual report of the EPNS. Other EPNS publications include a Popular Series of county place-name dictionaries and volumes on subjects central and related to English place-names.

English Place-Name Society

The University of Nottingham
Nottingham NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5919
fax: +44 (0) 115 951 5924
email: name-studies@nottingham.ac.uk