Coulsdon suffers a nasty dose of irritable vowel syndrome

Coulsdon isn’t so cool any more.

According to the Old Coulsdon Residents’ Association, when talking about the town at the southern end of the borough, positioned on the old Brighton Road route at the foot of the North Downs’ chalk valleys, “the correct pronunciation is Coalsdon, not Coolsdon“.

Are these moo-cows or moa-cows? Some of the Sussex cattle which roam Happy Valley in Coulsdon

Are these moo-cows or moa-cows? Some of the Sussex cattle which roam Happy Valley in Coulsdon

Which may come as a surprise to many residents, as well as those living in the rest of Croydon and broader south London.

OCRA’s spring newsletter, a glossy, 28-page A5 publication stuffed full of useful information and ads for local shops and tradesmen, this week dropped through the letter boxes of households around the Coulsdon/ Coalsdon/Coolsdon Road.

It included one page with some fascinating historic detail about the derivation of the settlement’s name.

With a history of human settlement which stretches back to the Neolithic period, 10,000 years BC, you might think that Coulsdon/Coalsdon/Coolsdon locals would have got it clear by now how to say the name of their home.

But English being the ever-evolving language that it is, in the same manner that there is a split in the way the people of Shropshire say “Shrewsbury”, or how West Country folk might say “Bath”, it appears that irritable vowel syndrome has struck in the Surrey Hills.

The OCRA newsletter shows that since 675AD, when the place was first documented in Medieval scrolls from Chertsey Abbey, the spelling of Coulsdon has gone through 25 variations, beginning with Curedesdone. This is thought to have derived from the Saxon “Cuthraed’s Down”, or Cuthraed Dene. Cuthraed is suggested to be the King of Kent who lived in the area in the 7th Century.

But after Colesdone was inked into the Domesday Book in 1086, the place’s name has slowly morphed over a thousand years via Culesdene, Kulisdon (1279), and through Cowlsden in the 17th Century, but it was not until 1801 that the established current spelling of Coulsdon was noted in any legal documents.

It might be noteworthy, but there doesn’t appear to have ever been a time when the place name was ever spelled “Coalsdon”. Nor “Coalsden”. Not even “Coalsdene”, as might have been expected if the pronunciation police’s preferred enunciation is to be followed.

Or is it just that Coalsdon’s getting just a bit more posh, now that the Barratt’s housing estate is coming to Cane Hill?

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3 Responses to Coulsdon suffers a nasty dose of irritable vowel syndrome

  1. We’ve always pronounced it as ‘Coolsdon’. Not that we think it’s ‘cool’, it’s just the way most people here call it.

  2. Nick Davies says:

    If they copied it out from Wikipedia (a crime which will get you thrown out of university if you pass it off as your own material) they missed a bit:

    It was Colesdon in 1290, it says. Maybe there’s someone in OCRA who was around at the time?

  3. Lewis White says:

    I am a native of Woodmansterne, but emigrated to Coulsdon 10 years ago, although I live in a part of the old parish of Woodmansterne that was taken (with part of the parish St John’s Old Coulsdon) to make the new Parish of St. Andrew.

    Over the last 50 years I have heard “Colesdon” pronounced by real locals who are far from posh. Whilst plastic Coulsdonites like me say “Coolsdon” , the rustics from Coulsdon , (which in days of yore was Old Coulsdon, as the cold, dry valley was almost devoid of population, unti the coming of the railways), would have said “Colesdon”. So, spoken by the posh or non-posh, true Coulsdonite, Colesdon it really is.

    I personally am with the Cuthraed tendency.

    Thanks for a fun article. By the way, the don part of Coulsdon means “hill” in Anglo Saxon. It was Cuthraed’s Hill. On the other hand, Den actually means “dene” which is a valley. Smitham was “Smeeth” or “smooth dene”, as the chalk downland slopes of the dene looked smooth. Bottom is a deep valley. I also belong to the Smitham Bottom tendency.

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