Beggars Bush: A Perambulation through the Disciplines of History, Geography, Archaeology, Literature, Philology, Natural History, Botany, Biography & Beggary

Sticky: Anthologies – why the OED and Brewer’s Dictionary were wrong

The Oxford English Dictionary gives under Beggars:

8. Special combinations. . . “beggar’s-bush, a bush under which a beggar finds shelter (name of ‘a tree near Huntingdon, formerly a noted rendezvous for beggars’ – Brewer), fig. beggary, ruin;”.

This is taken from E. Cobham Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1868 and all editions until recently when the entry was dropped) which gave;

“Beggars Bush. To go by beggar’s bush, or Go home by beggar’s bush – i.e. to go to ruin. Beggar’s Bush is the name of a tree which once stood on the left hand of the London road from Huntingdon to Caxton; so called because it was a noted rendezvous for beggars. These punning phrases and proverbs are very common.”

This is partly true and partly false – perhaps more correctly this was false when it was first published, but through the influence of these two reference works has become common usage. It has been applied as a post facto explanation for the existence of the place name — see for example Donnybrook, Dublin and the histories of Dublin). Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: October 18th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers, Speculations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »


Dublin, Donnybrook – False Trails Beggars

The usual explanation of the place name Beggars Bush is that it was a haunt of highwaymen or beggars. However, the record of Beggars boush in 1573 undermines these later explanations at Dublin, Donnybrook. Many historical works on Dublin give this. I believe they are examples of the tendency to adopt restrospective romantic explanations. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: May 30th, 2011 | Filed under: Places, Speculations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »


Sticky: Embleton, Northumberland Beggars Bush c.1880

This example is unusual because it contains a naming story that is almost contemporaneous, and very close to first hand. It illustrates how place names may be given through trivial incidents. Although this one did not survive into official records, such naming by landowners or those associated with them could easily transfer into and be perpetuated by paper records. It is also unusual as it occurs during a period when there were few uses of the phrase in literary works. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: April 25th, 2011 | Filed under: Places | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »


Bromley, Kent Beggars Bush 1832

The site appears to be close to the junction of the A21 and A233 on the edge of Bromley Common. The area is consistent with the derogatory usage. There are local stories associating the location with highwaymen, and two elm trees, but they give the impression of being developments of the place name. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: April 24th, 2011 | Filed under: Places | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »


Evenjobb, Presteigne, Powys Beggars Bush 1675

This site is recorded in many sources, and is now connected to a house near a crossroads, and there is another Beggars Bush nearby. There is also a naming story involving Charles I, which would provide an earlier date for the name. However, the story is doubtful, and doesn’t actually use the phrase Beggars Bush, though the context is consistent with the literary usage. It is better evidence of the distribution of the literary phrase than of the place name.
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Posted: April 4th, 2011 | Filed under: Places | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments »


Ubud, Bali Beggars Bush 1979

A  former restaurant and pub mentioned on numerous tourist websites. It was founded by an Englishman, Victor Mason, and opened on 5th November 1979 with a run from the premises by the Bali Hash House Harriers, also founded by him in 1977. This site is unique as we can be sure why the name was given, as I was able to ask Victor Mason.
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Posted: March 19th, 2011 | Filed under: Places | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »


Sticky: Dublin, Donnybrook Beggars boush 1573

Current location and earliest record

The name is now used for the area around the redundant Beggars Bush barracks, in use from 1827 for training and as the final station before embarkation for troops going to the Crimea, Flanders and the Empire. In 1929 the barracks area was taken over for housing and the headquarters of the Geological Survey of Ireland, the National Print Museum and Labour Court. There is also modern pub called Ryan’s Beggars Bush.

The earliest record of the name in Dublin is 1573 “at the wood called Beggars boush by Bagotrath” in Fiant 2341 in the Calendar of Fiants of reign of Henry VIII 1510-47 through to Queen Elizabeth 1558-1603. The Irish form Tor an Bhacaigh would have followed the English/Anglicised form Beggars Bush.
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Posted: March 13th, 2011 | Filed under: Places | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »


Oscott, Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire Beggars Bush 1821

The Beggars Bush Inn stands at a crossroads on a main road and there is still a bush. However, neither are the originals, and the name has been applied to several other places, pubs & bushes in the area. It is probably impossible now to fix the original location. It also has a naming story, which cannot be verified. If nothing else the history shows the popularity of the name, and how it can become attached to local features.
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Posted: March 13th, 2011 | Filed under: Places | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »


Godmanchester Huntingdonshire Begersbusshe 1576

This is the best known Beggars Bush site, though for the wrong reason, and through unusual  sources. The site was on Ermine Street, which was the main northern road west of the fens. John Walker’s The Universal Gazetteer (London 1798) lists two Beggars Bushes, including this one and another in Middlesex at Enfield.

It is now the site of the Wood Green Animal Refuge, at King’s Bush Farm.

It is on a summit standing at 138ft above sea level in an area where the average height of the surrounding country is closer to 50ft. From London it is the last of a series of rises, and in both directions the trees on the summit stand out against the skyline. It would be widely visible, not only from the Great North Road, (A1198) but from the roads to Stevenage & London (A1) and the road to Cambridge (A14). It would be passed by travellers from London to the north of England.
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Posted: March 13th, 2011 | Filed under: Places | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »