Kenneth Cameron has created a very interesting work here. He goes into great detail about what is known, or what is theorized, about the original meanings of the names of places. The author has done a lot of research into the little known field of "onomastics," or place names. The title is kind of a misnomer -- a fair number of the place names discussed here are not technically "English," but Celtic. A few may even date to pre-Celtic times, although it's impossible to be completely sure about things that became set in tradition so long before the advent of writing in the region. Other place names come from the viking period and language of the Danelaw (known as Old Norse); from the French incursion after the Norman Conquest; or even Breton and Flemish, from when the uber-jerk Henry II employed Flemish and Breton knights and mercenaries to kill problematic upstarts for him. Cameron has included short chapters on each of these sources of place names. He has several chapters about the meanings of geographic locales,and fills the book out with surprisingly interesting discussion of the grammar behind these place names.
My only real problem with this book is that there are hardly any maps. There should be more of them.
Speaking as an American, and one who has never been to the U.K., you may well wonder "What in the name of all that's holy was Ed doing, in reading this book?!" Fair enough. I sought it out because many of the towns in pleasant, albeit meteorologically schizophrenic Massachusetts, where I live, were named after English towns. As you go farther west in America, more and more towns were named after settlers last names, or Spanish cities of terms, instead of English towns. Still, if you live in the East, you'll find a lot of familiar names here. One of my favorite examples would be the following... Framingham is a town in the metrowest suburbs of Boston, in Massachusetts. It's English onomastic progenitor was named Framingham, meaning (in the Dark Ages) "homestead or hamlet (ham) of the descendents or dependents (ing, from Old English ingas) of Fram. "Fram," most likely, was some kind of particularly humongous Dark Age barbarian warlord, from the 6th or 7th century AD or so, who scared everyone into letting him call himself their "protector." That's one name. There are many more...
Be aware of the helpful little table in back, which helps clear up the meanings of especially common parts of words. -Burg, -ton, -ford, -by, -cester, -wich... all these are explained, and more.
There's a nice little bibliography in back, which you should definitely look at. If you enjoy the topic, seek out the publications of the "English Place Names Society," or any articles or books by Margaret Gelling. Also -- if you have an interest in the meaning of words handed down from the olden days, you should think about reading about the names of stars. They're really intriguing, too. I recommend "Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning," by Richard Hinckley Allen, or "Short Guide to Modern Star Names and Their Derivations" by Paul Kunitzsch (watch that spelling) and Tim Smart.
This book would have benefitted from some maps, but I basically enjoyed it a lot. Two thumbs up.