Devonshire writer John Fisher tells the story of how John…
WESTWARD HO! in North Devon (population 2,112) is the only place in Great Britain with an exclamation mark in its name.
It derives from the title of Charles Kingsley’s 1855 novel Westward Ho! He in turn took it from the cries of the water taxis that had plied the Thames in yesteryear with calls of, “Eastward ho!” and “Westward ho!” depending on the tide.
Quick to spot a good thing when they saw it, an enterprising clique of Victorian property developers ‘borrowed’ it when they put up villas and a hotel along a previously unnamed length of sandy coast near Bideford, to cash-in on the growing interest in seaside holidays.
Meanwhile, 3.000 miles away, an enterprising huddle of Canadians, inspired by ‘our’ Westward Ho! hit on the idea of adding TWO exclamation marks to their own town’s name.
Already called Saint-Louis-du-Ha Ha (population 1,380) it’s a parish in the Témiscouata Regional County Municipality in Quebec and established in 1873. They added the exclamation marks during the 1930s to become Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! and have never looked back. (A ha ha wall is a recessed landscape design element that creates a vertical barrier while preserving views).
No laughing matter
By contrast there doesn’t seem to have been much to laugh at in the town of Hamilton, the county seat of Butler County in south western Ohio (population 62,447) and once described by one of its own council as ‘the most boring place in the world where nothing much ever happens.’
On 28 May 1986 therefore, as part of a plan to pep-up the place the city council voted 5-1 in favour of adding an exclamation mark to the city’s name. Thus, overnight, Hamilton became Hamilton!
Alas, the change was not recognised by the Federal Board on Geographical Names and the city fathers decided to drop what the New World calls the exclamation point. Doubtless asking one another, “What’s the point?”
So where is all this heading?
Well, what has worked for Westward Ho! and Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! could work for East Devon (population 133.300). Undeniably one of the most beautiful parts of the loveliest county in England, but through no fault of its own, seemingly stuck with what some consider a rather chilly-sounding – even off-putting kind of a name. East Devon. Brrr.
If Devon is to be rushed through in future by holiday-makers heading for the delights of a newly independent Cornwall, why not distract them – at little more than the cost of a tin of black paint – by re-signing this must-visit part of Devon, to be known in future as:
Too dramatic? Then what about something much more friendly and inviting?
South East Devon
Now there’s a thought.