Bead houses

There’s a village near where I live called Betws-y-Coed [ˈbɛtʊs ə ˈkɔɨd], which means ‘prayer house in the wood’. I knew the meaning of the name, but hadn’t considered where the word betws might come from. Last night a friend told me that it comes from an English word ‘bead house’, meaning a prayer house or oratory.

Wikipedia agress with this saying the word Betws or Bettws comes from the Old English bed-hus (house of prayer, oratory). The name was first recorded as ‘Betus’ in 1254.

According to this Old English Dictionary the Old English word bed means ‘prayer, supplication; religious ordinance, service’, hús means ‘house; temple, tabernacle; dwelling-place; inn; household; family, race’, and gebédhús is a house of prayer or oratory.

Apparently the Welsh words bacws (bakery) and warws (warehouse) contain the same hús root. I can’t find confirmation of this, but it sounds plausible. I guessed that these words came from English, but hadn’t made the connection with Betws before.

They must have been borrowed before the Great Vowel Shift which started during the 14th century. Before then house or hús was pronounced /hu:s/, as it still is in northern English and Scots. The /haus/ pronunciation emerged during the 18th century.

This entry was posted in English, Etymology, Language, Welsh, Words and phrases.

4 Responses to Bead houses

  1. CuConnacht says:

    It might not be obvious that bead in the moden sense is the same word as bead = prayer, with rosaries! on which you told your beads (counted your prayers), as the missing link. Cognate with German beten and bitte.

  2. DI says:

    Storws is also used in Welsh (from Storehouse) and that is what we called the upstairs of farmbuildings, or the loft above the CARTWS (carthouse).

  3. Amman46 says:

    Bedan in Anglo Saxon means to pray. Small rounded pebbles, hung on a string, were used to count your prayers. In time the word bede (prayer) became associated with the objects used to count them. Bede was eventually spelled as bead and has now lost its original meaning of prayer, and just means a small round object. Catholics today still use rosary beads to count the number of prayers they have to say, usually as a penance after confession. For example, they may be told by their confessor to say nine Hail Marys, that is, the prayer Hail Mary, nine times:

    Hail Mary,
    Full of Grace,
    The Lord is with thee.
    Blessed art thou among women,
    and blessed is the fruit
    of thy womb, Jesus.
    Holy Mary,
    Mother of God,
    pray for us sinners now,
    and at the hour of death.


    A Bede House was a medieval church or chapel where prayers were said by monks for their benefactors, and for which they, too, used bedes/beads to count their prayers.

  4. David Eger says:

    …Also cognate with English ‘bid’ and ‘bet’, I think. Funny how a word that used to be associated with places of worship is now most often associated with auction houses and bookmakers.

    Re ‘hus’: I wonder whether the placename Ceinws (nr. Corris) has the same Anglo-Saxon root. Cyn-hus (cowhouse), perhaps.

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