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Place-Names, Language and the Anglo-Saxon Landscape
 1843836033, 9781843836032

Table of contents :
List of Illustrations vii
Acknowledgements ix
List of Contributors x
Abbreviations xi
1. Place-Names, Language and the Anglo-Saxon Landscape: An Introduction / Martin J. Ryan 1
2. The Landscape of Place-Name Studies / Alexander R. Rumble 23
3. Place-Names as Travellers' Landmarks / Ann Cole 51
4. Light thrown by Scandinavian Place-Names on the Anglo-Saxon Landscape / Gillian Fellows-Jensen 69
5. Language and the Anglo-Saxon Landscape: Towards an Archaeological Interpretation of Place-Names in Wiltshire / Simon Draper 85
6. Hunting the Vikings in South Cumbria from Ambleside to Haverbrack / Linda M. Corrigan 105
7. Viking-Age Amounderness: A Reconsideration / Richard Watson 125
8. The Woodland Landscape of Early Medieval England / Della Hooke 143
9. The Pre-Conquest Lands and Parish of Crediton Minster, Devon / Duncan Probert 175
10. Rewriting the Bounds: Pershore’s Powick and Leigh / Peter A. Stokes 195
11. That 'Dreary Old Question': The Hide in Early Anglo-Saxon England / Martin J. Ryan 207
12. Boroughs and Socio-Political Reconstruction in Late Anglo-Saxon England / Dorn Van Dommelen 225
Index 241

Citation preview


Place-Names, Language and the Anglo-Saxon Landscape


Editorial Board Donald Scragg Richard Bailey Timothy Graham Nicholas J. Higham Gale R. Owen-Crocker Alexander Rumble Leslie Webster

Published Titles 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.

Textual and Material Culture in Anglo-Saxon England: Thomas Northcote Toller and the Toller Memorial Lectures, ed. Donald Scragg Apocryphal Texts and Traditions in Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Kathryn Powell and Donald Scragg King Harold II and the Bayeux Tapestry, ed. Gale R. Owen-Crocker The Place of the Cross in Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Catherine E. Karkov, Sarah Larratt Keefer and Karen Louise Jolly Writing and Texts in Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Alexander R. Rumble Anglo-Saxon Royal Diplomas: A Palaeography, Susan D. Thompson Britons in Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Nicholas J. Higham Edgar, King of the English 959–975: New Interpretations, ed. Donald Scragg The Landscape Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Nicholas J. Higham and Martin J. Ryan

Place-Names, Language and the Anglo-Saxon Landscape

edited by nicholas j. higham and martin j. Ryan

the boydell press

© Contributors 2011 All rights reserved. Except as permitted under current legislation no part of this work may be photocopied, stored in a retrieval system, published, performed in public, adapted, broadcast, transmitted, recorded or reproduced in any form or by any means, without the prior permission of the copyright owner First published 2011 The Boydell Press, Woodbridge ISBN 978–1–84383–603–2

The Boydell Press is an imprint of Boydell & Brewer Ltd PO Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 3DF, UK and of Boydell & Brewer Inc, 668 Mt Hope Avenue, Rochester, Ny 14620, USA website: A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library The publisher has no responsibility for the continued existence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this book, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate. Papers used by Boydell & Brewer Ltd are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in sustainable forests

Printed in Great Britain by CPI Antony Rowe, Chippenham and Eastbourne

Contents List of Illustrations




List of Contributors




1 Place-Names, Language and the Anglo-Saxon Landscape: An Introduction Martin J. Ryan


2 The Landscape of Place-Name Studies Alexander R. Rumble


3 Place-Names as Travellers’ Landmarks Ann Cole


4 Light thrown by Scandinavian Place-Names on the Anglo-Saxon Landscape Gillian Fellows-Jensen


5 Language and the Anglo-Saxon Landscape: Towards an Archaeological Interpretation of Place-Names in Wiltshire Simon Draper


6 Hunting the Vikings in South Cumbria from Ambleside to Haverbrack 105 Linda M. Corrigan 7 Viking-Age Amounderness: A Reconsideration Richard Watson


8 The Woodland Landscape of Early Medieval England Della Hooke


9 The Pre-Conquest Lands and Parish of Crediton Minster, Devon Duncan Probert


10 Rewriting the Bounds: Pershore’s Powick and Leigh Peter A. Stokes


11 That ‘Dreary Old Question’: The Hide in Early Anglo-Saxon England 207 Martin J. Ryan 12 Boroughs and Socio-Political Reconstruction in Late Anglo-Saxon England Dorn Van Dommelen




Illustrations Plates IV.1 IV.2 IV.3 VIII.1 VIII.2

Helsby, Cheshire © Nicholas J. Higham Geysir, Haukadalur, Iceland © Gillian Fellows-Jensen Gjógv, Eysturoy, Faroe Islands © Gillian Fellows-Jensen A Windsor oak © Della Hooke Staverton Park, Suffolk, a wood-pasture landscape © Gary Battell, Suffolk County Council

74 77 78 160 172

Figures 3.1 3.2 3.3. 3.4 3.5 4.1 4.2 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 8.1 8.2 8.3

The distribution of terms for crossing place The distribution of place named Calde-cot The distribution of terms for landing places The Somerset Levels: place-names and medieval drainage The distribution of the ‘signpost’ terms in south-east England The distribution of Scandinavian settlement-names. Reproduced with permission from Peter Sawyer, Da Danmark blev Danmark, Gyldendal og Politiken Danmarkshistorie 3 (Copenhagen, 1988), p. 164. Place-names in -by and -thorp in the Lincolnshire Wolds. © Crown copyright, Ordnance Survey. All rights reserved. The distribution of Brittonic place-names and early Anglo-Saxon burials and pottery in Wiltshire The distribution of Old English place-names derived from Latin loan-words in Wiltshire The distribution of OE burna and dun place-names in Wiltshire The probable middle Anglo-Saxon ‘king’s burh’ in Wilton The likely morphology of Anglo-Saxon enclosures denoted by OE burh place-names at Codford St Peter and Bourton (Bishops Cannings) Moss boundaries after Yates’ map of Lancashire of 1786 Tithe omissions within Amounderness Field-names and peat distributions Environmental marginality and Domesday Book place-names Scene from the Cotton Tiberius calendar, September (redrawn from British Library Cotton Tiberius BV, part 1) Estate links within Kent: the Wealden dens (from Della Hooke, The Landscape of Anglo-Saxon England (London, 1998)). Routeways and place-names in Weogorena leah, Worcestershire

55 59 60 62 65 70

71 90 91 98 101 102 130 131 132 138 145 146 152


8.4a 8.4b 9.1 9.2 9.3 10.1


The relationship between haga enclosures and Norman forests in Hampshire (from Della Hooke, ‘Medieval Forests and Parks in Southern and Central England’, in European Woods and Forests. Studies in Cultural History, ed. Charles Watkins (Wallingford, 1998)). Haga enclosures in the charter bounds of northern Hampshire The boundaries of Creedy-land and Peadingtun The parish of Sandford The boundaries of Creedy-land The estates of Powick and Leigh (based on Hooke, Worcestershire, pp. 210–11 and 216)


169 178 182 188 206

Tables 2.1 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 7.1

Richard Muir, The New Reading the Landscape (Exeter, 2000), p. 57: Table 2.4 Place-name evidence in wetland settings Place-names of Anglo-Saxon South Cumbria Place-names recorded before 1086 Place-names recorded in the late eleventh century Elements with multiple appearances Old English topographical elements Old Norse topographical elements Cognate topographical elements Place-name elements in south Cumbria recorded before 1100 Place-name change within Amounderness

25 107 110 111 113 115 116 116 121 134

Acknowledgements The papers in this volume arise from a conference held at Hulme Hall at Easter 2007 under the auspices of the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies. The editors are most grateful to the University of Manchester for financial support towards the management costs and to the Medieval Settlement Research Group who provided funds for bursaries that allowed a number of postgraduate students to attend the conference. We are also grateful to the editorial committee of the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies for their championship of the resulting volume, to the anonymous external readers, whom they prevailed upon to review the papers and whose many helpful comments have contributed greatly to the end product, and lastly to the professionalism and attention to detail of Caroline Palmer and her colleagues at Boydell & Brewer. This volume is dedicated to the memory of Margaret Gelling, whose tireless energy and enthusiasm, not to mention meticulous scholarship, were an inspiration and whose activities did so much to promote the study and understanding of place-names in England. Margaret was a key speaker and participant at the 2007 conference and her presence contributed much to the success of the event; she will be greatly missed.

Contributors Ann Cole, University of Oxford Linda M. Corrigan, Independent Scholar Simon Draper, University of the West of England Gillian Fellows-Jensen, University of Copenhagen Della Hooke, University of Birmingham Duncan Probert, King’s College, London Martin J. Ryan, University of Manchester Alexander R. Rumble, University of Manchester Peter A. Stokes, King’s College, London Dorn Van Dommelen, University of Alaska Anchorage Richard Watson, University of Manchester

Abbreviations ASE ASSAH BAR BCS

Anglo-Saxon England Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History British Archaeological Reports W. de G. Birch, Cartularium Saxonicum, 3 vols (London, 1885–93) CA Current Archaeology Ekwall, DEPN Eilert Ekwall, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names (4th edn, Oxford, 1960) EPN A. H. Smith, English Place-Name Elements, 2 vols, EPNS 25–6 (Cambridge, 1956) EPNS English Place-Name Society GDB Great Domesday Book, The National Archives E31/2 Gelling, Margaret Gelling, Signposts to the Past: Place-Names and the   Signposts History of England (3rd edn, Chichester, 1997) Gelling and Margaret Gelling and Ann Cole, The Landscape of Place  Cole, Names (Stamford, 2000)   Landscape JEPNS Journal of the English Place-Name Society LDB Little Domesday Book, The National Archives E 31/1 MA Medieval Archaeology Mills, DBPN A. D. Mills, A Dictionary of British Place-Names (Oxford, 2003) NS The Crawford Collection of Early Charters and Documents now in the Bodleian Library, ed. A. S. Napier and W. H. Stevenson (Oxford, 1895) OE Old English ON Old Norse PN + county County volumes of the Survey of English Place-Names   name published by the EPNS (Cambridge, Nottingham, 1924–) S P. H. Sawyer, Anglo-Saxon Charters: An Annotated List and Bibliography, Royal Historical Society Guides and Handbooks 8 (London, 1968), with additions and revisions by Susan Kelly and Rebecca Rushforth SSNNW Gillian Fellows-Jensen, Scandinavian Settlement Names in the North West (Copenhagen, 1985) TDA Transactions of the Devonshire Association VEPN I, David Parsons and Tania Styles with Carole Hough, The Vocabulary of English Place-Names (Á–Box) (Nottingham, 1997); II, David N. Parsons and Tania Styles, The Vocabulary




of English Place-Names (Brace–Cæster) (Nottingham, 2000); III, David N. Parsons, The Vocabulary of English Place-Names (Ceafor–Cock-pit) (Nottingham, 2004) Wiltshire and Swindon Archive (Chippenham) Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society Magazine Wiltshire and Swindon Sites and Monuments Record (Chippenham)

1 Place-Names, Language and the Anglo-Saxon Landscape: An Introduction1 Martin J. Ryan

not all words were established by the ancients from nature; some were established by whim, just as we sometimes give names to our slaves and possessions according to what tickles our fancy.2


hat the words people used and the names they gave to things are of significance to those who study the past is no great insight.3 What these names and words can tell us and how we should find this out, however, have been and will continue to be subject to intense debate. Medievalists, used to dealing with sources written in dead or ancestor languages, have long been aware of the problems of both what words mean and how meaning is created socially and historically, though unsurprisingly the approaches to these problems have varied considerably over time. The essays collected in this volume – one of two arising from a conference held at the University of Manchester in 2007 under the auspices of the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies (MANCASS) – all explore, in different ways, how the inhabitants of Anglo-Saxon England described and understood their physical environment. The evidence drawn on is, for the most, linguistic and place-name based, with the historical and/or archaeological evidence predominantly covered in another volume.4 That said, as many of the chapters make clear, such disciplinary boundaries are often only a matter of editorial convenience; despite all its methodological problems and challenges, interdisciplinarity remains our best hope for understanding the Anglo-Saxon landscape. This introduction seeks to offer a broad-brush exploration of some of the key ways in which place-names, language and the landscape have been approached 1 2 3 4

My thanks to Nick Higham for his considerable help and advice with this introduction. His attention and care have saved me from many errors; all those that remain are mine alone. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae, I.xxix.2, Stephen A. Barney, W. J. Lewis, J. A. Beach and Oliver Berghof, The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville (Cambridge, 2006), p. 55. For a characteristically blunt ‘discussion’ see Eric John, Reassessing Anglo-Saxon England (Manchester, 1996), pp. 48–9. The Landscape Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Nicholas J. Higham and Martin J. Ryan (Woodbridge, 2010).

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by writers, both medieval and modern. It begins by looking briefly at the attitudes of Anglo-Saxon authors to place-names, before considering scholarly approaches to the evidence provided by Old English and Scandinavian placenames. In particular, it is concerned with the key changes that took place over the course of the second half of the twentieth century – changes that put landscape issues not perhaps quite at the centre but at least on the agenda of place-names studies. It looks, finally, at the growth of landscape history and the evidence provided by the charters in particular.

Place-Names and the Anglo-Saxons That Anglo-Saxons were themselves the first scholars of Anglo-Saxon placenames should be no surprise. Indeed, the interpretation of place-names played a significant role in how the Anglo-Saxons approached, constructed and appreciated their own pasts. A full exploration of such ideas is beyond the scope of an introduction of this length but a number of examples, drawn from the writings of Bede and from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, will at least outline some of the more important aspects. Bede was especially interested in the physical environment, both his own and that of the Bible. Judith McClure has written of ‘Bede’s ready appreciation of the importance of geographical factors in his description of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms’, suggesting that he was continuing practices developed earlier in discussions of the geography and topography of the Holy Lands in his Nomina regionum and Nomina locorum.5 McClure was building on observations already made by James Campbell about Bede’s relatively consistent (and restricted) vocabulary for places in his historical works: he used, for example, civitas for places of importance in the Roman period; urbs for fortified places, and metropolis for a capital or major centre.6 Likewise, A. H. Merrills highlighted Bede’s ‘fascination with the landscape of history’ as manifested in both his exegesis and the Historia Ecclesiastica.7 Bede offered numerous discussions of the origin and meaning of place-names – both biblical and contemporary – in his writings. Anglo-Saxon place-names were frequently explained by reference to eponymous founders or other important figures, such as the chieftain Hrof for Rochester (OE Hrofæscæstræ, Latin Dorubrevis) or Tunnacæstir named for the priest and abbot Tunna.8 In other cases Bede provides an etymology that makes reference to a particular natural 5

6 7 8

Judith McClure, ‘Bede’s Old Testament Kings’, in Ideal and Reality in Frankish and Anglo-Saxon Society, ed. Patrick Wormald, Donald Bullough and Roger Collins (Oxford, 1983), pp. 76–98, at pp. 83–5. James Campbell, ‘Bede’s Words for Places’, in Places, Names and Graves, ed. Peter H. Sawyer (Leeds, 1979), pp. 34–54. A. H. Merrills, History and Geography in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, 2005), p. 242. Historia ecclesiastica, II, 3 and IV, 22(20) respectively; Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, ed. Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors (Oxford, 1969), pp. 143 and 403.

place-names, language and the anglo-saxon landscape


feature, such as the seals that gave Selsey its name or – to provide an Irish example – the oaks that gave their name to Dearmach (Durrow).9 That different peoples had different names for the same place was something of which Bede was very conscious, on occasion giving multiple names as, for example, when he noted a monastery ‘in the place which the Picts call Peanfahel, while in English it is called Penneltun’.10 In a number of these examples the AngloSaxon name is clearly derived from or a translation of the Latin or Celtic name for the place: the former is exemplified by Rochester, as given above, the latter by, for example, OE Hefenfeld and Latin Caelestis campus.11 In cases of direct translation such as this, Bede was surely aware of the origins but his understanding is less clear for English place-names derived from another language; occasionally he will write of the English name-forming practice as ‘corrupt’, as with Richborough (OE Reptacæstir, Latin Rutubi Portus) or Carlisle (OE Luel, Latin Lugublia) but such instances are few.12 Bede’s discussions of the etymologies of biblical place-names fulfilled a different purpose. As Trent Foley has shown, Bede would have learnt from Augustine’s De doctrina christiana the importance of understanding both the locations and the meanings of biblical place-names for discerning the non-literal readings of specific biblical passages.13 Thus when discussing the casting out of the demons into the Gadarene swine (Luke, 8:26–39), Bede quoted from Jerome’s De situ et nominibus locorum hebraicorum to explain the location of Geraza, then interpreted it as signifying the nation of the Gentiles to whom Christ sent preachers after his resurrection; just as Geraza is to be interpreted in terms of the expelling of a settler or a newcomer drawing near, so the Gentiles drove out the Enemy who had been dwelling in their hearts and, through the blood of Christ, He who had been distant was made near.14 Bede seems to have considered the interpretative techniques used in exegesis also to be applicable to Anglo-Saxon place-names, though this was a technique he used sparingly. His statement that the meaning of Streanæshealh, generally identified as modern-day Whitby, was ‘Sinus Fari’ has provoked considerable debate:15 Sinus Fari is translated by Colgrave and Mynors reasonably enough as 9 10 11 12

13 14 15

Historia ecclesiastica, IV, 13 and III, 4 respectively; Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, ed. Colgrave and Mynors, pp. 375 and 223. Historia ecclesiastica, I, 12; Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, ed. Colgrave and Mynors, p. 43. For the latter, see Historia ecclesiastica, III, 2; Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, ed. Colgrave and Mynors, p. 217. Historia ecclesiastica, I, 1; Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, ed. Colgrave and Mynors, p. 15, Vita sancti Cuthberti, xxvii; Two Lives of Saint Cuthbert: A Life by an Anonymous Monk of Lindisfarne and Bede’s Prose Life ed. and trans. Bertram Colgrave (Cambridge, 1940), p. 243. Bede: A Biblical Miscellany, trans. W. Trent Foley and A. G. Holder (Liverpool, 1999), p. 3. In Lucae evangelium expositio III.viii.26, ed. D. Hurst, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 120 (Turnhout, 1960), pp. 182–3. Historia ecclesiastica, III, 25; Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, ed. Colgrave and Mynors, p. 299.

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‘bay of the lighthouse’ but Streanæshealh certainly does not mean this.16 Peter Hunter Blair suggested that Bede was saying not that Streanæshealh literally meant ‘Sinus Fari’ but rather that it could be interpreted figuratively in that way and referred less to the topography than to the prophetic dream experienced by Breguswith, Hild’s mother, which Bede recounted in IV, 23. This featured ‘a most precious necklace’ filling the whole of Britain with its light, which prefigured Hild, the founder of Whitby monastery, so Bede was arguably using farus here in part at least as a metaphor for the saintly princess herself, whom he clearly admired.17 Likewise, Bede stated that Heavenfield, the site of King Oswald’s victory over Cadwallon, had received its name ‘in days of old as an omen of future happenings; it signified that a heavenly sign was to be erected there, a heavenly victory won’.18 This clearly inverts the battle and the placename to rhetorical effect and links with Bede’s interpretation of certain biblical place-names as indicative of future events. Bede’s attention to place-names, as well as to geography and topography, was in some respects exceptional but the meaning and significance of place-names was nevertheless something that was explored by other Anglo-Saxon authors. Entries in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle detailing the Anglo-Saxon settlement make frequent reference by name to the locations of key events. Although it was rarely made explicit,19 the etymology of a place-name was often linked with that of a particular individual. Thus the putative founders of the West Saxon dynasty, Cerdic and Cynric, are said to have landed at Cerdicesora.20 Likewise, Hengest and his son Æsc are said to have fought with the Britons, including a noble called Wipped, at Wippedesfleot.21 In his tenth-century Latin version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Fabius Æthelweard supplied the causal link between Wipped and Wippedesfleot stating ‘there fell Wipped, a soldier of the Saxons, and because of that the place got its name’. Æthelweard also noted the Classical



18 19

20 21

For discussion of the probable meaning see Carole Hough, ‘Strensall, Streanaeshalch and Stronsay’, JEPNS 35 (2002–3): 17–24. Literally sinus means ‘bend’ or ‘curve’, hence ‘bay’; farus was used elsewhere by Bede to mean ‘lighthouse’ but was also used by the end of the eighth century in reference to a branched candlestick or chandelier, which may hint at Bede’s purpose here. In contrast, halc denotes a ‘corner’,’nook’ or ‘cranny’ and the rare strean or streon may be a personal name or refer to ‘treasure’: see Nicholas J. Higham (Re-)Reading Bede: The Ecclesiastical History in Context (London, 2006), p. 46. Peter Hunter Blair, ‘Whitby as a Centre of Learning in the Seventh Century’, cited in Hough, ‘Strensall’, p. 17. For the vision see Historia ecclesiastica, IV, 23(21); Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, ed. Colgrave and Mynors, p. 411. Historia ecclesiastica, III, 2; Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, ed. Colgrave and Mynors, p. 217. A key exception is the British king, Natanleod, said to have given his name to Natanleaga, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 508; Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel, ed. C. Plummer, 2 vols (Oxford, 1892–9), I. p. 14; for whom see below. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 495; Two Chronicles, ed. Plummer, I. p. 14. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 465; Two Chronicles, ed. Plummer, I. p. 12.

place-names, language and the anglo-saxon landscape


parallels for such naming practices observing ‘the Thesean Sea [got its name] from Theseus, and the Aegean from Aegeus, who was killed in it’.22 In some cases, such as that of Cerdic and Cerdicesora, it is probably safe to assume that the place was named for the specific individual or at the very least became detached from its original eponym and associated instead with another individual of the same name. In other cases it was apparently the individual who was created or named to explain the place-name. This must certainly have happened with the Anglo-Saxon leader Port, said to have landed with his sons at Portsmouth in 501, the name of which must derive from Latin portus (‘port, harbour’) and perhaps specifically from the Saxon Shore fort, Portus Adurni, modern-day Portchester Castle.23 Michael Swanton has suggested that Bieda, the name given to one of Port’s sons, ‘may similarly derive from Bieda’s Head’ mentioned in the annal for 675.24 Such was the desire to derive a place-name from a specific individual that the entry for 508 claims Natanleaga to have been given its name for the British king, Natanleod, despite the fairly obvious etymology of this place-name, from the Old English elements næt and lēah.25 The stories summarised in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle were underpinned, therefore, by place-names which bore witness to the events of the Anglo-Saxon settlement and helped to set them within a familiar landscape and reinforce their claims to historicity. The result was a credible account of immediate relevance, albeit highly contrived and of virtually no historical value. That the place-names themselves were an important element in the raw materials from which the stories were created demonstrates that the author expected names to carry meanings related to past events taking place there. Such meanings were highly subjective, however: while the place-names referred to in the Chronicle were interpreted as commemorating significant moments within the story of the English settlement, they were also a potent mechanism through which to forget previous settlers, owners and namers, who were thereby excluded from history.

Old English Place-Names The extent to which Old English continued to be comprehensible beyond about 1100 is a matter of debate. So too is the degree to which the contribution of the Anglo-Saxons to the corpus of place-names in England was appreciated after the Norman Conquest. It is usually accepted, however, that there was less and less comprehension of Old English by the later Middle Ages – though knowledge was never lost entirely – and this was allied with declining interest in the Anglo-Saxon past more generally. Overall, accounts of the British past tended to devote most attention to what Kendrick called the ‘British History’, that is, the 22 23 24 25

Æthelweard, Chronicon I 5; The Chronicle of Æthelweard, ed. A. Campbell (London, 1962), p. 11. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 501; Two Chronicles, ed. Plummer, I. p. 14. For comment see, for example, J. N. L. Myres, The English Settlement (Oxford, 1989), p. 145. Michael Swanton, trans., The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (London, 1996), p. 15. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 508; Two Chronicles, ed. Plummer, I. p. 14.

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legendary Trojan and Arthurian past as popularised by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia regum Britanniae and developed and extended by later ­writers.26 The dismantling of this legendary past and its partial replacement with an Anglo-Saxon-dominated, though no less legendary, one was a lengthy process beginning in the later Middle Ages and gaining impetus as a consequence of reformations of the sixteenth century. The search for a pure insular Church, free from the corrupting influence of Rome, renewed interest in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, which were thought to preserve the authentic traces of this primitive Church, and revived study of the Old English language.27 The late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries likewise saw, as Angus Vine and others have set out, growing interest in the value of etymology to historical inquiry.28 Authors such as the political philosopher and jurist Jean Bodin (d. 1596) promoted a historical methodology that sought, in Vine’s words, ‘to read the past through unpicking place names or peoples’ names’.29 Such approaches were quickly adopted by English antiquarians – though not always with unquestioning enthusiasm – and the evidence that could be provided by the study of Anglo-Saxon place-names was employed extensively in the historical, topographical and chorographical works of the early modern period.30 In his ground-breaking 1605 work, A Restitution of Decayed Intelligence, Richard Verstegan, for example, noted that the language spoken by the settling Anglo-Saxons differed significantly from that of the native Britons and ‘so left they very few cities, townes, villages, passages, riuers, woods, feilds, hilles or dales, that they gaue not new names unto’.31 Such names, he suggested, were coined either ‘by reason of the situation or nature of the place, or after some place some sorte lyke vnto it in Germanie’ and so Hereford, for example, was named after Herford in Westphalia.32 Verstegan also saw that some already suggested etymologies for place-names in England could not work. London, he argued, could not derive from Luds-town for ‘town is not a british but a saxon woord’, if London had been named for Lud it would be Caer-lud.33 It was the nineteenth century, however, that witnessed the beginnings of the modern study of Old English place-names.34 In his pioneering work, The Saxons in England, published in 1849, John Mitchell Kemble brought to bear on the AngloSaxon evidence advances in historical and philological methodologies made by

26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34

T. D. Kendrick, British Antiquity (London, 1950), pp. 1–17. For general discussion see Allen J. Frantzen, Desire for Origins: New Language, Old English, and Teaching the Tradition (New Brunswick, NJ, 1990), pp. 27–50. Angus Vine, ‘Etymology, Names and the Search for Origins: Deriving the Past in Early Modern England’, The Seventeenth Century 1 (2006): 1–21. Vine, ‘Etymology’, p. 1. Vine, ‘Etymology’, pp. 4–7 and, more generally, Graham Parry, The Trophies of Time: English Antiquarians of the Seventeenth Century (Oxford, 1995). Richard Verstegan, A Restitution of Decayed Intelligence: In Antiquities, Concerning the Most Noble and Renowned English Nation (Antwerp, 1605), p. 133. Verstegan, Restitution, p. 133. Verstegan, Restitution, p. 134. Though see the observations of Frantzen, Desire for Origins, pp. 57–61.

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continental, and particularly German, scholars.35 Kemble rejected, almost in its entirety, the written evidence for the Anglo-Saxon settlement in Britain and instead presented a picture of widespread settlement of relatively small tribal groups, which he suggested could be detected through surviving place-name evidence. Famously, Kemble argued that place-names ending in -ingas preserved the names of these earliest tribal groups and showed the regions in which they had settled,36 and also drew attention to the many place-names that contained elements connected to the pre-Christian religion of the Anglo-Saxons.37 Although subsequent nineteenth-century scholarship would reject many elements of Kemble’s vision of the Anglo-Saxon settlement, his ideas about the significance of the place-names won wide acceptance. John Richard Green, for example, wrote that the Anglo-Saxon settlement was achieved by kinsmen fighting side by side ‘and as they fought side by side on the field, so they dwelt side by side on the soil … and each “wick” or “ham” or “stead” or “tun” took its name from the kinsmen who dwelt together in it’.38 Thus Billingham was the home of the Billings and Harlington the township of the Harlings. By the early years of the twentieth century, principally through the work of Henry Bradley and Walter W. Skeat, the study of English place-names had been given a new philological rigour. It was, however, the founding of the English Place-Name Society by Allen Mawer in 1923 that would, through its survey volumes and journal, ultimately revolutionise the study of place-names in England, championing both methodological advances and organisational sophistication – even if in its first few decades the society was, in Margaret Gelling’s delightful phrase, something of a ‘“man and a dog” organisation’.39 In its early days the society was concerned principally with what might be termed ‘historical’ aspects of place-name studies, so with illuminating the various invasions and settlements of England – most notably the Anglo-Saxon one – and developing and extending existing chronologies of place-name formation.40 As Alex Rumble notes in Chapter 2, there was an awareness of the potential utility of understanding place-names in their topographical and environmental context, at least as an aid to the resolution of problematic etymologies. In practice, however, the landscape of place-names took something of a back seat and attention was focused on the habitative place-names thought capable of providing insight into social and administrative history.41 35 36 37 38 39 40 41

John Mitchell Kemble, The Saxons in England: A History of the English Commonwealth till the Period of the Norman Conquest, 2 vols (London, 1849). Kemble, The Saxons in England, I. pp. 58–64 and appendix A. Kemble, The Saxons in England, I. pp. 335–373. John Richard Green, A History of the English People 4 vols (London, 1878–80), I. p. 18. Aileen M. Armstrong, Margaret Gelling and Kenneth Cameron, ‘Some Notes on the History of the English Place-Name Society’, JEPNS 25 (1992–93): 1–8 at p. 4. For a guide to the early activities of the society see Gelling, Signposts, pp. 7–18. For the now-classic dismissal of vast numbers of topographical place-names as ‘intrinsically trivial’ see F. M. Stenton, ‘The English Element’, in Introduction to the Survey of English Place-Names, ed. A. Mawer and F. M. Stenton, 2 parts, EPNS 1 (Cambridge, 1924, repr. 1969), I. pp. 36–54 at pp. 36–7.

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For a generation after the Second World War, volumes published by the English Place-Name Society, and, indeed, English place-name studies in general, accepted the basic chronology of Anglo-Saxon place-names established in the nineteenth century. Names in -ingas and -ingahām and those containing elements thought to be connected with pagan worship were seen as amongst the earliest of English place-names and as such capable of elucidating the progress of the Anglo-Saxon settlement. The 1960s witnessed the demise of these chronological certainties, though the impact of this near-revolution took time to work its way through.42 Although doubts had been expressed earlier,43 it was the publication in 1966 of John Dodgson’s study comparing place-name with archaeological evidence across south-east England that would overturn the notion that names in -ingas and -ingahām represented the earliest phases of Anglo-Saxon settlement.44 Dodgson found no positive correlation whatsoever between pagan Anglo-Saxon cemeteries and such place-names, leading him to suggest that ‘the -ingas place-names seem to be the result of a social development contemporary with a colonising process later than, but soon after, the immigration and settlement that is recorded in the early pagan burials’.45 Dodgson’s conclusions have, for the most part, been supported by subsequent research, although it is worth noting that they do depend on the perhaps questionable assumption that pagan cemeteries were necessarily located close to the settlements they served.46 The chronological primacy of pagan place-names was first subject to serious challenge by Margaret Gelling in 1961.47 Such names were not spread uniformly throughout England but rather tended to be concentrated in areas that were on the peripheries of known political units in the early Christian period, suggesting to Gelling that place-names of this type should be understood as referring to


43 44 45 46


See, for example, Margaret Gelling, ‘English Place-Name Studies: Some Reflections. Being the First Cameron Lecture, Delivered 11 December 2002, Inaugurating the Institute for Name Studies’, JEPNS 35 (2002–3): 5–16 at pp. 14–15. See, for example, J. N. L. Myres, ‘Britain in the Dark Ages’, Antiquity 9 (1935): 455–64 at pp. 458–62. John McN. Dodgson, ‘The Significance of the Distribution of English Place-Names in -ingas and -inga- in South-East England’, MA 10 (1966): 27–54. Dodgson, ‘The Significance of the Distribution’, p. 19. For subsequent support see, for example, Barrie Cox, ‘The Significance of the Distribution of English Place-Names in -hām in the Midlands and East Anglia’, JEPNS 5 (1973): 15–73. For the location of Anglo-Saxon cemeteries see, for example, Sam Lucy, The Anglo-Saxon Way of Death (Stroud, 2000), pp. 152–3. The problems of cemetery location and place-names are briefly discussed by J. N. L. Myres, The English Settlements (Oxford, 1986), p. 38 fn. 2 and Martin Blake, ‘Assessing the Evidence for the Earliest Anglo-Saxon Place-Names in Bedfordshire’, JEPNS 32 (1999–2000): 5–20 at p. 8. While the spatial connection between comparatively small inhumation cemeteries and their settlements seems reasonably secure, large cremating cemeteries arguably served whole districts, so the settlements should be expected to lie at some distance. Margaret Gelling, ‘Place-Names and Anglo-Saxon Paganism’, University of Birmingham Historical Journal 8 (1961): 7–25. See also Margaret Gelling, ‘Further Thoughts on Pagan Place-Names’, in Otium et Negotium: Studies in Onomatology and Library Science Presented to Olof von Feilitzen, ed. Folke Sandgren (Stockholm, 1973), pp. 99–114.

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locations that had seen little missionary activity and where pagan worship had lasted the longest.48 By the mid-1970s, new relative chronologies of English place-names were being established.49 Using a similar methodology to Dodgson’s, Barrie Cox demonstrated that place-names in -hām (with the exception of those in -ingahām) tended to be associated with ancient trackways, Roman roads, Romano-British sites, or pagan Anglo-Saxon cemeteries and so belonged, he felt, to the pagan Anglo-Saxon period and might in some cases represent the takeover of Roman estate units.50 Likewise, Joost Kuurman demonstrated that places names in -ingahām were in general earlier than those in -ingas, effectively turning the earlier chronology on its head.51 The chronological revisions of the 1960s and early 1970s were capped in 1976 by Cox’s survey of all the place-names recorded in English sources from before 731 (the date of the completion of Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica).52 Cox found topographical names made up 56 per cent of his corpus of 221 place-names, with names in -eg representing the largest single group at some 9 per cent, going against earlier assumptions that habitative place-names tended to be coined earlier than topographical ones.53 His research also gave some precision to the relative chronologies then being established, suggesting names in -hām were in use from the early settlement period to the seventh century, whereas -ingas and -inga- belonged to the sixth century and later.54 Cox’s recognition of the importance of topographical names, in contrast to earlier dismissals of their utility, would be further confirmed by the work of Margaret Gelling and Ann Cole. In a series of ground-breaking studies, both individually and in partnership, Gelling and Cole demonstrated as never before the complexity and precision of Anglo-Saxon topographical vocabulary.55 As Gelling summarised, ‘the key to Anglo-Saxon topographical naming lies … in the precise use of words which get blanket translations like “hill” and “valley” in the impoverished modern English vocabulary.’56 The specific meaning of such names could only be understood when considered in their immediate topographical context and so field-work was the sine qua non of such studies. Thus dūn 48 49 50 51

52 53 54 55


Gelling, ‘Place-Names and Anglo-Saxon Paganism’, pp. 21–2. For discussion see Barrie Cox, ‘Aspects of Place-Name Evidence for Early Medieval Settlement in England’, Viator 11 (1980): 35–50. Cox, ‘The Significance of the Distribution’, p. 15. Joost Kuurman, ‘An Examination of the -ingas -inga- Place-Names in the East Midlands’, JEPNS 7 (1974–5): 11–44. See Gelling, Signposts, p. 112 for an assessment of the impact of the work of Cox and Kuurman. Barrie Cox, ‘The Place-Names of the Earliest English Records’, JEPNS 8 (1975–6): 12–66. Cox, ‘Place-Names of the Earliest English Records’, pp. 56–8. Cox, ‘Place-Names of the Earliest English Records’, p. 57. See, for example, Margaret Gelling, Place-Names in the Landscape (London, 1984), Ann Cole, ‘The Meaning of the OE Place-Name Element ōra’, JEPNS 21 (1989): 15–21 and Gelling and Cole, Landscape. Margaret Gelling, ‘Place-Names and Landscape’, in The Uses of Place-Names, ed. Simon Taylor (Edinburgh, 1998), pp. 75–100 at pp. 75–6.

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meant not simply ‘hill’ to the Anglo-Saxons but was used of low hills that had large, flat summits, and denu was not just ‘a valley’ but a long, gently sloped and often curving valley.57 As Ann Cole explores in Chapter 3, such was the consistency of this vocabulary across much of Anglo-Saxon England that place-names could themselves have acted as guides for travellers, even over considerable distances. Not all of Gelling and Cole’s definitions have been accepted without modification (see Della Hooke’s contribution, Chapter 8), but their approach has important implications for both how the Anglo-Saxons viewed and understood their own landscapes and how modern place-name scholars should approach their evidence. As Linda Corrigan’s contribution to this volume demonstrates (Chapter 6), a study of the place-names from a specific region, in this case south Cumbria, has the potential to show how the Anglo-Saxons themselves viewed an entire landscape. The topographical names speak of a landscape of hills and valleys, interspersed with stones and rocks (‘By such rocks/men killed Bloodaxe’).58 The advances of the 1960s to 1980s, then, brought about fundamental reorientation in the study of Anglo-Saxon place-names but it was not necessarily a reorientation welcomed by students of other disciplines. The dismantling of old certainties, particularly the chronologies of the earliest Anglo-Saxon placenames, seems to have put doubts in the minds of many scholars – most notably archaeologists – as to the ultimate value of place-name studies (see Simon Draper’s essay in Chapter 5 below). As Gelling observed, the accusation from those outside the discipline was ‘that toponymists were so prone to changing their minds that it was impossible to make use of place-name evidence’.59 Such attitudes were certainly curious, but Gelling’s rejoinder that ‘it was particularly unfair criticism from archaeologists, whose shifts of opinion are much more frequent, and in whose ranks there is much more division among contemporaries’ did little to ease interdisciplinary tensions, despite her contention that such debates and changes of opinion are characteristic of a ‘healthy discipline’.60 Fortunately, as Simon Draper explains, such tensions have eased considerably of late, thanks in part to a number of pioneering studies that combined both archaeological and place-name evidence, using one to inform the other. Draper’s own contribution to this volume likewise underscores the need for such interdisciplinarity and provides examples of the forms it might take. Nevertheless, as he acknowledges, the methodological problems remain considerable.

Scandinavian Place-Names in England In comparison to those originating in Old English, the place-names deriving in whole or in part from the Scandinavian languages have historically received significantly less scholarly attention, due partly, no doubt, to their lower impact 57 58 59 60

Gelling, ‘Place-Names and Landscape’, pp. 98–9. Basil Bunting, ‘Briggflatts’, Complete Poems (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2000), p. 62. Gelling, Signposts, pp. 12–13. Gelling, Signposts, p. 13.

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on the corpus of place-names in England.61 Names of this type are found predominantly in northern and eastern England in areas settled by Scandinavians in the ninth and tenth centuries, although, as is explored below, the precise relationship between settlement and the coining of these place-names has been the subject of considerable debate.62 In general scholarship has focused most on three types of Scandinavian place-names: those in which a Scandinavian specific is compounded with the Old English generic -tūn (farmstead, settlement); those in which a Scandinavian or Old English specific is compounded with the Scandinavian generic -bý (settlement); and those containing the Scandinavian generic -thorp (secondary settlement). Anglo-Saxon authors were aware that the Scandinavian conquests and colonisation of the ninth to the eleventh centuries had resulted in new types of place-names and new names for existing settlements. The tenth-century chronicler, Fabius Æthelweard, famously noted the place called Northworthig by the Anglo-Saxons was called ‘in the Danish language Derby [Deoraby]’.63 The contribution of the Scandinavian languages to the place-names of England also continued to be recognised across the Middle Ages; in the thirteenth century, for example, Snorri Sturluson equally famously noted ‘many place names in that land [sc. Northumbria] have Scandinavian forms, such as Grimsby, Hauksfljót, and many others’.64 However, antiquarian researchers of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries were often unaware of the contribution of Scandinavian place-names, so underplayed their significance in favour of Anglo-Saxon ones (or supposedly AngloSaxon ones). William Camden would note occasionally that certain places were renamed by the Danes when they conquered or that the coining of their names reflected Danish influence of some kind, such as his suggestion that Godmanchester in Cambridgeshire (pre-1974, Huntingdonshire) was named by the Saxons ‘from the Dane Gormone, to whom our Alfred granted that province when peace had been agreed’.65 In later editions, Camden also observed the numerous place-names in -bý in Lincolnshire and elsewhere, though he did not think such names to be distinctively Danish, noting ‘in Saxon Bye signifies an habitation’ and that the name Kettelus from which Kettleby was supposedly derived ‘was very common among the Danes and Saxons’.66 Similarly, although Richard Verstegan discussed in some detail the Scandinavian conquests of

61 62 63 64 65 66

As an indication of the differing amounts of scholarship, compare the discussion of Old English place-names with Scandinavian ones in Gelling, Signposts. See also Linda Corrigan’s contribution, Chapter 6 below. Æthelweard, Chronicon IV 2; The Chronicle of Æthelweard, ed. A. Campbell (London, 1962), p. 35. Interestingly, Whitby remains Streoneshealh in Æthelweard’s text, II 8 p. 20. Lee M. Hollander, trans., Snorri Sturluson: Heimskringla, History of the Kings of Norway (Austin, TX, 1964), p. 98. Hauksfljót is no longer identifiable. William Camden, Britannia (London, 1586), p. 281: ‘a Gormone dano, cui has prouincias cum pax conuenisset, Alfredus noster concessit.’ William Camden, Britannia: Newly Translated into English, ed. Edmund Gibson (London, 1695), p. 471.


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England in his Restitution of Decayed Intelligence,67 he neglected the Viking contribution to place-names (although he did explore Danish surnames),68 apparently because he believed that Scandinavian colonisation had made no real impact to the ethnic make-up of England and that the Anglo-Saxon and Danish languages were essentially one.69 The first detailed discussion of Scandinavian place-names was that of J. J. A. Worsaae in his Minder om de Danske og Nordmændene i England, Skotland og Irland translated into English in 1852 as An Account of the Danes and Norwegians in England, Scotland, and Ireland.70 This work included a chapter entitled ‘Danish-Norwegian Names of Places’, in which he noted the clear differences between place-names in the north and south of England and explored how Scandinavian elements – principally -bý, -thorp, and -thwaite – began to occur in place-names from around the Thames and increased in frequency the further north one looked.71 Worsaae’s account was predominantly descriptive, noting, for example, the frequency of Scandinavian place-names in England that included a personal name element and discussing a number of these. He did, however, make some suggestions as to the historical significance of these placenames. The geographical distribution of Scandinavian place-names implied, for Worsaae, that ‘colonization has clearly been the greatest near the coasts and along the rivers; it had its central point in Lincolnshire … and the ancient Northumberland’ and differences in the distribution of the various place-name elements might be explained in part by the underlying topography and in part by the ethnic make-up of the colonisers.72 The Scandinavian place-name evidence was subsequently employed – albeit somewhat patchily and with wildly differing levels of expertise – by the majority of nineteenth-century Anglo-Saxon scholars. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, for example, John Richard Green used the evidence provided by placenames to trace Scandinavian settlement in the Danelaw, noting, amongst other things, that in Yorkshire such place-names ‘cluster most thickly … in the dales that break the wild tract of moorland along the coast from Whitby to the Tees Valley’.73 Likewise, Green noted the absence of names in -bý in the western parts of what had been Mercia and suggested that this reflected those areas of

67 68

69 70

71 72 73

Verstegan, Restitution, pp. 155–65. Verstegan, Restitution, pp. 302–3. In his discussion of Saxon surnames, on p. 284, Verstegan assumed names ending in -by, such as Kirkby or Holtby, expressed ‘neer vnto what thing of note the resydence of such a familie was, when this their surname first began’. Verstegan, Restitution, pp. 183, 187. For brief discussion see Gillian Fellows-Jensen, The Vikings and Their Victims: The Verdict of the Names (London, 1995), p. 6. J. J. A. Worsaae, An Account of the Danes and Norwegians in England, Scotland, and Ireland (London, 1852); see also Eilert Ekwall, ‘The Scandinavian Element’, in Introduction to the Survey of English Place-Names, ed. A. Mawer and F. M. Stenton, 2 parts EPNS 1 (Cambridge, 1924, repr. 1969), I. pp. 55–92 at p. 55. Worsaae, An Account, p. 67. Worsaae, An Account, pp. 72–6. John Richard Green, The Conquest of England (London, 1883), p. 116.

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the kingdom that had remained under the rule of the Anglo-Saxon king, Ceolwulf, when the rest of Mercia was subjected to Danish rule.74 As Frank Stenton observed, however, it was only from the beginning of the twentieth century, with the work of Walter Skeat, William Duignan and, most importantly, Eilert Ekwall, that systematic and detailed study began of the corpus of Scandinavian place-names in England.75 Ekwall’s contribution to the first volume of the English Place-Name Society discussed the general outlines of the corpus, stressing the importance of names in -bý and -thorp, and explored the geographical spread of the names, noting some of the difficulties of interpretation that such distribution presented.76 The results of the early county survey volumes of the English Place-Name Society and the work of a number of British and European scholars were subsequently synthesised by Ekwall in his chapter in H. C. Darby’s An Historical Geography of England before AD 1800, a contribution that still remains one of the best introductory guides to the geographical spread of Scandinavian place-names in England.77 For the most part, Ekwall offered simply an account of place-name types and their distributions and densities in the various regions of England, interspersed with occasional references to their relationship to the Roman road network and the underlying topography of the region. He ended his discussion with a consideration of some of the questions place-name evidence was not able to answer, most importantly for Ekwall were ‘those dealing with the numbers of settlers and with the nature of their settlements’.78 Whilst the density of place-names suggested to Ekwall that Scandinavians must have settled in significant numbers and were unlikely to have assimilated quickly with existing communities, greater precision was problematic and for possible answers he turned instead to the work of Frank Stenton on the sokemen of the Domesday Book and the evidence of twelfth- and thirteenth-century charters.79 Stenton himself would later suggest a number of ways in which the placename evidence might answer some of the questions posed by Ekwall. His Presidential Lecture read before the Royal Historical Society in 1941 offered a useful summary of the state of Scandinavian place-name studies to that point and provided his own take on the evidence.80 He stressed, for example, the need to take into account the names of fields, forests and farms when assessing the density of Scandinavian settlement in a particular area, noting that if village

74 75

76 77 78 79 80

Green, The Conquest of England, p. 121. F. M. Stenton, ‘Presidential Address: The Historical Bearing of Place-Name Studies: The Danish Settlement of Eastern England’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 4th series 24 (1942): 1–24 at pp. 1–3. Ekwall, ‘The Scandinavian Element’. Eilert Ekwall, ‘The Scandinavian Settlement’, in An Historical Geography of England before AD 1800: Fourteen Studies, ed. H. C. Darby (Cambridge, 1936), pp. 133–64. Ekwall, ‘The Scandinavian Settlement’, p. 160. Ekwall, ‘The Scandinavian Settlement’, pp. 160–2. Stenton, ‘The Danish Settlement of Eastern England’.

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names alone were used such settlement would be seriously underestimated.81 Stenton also offered a chronology of Scandinavian place-names in England, based in part on their geographical distribution, and suggested some of the ways in which the place-names might reveal something of the nature of the Scandinavian settlement. The tendency of names in -bý to cluster in large groups suggested to Stenton ‘the conditions of an age when the Danish settlers in England still felt themselves strangers in a hostile land’.82 Personal names compounded with -bý to form place-names, something far more common in England than in Scandinavia, represented the settlement of military groups, with the name of the group’s leader becoming the name of the settlement itself (parallels with the then current understandings of Anglo-Saxon place-names in -ingas were implicit).83 For Stenton, such names ‘give the best illustration that can now be found of the way in which the Danish settlement of eastern England was carried out’.84 Names in -thorp, by contrast, belonged to a secondary phase of colonisation, as satellite foundations from earlier settlements, and originated in the late tenth and eleventh centuries rather than the initial period of Scandinavian settlement.85 Stenton had little to say here of the evidence provided by hybrid place-names, pointing readers instead to the discussion in the English Place-Name Society’s The Place-Names of Nottinghamshire.86 In this volume Stenton, together with Allen Mawer and J. E. B. Gover, had suggested placenames comprising a Scandinavian personal name compounded with the Old English -tūn (the so-called ‘Grimston-hybrids’) ‘denoted an English village acquired by a Danish owner at the time when the Great Army of the Danes divided out the land which it had chosen for settlement’.87 Over the next few decades it would be the work of Kenneth Cameron and later Gillian Fellows-Jensen that would take forward discussions of Scandinavian place-names in England, though their work would in many ways respect the conclusions of Ekwall, Stenton and others – at least initially. Cameron’s work developed an approach to the place-names that put geography, and particularly the underlying drift geology, at the centre of discussions. In the late 1950s, he first drew attention to the fact that the Grimston-hybrids in Derbyshire were most often situated on prime agricultural land and in areas where there were few other Scandinavian place-names.88 These factors suggested to Cameron that the hybrid names represented, for the most part, the taking-over by Scandinavians 81

82 83 84 85 86 87 88

Stenton, ‘The Danish Settlement of Eastern England’, p. 4. This recognition of the importance of field-names was in some ways counter to the prevailing outlook of the English Place-Name Society; see Gelling ‘English Place-Name Studies’, pp. 10–11. Gelling ‘English Place-Name Studies’, p. 12. Gelling ‘English Place-Name Studies’, pp. 12–16. Gelling ‘English Place-Name Studies’, p. 12. Gelling ‘English Place-Name Studies’, pp. 11–12. Gelling ‘English Place-Name Studies’, p. 10. J. E. B. Gover, Allen Mawer and F. M. Stenton, PNNottinghamshire EPNS XVII (Cambridge, 1940), p. xix. Kenneth Cameron, ‘The Scandinavians in Derbyshire: The Place-Name Evidence’, Nottingham Medieval Studies 2 (1958): 86–118 at p. 91.

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of existing English settlements and so belonged to a phase of expansion later than the period of primary Scandinavian settlement.89 Following earlier work, Cameron accepted that names in -bý represented the earliest phase of settlement and the relative scarcity of such names led him to propose a smaller Scandinavian settlement in Derbyshire than in other areas of the Danelaw.90 Cameron expanded the basic conclusions he reached in this 1958 article in a series of studies in the 1960s and 1970s. By this time, however, placename studies was beginning to feel the impact of a series of archaeological and historical works – most notably those by Peter Sawyer – that sought to overturn existing ideas about the density of Scandinavian settlement and colonisation in England.91 While Stenton and his contemporaries had interpreted the place-names on the assumption that the Viking armies of the ninth century had comprised thousands of men, Sawyer argued that ‘there are in fact some indications that to number even the great Danish armies in thousands would be wrong’.92 Sawyer’s work led Cameron to propose two separate phases of Scandinavian settlement in England. The first was the settlement of members of the so-called Great Viking Army that conquered the majority of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms over the course of the second half of the ninth century; the second wave – otherwise unattested – were immigrants from Scandinavia coming in the wake of the military conquest.93 Though Cameron was cautious about assigning any particular type of place-name specifically to either of these two groups, he felt that a case could be made for the Grimston-hybrids being the earliest, with names in -bý belonging to the secondary wave of colonisation.94 Place-names in -bý tended to occur in less fertile and less productive areas – as indicated by the underlying drift geology – and so were, Cameron thought, likely to represent villages newly established by Scandinavian colonisers forced to occupy more marginal land as existing settlements were already present on the best lands.95 Given that Grimston-hybrids occupied more fertile and productive areas of land and could in general be found in regions lacking place-names in -bý but 89 90 91

92 93 94


Cameron, ‘The Scandinavians in Derbyshire’, p. 92. Cameron, ‘The Scandinavians in Derbyshire’, pp. 88–99. See, for example, P. H. Sawyer, ‘The Density of Danish Settlement in England’, University of Birmingham Historical Journal 6 (1957–8): 1–17, and The Age of the Vikings (London, 1962). For discussion of the impact of such work on place-name studies see Gelling, Signposts, pp. 220–2 and Lesley Abrams and David N. Parsons, ‘Place-Names and the History of Scandinavian Settlement in England’, in Land, Sea and Home, ed. John Hines, Alan Lane and Mark Redknap (Leeds, 2004), pp. 379–431 at pp. 384–6: this latter work offers a far more detailed consideration of the study of Scandinavian place-names in England from the mid-twentieth to early twenty-first centuries than is possible in this introduction. Sawyer, ‘The Density of Danish Settlement’, p. 5. Kenneth Cameron, Scandinavian Settlement in the Territory of the Five Boroughs: The Place-Name Evidence (Nottingham, 1965), pp. 14–15. Kenneth Cameron, ‘Scandinavian Settlement in the Territory of the Five Boroughs: The Place-Name Evidence Part III, the Grimston Hybrids’, in England before the Conquest: Studies in Primary Sources Presented to Dorothy Whitelock, ed. Peter Clemoes and Kathleen Hughes (Cambridge, 1971), pp. 147–163 at pp. 162–3. Cameron, Scandinavian Settlement.

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abounding in Anglo-Saxon place-names, for Cameron they could be understood, at least in part, as English settlements taken over by members of the Viking armies of the ninth century, a position in many ways similar to that outlined by Stenton in the 1940s.96 Cameron’s conclusions were effectively supported by Fellows-Jensen’s 1976 study Scandinavian Settlement Names in Yorkshire: the majority of the Grimston-hybrids represent Scandinavian takeover of existing settlements, names in -bý represent colonisation of unsettled and more marginal lands, and names in -thorp and other habitative names ‘seem to derive on the whole from a later period, when there was an increase in the amount of land under exploitation’.97 Fellows-Jensen suggested, however, that some of the Grimston-hybrids actually called Grimston or similar might be named for the poor or marginal location of the settlement, rather than for the person who took them over, and may have been, quite literally, ‘grim’ places.98 By 1978, however, Fellows-Jensen felt that recent historical and archaeological work stressing the density of pre-existing Anglo-Saxon settlement and the relative antiquity of late Anglo-Saxon parochial boundaries necessitated the partial rethinking of these conclusions.99 Whilst some of the place-names in -bý were the result of a secondary phase of colonisation, occupying marginal land, for Fellows-Jensen it seemed ‘likely that most of the bys result either from fragmentation of old estates with the detachment of small units of settlement from their old estate centre, or from the reclamation of land once occupied by the English but subsequently deserted and allowed to run to waste’.100 Likewise, the high frequency of personal names in Scandinavian place-names in England was the result not so much of land being parcelled out at the time of conquest but of increasing levels of small-scale private land-ownership and the active land market of the tenth century. The Viking conquest and settlement had led to a fundamental reorganisation of the patterns of land-ownership and tenure and this was reflected in the place-names.101 Fellows-Jensen’s observations about the names in -bý were part of a more widespread reconsideration of the significance of Scandinavian settlement in England and in particular whether or not place-names could act as a straightforward index of the density of Scandinavian settlement.102 As mentioned briefly

96 97 98 99 100 101 102

Cameron, ‘Scandinavian Settlement’, pp. 162–3, and ‘The Significance of English PlaceNames’, Proceedings of the British Academy 62 (1976): 135–55. Gillian Fellows-Jensen, Scandinavian Settlement Names in Yorkshire (Copenhagen, 1972), p. 251. Fellows-Jensen, Scandinavian Settlement Names in Yorkshire, pp. 202–3. Gillian Fellows-Jensen, Scandinavian Settlement Names in the East Midlands (Copenhagen, 1978), p. 368. Fellows-Jensen, Scandinavian Settlement Names in the East Midlands, p. 369. Fellows-Jensen, Scandinavian Settlement Names in the East Midlands, pp. 371–2. For general discussion see Simon Trafford, ‘Ethnicity, Migration Theory, and the Historiogaphy of the Scandinavian Settlement of England’, in Cultures in Contact: Scandinavian Settlement in England in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries, ed. Dawn M. Hadley and Julian D. Richards (Turnhout, 2000), pp. 17–33.

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above, doubts about the traditional picture of extensive Scandinavian settlement in the ninth century had been raised since the 1950s but the final decades of the twentieth century saw a more thorough-going reconsideration of the traditional narrative. For Stenton and others, the apparent social, governmental and tenurial peculiarities of the Danelaw as revealed in Domesday Book and other sources – in particular the high numbers of freemen (‘sokemen’) – were a direct result of the density of Scandinavian settlement in that region. As Stenton put it: ‘it seems certain that the sokemen of the Danelaw represent, as a class, the rank and file of the Scandinavian armies which had settled this district in the ninth century.’103 Sawyer first questioned this certainty in the 1950s and by the end of the twentieth century there had been a series of studies that both stressed the continuity of pre-Viking social and legal systems in the Danelaw and challenged perceived differences between the institutions of the Danelaw and the rest of Anglo-Saxon England.104 Such differences as did exist should be explained not as the result of Scandinavian settlement per se but, as Dawn Hadley has summarised recently, as resulting from ‘the disruption of landholding and lordship in the wake of the Scandinavian and West Saxon conquests; large numbers of vills with divided lordship; the large and scattered nature of many estates; a vigorous land-market, and the low-level of ecclesiastical land-holdings, as these are all factors that may have undermined the capacity of lords … to burden the local peasantry’.105 It was to these factors, rather than Scandinavian settlement, that scholars in the latter part of the twentieth century – particularly those outside the discipline of place-name studies – increasingly attributed the coining of Scandinavian place-names.106 Sawyer, for example, observed that ‘areas recovered [sic] from the Scandinavians early in the tenth century, or retained by English land-owners, have fewer Scandinavian place names than most parts of the Danelaw’.107 For Sawyer, this suggested that Scandinavian place-names, especially those containing personal names, were less the result of the initial Viking settlement in a region than the product of processes of estate fragmentation and increasing private ownership of land beginning in the early tenth century and facilitated by the weakening authority of the Scandinavian aristocracy in the face of West Saxon conquest.108 Although Fellows-Jensen rejected Sawyer’s attempts to minimise the density of Scandinavian settlement, writing in 1994 she felt his dating of estate fragmentation to the first half of the tenth century to be attractive and

103 104 105 106 107 108

F. M. Stenton, The Free Peasantry of the Northern Danelaw (Oxford, 1926), p. 79. Trafford, ‘Ethnicity, Migration Theory’, p. 20 and Dawn M. Hadley, The Vikings in England: Settlement, Society and Culture (Manchester, 2006), pp. 88–92. Hadley, The Vikings in England, p. 89. For a summary of this type of approach see Julian D. Richards, Viking Age England (Stroud, 2000; repr. 2007), pp. 60–1. P. H. Sawyer, Kings and Vikings: Scandinavia and Europe, AD 700–1100 (London, 1982; repr. 1989), p. 104. Sawyer, Kings and Vikings, pp. 103–7.

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asserted her belief ‘that the majority of the Scandinavian place-names in the Danelaw were coined fairly early in the tenth century’.109 Other challenges to the mid-century orthodoxy were also made. Hadley, for example, has questioned Cameron’s ‘simplistic binary division of the landscape into areas of primary settlement and areas of secondary settlement on so-called marginal land’, noting that supposedly marginal land could still provide important resources for the local economy.110 Similar ideas are raised by Richard Watson in Chapter 7 of this volume, with particular reference to the resources provided by the wetlands of Amounderness. Watson’s chapter also emphasises the need to separate Scandinavian place-names coined in the twelfth and thirteenth century from those of the Anglo-Saxon period, suggesting it is these much later names that represent truly marginal settlements. More recently, some of the assumptions underlying revisionist approaches of the second half of the twentieth century have been subject to criticism. Lesley Abrams and David Parsons’ recent survey of place-names in -bý concluded that such names ‘arose in a predominantly Norse-speaking environment’ rather than one ‘in which the local English language ha[d] already been heavily marked by Norse loan words’.111 Though only a small number of the names in -bý preserved Scandinavian inflexional endings – near conclusive proof, as Abrams and Parsons noted, of their coining by Scandinavian speakers – in general, names in -bý were far more likely to have Scandinavian specifics than English ones and the ratio of Scandinavian personal names to English in these place-names was considerably higher than the ratio of Domesday landholders with Scandinavian names to landholders with English names.112 Abrams and Parsons also challenged the assumption of Sawyer and Fellows-Jensen that personal names compounded with -bý were the result of processes of estate fragmentation and increased private ownership beginning in the early tenth century. Exploring the written evidence, such as it is, for the early phases of Scandinavian settlement and colonisation, they felt there was no compelling need to posit a pause between the initial settlement and the break-up of estates.113 This volume comes, then, at a particularly significant moment in the study of place-names in England. Whereas at the beginning of the twentieth century the interpretation of place-names was dominated by questions concerning social history – in particular the mapping of migrating peoples – and placename studies themselves were seen very much as the servant of history, by the end of the twentieth century it had become a discipline in its own right with


110 111 112 113

Gillian Fellows-Jensen, ‘Danish Place-Names and Personal Names in England. The Influence of Cnut’, in The Reign of Cnut: King of England, Denmark, and Norway, ed. Alexander R. Rumble (London, 1994), pp. 125–140 at p. 140. See also her The Vikings and their Victims: The Verdict of the Names (London, 1995), particularly pp. 16–17. D. M. Hadley, ‘“And they proceeded to plough and to support themselves”: The Scandinavians in England’, Anglo-Norman Studies 19 (1997): 69–96 at p. 71. Abrams and Parsons, ‘Place-Names and History’, p. 398. Abrams and Parsons, ‘Place-Names and History’, p. 398. Abrams and Parsons, ‘Place-Names and History’, pp. 404–10.

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its own research questions and interests. It would be wrong to claim that the landscape occupied a central place in such research but a general trend of the twentieth and early twenty-first century has been the increasing recognition of the extent to which place-names can inform our understanding of the landscape. No doubt there is much more to be discovered. The Scandinavian placenames in particular have been relatively underutilised in this respect, though, as Gillian Fellows-Jensen explores in her contribution (Chapter 4), the corpus clearly rewards further study. Though scholarly attention has tended to focus on the place-names in -bý that have personal names as specifics, there are a not insignificant number whose specifics may shed light on the landscape context of the settlements they name.

Charters, Laws, and the Anglo-Saxon Landscape The changes in place-name studies reflect and respond to wider changes in scholarly approaches to the Anglo-Saxon period. Of particular significance to this volume is, of course, the growth of landscape history as a discipline.114 The basic lineations of the development of this discipline over the course of the twentieth century are well known and the chief landmark is the publication in 1955 of W. G. Hoskins’ The Making of the English Landscape.115 The importance of Hoskins’ book cannot be overemphasised, particularly its impact outside the scholarly community,116 but the systematic study of at least aspects of the English landscape was well established amongst historians and geographers by the time that he came to write.117 Nevertheless, the sense that the landscape and man’s interaction with it could, in and of itself, form the subject of study owed much to Hoskins’ work.118 Although Hoskins himself had relatively little to say about the Anglo-Saxon landscape, he recognised that one particular type of source – the charter boundary clause – had considerable potential to illuminate the Anglo-Saxon landscape.119 Although brief details of the boundaries of the lands being granted had been included in some of the earliest Anglo-Saxon charters, from the late eighth century charters included increasingly detailed perambulations of estates, first

114 115

116 117 118 119

For landscape archaeology see Higham, ‘The Landscape Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England: An Introduction’, in Landscape Archaeology, ed. Higham and Ryan, pp. 00–00. W. G. Hoskins, The Making of the English Landscape (London, 1951); for general discussion see the survey by Della Hooke, ‘“Landscape History” and Current Trends in Landscape Studies’, JEPNS 15 (1982–83): 33–52. Christopher Taylor, ‘The Making of the English Landscape and Beyond: Inspiration and Dissemination’, Landscapes 6 (2005): 96–104. Hooke, ‘“Landscape History”’, pp. 33–5 and N. J. Higham, A Frontier Landscape: The North West in the Middle Ages (Macclesfield, 2004), p. 7. Hooke, ‘“Landscape History”’, p. 35. Hoskins, The Making, pp. 45–50.

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in Latin and then, by the ninth century, in the vernacular.120 The key to utilising the information contained in these boundary clauses is to a large degree the ‘solving’ of them, that is the identification of the features mentioned in the clause with features still surviving in the modern-day landscape or features identifiable by other means, particularly historical maps. In the latter part of the twentieth century, the work of Della Hooke in particular has put the study of Anglo-Saxon charter bounds and their resolution on firm methodological footings and in so doing allowed, in her words, ‘a partial reconstruction to be made of much of the landscape of Anglo-Saxon England’.121 Solutions can, however, be considerably more complex than the identification of landmarks. As Peter Stokes’ contribution (Chapter 10) reminds us, behind the simple texts of modern editions can lie a much more complex textual history and an interrogation of the researches of early modern antiquarians has the potential to provide important additional source material. Complexities of transmission and preservation are particularly acute for those boundary clauses that survive independently of charters – a not insignificant corpus. In his exploration of the estates of the minster at Crediton (Chapter 9), Duncan Probert demonstrates that even when the location of a particular boundary clause has been determined, understanding precisely what it was the boundary of remains problematic. As both Stokes’ and Probert’s chapters also make clear, the static portrait of the landscape provided by boundary clauses can obscure considerable changes in the nature and extent of estates and other territorial units. The Anglo-Saxon landscape was a shifting one, shaped according to man’s needs. Man’s impact on the landscape and his use of it, is the focus of Della Hooke’s chapter (Chapter 8), one that likewise draws extensively on the charter record. As Nick Higham has noted, scholarly attitudes to the woodlands of AngloSaxon England changed considerably over the course of the second half of the twentieth century.122 Assessments of the extent and nature of early medieval woodland must, however, be cognisant of the uses to which those woods and forests were put. Hooke’s paper demonstrates the ways in which the charter record can be utilised to further understandings of this exploitation of woodland resources in the Anglo-Saxon period. As she shows, the woods and forests of early medieval England were not unfriendly and forbidding wildernesses but places integral to the economic, and perhaps social, lives of the Anglo-Saxons and were a managed, rather than a natural, landscape. If the majority of studies of the Anglo-Saxon landscape have – perhaps unsurprisingly – focused on the rural landscape, it is nevertheless important to recognise the impact of a new wave of urbanisation in the mid- to late AngloSaxon period. Though Anglo-Saxon England had had important trading centres since the seventh century, the boroughs that were founded in the ninth and tenth 120

121 122

See, for example, F. M. Stenton, The Latin Charters of the Anglo-Saxon Period (Oxford, 1955), p. 56 and, more recently, Kathryn A. Lowe, ‘The Development of the AngloSaxon Boundary clause’ Nomina 21 (1998): 63–100. Della Hooke, Worcestershire Anglo-Saxon Charter Bounds (Woodbridge, 1990), p. 1. Higham, ‘The Landscape Archaeology’, pp. 2–5.

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centuries as fortified centres capable of resisting the Vikings signalled the arrival of something rather different. Although many were on navigable rivers and/or road intersections, often where Roman towns had been sited earlier, so served trade routes, they were not necessarily ports of entry. They seem to have been intended from the beginning to have permanent residents, as well as providing a refuge for country dwellers round about in times of need, and quickly came to offer regulated markets capable of exchanging farm produce for other goods and services, with mints proliferating during the tenth century to lubricate exchange. The burgeoning towns also provided focal points for a variety of governmental, judicial and social activities which drew members of local society together at regular intervals to attend meetings of one kind or another. The shiring of much of England occurred hand-in-hand with the formation of towns, with the establishment of taxation and other forms of obligation to the state alongside, which again had major implications for communities in the countryside around. Dorn Van Dommelen’s contribution to this volume (Chapter 12) explores, principally through the evidence provided by law-codes, the social transformation of AngloSaxon England that was a consequence of this urbanisation. The partitioning of territories was, he argues, not simply a matter of administrative convenience but was intended to bring about profound social change and facilitate the creation of legal collectivities. The impact of the so-called ‘Spatial Turn’ has not yet been fully felt in Anglo-Saxon studies,123 but, as Van Dommelen reminds us, the lived environment of an individual or group exerted a profound effect. Landscape changed the Anglo-Saxons, just as the Anglo-Saxons changed the landscape. The contributions to this volume are not necessarily linked by any particular methodological approach or by any specific subject matter, rather, they respond to and, it is hoped, further emphasise, the potential of language for understanding the complexities of the Anglo-Saxon landscape. They offer an indication of the richness of the surviving source materials, re-evaluate old problems and suggest new solutions, but most importantly pose new questions and explore new approaches.


For an exploration of the meanings and implication of the Spatial Turn see, for example, the essays in Barney Warf and Santa Arias, eds, The Spatial Turn: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (London, 2008).

2 The Landscape of Place-Name Studies Alexander R. Rumble

Landscape Studies and Place-Names


hose concerned with the study and interpretation of place-names in England have for a long time recognised the importance of locating the names within their topographical context. They have also advocated the use of place-names as clues to lost features of the landscape. Thus, already in 1924 in the Introduction to the Survey of English Place-Names, W. J. Sedgefield observed: in many cases a knowledge of local configuration will be of great help. It may enable us to decide, for example, between confused suffixes. Thus when early forms leave us in doubt whether the original suffix was -hale or -hill, a knowledge of the actual local conditions may resolve our hesitation at once … place-names sometimes record a church or other building which has long ceased to exist. In other cases evidence of a different condition of the surface of the country-side is furnished; for example, of a forest which is now agricultural land or of a fen or moor which no longer exists.1

However, despite Sedgefield’s positive statement, and although it appears selfevident to most medievalists today, the general relevance of place-names to studies of historical topography has only comparatively recently been acknowledged by those outside onomastics. It is particularly noteworthy that W. G. Hoskins’ pioneering book The Making of the English Landscape did not include ‘place-names’ as a category in its index and that in 1955 he could state: the Old English have left us with almost no word at all about the kind of landscape they found on arrival, that they set out to reclaim from the natural wilderness. They had no eye for scenery, any more than other hard-working farmers of later centuries.2



W. J. Sedgefield, ‘Methods of Place-Name Study’, in Introduction to the Survey of English Place-Names, ed. A. Mawer and F. M. Stenton, 2 parts, EPNS 1 (Cambridge, 1924, repr. 1969), I, pp. 1–14, at p. 11. W. G. Hoskins, The Making of the English Landscape (London, 1955), p. 46.

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Hoskins appears at this time to have been wary of engaging closely with the onomastic evidence. In his subsequent work Local History in England he again included a serious warning to the local historian on the subject: The study of place-names is highly specialised. The meaning of a place-name may look obvious to an amateur and he may think himself safe in making a guess. But even the most obvious guess is quite likely to be wrong, for unless we know the earliest forms of a given name, and the way they have developed throughout history, we cannot possibly know what the original meaning of the name was. Even a simple name like Ashton, which the amateur would assume to mean ‘ash-tree farm’, may well have originated as Easton, meaning ‘the eastern farm’ in relation to some other and probably older settlement.… Few subjects contain so many pitfalls as the study of place-names.3

Although a certain amount of caution is justified on the part of local historians utilising onomastic evidence, it is foolish to be so cautious as to avoid it altogether as Hoskins almost seemed in these two passages to be advising. Happily, his later book Fieldwork in Local History was rather more encouraging of the use of place-name evidence by the amateur researcher. This book included a full chapter on ‘Place-Names and Topography’ which opened with the following statement: All place-names have a meaning, and a great number of them tell us something about the early history of a place. Few names are totally uninformative. Many offer useful clues for further fieldwork if used with a little imagination. A high proportion of place-names (including names of farms where they are ancient) include a topographical element, and topography implies exploration in the field.4

A note of warning is still sounded at the end of the following paragraph, however, but it is not quite so off-putting as before: In no field is guesswork so dangerous as that of place-names. The expert is not invariably right, but one should have a good reason for differing from him in the interpretation of a name.5

Not all geographers for their part have been chary of making use of placenames but the authors of some textbooks for the discipline have often tended to ‘cherry pick’ examples in order to illustrate regional variations in geology or topography which were already known to them from other evidence; in the past this process has not always been done accurately, however, as the authors often relied on modern spellings of elements and did not always check the etymology of each individual name cited.6 A notable exception to this was H. C. Darby, 3 4 5 6

W. G. Hoskins, Local History in England (London, 1959), p. 10. W. G. Hoskins, Fieldwork in Local History (London, 1967), p. 77. Hoskins, Fieldwork, p. 77. For an example of such utilisation of seemingly ‘distinctive’ place-name elements as examples to illustrate descriptions of contrasting regions of rural settlement in the British

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latterly Hon. President of the English Place-Name Society (EPNS), who in 1963 studied place-names in relation to soil-types and earlier landscapes in southern England, making use of available published onomastic materials.7 Judging from recently published monographs and articles in the journal Landscape History, those who have followed in Hoskins’ footsteps in the study of landscape history have proved more ready to learn from up-to-date place-name scholarship, but some authors are still occasionally unwilling to employ all the required conventions of presentation. Thus, Richard Muir, in his book The New Reading the Landscape, has included several lists of place-name elements but without any indication of the different periods at which they were current (see Table 2.1).8 Besides a selection of OE forms, Muir has given here some (like ‘Brooks’ and ‘Trade’) in an apparent Modern English dialect form though this is not specifically stated. Similarly, the spelling ‘OE sā’ given here is an East Anglian form rather than the more general sǣ,9 though this is not noted. One might also ask why the earlier forms of words are given only intermittently in Muir’s table and why no indications of date of usage are supplied. While it is excellent that books on landscape should increasingly use and draw attention to place-names, it is still desirable that essential details are not omitted as though irrelevant to the perceived ‘non-specialist’ audience of such books. Table 2.1.  Place-name evidence in wetland settings as presented by Richard Muir, The New Reading the Landscape (Exeter, 2000), p. 57: Table 2.4 Name Inning Wick Fleet (OE flēot) Pool Sea (OE sā) Brooks Eye (OE ēg) Trade Waller, Weller   (OE weller) Salt


8 9

Interpretation Area of reclaimed land behind sea walls in East Anglia and the south-east This word can have many meanings, but in southern salt marsh settings it can denote the site of the hut and milking place of a medieval shepherd. An estuary or inlet. May derive from an Old English word denoting a tidal creek or from different words denoting pools or mires. Sea. Local name for Sussex salt marshes. Higher island in salt marsh. Trackway, often on a sea wall in Pevensey Levels etc. Salt boiler, denoting salt works These names are very common and will generally relate to salt workings rather than sea water.

Isles, see The British Isles: A Systematic Geography, ed. J Wreford Watson with J. B. Sissons, published for the 20th International Geographical Congress, United Kingdom 1964 (Edinburgh and London, 1964), pp. 358–79, passim. ‘Place-Names and the Geography of the Past’, Early English and Norse Studies Presented to Hugh Smith in Honour of his Sixtieth Birthday, ed. Arthur Brown and Peter Foote (London, 1963), pp. 6–18. Richard Muir, The New Reading the Landscape (Exeter, 2000), p. 57. EPN, II.93.

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The Relevance of Place-Names to Studies of the Anglo-Saxon Landscape Particularly for the early medieval period, it is important to distinguish ‘landscape’ from human settlement, the latter being only one aspect of an existing environment with an underlying physical topography and which is also a habitat for animals and birds. However, we also need to see the Anglo-Saxon landscape as a dynamic entity, not a static one, and to recognise that many changes were made to it by humans throughout the period c. 400–1100 by the creation of routeways, boundaries and markers, through the expansion and movement of settlements and cultivated areas, and by the diminution or management of woodland, to mention only a few instances. The Anglo-Saxon mentality of place was limited by the lack of mobility of the majority of the population. There was an absence of maps which could provide a picture of the spatial relationships between places,10 and therefore a need for local human guides through unfamiliar territory when one did want to go somewhere distant.11 Probably though, most of those who travelled often only went to a few selected places: to market, for example, or to a neighbouring estate. The exceptions were the merchants, travelling by water and land; the king and his retinue; some royal agents; nobles and their retinues; senior ecclesiastics and their retinues; and soldiers on campaign. The general lack of mobility aided the stability of local place-names in most of England over many generations. However, the incursions of the Danes and Norwegians in the later part of the period must have expunged many existing names in certain areas, although they did add to the overall range of onomastic vocabulary.12 The onomastic record of the Anglo-Saxon landscape is limited and modified not only by the available vocabulary and factors governing the survival of the sources but also by the particular viewpoint of the observer. For example, in some cases where the written bounds of contiguous Anglo-Saxon estates survive they do not always use the same features when proceeding along the same stretch of landscape (each perambulation going clockwise, but passing in opposite directions).13 Much work has been done on both Old English and Scandinavian settlementnames,14 less until recently on the analysis of nature-names as reflections of


11 12

13 14

The late Nicholas Howe spoke of ‘a pre- or non-visual cartography in early medieval England’ in ‘An Angle on This Earth: Sense of Place in Anglo-Saxon England’, The Toller Memorial Lecture 1999, Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 82(1) (2000): 1–25, at p. 5. For the apparent use of particular place-name types as guides for travellers, see Ann Cole, ‘The Anglo-Saxon Traveller’, Nomina 17 (1994): 7–18. EPN, passim. For recent criticism of the headforms used therein for Scandinavian elements, see Richard Coates, ‘Behind the Dictionary-Forms of Scandinavian Elements in England’, JEPNS 38 (2006): 43–61. For maps of the bounds of a number contiguous Anglo-Saxon estates, see PNBerkshire, III, map folder. Place-Name Evidence for the Anglo-Saxon Invasions and Scandinavian Settlements: Eight Studies Collected by Kenneth Cameron, with Introduction by Margaret Gelling, EPNS

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variant categories of landscape, although a long-standing exception to this has been Della Hooke who has worked extensively on the geography of the AngloSaxon landscape, making full use of place-name evidence.15 Since accuracy in both etymology and identification is vital to onomastic study, the analysis of any place-name must be firmly based on a series of securely dated and located written spellings. The historical context in which the name was mentioned should also always be noted as it may be important to the latter’s identification.16

Sources and Chronology There is only a finite amount of relevant written documentation for pre-Conquest names. The available sources are limited by the accident of survival and are therefore intermittent in coverage: names recorded earlier than 1100 are of most use, but some twelfth-century sources and later medieval copies preserve reference to earlier names. Thus, Winchester street-names from the reign of Edward the Confessor were referred to in the survey conducted for King Henry I in c. 1110.17 Exceptionally, the manuscripts of early modern antiquarians, such as Laurence Nowell and Simonds D’Ewes, also preserve otherwise lost AngloSaxon texts. Most of the contents of the fire-damaged Cotton MS. Otho B. xi18 (including Version A of the Burghal Hidage) are known to us from Nowell’s transcript in BL, Add. MS. 43703.19 Similarly, the text of the diploma (dated 922 for 972) by which King Edgar granted Winterburnan to his thegn Eadric is known only from D’Ewes’ transcript, made in 1640 and now preserved in BL, Harley MS. 596, fols 16v–17v.20 Surviving contemporary records, however, relate more to the southern counties and the west Midlands than to the north and east of England.


16 17

18 19


(Nottingham, 1975). Gelling, Signposts. Gillian Fellows-Jensen, Scandinavian Settlement Names in Yorkshire (Copenhagen, 1972); Scandinavian Settlement Names in the East Midlands (Copenhagen, 1976); and SSNNW. Her many publications include The Anglo-Saxon Landscape: The Kingdom of the Hwicce (Manchester, 1985); Anglo-Saxon Settlements (ed.) (Oxford, 1988); and The Landscape of Anglo-Saxon England (London, 1998). Alexander R. Rumble, ‘The Status of Written Sources in English Onomastics’, Nomina 8 (1984): 41–56. Martin Biddle and D. J. Keene, ‘The Early Place-Names of Winchester’, in Winchester in the Early Middle Ages: An Edition and Discussion of the Winton Domesday, ed. Martin Biddle, Winchester Studies 1 (Oxford, 1976), pp. 231–9. From Winchester, the Old Minster, s.x med.–s.xi1. See Alexander R. Rumble, ‘The Known Manuscripts of the Burghal Hidage’, in The Defence of Wessex: The Burghal Hidage and Anglo-Saxon Fortifications, ed. David Hill and Alexander R. Rumble (Manchester and New York, 1996), pp. 36–59 at pp. 38–45, and Patrick Wormald, ‘BL, Cotton MS. Otho B. xi: A Supplementary Note’, in The Defence of Wessex, pp. 59–68. S 668.

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The potential of charter bounds in particular for use in studies of the AngloSaxon landscape was noted by John Mitchell Kemble in 1845: The distinctions between even the slightest differences in the face of the country are marked with a richness and accuracy of language which will surprise all those who have not noticed a similar phenomenon in the remote provinces of England.21

This statement preceded a list of common elements found in the charters he edited.22 A modern list of such elements in the charter bounds for a single English county is that in the third volume of PNBerkshire, edited by Margaret Gelling.23 There are also glossaries in the volumes covering individual archives in the British Academy charter series.24 Soon we will have a searchable list on the computer database of the Langscape project.25 We should remember, however, that by their nature boundary-descriptions always tell us about features on the periphery of an estate rather than about those at its centre. Anglo-Saxon names apart from those in charter bounds mainly relate to those of settlements, with the Domesday records as the prime witness to the existence of the place as a taxworthy location in 1066.26 Some questions that are very relevant to matters of chronology relate also to the variety of languages present in the material. Firstly, exactly how early are the names in England which contain Celtic elements? Kenneth Jackson and more recently Richard Coates and Andrew Breeze have worked on this problem,27 but there is often not much reliable information on such names in the earlier EPNS volumes. There is some difference here in relation to border and non-border areas of England. It should be stressed that amongst the field-names in border areas, some Celtic names are modern coinages.28 Secondly, how consistent in time and in space was the usage of any element? There were certainly some regional variations in usage within the same

21 22 23 24

25 26 27


Johannes M. Kemble, Codex Diplomaticus Ævi Saxonici, 6 vols (London, 1839–48), III. xv. Kemble, Codex Diplomaticus, III.xvi–xlii. PNBerkshire, EPNS 49–51 (1973–6), III.769–94. For example, Charters of Abingdon Abbey, ed. S. E. Kelly, 2 vols, AS Charters 7–8 (Oxford, 2000–1), II.615–38; and Charters of the New Minster, Winchester, ed. Sean Miller, AS Charters 9 (Oxford, 2001), pp. 231–41. H. C. Darby and G. R. Versey, Domesday Gazetteer (Cambridge, 1975), passim. Kenneth H. Jackson, Language and History in Early Britain (Edinburgh, 1953); Richard Coates and Andrew Breeze, with David Horowitz, Celtic Voices, English Places: Studies of the Celtic Impact on Place-Names in England (Stamford, 2000). Cf. PNCheshire, EPNS 44–8, 54, 74 (1970–97), V:2, 354–70 (= Appendix E, a reprint of John McN. Dodgson, ‘The Welsh Element in the Field-Names of Cheshire’, originally published 1985).

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language,29 although recent work by Margaret Gelling and Ann Cole has stressed the consistency of the way that topographical elements have been applied nationally to very precise landscape configurations.30 We would expect some semantic changes to occur over time but we do not always know how similar or stable was the usage of cognate words in Old English as opposed to Old Scandinavian, or in their Middle English reflexes. Where available, contextual information is often significant in relation to more precise usages and should be carefully noted. There has been a general tendency to study and map separately material contributed to the national corpus by different language groups, even where these overlapped in time. This can give an unreal picture of the mixture of names from different languages current at any one time, and of the degree of co-existence of speakers of different languages (especially Old English and Old Scandinavian) and their influence on each other.31 The landscape is the sum total of many different names and features all co-existing at each particular time; its early medieval inhabitants did not have the modern researcher’s advantage of being able to separate its chronological/linguistic layers by the use of overlays, but existed (mainly unknowingly) within a polyglot physical context.

The Changing Landscape of Place-Name Studies in England The foundation of modern study The correct interpretation of the meaning and significance of place-names was not normally achieved by medieval and early modern commentators, who not only lacked the academic skills and resources but also often indulged in literary fancy and/or explanations with a political purpose.32 Walter Skeat and Henry Bradley are regarded as the chief pioneers of the modern study of English place-names using proper philological principles. Skeat published a series of county place-name surveys for an area to the north of London in the years 1901–13.33 Bradley had written some groundbreaking articles in the late nineteenth century and promised to write a ‘General Intro29 30 31 32


For comments by P. H. Reaney on the distinctive character of fenland place-names, see PNCambridgeshire, EPNS 19 (1943), ‘Introduction’, at pp. xxiv–vi. Gelling and Cole, Landscape, passim, and ‘Introduction’, at pp. xiii–xvi. Note the comments by Diana Whaley, A Dictionary of Lake District Place-Names, EPNS Regional Series 1 (2006), ‘Introduction’, pp. xxiv–xxvi. For some examples of their attempts at explanation, see Dorothy Whitelock, ‘The English Place-Name Society 1923–1973’, JEPNS 5 (1972–73): 6–14, at pp. 6–7. For a literary/ political aspect, see Mark English, ‘Place-Names and the “Matter of Britain”’, in A Reader’s Guide to the Place-Names of the United Kingdom: A Bibliography of Publications (1920–89) on the Place-Names of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands, ed. Jeffrey Spittal and John Field (Stamford, 1990), pp. 290–8. Walter W. Skeat, The Place-Names of Cambridgeshire, Cambridge Antiquarian Society, octavo ser. 36 (Cambridge, 1901; 2nd edn 1911); The Place-Names of Hertfordshire, East Hertfordshire Archaeological Society (Hertford, 1904); The Place-Names of Bedfordshire, Cambridge Antiquarian Society, octavo ser. 42 (Cambridge, 1906); The Place-Names of Berkshire (Oxford, 1911); The Place-Names of Suffolk, Cambridge Archaeological

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duction’ to EPNS 1 (the Introduction to the Survey) but died in 1923 before he could do so.34 It was not until that year that the EPNS was founded by Allen Mawer, then professor at Liverpool, with the historian Professor James Tait of Manchester as the first Hon. President.35 The purpose of the EPNS was, and remains, to raise subscriptions to pay for the Survey of English PlaceNames, which itself was already in existence in 1922 as reported by Mawer, its first director, in his Robert Spence Watson Memorial Lecture delivered to the Literary and Philosophical Society. Newcastle-upon-Tyne.36 In Mawer’s words, the Survey was designed to do for this country what has been done and is being done for the placenames of the three Scandinavian kingdoms, viz., endeavour to secure not only that those names should individually be interpreted by scholars who will pay heed to all those considerations philological, historical and topographical, which must contribute to their solution but will also draw from them all those larger conclusions, historical and cultural, which are implicit in them.37

The EPNS and its Survey moved with Mawer to University College London in 1929. On Mawer’s death in 1942, it moved to Reading with Frank Stenton, then after the Second World War to Cambridge with Bruce Dickins, back to UCL with Hugh Smith and then to Nottingham with Kenneth Cameron, its present base. For three-quarters of a century both the society and its survey depended on the personal influence of its director and the goodwill of his university for their continuance, in contrast to the more official, government-funded status of place-name research in other countries. Currently, however, the Survey remains under the aegis of the Institute for Name-Studies at Nottingham although neither of Cameron’s successors as director, the late Victor Watts and Richard Coates, has been based there. It is a project which has survived and flourished through the dedication of its editors to their interest in onomastics. The Introduction to the Survey of English Place-Names, EPNS 1, already mentioned above, appeared in 1924 and was an important collection of essays and linguistic material which is still worth reading, not just as an academic exercise. It must be admitted however, that the editors of the EPNS county volumes were at first more interested in the identification of particular places in the historical record than in putting those places in a landscape. In general, they gave more commentary in relation to habitation names than to nature-names.



36 37

Society, octavo ser. 46 (Cambridge, 1913). Also ‘The Place-Names of Huntingdonshire’, Proceedings of the, Cambridge Antiquarian Society 10 (1898–1903): 317–60. Henry Bradley, ‘The Names of the English Counties’, Gentleman’s Magazine 250 (1881): 712–24; ‘On English Place-Names’, Gentleman’s Magazine 252 (1882): 228–42; ‘Ptolemy’s Geography of the British Isles’, Archaeologia 48 (1885): 379–96. See Introduction to the Survey, ‘Preface’, where Bradley’s contribution to the subject is acknowledged. For details of the history of the EPNS, see Whitelock, ‘The English Place-Name Society’, pp. 6–14; and Margaret Gelling, ‘English Place-Name Studies: Some Reflections’, Cameron Lecture 2002, JEPNS 35 (2002–3): 5–16. Allen Mawer, Place-Names and History (Liverpool and London, 1922). Mawer, Place-Names and History, pp. 34–5.

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The latter are more difficult to date, since many elements have continued in use into later periods of English, whereas the Anglo-Saxon or Scandinavian personal names which are often adduced as the first element of compound habitation-names almost all ceased to be used after 1066. In the beginning the EPNS county surveys, particularly in the historical introductions by Frank Stenton, gave more emphasis to the Anglo-Saxon period than to later centuries and to English rather than Celtic possibilities in difficult names. The latter balance has only quite recently been challenged by Richard Coates and Andrew Breeze.38 The Survey of English Place-Names is a national project on a scale only achievable as a joint effort by successive generations of committed scholars over a long timescale. The collection of material and its piecemeal publication, however, have always been organised county by county, reflecting the historic importance of the county unit in England in terms of royal administration and record-making. A consequent and ongoing problem in relation to the Survey is that of patchy coverage, both of the country as a whole in terms of completed volumes and in relation to the amount of content in the published volumes. The earlier volumes in the series often had a rather brief introduction, mainly written by Stenton, which was heavily biased towards relating the material to the recorded early history of the county rather than discussing the area’s names as linguistic data. These volumes had much less discussion of individual names in general and only a very few field-names for each parish were included. They were produced very quickly in order to get the project under way and were often based partly on existing collections of material.39 Progress between the years 1940 and 1951 was severely hampered by the combination of Mawer’s death in 1942 and the lasting effects of the Second World War both on the accessibility of source materials and the practicalities of editing and publishing. These factors affected in particular the wartime volumes for Nottinghamshire, Middlesex and Cambridgeshire,40 but also caused a delay of four years between completion of the first volume of Cumberland in 1946 and its publication in 1950.41 Modern users and critics of these volumes should bear in mind the difficult circumstances under which they were produced. As the Survey regained momentum, particularly from the 1960s, individual county surveys became much more packed with names, commentary and lexicographical insights. The number of constituent volumes normally required to cover the names of a county thus increased; while a single volume was deemed

38 39

40 41

See above, n. 27. Thus PNWorcestershire, EPNS 4 (1927) was partly based on the collection made by F. T. S. Houghton and PNSurrey, EPNS 11 (1934) was partly founded on that made by Arthur Bonner. Both Houghton and Bonner appear on the respective title-pages as ‘in collaboration with’ the EPNS editors. PNNottinghamshire, EPNS 17 (1940); PNMiddlesex, EPNS 18 (1942); PNCambridgeshire, EPNS 19 (1943). See PNCumberland I, EPNS 20, p. v.

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sufficient for the pre-Second World War survey of Wiltshire,42 in the later twentieth century eight were given to the West Riding of Yorkshire,43 seven to Cheshire44 and seven have already appeared for Lincolnshire which is not yet complete.45 What may be termed ‘the landscape of administration’ is used in structuring the EPNS volumes: their arrangement is by the units of county, hundred or wapentake, city or town, parish, township and/or chapelry. Therefore the content of county volumes does not always overlap with physical boundaries, and neighbouring topographical features may be divorced from each other in the published treatment of their names, either within or between volumes. It is hoped that the new Regional Series, of which Diana Whaley’s recent Dictionary of Lake District Place-Names is the first to appear, should help to counter this problem in some parts of the country.46 A lead set by Gillian Fellows-Jensen in her regional surveys of Scandinavian settlement-names is here being followed.47 The importance of comparative methods Many place-names and most elements are not unique and other examples occur in different parts of England, and sometimes in other parts of Britain and Ireland, which may be compared in order to help analysis of both meaning and significance. This comparative method is very important in place-name studies. In 1924 the second part of the Introduction to the Survey of English PlaceNames consisted of a preliminary list of elements contained in English placenames.48 As the Survey proceeded, other elements were recognised and by the 1950s there was enough published evidence from a number of English counties for a new collation of individual elements to occur. This was accomplished by A. H. Smith and published in 1956 by the EPNS in the two volume set entitled English Place-Name Elements.49 These volumes provided an interim statement about the lexis of place-names which was much more advanced than that in the 1924 list. Nevertheless, although still an essential work of reference, it is not definitive.50 Elements from the Cornish language were listed separately by Oliver Padel in 1985.51 Also, each time a county survey is researched, new elements are adduced, so any national list gradually becomes more and more 42 43 44 45

46 47 48 49 50


PNWiltshire, EPNS 16 (1939). PNYorkshire(West Riding), EPNS 30–7 (1961–3). PNCheshire, see above, n. 28. After the death of the county’s main editor, Kenneth Cameron, it is being completed by Dr John Insley who (with John Field, also now deceased) had collaborated in the production of vols III–VI. See above, n. 31. See above, n. 14. The Chief Elements Used in English Place-Names, ed. Allen Mawer, EPNS 1, part ii. EPN. See K. Cameron and Kenneth Jackson, ‘Addenda and Corrigenda: Vols. XXV and XXVI, English Place-Name Elements, Parts 1 and II’, JEPNS 1 (1968–69): 9–52; Carole Hough, ‘Some Ghost Entries in Smith’s English Place-Name Elements’, Nomina 17 (1994): 19–30; also Coates, ‘Behind the Dictionary Forms’. O. J. Padel, Cornish Place-Name Elements, EPNS 56–7.

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defective.52 The most recent attempt to catalogue the elements and their significance is being published in fascicules of which three have appeared to date. This goes under the title of The Vocabulary of English Place-Names.53 Since the early 1970s topographical elements have been studied in more depth and to much more effect. In 1973 John Dodgson distinguished between two similar looking OE elements, the one habitative (hām), the other topographical (hamm), by looking not only at the early spellings of the names in three counties which contain them but also at the precise location of the individual places.54 In 1976 Barrie Cox collected together a corpus of the English placenames mentioned in the earliest written records and demonstrated the until-then underestimated age of several topographical elements.55 Other recent comparative studies (by Margaret Gelling and Ann Cole) have analysed the incidence and significance of particular topographical elements within certain general varieties of terrain (for example, woodland or aquatic).56 Each terrain has been shown to have had a specialised terminology associated with it by those coining names in England, a terminology which was used nationally in a deliberate and precise manner to differentiate between variant configurations of hill, types of woodland, etc. Such elements are now studied both as generics and specifics. Gelling has recently also applied the findings to literary criticism, with reference to the vocabulary used for water-features in the poem Beowulf.57 Other aspects of the Anglo-Saxon landscape, such as its animal and bird population, have been studied by Carole Hough.58 Due tribute should be paid to the past and continuing heroic work of the EPNS editors and researchers in collecting and publishing the masses of data which exists in England for the study of names and name-elements. The Swedish and Danish contribution to the subject should also be acknowledged, not only in their publication of significant monographs on different


53 54 55 56

57 58

‘(n)’ or sometimes ‘†’ added to items in the list of place-name elements included in most EPNS volumes later than EPN (1956) indicates those elements adduced since the latter’s publication. Note, however, that they are not so distinguished in PNBerkshire, III, where ‘†’ refers to surviving ancient monuments whose names are included under an element in the list (e.g. under beorg on p. 851), see ibid. p. 848. VEPN (1997–, in progress). John McN. Dodgson, ‘Place-Names from hām, Distinguished from hamm Names, in Relation to the Settlement of Kent, Surrey, and Sussex’, ASE 2 (1973): 1–50. Barrie Cox, ‘The Place-Names of the Earliest English Records’, JEPNS 8 (1975–76): 12–66. Margaret Gelling, Place-Names in the Landscape (London, 1984), later expanded as Gelling and Cole, Landscape. Ann Cole, ‘The Origin, Distribution and Use of the PlaceName Element ōra and its Relationship to the Element ofer’, JEPNS 22 (1989–90): 26–41; ‘Burna and Brōc: Problems Involved in Retrieving the OE Usage of these Place-Name Elements’, JEPNS 23 (1990–91): 26–48; and ‘Topography, Hydrology and Place-Names in the Chalklands of Southern England: funta, æwiell and æwielm’, Nomina 9 (1985): 3–19. Margaret Gelling, ‘The Landscape of Beowulf’, ASE 31 (2002): 7–11. Carole Hough, ‘OE wearg in Warnborough and Wreighburn’, JEPNS 27 (1994–5): 14–20; and ‘Place-Name Evidence for Old English Bird-Names’, JEPNS 30 (1997–8): 60–76.



elements or topics,59 but also in their continuing advice on matters of philology and etymology given throughout the history of the EPNS series and acknowledged in print in connection with many interpretations of individual names. From the start, the opinion of Eilert Ekwall was quoted extensively, although we must note that his Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names, in the preparation of which he interpreted for the first time a very large corpus of names from across England, is now seriously out of date (first published in 1936 with the fourth and last new edition appearing in 1960).60 In preference one should use David Mills’ A Dictionary of British Place-Names for quick reference.61 This includes data and opinions on English place-names collected and published since the fourth edition of Ekwall’s Dictionary; it has the added advantage of including comparable material from Wales, Scotland and Ireland. A number of significant articles have also been published in the periodicals Journal of the EPNS and Nomina. Some pitfalls There is some ambiguity in the published material, about which new and/or unwary readers should be warned. Pitfalls and red herrings exist, both regarding categories that have been used for the analysis and presentation of place-name data and in alternative views put forward over the years by different schools of thought: (a) The EPNS practice of arranging the data published in the Survey volumes in relation to administrative hierarchies led to creation of the linguistically misleading categories of ‘major names’, ‘minor names’ and ‘field-names’ which are groupings of place-names according to the socio-economic status of the location named rather than by purely linguistic criteria. There is, however, as acknowledged by Reaney in 1935, ‘no essential difference in origin between field- and place-names and their survival or disappearance depends on pure chance’.62 Various subdivisions of the onomastic data have been used since the publication of the first county volume of the Survey, that dealing with Buckinghamshire, where ‘the true place-names’ were dealt with under hundred and parish in the main part of the book and only a small section at the end was devoted to a tiny selection of ‘field and other minor names’ from the county. The ‘true placenames’ were defined there as ‘those names found on the OS [Ordnance Survey]


60 61 62

For example, Eilert Ekwall, English River-Names (Oxford, 1928); Studies on English Place- and Personal-Names (Lund, 1931); Studies on English Place-Names (Stockholm, 1936); Etymological Notes on English Place-Names (Lund and Copenhagen, 1959); Ekwall, DEPN. Erik Tengstrand, A Contribution to the Study of Genitival Composition in Old English Place-Names, Nomina Germanica 7 (Uppsala, 1940); Rune Forsberg, A Contribution to a Dictionary of Old English Place-Names, Nomina Germanica 9 (Uppsala, 1950); K. I. Sandred, English Place-Names in –Stead (Uppsala, 1963). Ekwall, DEPN. Mills, DBPN. PNEssex, EPNS 12, p. xxix.

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maps’.63 Since 1950,64 ‘field and minor names’ have gradually been treated more fully at the end of each parish or township. Hugh Smith’s distinctions, made in 1954, between ‘major names, ‘minor names’, ‘street-names’ and ‘field-names’ remain substantially valid for current EPNS volumes. Major names were said to include: (i) parish names; (ii) other names of sizeable settlements (villages, hamlets, estates, etc.) or prominent topographical features; (iii) names of other habitations or features (including names no longer current) for which a fair body of early material exists; (iv) names (including names no longer current) for which early material exists demanding lengthy discussion.65 Minor names were said to include: (i) manorial names (of the type Lyons, etc.); (ii) names of less important settlements (small farmsteads, barns, cottages, inns, etc.) or less prominent features (small woods, copses, watercourses, small tracts of land or fields named on the six-inch OS maps); (iii) names for which only later material (post-1500) has been found, which is inadequate for etymological purposes or is capable of summary treatment; (iv) all other names recorded on the one-inch or six-inch OS maps which are not palpably recent creations.66 The field-names were divided into two groups as follows: (i) modern field-names not recorded on the one-inch and six-inch OS maps, and field-names recorded in the Enclosure Awards, Tithe Awards and other late sources (post-1750); (ii) unidentified minor names from earlier documents.67 These field-name groups are presented as groups (a) and (b) in the EPNS volumes. The second of these includes any names from relevant Anglo-Saxon charter boundaries, or later medieval documents, which are not identifiable with later minor names or field-names. It should be noted that therefore the term ‘field-name’ as used in relation to group (b) may include a variety of minor names – those of routeways, watercourses, fortifications or woods, as well as merely agrarian enclosures. The above categories of place-names represent a compromise between the use of administrative or linguistic criteria for the arrangement of the EPNS volumes. As such, the rationale behind the published presentation is rather convoluted and 63 64 65 66 67

PNBuckinghamshire, EPNS 2, 257. PNCumberland, I, EPNS 20. A. H. Smith, The Preparation of County Place-Name Surveys, EPNS (London, 1954), p. 23. Smith, The Preparation, pp. 23–4. Smith, The Preparation, p. 24.

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is not immediately apparent to new users, particularly given the combination of interdisciplinary, scholarly and amateur readership at which it is aimed. Apart from the names of parish, township or chapelry, one alphabetical list, within each of such districts, of all ‘major’ and ‘minor’ names (whether current or ‘lost’) would be easier to consult; field-names stricto sensu could still be kept apart and presented as groups (a) and (b) (either locatable or not). (b) Particular care is needed when reading EPNS volumes where Old English or Old Norse (Old Scandinavian) headforms have often been quoted for elements even where, in nineteenth-century field-names for example, the record of a name is comparatively recent.68 It is now thought better, as is done in The PlaceNames of Cheshire, for example, to use Middle English, Early Modern English or Modern English spellings for elements in relation to names not recorded in earlier periods. For instance, the elements †blōmere ME ‘an iron-smelter, a bloomer, an iron-worker’; †malte-kylne eModE ‘a malt-kiln’; or †float ModE ‘a dock or place where vessels may float’.69 (c) Problems may also arise from the fact that names are usually classified by their generic element. Both the generic and the name have often been simply categorised as either habitative (relates to a habitation, contains e.g. OE hām, cot, ON thorp) or topographical (relates to a natural feature, contains e.g. OE burna, wudu, ON bekkr). Note however that some names with a topographical generic were or became sites of human habitation, as with various settlements which were founded at a ‘bright or clear stream’ and became called Sherborne, Sherbourne, Sherburn or Shirburn (OE scīr + burna).70 Most distribution maps would not show these as settlement-names. We should also note that some topographical features were man-made rather than natural, a point to which I will return. (d) Distribution maps showing the occurrence within a county of particular place-name elements have, since PNNorthamptonshire (1933),71 normally been included in EPNS volumes, except in those which were affected by the war.72 The ‘Introduction’ to PNNorthamptonshire spoke of the inclusion of ‘a series of small maps on the scale of 10 miles to the inch, showing the distribution of those elements which have a bearing on the history of the settlement of the county from the time of the Anglian invasion onwards’.73 In these maps all the elements whose distribution was shown were habitative, apart from OE feld ‘open country’ and OE lēah ‘a wood, a clearing in a 68 69 70 71 72 73

For comments on the ON headforms used by EPNS, see Coates, ‘Behind the DictionaryForms’. PNCheshire, V:1, 105, 277, 182, respectively. Mills, DBPN, pp. 417, 419. EPNS 10. See above, p. 31. PNNorthamptonshire, EPNS 10, p. ix.

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wood’. These were intended to illustrate the contrast between open country and wooded. Over the years more and more topographical elements have been mapped, but mainly those related to woodland. From PNYorkshire, VII (1962),74 transparent maps have been produced so that various ones may be overlaid on each other for comparison. An important innovation in PNBerkshire, II (1974)75 was the inclusion of a map (no. V) showing ‘Settlement-Names of Topographical Meaning’. The significance of the distributions shown on such EPNS maps is not always clear, and may sometimes prove misleading for a number of reasons. Firstly, only selected elements are mapped, representing a minuscule proportion of the full list; of these, only some have been chosen to be mapped against each other. Secondly, the examples mapped merely represent the ones that have survived in the records and are locatable. Thirdly, other features mapped are those which are subjectively thought to be relevant to the usage of elements, such as rivers, upland, or Romano-British archaeology. And fourthly, the maps only show spatial patterns within one county boundary rather than regional or national patterns.76 Only if all these caveats are taken into account can the patterns on such maps be considered. Distribution maps may sometimes trigger or illustrate linguistic theories but cannot prove them. (e) Those who consult EPNS volumes and other specialist onomastic books or articles published before the late 1960s in particular (and some non-specialist writings since) are advised to be very cautious in their reading of statements made by even the most eminent of scholars on the subject of the chronology of English place-name elements. A number of hitherto generally accepted theories were undermined in a series of papers published in the decade or so after the mid-1960s. John Dodgson’s challenging in 1966 of the antiquity of placenames containing OE -ingas, -inga-,77 which had been presumed since the mid-­ nineteenth-century to be among the earliest names given by the Anglo-Saxons,78 was one of a series of revisions made by place-name scholars to previously current theories about the significance of elements relating to pagan worship,79 about the sequence of settlement-names in areas of England conquered by the

74 75 76

77 78


EPNS 36. EPNS 50. For some national distribution maps, showing the incidence of some less usual elements or linguistic variants against three geographical zones of settlement, see Victor Watts, ‘Some Place-Name Distributions’, JEPNS 32 (1999–2000): 53–72. J. McN. Dodgson, ‘The Significance of the Distribution of the English Place-Names in -ingas, -inga- in South-East England’, Medieval Archaeology 10 (1966): 1–29. A theory proposed, in relation to his concept of the ‘mark’ as a primitive social unit, by John Mitchell Kemble, The Saxons in England: A History of the English Commonwealth till the Period of the Norman Conquest, 2 vols (London, 1849), I. pp. 56–71, 449–81. Margaret Gelling, ‘Further Thoughts on Pagan Place-Names’, Otium et Negotium: Studies in Onomatology and Library Science Presented to Olof von Feilitzen, ed. Folke Sandgren, Acta Bibliothecæ Regiæ Stockholmiensis 16 (Stockholm, 1973), pp. 109–28.

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Vikings,80 and regarding the antiquity and relevance of names containing topographical elements.81 These and other significant advances in the study of the chronology of English place-names have since been synthesised for the nonspecialist by Margaret Gelling in her book Signposts to the Past which is a required entry-point to the subject.82 (f) Some internal ambiguities occur in the way that the onomastic data has developed in form over time from the first coining to the modern spelling of each name. A similarity of spelling and/or sound between different constituent elements may cause confusion in the written record and among amateur commentators. The three OE elements denn ‘a woodland pasture’, denu ‘a valley’ and dūn ‘a hill, an expanse of open hill-country’ are an example of this phenomenon, modern forms of names containing them occurring with any of the spellings -den, -dene or -don.83 Other elements may develop various secondary meanings over time. For example, OE tūn developed from signifying ‘a fence’ to ‘a fenced enclosure’ to ‘an estate’ to ‘a developed urban area’.84 (g) The so-called ‘genitival question’ in English place-name studies led to some ambiguous and confusing commentary in earlier publications, particularly in the first half of the twentieth century. This debate arose from the fact that some place-name compounds formally may contain either a personal name or an element as the first part (the ‘specific’) of the compound. However, many of the suggested personal names are not otherwise recorded. If these were accepted as genuine personal names this would reduce the perceived overall distribution of topographical elements. Some Swedish scholars, led by R. E. Zachrisson in a series of periodical articles in the early 1930s,85 challenged the general preference in early EPNS 80

81 82

83 84 85

Kenneth Cameron, Scandinavian Settlement in the Territory of the Five Boroughs: The Place-Name Evidence, Inaugural lecture, University of Nottingham, 1965; ‘Scandinavian Settlement in the Territory of the Five Boroughs: The Place-Name Evidence, Part II, Place-Names in Thorp’, Medieval Scandinavia 3 (1970): 35–49; and ‘Scandinavian Settlement in the Territory of the Five Boroughs: The Place-Name Evidence, Part III, the Grimston-Hybrids’, in England Before the Conquest: Studies in Primary Sources Presented to Dorothy Whitelock, ed. P. Clemoes and Kathleen Hughes (Cambridge, 1971), pp. 147–63. All conveniently reprinted in Place-Name Evidence … Collected by Kenneth Cameron, pp. 115–71. Cox, ‘Place-Names of the Earliest English Records’. Gelling, Signposts. The third edition (1997) includes a new introduction giving ‘A Brief History of English Place-Name Studies’ as well as addenda to the material in the first edition. EPN, I.129–30, 138–9. EPN, II.188–98. R. E. Zachrisson, ‘English Place-Name Puzzles: A Methodological Investigation into the Question of Personal Names or Descriptive Terms in English Place-Names’, Studia Neophilologica 5 (1932–33): 1–69; ‘The Meaning of English Place-Names in the Light of the Terminal Theory’, Studia Neophilologica 6 (1933–34): 25–8; ‘English PlaceName Compounds Containing Descriptive Nouns in the Genitive’, Englische Studien 70

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volumes, as in earlier historical works, for explaining a genitival inflexion on the first element in compound names as indicating the specific to be a personal name rather than an alternative topographical or meaningful word. In 1934, a fellow Swede J. K. Wallenberg, in his book on the place-names of Kent,86 attempted to be even-handed on the question, resulting in a lack of decision and not a little silliness. In his introduction to the book he stated: No doubt the topographical scrutiny is indispensable. But pitfalls lurk here at the investigator’s every step, and his triumphant cry of ‘Eureka’ may be ejaculated on insufficient grounds. He is in danger of finding too easily what he is on the look-out for, for he may trip over the anticipated topographical feature almost anywhere. He may, e.g., look for a hill or a hole in the ground; his search will no doubt be successful almost everywhere …   It seems to me highly doubtful whether the attempt at a wholesale slaughter of the personal names not evidenced in independent use has definitely done away with them; they are probably like the cat that is said to have nine lives …   I am no enthusiastic defender of the once existence of a host of conjectured personal names and designations. At the same time I cannot see that much is gained by the raising of a levy of unauthenticated or badly evidenced topographical designations to take the place of the other host.87

It has to be said, however, that in his attempt to be even-handed, Wallenberg often gave too many possibilities for the etymology of individual compound names in Kent. For example, in relation to Trillinghurst: Compare also Terlingham … in Hawkinge. Trillinghurst is very near a winding stream. The base of the first el. may be a stream-name. Cf. the OE r.n. Tyrl (Tirle Brook, GL), which Ekwall, ERN, p. 409, connects with ME tirle, Mod Engl tirl ‘to turn, to make a rattling noise’, trill ‘to roll, to purl’. – At ­Terlingham there is, at least nowadays, no stream. The place is situated high up at the upper end of a valley sloping downwards in a SE direction. Of course there may once have been a stream here. But it may perhaps be suggested alternatively that from the same base there may have been formed a common noun in -ing denoting a song-bird, that is a triller, a warbler. Terlingham is near a wood. It seems also possible that the early inhabitants of the places were nicknamed the *Tyrlingas or the like and that the original meaning of this name was ‘the rolling, twirling men’ or, possibly, ‘the men making a “tirling” noise’.88

In 1940 Erik Tengstrand provided a useful summary of the arguments in this debate in his monograph which drew attention to those uses of the genitive case which signified something other than possession.89 Gillian Fellows-Jensen

86 87 88 89

(1935–6): 60–73; and ‘Full Names and Short Names in Old English Place-Names’, Studia Neophologica 8 (1935–6): 82–98. J. K. Wallenberg, The Place-Names of Kent (Uppsala, 1934). Wallenberg, Place-Names of Kent, p. viii. Wallenberg, Place-Names of Kent, p. 313. Tengstrand, A Contribution to the Study of Genitival Composition, pp. xiii–lxvii.

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revived the debate in the 1970s in relation to specific groups of repeated -ingtūn names,90 but overall this is still a subject which awaits a full study, promised by John Insley, of the personal-names that could credibly be included in compound names.

Alternative or Additional Categories Attention should be drawn to some alternative or additional ways of categorising place-name data. In relation to the Anglo-Saxon landscape, it would be helpful to group some elements in more subtle categories than thinking simply in terms of a binary habitative or topographical division of the material. It is already acknowledged that some ‘cross-over’ between habitative and topographical categories does occur, for example with OE lēah. According to Della Hooke, this element denoted woodland pasture and reflected a dispersed settlement pattern.91 It could thus be used to reflect both a topographical feature and a pattern of habitation. Margaret Gelling had already in 1974 used the term ‘quasi-habitative’ for OE lēah, in relation to the mutual opposition of the respective distributions of the elements tūn and lēah in the Birmingham region and this too introduced a note of caution about over-limiting the character of the element.92 I suggest that ‘man-made landscape feature’ should also be used as a category more regularly than it has been.93 This group would consist of elements which described structures and physical features (other than habitation-sites) which were constructed as additions to the pre-existing natural landscape. Human residence of a limited and seasonal type or related to a specific task might sometimes have occurred at these locations but was not the main characteristic of them. The elements included in this group may if necessary be further subdivided into sub-categories such as those given below. Some examples of elements whose use is on record by 1086, in English place-names and/or in charter boundaries, are given under each sub-category; lists of surviving place-names containing these elements will be found in the reference works mentioned. Defence Prominent natural eminences were often modified by the addition of banks and ditches for use as defences in time of war, adding new and distinctive features to their profiles.

90 91 92 93

Gillian Fellows-Jensen, ‘Topography, Toponymy and Topographical Toponyms’, Nomina 2 (1978): 14–19. The Landscape of Anglo-Saxon England, p. 148. Margaret Gelling, ‘The Chronology of English Place-Names’ in Anglo-Saxon Settlement and Landscape, ed. Trevor Rowley, BAR British Series 6 (1974), pp. 93–101 at p. 101. Margaret Gelling in PNBerkshire, III.625–30, discusses man-made objects and man-made features appearing in the charter bounds of Berkshire.

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burh OE ‘a stronghold’ (VEPN, II.74–85; Gelling, Signposts, pp. 143–6, 256). This element was applied by the Anglo-Saxons to a variety of fortified sites, both those created by themselves and ones surviving from previous eras. Some such sites were further developed by the addition of markets and mints but the primary distinctive factor was that of a defensible location.94 Note also burh-tūn (VEPN, III.87–8), a compound whose several Shropshire examples Margaret Gelling has suggested may be related to a Mercian defensive system (PNShropshire, I.38–41 sub Berrington, and Figure 2). dīc OE/dík, díki ON ‘a ditch’ (EPN, I.131–3; Gelling, Signposts, pp. 148–50). This element can refer to a linear defensive earthwork made in prehistoric or historic times, but, as noted below, could also denote a drainage-channel or a feature marking a boundary. eorð-burh OE ‘an earthwork’ (EPN, I.154–5; Gelling, Signposts, pp. 147–8). The word occurs in OE glosses and in charters but the feature described may be of either prehistoric or later date. fæsten OE ‘a stronghold’ (EPN, I.163). tōt-ærn OE ‘a lookout house’; ‘probably the most reliable guide to a hill-fort’ according to Gelling, Signposts, pp. 146–7. weard-setl OE ‘a guard-house’ (EPN, II. 247), According to Gelling (Signposts, p. 146), ‘it seems probable that it was a specific term for an ancient fort’. The first part of the compound is OE weard ‘watch, ward, protection’ (EPN, II.247); David Hill and Sheila Sharp have suggested that this element may point to the location of Anglo-Saxon signal-beacons used for warning of attack.95 (ge)weorc OE ‘a work’ in the sense ‘a fortification’ (EPN, II.254), as in Southwark, Surrey, which is listed in the Burghal Hidage.96 Religion The adherents of both pagan and Christian religions had an interest in making their most significant buildings or other structures visible from a distance, both to dominate their locality and for ease of navigation to them. Buildings associated with Christian worship cirice OE ‘a church’ (VEPN, III.62–72), especially noticeable from afar when




Cf. the varying later histories of those Anglo-Saxon fortifications named in the Burghal Hidage, see David Hill, ‘Gazetteer of Burghal Hidage Sites’, in The Defence of Wessex, ed. Hill and Rumble, Appendix IV, pp. 189–231. David Hill and Sheila Sharp, ‘An Anglo-Saxon Beacon System’, in Names, Places and People: An Onomastic Miscellany in Memory of John McNeal Dodgson, ed. Alexander R. Rumble and A. D. Mills (Stamford, 1997), pp. 157–65. Hill, ‘Gazetteer’ in The Defence of Wessex, ed. Hill and Rumble, pp. 218–19 and Figure IV:28.

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whitewashed or constructed of white stone as in several examples of the compound Whitchurch.97 kirkja ON ‘a church’ (EPN, II.3–4), in some places probably replacing an earlier use of OE cirice. mynster OE ‘a monastery’, also ‘a church served by secular clergy’ (EPN, II.46– 7); in either case representing a major building or group of buildings.98 Such structures might also be used as places of refuge in time of war, as is suggested by the alternation of mynster with burh in the name Westbury (and possibly in Tetbury; both in Gloucestershire).99 Standing crosses associated with Christian worship Words used by the Anglo-Saxons to describe such structures in the landscape have been discussed elsewhere by the present writer.100 They include late OE cros and crūc3; OE rōd2 and Cristel-mæl or Cristes-mæl.101 When used in certain contexts or compounds the following OE words may also have helped to describe crucifixes: āc, bēam, bēcun, mæl1, *tæcne and trēow.102 Buildings or structures associated with pagan worship hearg OE ‘a heathen temple’ (EPN, I.239–40). The case of Harrow on the Hill, Middlesex, appears to be an especially notable example of something that may have been a typical phenomenon, the replacement of a pagan temple on a prominent location by a Christian church on the same site. We only know of the hearg of the Gumeningas here, a place of worship belonging to a particular social group, however, because of the survival of early documentary evidence which is not extant for most other places of this type.103 wīg, wēoh OE ‘an idol’ (EPN, II.264–5);104 probably of smaller size or importance than a hearg.105 97 98

99 100

101 102 103



VEPN, III.67. For a detailed discussion of the relationship of Anglo-Saxon ‘minsters’ to secular centres of administration, see John Blair, The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society (Oxford, 2005), pp. 246–367. VEPN, III.77. Alexander R. Rumble, ‘The Cross in English Place-Names: Vocabulary and Usage’, in The Place of the Cross in Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Catherine E. Karkov, Sarah Larratt Keefer and Karen Louise Jolly, Publications of the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies 4 (Woodbridge, 2006), pp. 29–40. Rumble, ‘Cross in English Place-Names’, pp. 30–6. Rumble, ‘Cross in English Place-Names, pp. 38–9. Mills, DBPN, p. 229. It is referred to in S 106, dated 764 for 767. One other example of such a name is the unidentified besingahearh (Surrey or Hampshire) named in the datingclause of S 235, dated 688 for 685 × 687, containing the group-name of the Besingas (cf. Basing and Basingstoke, Hampshire). Note that the place-name evidence for use of wēoh as an adjective meaning ‘holy’ has been challenged, see Margaret Gelling, ‘Further Thoughts on Pagan Place-Names’, p. 114. Gelling, Signposts, pp. 257–8.


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Burial tumuli berg, beorg OE ‘a hill’, in the sense ‘a burial mound’ (VEPN, I.88–90; Gelling, Signposts, pp. 132–4, 256; PNBerkshire, III.770). haugr ON ‘a hill’ in the sense ‘a burial mound’ (EPN, I.235–6; Gelling, Signposts, pp. 134–7). hlāw OE ‘a hill’, in the sense ‘a burial mound’ (EPN, I.248–50; Gelling, Signposts, pp. 137–8, 256). Use of these elements with an OE or ON personal name may be more likely to reflect the description of a mound rather than a hill, but fieldwork is needed for greater certitude. The occurrence of enumeration (with OE þrēo ‘three’ in Thrybergh, Dorset, and OE seofon ‘seven’ in Seaborough, Yorkshire)106 perhaps suggests a family or dynastic burial location. ‫‏‬

Resource management The organisation and use of the economic resources available to Anglo-Saxon rural settlements is reflected in a variety of elements used in name-formation. The open field system Where in use, this spawned several terms which designated its constituent parts:107 æcer OE ‘a plot or strip of cultivated land’ (VEPN, I.26–7; PNBerkshire, III.769) æcer-dīc OE perhaps ‘the ditch marking the end of a strip’ (cf. VEPN, I.27–8); furh OE ‘the furrow between the ridges of an open field’ (EPN, I.189; PNBerkshire, III.776); furlang OE, literally ‘a piece of land the length of a furrow’ but more precisely here ‘a unit of cultivation in the open field’, consisting of a group of strips (EPN, I.189–90; PNBerkshire, III.776); gāra OE ‘a triangular plot of land’ but more exactly ‘land in the triangular remnant of a field after a rectangular pattern of furlongs has been laid out’ (EPN, I.194; PNBerkshire, III.777); hēafod and *hēafod-land OE ‘a headland, the head of a strip of land left for turning the plough’ (respectively, PNBerkshire, III.779; EPN, I.237 and PNBerkshire, III.782, under land); also *æcer-hēafod ‘a headland’ (VEPN, I.28); land OE ‘a strip in an open field’ (EPN, II.13 (iv); PNBerkshire, III.782). Each piece of land representing such divisions of the ploughable arable would normally be qualified by a personal name or descriptive term to identify it within the context of the estate. 106 107

Respectively, Mills, DBPN, p. 411; and PNYorkshire ‘West Riding’, I.73. See the discussion of such terms in boundary clauses in PNBerkshire, III.625–8.

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Land enclosed by hedges or ditches This formed a contrast with the open fields where they existed, or was an alternative to them in other areas. Some such enclosures were made to protect certain types of resource from either theft or the attention of stray or wild animals. The following elements, among others, were used: edisc OE ‘an enclosure’ (EPN, I.146; PNBerkshire, III.778); gærs-tūn OE, specifically ‘a grass enclosure’ or ‘paddock’ (EPN, I.191; PNBerkshire, III.777); græfe, grāf, grāfa, grāfe OE ‘a grove, a copse, a thicket’ (EPN, I.207; PNBerkshire, III.777), probably denoting a coppiced wood and (according to Peter Kitson) one defined by a ditch.108 Palgrave, Suffolk, was a source of poles (OE pāl; Mills, DBPN, p. 361) and Yardgrove, Dorset, provided ‘rods or spars’ (OE gerd; PNDorset, III.172); (ge)hæg OE ‘a fence, enclosure’ (EPN, I.214–15; PNBerkshire, III.778); haga OE, hagi ON ‘a hedge, enclosure’ (EPN, I.221–2; PNBerkshire, III.778), the OE term, at least, often defining a park set aside for hunting.109 An OE compound dēora-hamm ‘enclosure where deer are kept’ may lie behind the Norfolk place-names East and West Dereham. The ON equivalent djúra-by may be found in the names of both the county-town Derby and West Derby, Lancashire.110 Boundary markers Boundary-markers of varying sorts reflected tenure, or internal sub-division, of an area of land: dīc OE, dík, díki ON, already mentioned,111 often defined sections, at least, of the boundary of an estate (PNBerkshire, III.773–4) and also internal subdivisions of its territory between subtenants or between various categories of land; hān OE ‘a hone, a stone’ is found as a significant feature in charter bounds (EPN, I.233; PNBerkshire, III.779); hecge, hege, OE ‘a hedge’ and hege-ræw ‘a hedgerow’ (EPN, I.240–1; PNBerkshire, III.780), like dīc, etc., could mark both estate and internal boundaries; stān OE, steinn ON ‘a stone, a rock’ could be a standing stone but might also denote a quarry from which stone was extracted (EPN, II.143–5 and 150; PNBerkshire, III.788).

108 109 110 111

Gelling and Cole, Landscape, p. 226. See Hooke, Landscape of Anglo-Saxon England, pp. 154–7. Cf. Mills, DBPN, p. 151. See above, p. 41.

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Drainage and water supply The following elements could either denote a ditch dug as a channel for diverting the waters of a river or for the drainage of surface-water: dīc OE, dík, díki ON, already mentioned;112 grōp, *grōpe, grype OE ‘a ditch, a dam’ (EPN, I.210–11); seohtre ‘a drain, a ditch’ (EPN, II.119; PNBerkshire, III.787); þrūh OE ‘water-pipe, conduit’ (EPN, II.217). Pits and quarries The following elements denoted holes dug for the extraction of economic assets such as chalk, iron-ore, loam and stone: (ge)delf OE ‘a digging, a trench, a pit, a quarry’ (EPN, I.128); grāfa1, græf OE, ‘a digging, a trench, a ditch’ (EPN, I. 207–8; PNBerkshire, III.777); pytt OE, in the sense ‘an excavated hole, especially one where minerals or other materials are got’ (EPN, II.75–6); found, for example, in charter bounds in connection with digging for loam (PNBerkshire, III.786); seað OE ‘a pit, a hole’ (EPN, II.16; PNBerkshire, III.787); this element was used in the plural in Orsett, Essex, in connection with iron-ore (ōra OE; Mills, DBPN, p. 356); stān OE, steinn ON, as mentioned already,113 could denote a quarry from which the commodity was extracted. Structures related to manufacturing or processing Even within the agrarian landscape, although more especially within an urban environment, the Anglo-Saxons created structures in and around which specialist workers could operate in the production or processing of crops or goods. Buildings used for special purposes ærn OE ‘a building, a house’ (VEPN, I.31–2); found in connection with charcoal (OE col1) in Colerne, Wiltshire; with pottery (OE *pott) in Potterne, Wiltshire; and with fulling (OE *walc) in Walkern, Hertfordshire (Mills, DBPN, pp. 126, 375, 480). Note also the compound appellatives bere-ærn OE ‘a barn, a storehouse for barley and other grain’ (VEPN, I.86) and salt-ærn OE ‘a building where salt was made or sold’ (EPN, II. 97; as in Seasalter, Kent, see Mills, DBPN, p. 411).114

112 113 114

See above, under Boundary-markers, and p. 41. See above, under Boundary-markers. For another use of such a compound, see tōt-ærn, above, p. 41.

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cyln OE ‘a kiln, a furnace for baking or burning materials’ (EPN, I.123), for use in the firing of pottery for example. hūs OE, hús ON ‘a house’ or ‘a building for special purposes’ (EPN, I.270); found in connection with salt in Salthouse, Norfolk (Mills, DBPN, p. 405). myln OE ‘a mill’ (EPN, II.46; PNBerkshire, III.785); at this period signifying one driven by water-power. smiððe OE ‘a smithy’ (EPN, II.131), as in Smeath, Kent (Mills, DBPN, p. 426). Other structures or machinery gear OE ‘a yair, an enclosure or dam made in a river or other water for catching fish’ (EPN, I.197). The compound *myln-gear, ‘mill-yair’ occurs three times in the bounds of Ealhswith’s tenement in Winchester (before 5 December 902)115 and also in the bounds of Padworth in 956 (PNBerkshire, III. 645, 777). hamor OE, hamarr ON ‘a hammer’ (EPN, I.231). In Hammerwich, Staffordshire it occurs in combination with OE wīc, probably to signify ‘building with a smithy’ (Mills, DBPN, p. 224). hearpe OE ‘a harp’; according to A. H. Smith it ‘might have been a term applied (from its resemblance to the musical instrument) to “a sieve, a riddle” or a similar artefact used in salt-workings’ (EPN, I.240).116 scēap-wæsce OE ‘a place for dipping sheep, a sheep wash’ (EPN, II.101; PNBerkshire, III.787); sometimes with permanent fences and gates. wer OE ‘a weir, a river-dam, a fishing-enclosure in a river’ (EPN, II.255; PNBerkshire, III.791); a derivative *wering, *wæring (EPN, II. 255), is found as the generic in the name of the shire-town Warwick (Mills, DBPN, p. 485). *windels OE ‘a winding-gear, a winch, a windlass’ (EPN, II.268), seems to have been used with ōra ‘a bank, a shore’, as in Windsor, Berkshire and Broadwindsor, Dorset (Mills, DBPN, pp. 502 and 79) to form a compound name signifying ‘a shore or bank with a winch for pulling up boats’. Transport and communications Changes and additions to the landscape were caused by the regular movement of people and their animals or goods from one place to another by land or water. Although the names of places associated with such journeys are sometimes thought of as ‘topographical’,117 they do relate primarily to human activity and




S 1560; Alexander R. Rumble, Property and Piety in Early Medieval Winchester: Documents Relating to the Topography of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman City and its Minsters, Winchester Studies 4, part iii (Oxford, 2002), no. I, with map on p. 49. Referring to Ekwall who had adduced a compound appellative *salt-hearpe: see PNWiltshire, p. 279 sub Salthrop House, and Eilert Ekwall, Studies on English Place- and Personal Names (Lund, 1931), p. 82. Gelling and Cole, Landscape, chapter 3.

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sometimes involved the creation of structures, such as bridges, causeways or wharves. Routeways pæð OE ‘a path, a track’ (EPN, II.58; PNBerkshire, III.785), is found particularly in upland areas (Gelling and Cole, Landscape, pp. 89–90). Note also the compound here-pæð ‘a military road, a highway’ for a long-distance routeway (EPN, I. 244–5; PNBerkshire, III.780) and compare other compounds below, under stræt and weg. stīg OE, stígr ON ‘a path, a narrow road’ (EPN, II. 152), particularly a steep one (Gelling and Cole, Landscape, pp. 92–3). stræt OE ‘a Roman road, a paved road’; also ‘an urban road, street’ (EPN, II.161–2; PNBerkshire, III.788); in charter bounds also merely ‘main road’ rather than a Roman one (Gelling and Cole, Landscape, pp. 93–4). The compound here-stræt also occurs (EPN, I.245). weg OE ‘a way, a path, a road’ (EPN, II.248–9; PNBerkshire, III.790–1) is a more general word than the above three elements (Gelling and Cole, Landscape, pp. 95–6). Note also the compound here-weg (EPN, I.245). Artificial river-crossings brycg OE ‘a bridge’, sometimes signified ‘a causeway’ (VEPN, II.51–7; PNBerkshire, III.771; Gelling and Cole, Landscape, pp. 67–70). The cognate bryggja ON (see next entry) might sometimes also have the meaning in England of ‘a bridge’, as in Felbrigg, Norfolk, where it is combined with fjol ON ‘a plank’ (VEPN, II.59–60; Mills, DBPN, p. 187). Landing places bryggja ON ‘a landing-stage, a jetty’ (VEPN, II. 59–60; Gelling and Cole, Landscape, p. 68). hyð OE in the sense ‘a landing place on a river-bank’ (EPN, I.278; PNBerkshire, III.781; Gelling and Cole, Landscape, p. 87) probably implies the presence of jetties and wharves. Stepney, Middlesex, may have *stybba OE ‘a stump, a pile’ as its specific (Mills, DBPN, p. 436). stæð OE in the sense ‘landing place’ is argued for by Gelling and Cole (Landscape, pp. 91–2), although Smith (EPN, II. 142) had thought that this was later and under the influence of the cognate stoð ON (EPN, II. 158). Note also dræg, dreg OE, drag ON ‘a drag, a portage, a slip-way, a dray’ (EPN, I.134–5).118


On the distribution of this element along routeways, see Cole ‘The Anglo-Saxon Traveller’, pp. 11–12.

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Such features as are listed above formed visible parts of the landscape but had not existed before either being constructed for a specific purpose or having developed as a physical consequence of human activity (like ‘ridge and furrow’ patterns on the surface of the heavier soils). As Kemble recognised in relation to words of this sort used in Anglo-Saxon charter bounds: ‘the artificial constructions enable us to glance at the private life, as it were, of the people; to argue upon the mode of culture,119 their enclosures, hedges, weirs, barns, houses, mills, mines, quarries, etc., etc.’120 Each of the above elements is worthy of close attention from landscape specialists as regards definition of the distinction between any apparent synonyms,121 with either national or regional reference, but also in order to locate sites for possible future excavations which might in particular yield information and ­material relating to specific industries, agricultural practices or social institutions. It must be reiterated, however, that close attention must be paid in each instance to the date at which the names containing the elements are first recorded, if the aim is to study the Anglo-Saxon rather than the later medieval landscape. The vast majority of these elements are OE words, rather than ON, reflecting the nature and distribution of the most relevant surviving written sources, topographical descriptions associated with the grants of estates recorded in royal diplomas. The number of Celtic elements is extremely small in Anglo-Saxon documents, but a few do occur, for instance in documents relating to Cornwall.122 Finally, a number of ‘recurrent compounds’ may be mentioned here which relate to man’s management of the available natural resources in an area. These are nominal compounds which recur in the corpus frequently enough to suggest that in fact they were standard descriptive terms rather than separate coinings in each instance.123 Of frequent interest here are those compounds formed with OE tūn, but also with OE stede and wīc, qualified by a term for either a treename or a category of farmed animal. These may give modern forms such as Acton (āc-tūn),124 Ashtead (æsc-stede), Ashton (æsc-tūn), Cowton (cū-tūn), Cowick (cū-wīc), Gatwick (gāt-wīc), Shapwick (scēap-wīc), Shepton/Shipton (scēap-tūn). They probably reflect social organisation and co-operation in connection with the specialised production of particular commodities, including livestock, at specific settlements within a region.125 Thus the oaks, ash-trees, cows, goats or sheep that provide the first part of the compounds relate more 119 120 121 122 123 124 125

That is ‘agriculture’. Kemble, Codex Diplomaticus, III.xv. Cf. the many significant differences in application between topographical elements in the same semantic field demonstrated in Gelling and Cole, Landscape, passim. See Padel, Cornish Place-Name Elements, passim, and Della Hooke, Pre-Conquest Charter Bounds of Devon and Cornwall (Woodbridge, 1994), pp. 15–69. These are not usually regarded as ‘compound appellatives’ because they are not on independent record outside of place-names. For names in āc-tūn see PNShropshire, I.1–4 and map I.9; also Gelling, Place-Names in the Landscape, p. 218. Cf. W. J. Ford, ‘Some Settlement Patterns in the Central Region of the Warwickshire

the landscape of place-name studies


to controlled human industry than to the chance presence of a particular type of tree or category of animal near a habitation, from which it was then named. In particular, tūn here may mean rather ‘fenced enclosure’ than ‘habitation’,126 while it is noteworthy that the element wīc, when denoting a small or dependent settlement,127 is found in Anglo-Saxon names compounded with words related to dairy production, such as those for butter and cheese (OE butere, cēse: giving modern forms such as Butterwick, Chiswick, Keswick).128 It should be noted that it was often a matter of chance that some of these names were accorded the status of major or parish names in later times, often after the literal meaning of a name was no longer applicable or a place’s original size or economic significance had been forgotten.129 However, when the name was first coined and had significance its application gives the presumption that the function of the place caused some disruption to the natural landscape, in terms of the creation of specialist buildings and large animal-enclosures or the coppicing of woodland.

Conclusions Place-name studies have come a long way in the past eighty odd years, but they are still developing in methodology and scope. Studies from before the midtwentieth century, even those published by the EPNS, are to be used with due caution. Some of the categories used in the past have been unnecessarily restrictive and have had a bad effect on the usefulness of the analyses produced. Placename data is of great importance to research about the Anglo-Saxon landscape, but all commentary on it is best used with some appreciation of the contemporary academic context within which it was and is made. It should particularly be noted that some of the more specific meanings suggested for the less frequently found place-name elements have been adduced from a combination of linguistic probability and an interpretation of surviving written sources; future archaeological or topographical investigation may refine or refute such suggestions.

126 127

128 129

Avon’, in Medieval Settlement: Continuity and Change, ed. P. H. Sawyer (London, 1976), pp. 274–94, at pp. 286–7. EPN, II.188–91. EPN, II.257–63; this common usage should be distinguished from that denoting a major international trading-centre such as Ipswich or Southampton (Hammwīc), see Alexander R. Rumble, ‘Notes on the Linguistic and Onomastic Characteristics of Old English Wīc’, in Wics: The Early Mediaeval Trading Centres of Northern Europe, ed. David Hill and Robert Cowie (Sheffield, 2001), pp. 1–2. Mills, DBPN, pp. 91, 115, 270. For some ‘recurrent compounds’ in the names of neighbouring parishes in north-east Surrey, where a group of earlier Anglo-Saxon settlements had apparently once belonged to a socio-economic unit sharing both upland and woodland pasturage, see Alexander R. Rumble, ‘Place-Names and their Context: With Special Regard to the Croydon Survey Region’, Fifth C. C. Fagg Memorial Lecture, 1974, Proceedings of the Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society 15(8) (March, 1976): 161–84.

3 Place-Names as Travellers’ Landmarks Ann Cole

The last two or three decades have seen a blossoming of interest in topographical place-names: that is to say ones that describe hills and valleys, rivers large and small, wet places, woodland and farmland, and the roads, tracks and crossing places which link them together. It has become apparent that such place-name elements were consistently applied throughout Anglo-Saxon England so that, as a rule, what was identified as, say, a denu or a dūn by a Northumbrian would be recognised as such by someone from East Anglia, Mercia or Wessex.1 This was so in spite of the fact that differences in geology produce differences in the scale and angularity of some landforms. This general uniformity of nomenclature meant that directions given to travellers in terms of landforms or settlements named from them could be applied and understood from north to south, and east to west. A variety of people travelled: some over long distances, such as pilgrims to shrines as far afield as Rome; others, such as traders, from sea ports to their inland markets; ecclesiastics, kings and their courts were frequently on the move as would have been messengers or raiding bands. All of them needed to find their way. Since most people were illiterate, written directions, maps or road signs, had they existed, would have been of little use. The most practicable way of route finding would be to memorise a list of places to pass through on the journey. When these were topographical names the recognition of the landform itself as well as the settlement’s name could provide a check on one’s progress. Just how and when these settlements acquired their names is unknown. Many of the most desirable sites must have been settled long before the Anglo-Saxon invasions and would have borne Celtic names, most of which were subsequently lost. Evidence suggests that the early Anglo-Saxon settlements were small and dispersed, but that in the later early medieval period there was a tendency to nucleation in some areas and a central place bearing the name of the estate emerged, while the names of the small settlements which ceased to exist must have been lost. In spite of the changes in settlement patterns and the appearance and disappearance of place-names the end result is a corpus containing numerous topographical names which describe aptly some feature of the place’s


Gelling and Cole, Landscape, p. xv.

52 ann


environment. If a settlement bearing the name of a large feature such as OE denu (valley) or OE dūn (hill) shifted, taking its name with it, that would not necessarily make the name inappropriate. Even when the feature is smaller there is still a close relationship between settlement site and name. There are fortythree strǣt-tūns ‘settlement on/by a paved (Roman) road’. In twenty-six cases the distance between the village centre (represented by the church, if it had one) and the Roman road was no more than a quarter of a mile, and a further twelve were between a quarter and one mile, yet they could have been much further away while still remaining in the same estate. In two other cases the course of the Roman road has not been firmly established. The same link can be demonstrated with estates having an OE burna ‘clear stream’ or an OE brōc ‘muddy stream’ name (this distinction does not hold good everywhere: there are factors other than water quality at work determining which term was used): the settlements are as close to the streams as safety from flooding permits. Exceptions to the general rule are known, but there is usually a good reason: for example, the village of Combe (Oxon), was rebuilt after the Black Death, its site changing from the valley bottom to a place overlooking the cumb. The topographical place-names are clearly of value in helping a traveller to find his way, the habitative names (those describing a habitation or building of some sort) seemingly less so; however, among the habitative names are subgroups which we may call ‘functional tūns’ several of which are very informative to travellers. A ‘functional tūn’ is a settlement bearing an OE tūn name which appears to have, in addition to its normal farming activities, some extra obligation or asset, although we may not know exactly what that was or how it functioned; for instance, the āc-tūns ‘oak settlements’ and the wudu-tūns ‘wood settlements’ were seemingly involved in wood working;2 the ēa-tūns with keeping river channels navigable;3 some of the mere-tūns ‘pond settlements’ adjacent to lakes had the benefit of a fishery, wild fowl in season and osiers. There are a number of -tūns, described below, that appear to have a function connected with travellers by offering them facilities on their journeys. The place-names of value to travellers can be categorised into terms for roads, crossing places, facilities en route, those used in water transport and signposts: they are considered in that order. The terms used for roads and tracks embodied useful information for the traveller – or anyone else. The term strǣt was used of a paved road – inevitably, or nearly so, of Roman roads since they were the only made roads – mostly in combination with tūn or ford (Stratton, Stratford and variants). People would know that a strǣt would be a straight road, linking old Roman towns or forts whose ruined stone buildings would have been additional useful landmarks: these Roman roads were rarely very steep. In many cases the structure of the

2 3

Gelling and Cole, Landscape, p. 258. Ann Cole ‘The Place-Name Evidence for Water Transport in Early Medieval England’, in Waterways and Canal-Building in Medieval England, ed. John Blair (Oxford, 2007), pp. 78–82.

place-names as travellers’ landmarks


road, consisting of an embankment (agger), would have been visible4 (the OE place-name elements ric, rǣc and dīc sometimes refer to an agger), and the surface would have been firm so long as the road had not foundered in wet places or been robbed out of its stone. The Roman road (Margary road 160) across the low-lying, marshy area of Otmoor, north-east of Oxford, survives as a clearly raised bank, much firmer underfoot than the adjacent clayey pasture land. The OE term weg ‘way’, with one possible exception (Stanway, Essex), did not refer to Roman roads, but was closely associated with steep routes at least when used of settlement-names; in charter boundaries it is used of tracks of any gradient. Several well-known wegs descend the Cotswold scarp slope: Broadway; Stanway and Radway (near Edge Hill). Two wegs lie either side of the Quantocks: Halsway and Stowey. A notable series of wegs occurs round the edges of the plateaux north and south of Honiton where a capping of Upper Greensand results in a very steep, final ascent to the plateaux: the gradients are 1 in 7 or steeper. Although a steep gradient was not a serious problem for a pedestrian, rider or drover, for a carter or waggoner it could be hazardous; going uphill extra draught animals might be needed, going down the cart would gather speed under gravity and could overwhelm the draught animals especially if the gradient was steeper than 1 in 30. As a rule it was unwise to tackle a gradient steeper than 1 in 20 unless the surface was really rough and gravelly, imposing a great deal of friction to counteract the effects of gravity. Of wegs used in settlement-names evidenced by 1500, 86 per cent had gradients steeper than 1 in 20, 95 per cent steeper than 1 in 30, most of the others were over clayey ground which could also present problems. In the minds of most people a weg implied a steep, unpaved road, a feeder to a more important route and one to be avoided by carters and waggoners.5 Names for less important tracks, OE pæth and OE stīg, would be familiar to the Anglo-Saxons. Pæth was used particularly of tracks over moorland – often high ground but not necessarily so as there are examples in the Somerset Levels: Watts refers to a northern dialect by-form peth ‘from which developed the characteristic [ModE] north-eastern dialect usage’ for paths crossing steep gullies.6 Stīg was used to describe even less important tracks: qualifying elements suggest that they were little more than animal tracks – there are ‘badger tracks’ and ‘tracks overgrown with young shoots’, for instance. Neither the pæths nor the stīgs were likely to be much used by the long-distance traveller. OE herepæth ‘main road’ or ‘road fit for an army to use’ was a term used in the southern and midland counties, it occurs in charter boundaries but less often in settlement-

4 5 6

I. D. Margary, Roman Roads in Britain I (London, 1955), pp. 13–15. Subsequent references to Roman roads use the numbering system devised in this book where relevant. Ann Cole ‘Weg: a Waggoner’s Warning’, in A Commodity of Good Names, ed. Oliver J. Padel and David N. Parsons (Donington, 2008), pp. 345–9. Victor Watts, A Dictionary of County Durham Place-Names (Nottingham, 2002), pp. 16–17.

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Figure 3.1.  The distribution of terms for crossing place.

place-names as travellers’ landmarks


names. In seven instances it is combined with ford. It usually refers to important non-Roman roads. The terms for roads and tracks did distinguish between different types of roads: they informed the would-be traveller of the likely conditions he would encounter. The qualifying elements could also be informative: the many stānwegs (Stanway, Stowey) would suggest a firm base to the track however wet the weather (stān, ‘stone’); Farway, the ‘fearsome way’, suggests its approaches were unusually difficult for a carter. Inevitably, from time to time, routes would have to cross rivers and their floodplains. It would be helpful to the traveller to know the nature of the crossing, whether it was a ford, a bridge or a ferry, and whether it was an easy crossing or not. OE ford is a very common term. Some 1,200 to 1,300 evidenced before 1500 are listed in the English Place-Name Society’s volumes, covering a wide variety of crossings from causeways across wet ground to crossings of tiny streams such as at Yelford, Shellingford and Hatford (Oxon, formerly Berks.), or major rivers such as the Thames at Oxford or the Ouse at Bedford. Some were on important routes like Dartford and Crayford on the Dover to London road, many others were on local lanes between adjacent hamlets. Names descriptive of the nature of the crossing were the most helpful to travellers, especially those describing the floor of the ford: the stony Stamfords and Stainforths, the gravelly Greatford, Girtford and Chillesford, the many Sandfords and the three chalk or limestone fords, Chalford, would have been much firmer underfoot than the ‘foul’ ful-fords or the rare *mudde-ford. The Somerfords were passable only during the low water levels of summertime, and the coastal Ebfords only passable at low tide; however, great numbers of fords were combined with personal names or elements that gave no such useful information. There were two specialised terms meaning ‘difficult crossing’. One, OE (ge)wæd, with about fourteen examples, frequently referred to a tidal crossing which would involve negotiating salt marsh and mudflats as well as river channels. At places like Cattawade (Suffolk), St Nicholas at Wade and Iwade (Kent), and Wadebridge (Cornwall), any traveller would have to wait for an appropriate state of the tide, using a causeway at low water or a shallow-draughted boat at high water. The other term, OE gelād (six definite and four possible examples), was more often applied to river crossings. It occurs where the road crossing the river is liable to be under a considerable extent of water when flooded. During a major flood about one mile of the Roman road between Cirencester and Wanborough (Margary road 41) is under water at Cricklade (Wilts.), and the end of a salt route at Lechlade (Glos.), is also badly affected. The left-bank tributaries of the Severn are ponded back when that river is in flood so that the Severn-side road between Deerhurst, Apperley and Sandhurst is under water below Wainlode Hill and at Abloads Court. Thus, these two elements warn the traveller of difficulties and delays at these places. Negotiating a ford could be dangerous and unpleasantly cold in winter, so a bridge would be a welcome alternative for any traveller. In fact, newly built bridges attracted travellers to the route that they lay on in preference to a long-

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used ford. The new bridge at Abingdon, built in the early fifteenth century,7 took traffic away from the old crossing at Wallingford, and the bridge at Ferrybridge, built by the end of the thirteenth century,8 attracted traffic on the Great North Road away from the crossing of the Aire at Castleford. However, some bridges frequently fell into a poor state of repair with rotten planks, gaps in the carriageway or undermined foundations in spite of the obligation on local communities to maintain them. As a place-name forming element brycg has continued in use until recent times, so it is particularly important, if one is considering early medieval routeways, to have some evidence of its existence by the time of Domesday Book. For a sizeable bridge to have been built, involving as it did considerable expense and expertise, the route using it needed to have been important and well used, so that replacing the ford with a bridge would have benefited many people. Fordingbridge (Hants.), on an old route up the Avon valley, and Attlebridge (Norfolk), where an old route west of Norwich crossed the Wensum, are examples. The other locations in which many early medieval bridges were built were over small streams where a simple wooden structure sometimes referred to as Thelbridge or Elbridge (‘plank bridge’) would have sufficed: such did not necessarily carry much traffic. Ferries are seldom mentioned in place-names, although the crossing of the Humber between North and South Ferriby is a very important exception (ON ferja – by), as is that at Ferrybridge, recorded as Ferie in Domesday Book. It is likely that the earlier name for Skegness, Tric, found in the Domesday Book, derives from Latin traiectus ‘a ferry’. Just how long this Roman ferry across the Wash survived the sea level changes and the evolutionary changes to the coastline is not known.9 From time to time the traveller might be faced with difficulties arising from the nature of his route. The three most likely situations are firstly, where a river is unfordable because of flooding; secondly, unpaved roads, especially in clayey country, becoming so churned up by wheels, hooves and feet that they were virtually impassable; thirdly, hills so long and steep that extra draught animals might be needed to haul goods uphill or some mechanism needed to ease loads downhill. The term dræg ‘place where things are dragged’ found in the names Drayton and Draycot seems to signify a settlement where help to overcome such problems could be found. At Mancetter, the Roman road (Margary road 1g) can get flooded by the River Anker, but Fenny Drayton is only one and a half miles away; Drayton St Leonard and Draycot are by the River Thame a few miles from Oxford, close to the points where Margary road 173 crosses this flood-prone river. One of the best examples of a dræg name near a steep hill is Drayton Beauchamp on Akeman Street at the foot of the long incline of Tring

7 8 9

David Harrison, The Bridges of Medieval England: Transport and Society 400–1800 (Oxford, 2004), p. 44. E. Jervoise, The Ancient Bridges of the North of England (London, 1931), p. 103. Arthur Owen and Richard Coates, ‘Traiectus/Tric/Skegness: A Domesday Name Explained’, Lincolnshire History and Archaeology 38 (2003): 42–4.

place-names as travellers’ landmarks


Hill. Drayton, near Alresford (Hants.), is by an old route from Winchester to London just where there are copious springs which render the track impassably muddy at times. By no means all the dræg-tūns and dræg-cots are by Roman roads or by prehistoric tracks such as the Icknield Way and Pilgrims Way, some are by some of the roads shown on the Gough map of c. 1360: the road from London through West Drayton, Maidenhead and Reading for example, while yet others are on routes described by Ogilby in his road atlas of 1675,10 such as Draycot (Glos.), on the London to Montgomery road. Other travellers’ landmarks discussed later also occur beside some of these roads. This suggests that these routes were in use as far back as early medieval times otherwise they would not have OE travellers’ terms beside them. Another type of place-name the traveller would be on the lookout for was one indicating a source of water. Many place-name elements describe water sources: OE mere, brōc, burna, ēa, welle, ǣwiell, ǣwielm; just a small number of these have a particularly close association with routeways. Mere means ‘pond’ or ‘lake’. In about thirty-four instances it is the qualifier of tūn as in Merton, Martin, Marton – ‘settlement with a pond’ or ‘settlement benefiting from a pond’ – further examples of functional tūns. In a few cases, notably Martin Mere (Shrops. 2, Lincs.) and Marton Mere (Lancs.), there is a natural lake yielding fish, wildfowl in season and osiers, but other mere-tūns are adjacent to Roman roads; indeed, two of them are on the sites of Roman wayside settlements (Merton, Surrey, and Marton, Lincs.). Some of the ponds are man-made. Such ponds served the day-to-day needs of local people; however, they could also serve travellers with their animals and so the settlement would benefit from the passing traffic, and the travellers would know that water was available at these places.11 Welle is the commonly used term for a spring. As a place-name its distribution is linked to the geology; many are along the scarp-foot spring line of chalk uplands such as the Chilterns and Lincolnshire Wolds, others are associated with the Magnesian and Cotswold Limestones. The names are informative to the traveller, but they are not particularly associated with roads except for one small subgroup: there are eleven examples of byden-welle and three of bydenfunta (funta also means ‘spring’). Byden means ‘tub, vessel’, hence ‘spring with a collecting vessel’ such as a drinking trough. The discharge from these springs appears to be limited, hence a need to collect water drip by drip. They are all close to old routes, ten of them Roman roads. This brings to mind a passage in Bede describing conditions when Edwin was king of Northumbria The king cared so much for the good of the people that, in various places where he had noticed clear springs near the highway, he caused stakes to be

10 11

John Ogilby, Ogilby’s Road Maps of England and Wales from Ogilby’s ‘Britannia’ 1675, ed. Roger Cleeve (Reading, 1971). Ann Cole, ‘The Distribution and Use of the Old English Place-Name mere-tūn’, Journal of the English Place-Name Society 24 (1992): 30–41.

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set up and bronze drinking cups to be hung on them for the refreshment of travellers.12

Provision of drinking water by highways was a recognised custom, at least in seventh-century Northumbria. Ǣwiell and ǣwielm, two spring names that appear to be synonymous, refer to springs with a copious discharge. The geological conditions most likely to produce such springs occur at the foot of the chalk escarpments of southern England, particularly where the chalk is fissured (but not too much so) in the neighbourhood of anticlines. Old long-distance tracks such as the Icknield and Great Ridge Ways followed the scarp foot and scarp crest lines, and perforce passed many of these springs: Ewelme (Oxon); Alton Barnes and Priors (Wilts.); Alton Pancras (Dorset); Oughton Head (Herts.); Newelme (Sussex).13 A traveller would know that he would be assured of water at such a place, even though it might not be more than a happy accident of geology that brought the springs and tracks into juxtaposition. Other terms relating to water supply do not correlate closely with roads although they sometimes occur beside them. People on longer journeys would need to stay somewhere overnight. Doubtless many slept under the stars, especially in fine weather, others would stay at monasteries, but there are hints that some settlements also offered overnight accommodation. The strǣt-tūns ‘settlement by a paved (Roman) road’ are well spaced out: there is a fine series along the Fosse Way from south of Ilchester to High Cross, and another group along the Welsh Marches. For certain settlements to be singled out by such a name implies that they had some function related to the road: it could be that this was the provision of accommodation; indeed, two strǣt-tūns, namely Stretton Grandison (Heref.), and Stretton Bridge (Staffs.), are on the sites of Roman wayside settlements. Coldharbour and Caldecot have been linked by several authors to accommodation beside Roman roads.14 Only a handful of the hundreds of Coldharbours are recorded before 1500: it can never have been much used in early medieval times for a convenient overnight halt. The name came into frequent use after about 1600 when it was that of a notorious London tenement.15 It is true that many Coldharbours are beside Roman roads, but that is because such roads had continued in use into the seventeenth and later centuries when the names were bestowed. Seventeen calde-cots, ‘cold cottages’, on the other hand, appear in the Domesday Book and thirty more in the following two centuries. It seems unlikely that they originated as low-quality, wayside accommodation, more likely that, of the numerous ‘cold cottages’, those by routeways stood a better chance of survival. The sites of the calde-cots are not very desirable: they are often on cold, wet, clay land or on 12 13 14 15

Historia ecclesiastica, II, 16; Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, ed. Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors (Oxford, 1969), p. 193. Ann Cole, ‘Topography, Hydrology and Place-names in the Chalklands of Southern England: *funta, ǣwiell and ǣwielm’, Nomina 9 (1985): 3–19. Paul Hindle, Roads and Tracks for Historians (Chichester, 2001), p. 19; Richard Muir, The New Reading the Landscape (Exeter, 2000), p. 102. Richard Coates, ‘Coldharbour – for the Last Time?’, Nomina 8 (1984): 73–8.

place-names as travellers’ landmarks

Figure 3.2.  The distribution of place named Calde-cot.


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Figure 3.3.  The distribution of terms for landing places.

place-names as travellers’ landmarks


exposed, high, windy ground, and such settlements failed when something such as climate change or decreasing population pressure occurred, leading to abandonment of agriculturally marginal land. A calde-cot benefiting from passing traffic might just survive. At least four are adjacent to oft-flooded river crossings and could represent places where travellers waited until the crossing was passable again. They are: Caulcott near Abingdon – a Drayton is nearby; Caldecot (Warks.), where Watling Street crosses the Anker – Fenny Drayton is a mile away; Caldecott (Rutland), by the Welland, and Caldecot (Beds.) across the Ivel from Biggleswade ((ge)wæd). The term grǣfe, grāfa is thought to mean ‘coppiced woodland’. Coppicing was a widespread and very important part of the rural economy since its products were used in house building, for tools, hurdles, cooking and warmth. Smithing, smelting, firing pottery kilns and evaporating brine to produce salt consumed a lot more – Bromsgrove had to send 300 cart-loads of wood a year to Droitwich for the latter process.16 It may fairly be suspected that the thirteen Graftons (grǣfe-tūn) were examples of functional tūns like the mere-tūns, dræg-tūns and strǣt-tūns seemingly were. As six of the Graftons are on salt routes radiating from Droitwich, including one close to Bromsgrove, and one on a Cheshire salt way they may well have been responsible for facilitating the movement to Droitwich or the Cheshire wiches of loads of coppice fuel, perhaps by returning salt traders. Transport by water was important in early medieval times. England’s only links with Ireland and continental Europe were across the sea and so seamen needed to be familiar with havens and landing places along the coast. Inland, river craft carried heavy and bulky goods more economically than could be done by cart or pack train; place-names were helpful to these travellers too. The five or six examples of port1, a borrowing from Latin portus ‘haven’ (and not to be confused with port2 meaning ‘market town’), offered sheltered water for shipping, notably at Portslade, Portsmouth and Portland along the south coast, and Porlock and Portisbury on the Bristol Channel coast (Portlemouth, Devon, is a less certain example of port). Hȳth ‘landing place’ is also to be found by the coast, usually a short way up an estuary, such as at Hythe and Old Heath on the Colne near Colchester, and Hyde on the Torridge near Bideford. Hyths also occur on rivers: there is a notable cluster on the Thames in the vicinity of London such as Erith, Rotherhithe, Stepney, Lambeth, Chelsea and Putney. Further up the Thames are Bolney near Henley, and High Croft near Eynsham. Traffic on the Trent is served by Knaith and East and West Stockwith. The densest cluster of hȳth place-names is in The Fens. The marshy terrain made overland movement impracticable so the waterways were pressed into service to link the island communities to each other and to the ‘mainland’: Setchy, Lakenheath, Methwold Hythe, Earith and Swavesey are on the fenland edge, while Aldreth, Downham Hythe and Witcham Hythe served the Isle of Ely. Stǫth, an ON term for a landing place, is found in north-west England reflecting traffic


Margaret Gelling and Ann Cole, The Landscape of Place-Names (Stamford, 2000), p. 227.

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Figure 3.4.  The Somerset Levels: place-names and medieval drainage.

place-names as travellers’ landmarks


across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man and Dublin: it is not easy to distinguish it from ON stathr ‘place, site’, but Toxteth, Croxteth and Todderstaffe (Lancs.) are examples. There are thirty-three examples of ēa-tūn ‘river settlement’. The choice of such a name for such a select few of the numerous riverside settlements suggests that here is another example of a functional tūn. Since they are well upstream and beside navigable rivers (there are many on the upper Thames, upper Wye and upper Severn) it seems likely that they were responsible for keeping the river navigable locally: free of gravel banks, choking rushes and fallen trees. Some seem placed so that the river could be kept open as far as its intersection with an important road: the series along the Thames would have kept that river navigable as far as Cricklade which stands by the Roman road from Cirencester to Wanborough (Margary road 41): Nuneaton kept the Anker, a tributary of the Tame, itself a tributary of the Trent, open as far as Watling Street. Lād is an uncommon place-name element: it seems to mean ‘man-made waterway, canal’. It is typically found leading from a settlement on firm ground through a marshy area to a navigable river. Examples occur in The Fens, and in the Somerset Levels where two Northloads, Curload, Cogload and Long Load are to be found. Using the evidence provided by these place-names a good idea of the most important waterways in use can be gleaned: the Trent, Thames, Severn, Wye and the waterways of The Fens and Somerset Levels.17 Cross-channel sailors were at the mercy of winds and currents which could carry them off-course, so it was important that there were well-known landmarks on shore to help them to identify where they had made landfall – there were no lighthouses or church towers in those early medieval centuries. There is one hill term, OE ōra, which occurs around the Kentish and south coast with an uncanny association with ports and harbours. It seems to denote a flattopped hill with a convex shoulder at one or both ends and is thought to be a borrowing from Latin ora ‘shore, coast, edge’. As sailors approached the coast, high ground would come into view before any landing place, enabling the crew to recognise just where they had made landfall. Certain of these heights bear ōra names: there is an Upnor on the approach to Rochester; Oare by Faversham; Ore Farm by Reculver; Stonar by Richborough; Argrove by Hythe (Kent); Ore by Hastings/Bulverhythe; Cudnor by Pevensey (Sussex); a large cluster referring to Portsdown indicating Portsmouth and Chichester harbours; Bure Homage by Hengistbury (Dorset), and so on round to Chivenor by Hyde (Devon); Yearnor by Porlock; and Capenore by Portishead (both Somerset). Had ōra simply referred to a landform of a particular shape one would have expected there to be other examples not associated with havens or landing places, but this does not seem to be so: ōras and landing places go together, the former signifying the latter.18 There are many examples of ōra inland referring to the same 17 18

John Blair, ed., Waterways and Canal-Building in Medieval England (Oxford, 2007), various chapters. Ann Cole, ‘The Origin, Distribution and Use of the Place-Name Element ōra and its Relationship to the Element ofer’, JEPNS 22 (1990): 26–41, especially map 1.

Figure 3.5.  The distribution of the ‘signpost’ terms ōra, ofer and yfre in south-east England.

place-names as travellers’ landmarks


hill shape. They are mostly in Saxon territory, since in Anglian areas the OE term ofer is used instead. If coastal areas signify landfalls, the question arises as to whether the inland ōras indicate any significant points for travellers or whether they are randomly scattered wherever there is an appropriately shaped hill. However, they do not seem to be randomly scattered. They occur beside Roman roads, prehistoric tracks, Gough routes and Ogilby routes, and indicate a variety of points of significance for travellers. A substantial number occur by road junctions, such as The Nower and Nower Wood (near Dorking, Surrey) where Margary road 15 crosses the Pilgrims Way, and Nore Hill where Margary road 14 crosses the Pilgrims Way. A series along the Icknield Way from Great Chalk Wood (Chelkoram) near Goring, by Bixmoor Wood (Bixenore), Lewknor and Chinnor (Oxon), Albury Nowers (Herts.), and Buckleshore (Beds.), help to identify crossings of lesser Roman roads with that route. Other ōras, and indeed ofers, are found in association with mineral deposits: Tugmore and Hodore with old Roman iron mines in the Weald; Spernall (Warks.), with deposits of gypsum; many ōras and ofers along the salt ways radiating from Droitwich; and numerous exapmples of ofer in the lead-mining area of the Peak District. A third group is associated with linear earthworks: Pinner (Middlesex), and a group in the Chilterns, including Pednor, Honor End and Dennor Hill, with Grim’s Ditches; Oare (Wilts.), possibly with Wansdyke. Some warn a traveller of an approaching river crossing such as where an Ogilby route crosses the Avon at Pershore (ōra), and Ashford Mill (Oxon) (ofer) where Akeman Street crosses the Evenlode. The function of ōras and ofers seems to be as a ‘signpost’ to help the traveller recognise a significant point on his journey, whether it be a river crossing, a road junction, a landfall or an important destination. Figure 3.5 shows the location of the ‘signpost’ names. Besides ōra and a few ofers, the directional ofers (Northover, Southover, etc.) and yfre, a south-eastern variant of ofer, are shown. The directional ofers usually occur beside rivers and are helpful to boatmen, while the yfres are more often by lesser routes, rarely Roman roads, and are less important as signposts than ōra or ofer. Just how these names, especially the functional tūns, arose is unknown. It seems unlikely that they were all imposed by one central authority since a few of them came into being when England was still made up of a number of small kingdoms: for instance, Acton (Heref.) and Wootton (Warks) appear in Cox’s list of the earliest English place-names – those recorded by 731.19 Nor does it seem likely that the functional tūn names resulted from numerous very local initiatives: for this to have happened a country-wide consensus in the way names were chosen and bestowed as well as an understanding of the functions and attributes of places with such names would have to have been in place early in the Anglo-Saxon period. On the contrary, analysis shows that the functional tūns discussed here only appear in substantial numbers in the tenth century and later. ‘Topographical element + tūn’ names, which include functional tūns, are concentrated in the west midlands: this could be a by-product of Mercian admin-


Barrie Cox, ‘The Place-Names of the Earliest English Records’, JEPNS 8 (1976), 12–66.

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istrators keeping a tight rein over their area, and so the use of these functional tūns may have arisen as a regional phenomenon. Another possibility is that some of the place-names with a very strong correlation with routeways were given as a result of travellers meeting one another and exchanging information about the routes and settlements they had encountered, as has been discussed in connection with weg,20 and as seems likely also with cumb-tūn and denu-tūn. Because people from far and wide met and exchanged information, the uniformity that is evidence in the nomenclature could have emerged fairly easily. However, the close correlation between some names and important routeways came into being during a long period of some six centuries and there is no reason why there should not have been a variety of factors prompting the coining of them, from sailors recognising the coastal ōras in the early centuries, to the more organised system exemplified by the ēa-tūns at a later period.

Conclusions Place-names, especially those that are peculiar to routeways, had the potential to be very informative to the early medieval overland traveller. They describe roads, crossings, water supply, probably accommodation, assistance for those in difficulty, payloads and signposts, while the seafarers and river boatmen had information about havens, landing places, river navigability, canals and seamen’s marks. The sheer numbers of these names and their usefulness in describing routeways suggest that there was a great deal of movement along England’s major roads and rivers. In fact, these names can be used to indicate which roads and rivers were in use. It is evident, when all these categories of names are plotted on a map showing Roman roads and certain prehistoric tracks (those shown on the Ordnance Survey (OS) map of Roman Britain, 4th edn) that certain roads have a series of these names along them, indicating that they were in use at least at the time of name coining, and that others with no such names along them were not in use at least as far as place-name evidence suggests, or, if they were in use, it was for short local journeys that would need no such landmarks or facilities. If twenty miles is taken to be a good day’s journey then one could make a local journey of twenty miles (ten miles out and ten back) without need of the guidance provided by place-names nor the facilities that they imply. For a long journey one would ideally need to have these indicative place-names no more than twenty miles apart. The roads on which this is indeed the case would seem to make up the main road network of early medieval England. They include the Roman roads from London to Chichester, London to Hassocks, London via Colchester to Norwich, London to Silchester and Cirencester, and parts only of the Fosse Way and Watling Street. The Pilgrims Way from Wye (Kent) to Farnham (Surrey) seems to have been in use, but its supposed continuation, the Harroway from Farnham to near Ilchester, shows little evidence of


Cole, ‘Weg’, pp. 345–9.

place-names as travellers’ landmarks


use. In contrast, the Icknield Way–Great Ridgeway, from north-west Norfolk, via the Thames crossing at Goring and Streatley and on to the Dorset coast, is well marked. The trans-Pennine route from Bowes to Carlisle (Margary roads 82, 7) and the north–south route along the Welsh Marches (Margary road 6) are both well supplied with indicative place-names. It is evident that the network of Roman roads and prehistoric tracks (as it appears on the OS map) was insufficient for the Anglo-Saxons because two routes leading west and south-west from near London shown on the Gough map of about 1360 and one in Ogilby’s road atlas have indicative place-names along them: the road from Kingston-onThames to Guildford, Winchester, Salisbury and Honiton; a route from London via Uxbridge and High Wycombe to Oxford; and the road from London via Maidenhead to Speen near Newbury. A road from Towcester via Daventry and Coventry to Lichfield bypasses some of Watling Street on the route from London to Wroxeter or Chester. The most important of the routes shown in Ogilby’s road atlas of 1675 that seems to have been in use in early medieval England is the one from Akeman Street west of Oxford, via Moreton-in-Marsh, Worcester and Radnor into Wales, heading for Aberystwyth. Roman roads with no place-names evidence of use include Margary road 33, Chelmsford via Long Melford to Norwich; Margary road 4, Silchester to Salisbury; Margary road 43/44, Wanborough to Salisbury; and Margary road 7, Manchester via Ribchester to Brougham. The road network links up with the coastal havens and landing places and with the inland waterways to produce something approaching an integrated transport system – medieval style! Since the Anglo-Saxon period lasted some six centuries, it is not likely that this system was in place for all that time, although some roads and ports are likely to have been in more or less continuous use from Roman times on. The functional tūns with their specialised functions and distinctive names are likely to have appeared in the mid- to late Saxon period. The development of the road system was a continuous process and still continues today. Those of us preferring to avoid the motorways on our travels can take pleasure in the names so useful to the Anglo-Saxon travellers as we pass by them 1,000 years later.21


For more detailed consideration of the issues raised in this chapter see Ann Cole, ‘The Place-Name Evidence for a Routeway Network in Early Medieval England’ unpublished D.Phil thesis (Oxford, 2010).

4 Light thrown by Scandinavian Place-Names on the Anglo-Saxon Landscape Gillian Fellows-Jensen


ometimes the light thrown by Scandinavian place-names on the AngloSaxon landscape only seems to offer a pale reflection of reality or perhaps more exactly a negative view of it, as in the map of England and southern Scotland (Figure 4.1), on which small open circles, black circles and open squares show the presence of settlements with names ending in the elements -bý, -thorp or hybrid names in -tūn.1 It is known that such names in the Danelaw were coined in the Viking period, and areas north and east of the Danelaw boundary from which such symbols are practically absent tend either to be on the land above 250 metres in height (hatched) or in the marshy areas (stippled). These areas point to the unspoilt survival to the later Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman periods of vast tracts of mountainous and marshy land. When we close in to take a look at just a small part of the Danelaw, for example Kenneth Cameron’s map of the distribution of the býs in the Lincolnshire Wolds (Figure 4.2), it becomes possible to refine the picture presented by studying the way in which the black circles representing býs form patterns that can sometimes be explained by the underlying topography, as when the dots in the northern section of the map lie along the prehistoric trackways almost like strings of beads on two necklaces running from the Humber roughly parallel to each other towards the south-east.2 The westerly string runs along the foot of the scarp slope of the Wolds, where settlements were established at the spring line on the easily tilled sandy land and a convenient supply of freshwater was permanently available, while the beads on the easterly string lie at somewhat greater intervals along the dip slope of the Wolds, sometimes on the chalkland but often on more fertile patches of glacial sand and gravel. It is interesting to 1


Map originally drawn by Gillian Fellows-Jensen and prepared for the press by Ingerlise Kjær. Reproduced with permission from Peter Sawyer, Da Danmark blev Danmark, Gyldendal og Politikens Danmarkshistorie 3 (Copenhagen, 1988), p. 164. Kenneth Cameron, Scandinavian Settlement in the Territory of the Five Boroughs: The place-name evidence (Nottingham, 1965), pp. 16–17. This essay and the accompanying maps were reprinted by the English Place-Name Society in Place-Name Evidence for the Anglo-Saxon Invasion and Scandinavian Settlements, collected by Kenneth Cameron (Nottingham, 1975), p. 136.

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Figure 4.1.  The distribution of Scandinavian settlement-names.


Figure 4.2. Place-names in -by and -thorp in the Lincolnshire Wolds. Map 7 in Kenneth Cameron, Scandinavian Settlemcnt in the Territory o f the Five Boroughs: The place-name evidence (Nottingham, 1965). The map printed here is © Crown copyright Ordnance Survey. All rights reserved.


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note that both the strings of býs are quite frequently interrupted by settlements with English names. With the wisdom of hindsight it now seems to me that the Danes must often have given names in -bý both to English settlements that they took over and to component elements of older English estates that they had split off into smaller independent settlements. It is, of course, place-names in -bý that are the most frequently occurring type of Danish names for settlements in England and because they are settlements, it might be thought that they are unlikely to be of relevance for a study of the landscape. In Yorkshire and the East Midlands, where the býs are particularly common, about 50 per cent of the relevant place-names contain as first elements a personal name of Nordic origin and these can be assumed to be the names of the holders of the rights over the vills. I have argued, however, that an older stratum of -bý names tends to have as specifics nouns or adjectives which are in some way descriptive of the vill and hence must reveal something about the landscape.3 The most commonly occurring of these specifics is Kir(k)by, for example Kirby Grindalythe, Kirby Underdale and Kirkby Moorside in Yorkshire (Chirchebi GDB 327va). The specific is the Nordic word kyrkja meaning ‘church’ and there are no fewer than forty-seven such names in England, all of which probably refer to the fact that the settlement in question already possessed a church when the Danes arrived in England, for many of the relevant churches have surviving fabric that can be dated to the pre-Norman period.4 It is also true to say that these churches would have made a great impression on the incomers in the ninth century, for the Danes were not used to seeing such stone buildings in the landscape in their homeland. Derby in Derbyshire (Derby GDB 280rb), a lost Darby in Lincolnshire (Derbi GDB 338vb) and West Derby in Lancashire (Derbei GDB 269vb) are three English places that were probably given their Danish names because of the ­presence of an enclosure for deer (Nordic dýr) in their immediate vicinity. It is noted specifically in Domesday Book (GDB 269vb) that the thegns of West Derby Hundred were responsible for making the enclosures in the woodland there and the stag-beats (stabilituras) or fenced and ditched areas into which the huntsmen could drive the stags. These names can be looked upon as reflecting information about the medieval deer-forest as one particular type of landscape, even if they only call up a romantic picture such as the nineteenthcentury ­lithograph of Alphonse de Neuville’s ‘Death of William Rufus’ in the New Forest.

3 4

Gillian Fellows-Jensen, ‘Anthroponymical Specifics in Place-names in -bý in the British Isles’, Studia Anthroponymica Scandinavica 1 (1983): 45–60, at p. 54. Gillian Fellows-Jensen, ‘The Vikings’ Relationship with Christianity in the British Isles: The Evidence of Place-names Containing the Element kirkja’, in Proceedings of the Tenth Viking Congress, ed. J. E. Knirk (Oslo, 1987), pp. 295–307, at pp. 298–99, and ‘On the Dating of Place-names in -bý in England and Scotland and of the Settlements Bearing These Names’, in Proceedings of the 21st International Congress of Onomastic Sciences 2, ed. Eva Brylla et al. (Uppsala, 2006), pp. 96–104, at p. 102.

scandinavian place-names on the anglo-saxon landscape


The place-name Derby also has parallels in Jurby in the Isle of Man (Dureby 1291)5 and Dyreby near Esbjerg in Jutland (Dyrby 1538).6 The latter name is one of those discussed by my Danish colleague, Bent Jørgensen, in connection with his work on an assessment of place-names with the generic -bý in the cultural landscape of Denmark. He finds that these names seem to have had a higher status than might have been expected in the light of their stereotype nature and their comparatively young linguistic age. He has argued convincingly that they probably marked the development of a new category of denotata designed to emphasise the habitative element in the place-name and he proposes to translate the generic as ‘a settlement with associated rights over territory and preserves’.7 He points out that the specifics of the names tend to be words for very simple and basic conditions, normally of a cultural, topographical, zoological or botanical nature and argues that they may have arisen in connection with a redistribution of settlement. Assuming that these names in Denmark were originally descriptive, they must throw some light on the landscape. Sæby is a rather commonly occurring place-name in Denmark. The specific is Nordic sǣr, which can mean either ‘sea’ or ‘lake’. There are two examples on the island of Sjælland at no great distance from each other. Sæby in Roskilde amt (Sæby 1253) means ‘the bý by the sea’, in this case Roskilde Fjord, while Sæby in Holbæk amt (Sæby 1302) means ‘the bý at the lake’, in this case Tissø. There are also several places in Denmark known as Søby, containing the modern form sø of the word for ‘sea’ or ‘lake’, for example the harbour town of Søby on the island of Ærø (Seboy 1277). In the case of the word sǣr in Denmark it would seem to have been a matter of chance whether the more original spelling survived or whether it was replaced by the modern form. Danish names in -bý containing the specific dalr meaning ‘valley’, for example Nørre Dalby in Roskilde amt (Dalby 1306) can normally be translated as ‘the bý in or near the valley’, although in younger names the word dalr sometimes has a weakened sense simply indicating a beautiful situation. The name Sandby occurs in several places in Denmark, for example Sandby in Præstø amt (Sandby 1270) and the surface geology here is demonstrably a layer of sand. Some of the English place-names in -bý also point in a general way to the landscape. The Kirbys and Derbys have already been mentioned. There are also names pointing to hills or valleys, for example Huby in Yorkshire (Hobi GDB 299ra) and Hoby in Leicestershire (Hobie GDB 236ra), which contain the English word hōh ‘spur of land’, and Dalby in Yorkshire (Dalbi GDB 300va) and Great Dalby in Leicestershire (Dalbi GDB 231ra) which mean ‘the bý by

5 6 7

George Broderick, Placenames of the Isle of Man I–VII (Tübingen, 1994–2005), at II. p. 205. Dated forms of Danish place-names are taken from Bent Jørgensen, Stednavneordbog (Copenhagen, 1994). Bent Jørgensen, ‘The Degree of Onomastic Coverage within Various Categories of Denotata’, Proceedings of the 21st International Congress of Onomastic Sciences 1, ed. Eva Brylla et al. (Uppsala, 2005), pp. 196–206, at p. 199.

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Plate IV.1.  Helsby, Cheshire.


scandinavian place-names on the anglo-saxon landscape


or in the valley’.8 These names are all topographically appropriate but names referring to such extensive features are difficult to illustrate or isolate. It is only in one case that I have been able to point to a place-name in -bý where I have felt confident that the specific illustrates a particular feature of the landscape. This is Helsby in Cheshire (Helesbe GDB 263va) (Plate IV.1). There are three possible etymological explanations for this specific. The first is that it is Nordic hellir, genitive hellis, meaning ‘rocky cave’ and perhaps referring to a ‘cavern in the hillside’. The second is that it is Nordic hjalli, meaning ‘a ledge or terrace on a hillside’ or the strong side-form hjallr meaning ‘something flat that is raised up’, while the third possibility is Nordic hella meaning ‘a hard rock or cliff’ or ‘a flat stone’. For all the words except hellir it is necessary to reckon with a secondary English genitive in -es to explain the medial s in the place-name.9 Recently it has been suggested that Helsby means ‘village on a ledge’ because it occupies a narrow shelf between marshland and the foot of the precipitous hill’.10 It can be difficult to decide whether the name refers to some particular rock, cavern or flat stone or to Helsby Hill itself. Personally I incline towards explaining the specific as referring to the huge slabs of rock that still fascinate the rock-climbers there. One thing is certain: Helsby is not just an analogical stereotype. A reference to land overgrown with brushwood would seem to be found in two Risbys in Lincolnshire (GDB Risebi 342rb and 346ra), for their names contain the Nordic word hrís ‘underwood’, which occurs in several Danish Risbys (e.g. Rysby 1310). Woodland is reflected in the Yorkshire place-name Skewsby, which lies on not particularly fertile sandstone and shale on the southern slopes of the Howardian Hills. Skewsby (GDB Scoxebi 306ra) is linguistically interesting because it is compounded with -bý in the younger, secondary genitive form of the word skógr ‘a wood’ that is also found in the Danish place-name Skovsby (Skowsby 1427), while it is more common in Denmark for this particular specific not to occur in a genitival compound but to appear in stem-form, as for example (Skogby 1231), now Skovby. Words for trees occur rather frequently in place-names in -bý in England and the distribution pattern of such names is of some significance. There are no parallels to Danish Ejby (Egby [1135] in a late transcript) in England, although the Danes there would seem to have recognised the etymological identity of Danish eik with Old English āc, at least to judge from the instances of the place-names Acton, Aketon and Eckton in the West Riding, all of which seem to go back to *eiktūn (with the earliest example being Ectune c. 1030 and GDB


9 10

Dated forms of names in England are mainly taken from Gillian Fellows-Jensen, Scandinavian Settlement Names in Yorkshire (Copenhagen, 1972), Scandinavian Settlement Names in the East Midlands (Copenhagen, 1978), SSNNW. Ekwall, DEPN, p. 233; John McN. Dodgson, PNCheshire 1–3 (Cambridge, 1970–71), at III. p. 235. In The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names, ed. Victor Watts (Cambridge, 2004), p. 295.

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303va), and to the place-name Eyke in Suffolk (Eyk 1270).11 I am tempted to wonder whether the apparent lack of recognition by the English of the specific of Danish Ejby might reflect the development of the pronunciation of the Danish name *eiki-bý in the direction of modern Ejby, even though the first stage of this development, the weakening of the stop consonant k to g, is not normally thought to have taken place in Denmark until c. 1200.12 The names in -bý containing the word for ‘ash-tree’ in England have an interesting distribution. The Nordic form askr occurs in early forms: once in Asby in Westmorland (Askebi twelfth century), once in a lost Aschebi in Lancashire (GDB 301vb), in six Ashbys in Lincolnshire, once in Norfolk and once in Suffolk, while early spellings betraying the English form of the word æsc occur once in Cheshire, three times in Leicestershire, for example Ashby Folville (GDB Ascbi 233va), five times in Northamptonshire and twice in Norfolk. It may well be English influence that accounts for most of the names and it is of course the form Ashby that survives in all the names. The forms pointing to the spelling Ask(e)-, however, show marked Danish influence in parts of England. The name Askeby (Askeby 1390) is recorded a couple of times in Denmark. Particularly interesting among the tree-names compounded with -bý are the ones containing words for ‘willow-tree’. The Nordic word for this tree is selja, which may well be found in the Yorkshire place-name Selby (Seleby c. 1030). This place-name is not recorded independently in Domesday Book but in the title of the Abbot of Selby in that source the name takes the form Salebi (GDB 302va) and there are several other instances of the a spelling in the place-name. The spellings with a may reflect confusion with Old English salh ‘willow’ and it would certainly seem to be this word that occurs in Saleby in Lincolnshire (GDB Salebi 355va, Saleby 356va). It is, however, normally another English word for ‘willow-tree’ that appears in the names in -bý in England, the Anglian form *wilig. This word is only certainly recorded in old forms in the Midlands. There are no Willoughbys in Yorkshire or the north-west. There are, however, no fewer than nine Willoughbys in the East Midlands (e.g. Silk Willoughby (GDB Wilgebi 341rb)), and three Wilbys in Northamptonshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, all of which may contain the word *wilig.13 Some few of these names may perhaps have originated as the compound *wilig-bēag meaning ‘ring of willows’, as suggested by some spellings of Willoughby in Warwickshire (GDB Wilebere 241rb, Wilebene 241rb, Wilebei 241rb and Wilebec 242ra), Willoughby Waterless in Leicestershire (GDB Wilebi 232va and Wilechebi 236rb but Welebei 1130), Wilby in Northamptonshire (GDB Wilebi 228rb but Willabyg c. 1067), Wilby in Norfolk (LDB Wilebey 183r, Wilgeby 222v, Willebeih 252r), and Wilby in Suffolk (LDB Wilebey 329r, 379b, Wilebi 379r, 379v, but Wylebec 1254). These five names certainly seem likely to have begun life meaning ‘ring of willows’ but it seems unlikely that all the other Willoughby and Wilby names 11 12 13

Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names, ed. Watts, p. 222. Johannes Brøndum-Nielsen, Gammeldansk Grammatik II (Copenhagen, 1957), §286. Cf. Fellows-Jensen, Scandinavian Settlement Names in Yorkshire at p. 7, Scandinavian Settlement Names in the East Midlands at p. 13.

scandinavian place-names on the anglo-saxon landscape


Plate IV.2.  Geysir, Haukadalur, Iceland.

originated in the same way. It is certainly a little surprising that the English term wilig for a willow-tree should have become so popular in compounds with -bý. With the exception of Helsby, the English names in -bý only provide rather general information about the landscape or, in the case of the specifics that are words for vegetation, they only point to a necessarily impermanent situation. I want therefore now to go over to discuss places whose names give a more direct picture of the landscape because their names are self-evident. When the bus in Iceland dropped me off at a large boulder clearly labelled GEYSIR (Plate IV.2), I, who grew up with geysers for heating water in the kitchen, was well prepared for the sight that met me after a short walk up a gravel path. The name Geysir ‘the gusher’, which has been in use since 1647, is that of the most famous hot spring in Iceland, from which water and steam still gush out

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Plate IV.3.  Gjógv, Eysturoy, Faroe Islands.

scandinavian place-names on the anglo-saxon landscape


intermittently after only a little encouragement in the form of a bar of soap. Unfortunately for my onomastic theory, Geysir in Haukadalur is the only one of the Icelandic hot springs to bear this name but since it has given its name to several similar phenomena around the world, the survival of the name and term is not dependent on the survival of the nineteenth-century water-heating apparatus. A little closer to home, in the Faroe Islands, there is a less exotic example of a self-evident name. A highly recommended bus trip at no great distance from Tórshavn took me after one change of buses to Gjógv, pronounced [jegv], but only because I remembered to check both the spelling and the pronunciation of the name (Plate IV.3). From Gjógv I could make my way to one of the many deep, steep inlets in the rocky cliffs round the Faroe Islands that bears this name. I have admittedly not found any instances of this name in the Danelaw but there are many examples of the West Scandinavian generic gjá in place-names in Orkney and Shetland. Many of the English place-names in which I have traced Nordic elements that actually reflect the landscape point to some feature of a permanent nature and sometimes it is clear that an older English name has been partially danicised. There is a considerable group of names in England that all mean ‘red cliff ’. They contain the English generic clif, and, according to the experts, Margaret Gelling and Ann Cole, the cliffs in question normally have a slope of 45 degrees or steeper.14 The specific in ten of the names they examined is the English adjective rēad and in six names the danicised form rauth. Red cliffs occur in many parts of England and names in Rad-, Rat- and Red- are recorded in Devon, Somerset and Gloucestershire in the south-west, Buckinghamshire and Middlesex in the south-east, twice in Leicestershire and twice in Nottinghamshire in the East Midlands, while the most certain northerly instance of an old name is Radcliffe in Greater Manchester (Radecliue GDB 270ra), although in addition to the settlement-names of this origin I have by chance noted a field-name in Barton upon Humber which is recorded as Redcliffe 1370–1, Radclif 1371.15 The Radcliffe in Northumberland, however, is a young name, from a family name belonging to the owner of coal royalties there.16 What is rather surprising is that none of the names in Lincolnshire, Leicestershire or Nottinghamshire has received a danicised form. In Yorkshire, northern Lancashire and Cumberland, the specifics of the relevant names have all been danicised: two names in the North Riding of Yorkshire, Rawcliffe in Bulmer Wapentake (GDB Roudclif 298va, Roudeclife 301rb, Roudeclif 379ra) and Rawcliffe Bank in Langbargh East Wapentake (GDB Roudeclif 305ra, Roudcliue 380va, but Readeclive 1043–60), two names in the West Riding of Yorkshire, Rawcliffe in Osgoldcross Wapentake (Rouþeclif 1079–85) and Roecliffe in Lower Claro Wapentake (Routhecliue 1170),17 14 15 16 17

Gelling and Cole, Landscape, pp. 153–7. Kenneth Cameron, PNLincolnshire Part 2 (Nottingham, 1991), p. 47. Godfrey Watson, Goodwife Hot (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1970), p. 189. A. Hugh Smith, PNWest Riding of Yorkshire, Parts I–VIII (Cambridge 1961–63), at II. p. 22 and V. p. 86.

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Upper, Middle and Out Rawcliffe in Amounderness Hundred, Lancashire (GDB Rodeclif 301vb, alia Rodeclif 301vb, tercia Rodeclif 301vb) and Rockcliffe in Cumberland (Rodcliua, Roudecliua 1185, Redecliue 1203). As an illustration of what a red cliff looks like, Rockcliffe in Cumberland would serve admirably, but it is as an illustration of the fact that danicised names continue to be formed for a longer time in Yorkshire and north-west England than in the East Midlands and that these names containing the Danish form of the word for ‘red’ make an important contribution to the history of the Danish language in England. From the commonly occurring ‘red cliff ’ I turn to a geological feature mentioned less frequently in English place-names. This is one that is referred to in Scandinavian sources as eyrr or in Danish ør(e) (< *auriō), a feminine derivative of the word for gravel meaning something like ‘a bank of sand and gravel’. The word occurs quite frequently in Danish place-names, for example in the name of Helsingør, the harbour at the shortest crossing-point to Sweden (Hælsingør 1175) with a name meaning ‘the gravelly beach of the dwellers at the neck of land’, perhaps better known to the English reader as Hamlet’s Elsinore. Instances of the element eyrr in England are few. In Yorkshire the form Odd juxta Ravenserre 1235–49 refers to Ravenser Odd ‘the headland near Hrafn’s gravel-bank’ but both the headland and Ravenser itself were washed away in the medieval period.18 Ravenser is, however, mentioned in the famous thirteenth-century Icelandic source known as Heimskringla in the phrase ‘af Hrafnseyri’, with reference to the sailing away by Olaf Haraldson from Yorkshire after the death of his father at the Battle of Stamford Bridge and the subsequent death of Harold Godwine’s son at Hastings. Such was the fame of the place-name that, with the addition of the Modern English element spurn meaning ‘sharp projection’, it even occurs twice in another work of Shakespeare, namely in Richard II (Act II, Scene 1, line 298), where the Earl of Northumberland cries, ‘Away with me in post to Ravenspurgh’, to await the arrival in England of the banished Bolingbroke (the later Henry IV). Ravenspurgh is said to have been the most considerable port on the Humber at the time of Edward I. The spit of land there, which builds up gradually from sand and gravel washed away from the Yorkshire coast, drops off cyclically about every 250 years. The only other reasonably certain instance of a place-name containing the element eyrr/ør(e) that I have noted in eastern England is a thirteenth-century field-name Aeregarth in Eastoft in the floodprone wastes of Goole moors.19 There are, however, a number of instances across the Pennines, several of them associated with the River Lune. At Salt Ayre near Lancaster, which was still partly submerged at high water a century ago, there were low-lying meadows called High and Low Ayre, which were once sandbanks in the Lune valley, while Green Ayre (Green-aer 1778) is now part of the city and at Skerton further upstream there are Stake Ayre, Rabbit Ayre and other gravel banks.20 Way up 18 19 20

A. Hugh Smith, PNEast Riding of Yorkshire and York (Cambridge, 1937), pp. 16, 19. Smith, PNWest Riding of Yorkshire, II. p. 4. Eilert Ekwall, PNLancashire, pp. 176–7.

scandinavian place-names on the anglo-saxon landscape


the Lune, at Kirby Lonsdale in Westmorland, there is a bank in the river known as Mill Ayre.21 Back in Lancashire, in Morecambe Bay off a place called Bare (