An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 6. Originally published by W Miller, London, 1807.

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'Preface', in An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 6, (London, 1807) pp. i-vii. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]


The History of the County of Norfolk, (a county of a very great ex- tent,) being left unfinished by the Reverend Mr. Blomefield, at his death, who had treated chiefly on the southern parts of it, and no person since that time proposing, or inclining to complete the same: as I was known to have made, for many years past, considerable col- lections on that subject, and had assisted Mr. Blomefield, present- ing him with the entire history of the hundreds of Grimshow, and South Greenhow, several gentlemen solicited me to undertake this work, which I complied with, in hopes of its being acceptable, not only to the gentlemen of Norfolk, but to all lovers of antiquity in general.

The materials and assistances, that I have made use of, will best appear from my vouchers and quotations herein cited, viz. large col- lections of antique, original, authentick manuscripts, in publick and private libraries, registers, &c. of religious houses, in particular of the voluminous ones of the cathedral church of Norwich, its many In- stitutions, and Will-books, from the reign of King Edward I. to this time. To all these I had free access, from Dr. Tanner, (the late Bishop of St. Asaph,) when Chancellor of that church, from the late Right Reverend Dr. Hayter, when he presided there, and from the present worthy Chancellor, the Reverend Dr. Atwell: to these I may add, Records in the Tower of London, in the Rolls, Pipe-Office, those of the Eschaetors, and Fines levied in the King's-Court.

Here I must not omit the most ancient manuscript of England, Domesday Book, deposited in the Exchequer, the spring and fountain of all English chorography, composed in the reign of William the Conqueror: by the help of these, the reader will observe, and find a series, and succession of the lords of every manor and town in this history, brought down from the reign of Edward the Confessor, to this present time, and without the assistance of this ever-valuable manu- script, vain, weak, and imperfect, must every attempt be in a history of this nature.

At the head, therefore, of every town and lordship, I have placed the account which I find of it, and its lord, as taken from the aforesaid book; and besides those towns that are now in being, it will appear that at the grand survey there were also many other towns, which at this time are so totally ruined, that even the site of several of them is unknown, destroyed, and mouldered away with their ancient lords and inhabitants:—Nunc seges est ubi Troja fuit.

Give me leave also to mention that valuable collection of the an- tiquities of this county, which Peter le Neve, Esq. Norroy, King at Arms, was employed in about 40 years, being, for the most part, extracts out of ancient records and manuscripts relating to temporal tenures; and though wrote in very minute pieces and fragments of paper, and undigested, were of singular and eminent service; for the favour, and help of these, I am obliged to Thomas Martin, Gent. of Palgrave in Suffolk, and thank him in this publick and grateful manner; Bishop Tanner and he being entrusted with the same, by the worthy collector of them.

From all these materials, an account will be here given of the ab- beys, priories, and other religious houses, of the churches with their monuments, &c. of the rectors, vicars, &c. Also of the ancient and present nobility and gentry of this county, with their arms, quarterings, and many pedigrees, in a more complete manner than has ever yet appeared in publick.

As every reader will observe, that I differ in my derivation of the names of the towns herein mentioned, from the generality of historians, I look upon myself obliged, and in duty bound, to assign my reasons for so doing, and must say, that our ancient historians were bad ety- mologists, and that some modern ones may be ranked in the same class.

We are informed by them, that the town of Appledore in Kent de- rives its name from apple-trees. (fn. 1)Barham Downs, from a hill where boars abide;—Barton from wood, or barley corn. (fn. 2) —Whereas Apple- dore is derived (as the town of Appleby in Westmoreland is, where a famous Roman station was, called by Antoninus, in his Itinerary, Abal- laba) (fn. 3) from the British word ab, or av, which word signifies a river, or water; le and by are Saxon additional words, expressing a dwelling by the water: thus we find the towns of Appleton, Appleford, and the hundred of Appletree in Derbyshire.—Barham is a ham or dwelling on a hill, from Bergh; thus, Barley and Barkway, (a way over the hills,) in Hertfordshire, and Barton, a town on, or by a hill, and Barrow, a tumulus.

Stow says, (fn. 4) that Hunstanton in Norfolk takes its name from sweet- ness, (I presume he means honey,) but it is more reasonable to believe from a little rivulet here, the Hun; and we meet with Hunworth in Norfolk, Hunwick, in the county of Durham, and Hunstede, a town in Denmark, seated on the river Hun.

I cannot forbear taking notice of a remark made by Fuller:— "Mount Libanus, so called (as some say) from the Greek word, sig- nifying frankincense, of which there is plenty here produced; but, as parents give names to their children, not children to their parents, so I conclude it called from the Hebrew word, libanus, from its whiteness; the faithfull snow forsakes not the top of it, but remains there all the year long," (fn. 5) —and that his conclusion is just, may be proved by the Alps, so called for the same reason;—Ab albis rupibus.

A modern author asserts, that Snestesham in Norfolk is so corruptly called, for Netesham, its ancient name, being fambus for herds of cows, (fn. 6) whereas, in Domesday Book, it is wrote Snetesham, from a rivulet, called Snet.—Snetterton is also a town in this county; Snet or Snyte, is a river in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, and Snetre, one in Northumberland.

Cambden, in his history of Northumberland, calls Risingham a town of venerable antiquity, standing on the river Rhead; and that it signifies, in the old English, and high Dutch languages, a town of giants, from riese, a word for a giant; but rie and rey, are well known to be names of rivers, giving names to towns adjoining to them;—as Ryegate in Surrey, Rydale in Yorkshire, Riburgh, and Rising, in Norfolk.

The said author thinks, that Buckinghamshire has its name from beech-trees, and some think from its plenty of bucks.—There are four towns in this county of Norfolk, called Buckenham, or Buckingham; all these have their site by some stream of water, or river, and are wrote in the grand survey, Bokenham, Bukenham, and Bucham. Bo, or bu, denotes the winding of any stream; thus, Bow (by Stratford) in Middlesex;—Bows in Yorkshire (the ancient Roman Levatre;)— Boethorp by Norwich.—Ken is the British name of rivers in many counties, Lancashire, Wiltshire, and Berkshire; from this proceed Ken- ford and Kenet, towns in Cambridgeshire; and Leland calls Kenlet a pretty brook, in the vale of Montgomery; and Aken a famous city in Germany, called by the French, Aix-la-Chapelle.—Buckworth or Bu- cheworth, (fn. 7) in Huntingdonshire, is seated at the confluence of two rivers, as worth always implies, (thus Keyserwart in Germany;) and Buxton. in Norfolk is wrote in the grand survey, Buchestuna and Bukestun. Kess and chess are also words for a river, or water, as Chiswick in Mid- dlesex, Keswick in Norfolk, &c.

Hertford is called also, (as is said, (fn. 8) ) from an hart, and the arms of that town (an hart couchant in a river) is brought to confirm it, which is a mean, low rebus, the name being owing to the British word rit, and so is a ford or passage over a river or water; He-Rit, or E-Rit; ford being added by the Saxons. Erith is a town (in the parish of Bluntsham) in Huntingdonshire, where was the grand ford or passage out of that county into the Isle of Ely, over the river Ouse; so that, to make the aforesaid rebus complete, the hart should have been at least passant, or trippant, to set forth the ford. The famous city of Utrecht, in the Netherlands, is of the same original, and is called in Latin, Tra- jectus ad Rhenum.

Derham is interpreted to be a place for deer, but its true derivation is from the British word dur, (water,) as in Durham, Derby, Dort, or Dortrect, a city in Holland, is a ford over the water or river.—God- slow is (as some will have it (fn. 9) ) a stow, or dwelling dedicated to God; whereas it expresses only a dwelling by good water, as Godstow in Oxfordshire,—Godeston in Norfolk, and in Surrey.

It would be an endless task to enumerate more instances, wherein historians seem to me to have greatly erred in the etymology of towns, and shall here make this general remark, that as far as I have consi- dered this subject, it appears that towns derive their names from their natural site, from something durable, lasting, and permanent for ages to come, and what would set forth, and easily explain itself, and so justify the Britains, and after them the Saxons, and prove the reason of their being so named. And it appears, that this was generally from some river, or water, by which they had their site; and though the names of most rivers (little ones especially) are, by length of time, lost and unknown, yet the continuance, and constant flow of their streams, will endure to confirm this remark:

Labitur et labetur in omne volubilis ævum.

A learned gentleman and Saxon antiquary, (fn. 10) long since observed: "That our Saxon ancestors were a very wise and understanding people, that they did not, as men do now a-days, for the glory of a short continuance, name the places of their conquest after them- selves, or some of their great masters, but even according to nature's self."

There are some towns in this county that still retain their British names entire, and from their site; viz. Lynn, Winch, Geist, Trows, &c. as at first given them by the Britons, the aborigines of this isle; and to many the Saxons have added the final syllables, of ham, ton, ley, thorp, worth, den, dale, ing, how, sted, wold, ferd, burgh, &c. Many Roman towns also retained part of their old British names, as appears from the Itinerary of Antoninus, &c. (fn. 11)

To the remark above made, it may be objected, that there are many towns that take their names from trees of different kinds, which are subject to decay, and not from any natural, durable site; as Ashwell in Hertfordshire; Ashill in Norfolk; Ashsted in Surry, from ash trees.

To this it may be replied, that the real, true, and old names of towns are to be taken from the Book of Domesday, which being com- posed in the reign of the Conqueror, remain there, as they were in the time of Edward the Confessor, and in the Saxon age; since that time they are much corrupted, and falsely spelt.—Ashwell, in that book, is wrote Escewell, (seated on the river Read,)—Ashill in Nor- folk, Escelea, seated on wet, spongy meadows; the hundred being called Weyland. Ashsted in Surry, standing by the river Mole. Ash is the name of a river in Hertfordshire;—Esse and Esh, rivers in Der- byshire, Leicestershire, &c. In Sussex, we find the river Ashburn, from which the ancient and noble family of the Earl of Asburnham derives its name. How wide from truth then must the derivation of Ashingdon in Essex be? so called, (as an old historian says,) as being a mount or hill of asses. (fn. 12)

Okeley in Surry, and in Essex, is generally said to be so called from trees of oak, but their site is near the water, (fn. 13) the first near the head of the river Mole, wrote in the grand survey, Aclea.—Oke and Ock are rivers in Devonshire, Berkshire, &c. — Okeburn, a town in Wiltshire, and Okebrook and Okeworth, in Derbyshire and York- shire.

Boxley in Kent, and Boxwell in Gloucestershire, (fn. 14) thought to be so named from box trees, are wrote Buceslea, and Buceswella, one stand- ing on a winding stream, as has been above observed; and thus Bokestede, or Boxstede, in Essex, on the river Stour;—and thus is it with Willoughby in Nottinghamshire, wrote at the Conquest Wil-ge-by, that is by a well, or fine spring of water; Willy is a river, and a town in Wiltshire, and hence comes Wilton and Wilford, &c. And as towns thus appear not to be derived from any particular kind of trees, so are they not from wood in general. Woodstock in Oxfordshire, is Vudeston, seated by a river;—Woodburgh in Nottinghamshire, Ude- burgh; as Woodbridge in Suffolk, and Woodford in Essex, all bearing a near relation to the Roman udus.

The Britons used several monosyllables, to denote and express water;—a, ea, and e, as in Acle, or Akele in Norfolk, &c. Eaton in Buckinghamshire, &c. and Ely in Cambridgeshire.—Eu and ew, as Euston in Suffolk, Ewell in Surry, &c.—Guy and Wy, as Guyton, in Norfolk, Wye in Kent, &c. Here I cannot omit observing, that a famous chancellor of Cambridge University, who lived in the reign of Richard II. wrote himself at times, Wido, Eudo, Guydo, and Ivo de la Zouch, as appears from the registers of that University, and of the see of Ely.

Just therefore is the remark of an eminent antiquary, Edward Lloyd, who asserts, (fn. 15) that the most general way of naming towns among the Britions, was from their rivers, on which they were seated; and I may add, if we reflect rightly on this subject, that even the names of most of our counties, and those of our hun- dreds, are also derived from the said original; water being one of the greatest blessings, one of the most necessary supports of human life; for as Pindar styles it, [Arizon then Udor].

Another observation that I shall here add, is, that no town in the British age took its name from its lord or owner; the monks were the first who gave the name of some saint, or person eminent for his piety, &c. St. Alban's, a town in Hertfordshire, where Offa, the great King of the Mercians, founded a monastery in 793, (fn. 16) which being dedicated to St. Alban, (called the Proto-Martyr among the first Christian bishops,) assumed that name. This St. Alban is said to have suffered at a place called Holm-Hurst, near the ancient Roman city, called Verulam, by the Romans, and Verulam-Ceaster, or Wat- ling-street, by the Saxons, before it had the name of St. Alban's.

St. Ives in Huntingdonshire, so called from a Persian bishop Ivo, whose relicks being here discovered, (as is said,) about the year 1001, its ancient name being Slepe; and Slepe is said (fn. 17) to arise out of the ruins of the Roman Ritomagus.

Ivo is undoubtedly a Saxon name; and how this Persian bishop could be of this name, is a quære; but as the monks might be his godfathers, historians copy after them.

St. Neot's, in the said county, on the removal of St. Neot's body here, assumed his name; the cloister-historians disagree about him, and the time wherein he lived; they assert him to have been one of the sons of Adulf, King of the West Saxons, and brother of King Alfred; whereas Alfred was the son of Athelwolph, King over the greatest part of England, who died in the year 857, and had no son named Neot, (as the Saxon chronicle proves; (fn. 18) ) and this town was called Eynbury, or Eynolvesbury, before the time of this Neot; and we find Eynford, a hundred in Norfolk, and Eynesham, a town in Oxfordshire.

Thus Peterburgh was first named Medeshamstede, standing on a river by the meadows; and St. Osyth, in Essex, was called at first Chick, from the adjoining river: from these instances it is plain, that the Saxons altered the ancient names of some towns, taken from their natural, real site, and imposed new names on them, coined by the monks in their cloisters.

After this inquiry into the names of towns, I shall here adjoin some remarks relating to the names of persons in general.

The Britons had but one name, and that not hereditary, as Arvi- ragus, Cingetorax, Taximagulus, Cassivellanus, famous kings; Cuno- beline, the great King of the Iceni, had these three sons, Adminius, Caratacus and Togadumnus; and Androgeus was the son of Immanu- entius, King of the Trinobantes.

The same custom prevailed among the Saxon kings. Sigebert, Egbert, Edgar; (fn. 19) Ethelwolph, the son of Egbert, (the great West Saxon king,) succeeded his father, and left four sons, Ethelbald, Ethel- bert, Etheldred and Alfred, who were all kings, in their order of the West Saxons. About the time of the Conquest, we find the Kings Etheldred, Canute, Harold, &c. Among the chief nobility, Leofric Earl of Mercia succeeded by his son Algar, who was father of Edwin and Morker, two famous earls.—Godwin Earl of Kent had six sons, Swain, Harold, Ulnoth, Tosti, Guert, and Leofwine; and, at the sur- vey, we find a great number of the Saxon thanes, and nobility, who were deprived of their lordships; as Thoke, Osmund, Bondo, Orgar, Edric, &c. in this county.

Sirnames were first assumed in France, about the year 1000, and were local, taken from those towns, or places, of which the persons who assumed them were lords and owners, and were soon after brought into England. In the troublesome reign of King Etheldred, this kingdom being cruelly ravaged by the Danes, that King, with his queen and family, took refuge in France, (Emma, his queen, being sister to Rich. Duke of Normandy,) where he continued till the death of the Danish King Swain; but his two sons, Edward and Alfred, staid in Normandy, and were there educated. After the death of King Etheldred, and of the Danish kings, Canute, Harold, and Hardi- Canute, Edward was sent for by the English nobility, and chose king in 1041, (as the Saxon Chronicle, (fn. 20) ) and introduced this Norman custom.

One of the first that I find to have used it in England, was Thorald de Bukenhale, who assumed his sirname from his lordship and town of Bukenhale in Lincolnshire; he was brother to the famous Lady Godiva, wife of Leofric, the noble Earl of Mercia, had great posses- sions, and was founder of the priory of Spalding in Lincolnshire, in 1052.

Soon after this, in the reign of King Edward, we meet with Edric de Laxfield, lord of Hickling, Rachel de Gimingham, lord of Repps,— Alwi de Thetford, lord of Kirby in Norfolk, all deprived at the Conquest, whose descendants continued the said sirnames; so that it is a mistake to say, "that after diligent inquiry made, no sirnames, descending to posterity can be found before the Conquest." (fn. 21)

At the time of making the Book of Domesday in 1086, this Norman custom had much prevailed. Selden, in his preface to Eadmer, gives us the names of several persons of different hundreds in Cam- bridgeshire, then sworn by commissioners appointed to make it.

In Stapleho hundred, Nicholas de Chenet, (Kennet,) William de Chippenham, Warin de Saham, Alan de Burwell, Alfric de Snaille- well, &c. and in the said county we find Giffard de Drayton, Gilbert de Histon, Roger de Childerley, Brun. de Chesterton, Almer de Cotenham, &c.

These were chiefly Normans, and probably some were Englishmen; for, on this great occasion, many, both Franci and Angli, were sworn to the truth of what they knew relating to the tenures of those places. Undoubtedly they were relations, friends, dependants, and of the re- tinue of those Norman lords, who held the aforesaid towns (by grant of the Conqueror) in capite, and by knight's service, and were en- feoffed therein by the said lords, and so held under them, and assumed their sirnames from the towns, wherein they were thus enfeoffed, ac- cording to the Norman custom. Hence it appears, that local sirnames of noblemen, gentlemen, &c. were seldom used in England before the reign of the Confessor, and that towns did not take their names from any lord or owner, but gave names to their lords.

It is impossible in a work of this nature to prevent mistakes and errours made by the author, or the press; it is therefore humbly re- quested that the reader will excuse and pardon them, and be of the same humane and candid sentiment with the poet:

Non ego paucis Offendar maculis, quas aut incuria fudit, Aut humana parum cavit natura. Hor.


  • 1. Lambard's Peramb. p. 204, 271.
  • 2. Reg. General. in fin. Saxon. Chron. Gibsoni, p. 3.
  • 3. Baxteri Glossar. p. 1.—The city of Munster, in Germany, stands on the river Aa.
  • 4. Annals, p. 76.
  • 5. Pisgah Sight, b. iv. p. 2.
  • 6. Mag. Brit. ant. et nov. vol. iii. p. 256.
  • 7. Worth does not signify a farm, court, yard, herbs, &c. as is generally suppos- ed.—Verstegan's Ant. p. 297.
  • 8. Nom. Locor. Explic. in Sax. Chron p. 31, and Mag. Britan. &c. vol. iii. p. 983.
  • 9. Reg. Gener. in Chron. Saxon. p 7, 24
  • 10. William Lisle, Esq. in his preface to his Saxon Monuments.
  • 11. Baxt. Glossar.
  • 12. Marian, as Newcourt, and Floren- tius, as Gibson, p. 13. Nom. Ex. ob- serves. Repertor. vol. ii. p. 19.
  • 13. Nom. Locor. in Sax. Chron. p. 9. apud fin.—Newcourt's Repert. vol. ii. p. 444.
  • 14. Perambul. of Kent, p. 225. Atkin's Gloucestershire.
  • 15. Baxteri Glossar. p. 272.
  • 16. Tanner's Notit. Monast. p. 180. Dug. Monast.
  • 17. Baxt. Gloss. p. 203.
  • 18. Chron. Saxon. p. 76, 77, &c.
  • 19. The Historia Eliensis says, that Wolstan de Delham, or Dalham, was secretary to King Edgar about 970, and that Leuric de Brandon was living in the said reign, which I much quære.
  • 20. P. 156.
  • 21. M. Brit. et Hib. vol. i. p. 59.