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Place names

The place-name part of this project will provide an important corollary to the archaeological and historical work, as a means of identifying, and providing a wider context for, sites with possible military associations. The project offers a unique opportunity to study and test existing place-name interpretations against authoritative archaeological and historical research, and the potential to throw up previously unrecognised ‘military’ place-name elements.

The first stage of the place-name survey involves a detailed collection of potentially significant elements across the study area, some of which are discussed below. These are terms known to exist in English place-names, and relating to defence, observation and military activity. The initial research has focused on the materials of the English Place-Name Society, and is being followed by a close scrutiny of other sources, such as Anglo-Saxon charters. Precise location of some of the names will require close linguistic analysis of the charters, supported by detailed study of the landscape, and it is to be hoped that this part of the research will lead to some new identifications.

Place-name elements with military associations:

What follows is a select list of some of the more important English place-name elements relating to defence, observation and military activity.

burh ‘a fortified place’. This occurs as the first element in place-names such as Burford (Sa; from burh-ford) and Burpham (Sx; from burh-hām), as a simplex place-name, for example in Brough (Nt), and as the final element of many place-names, often giving modern forms in -brough, -borough, -burgh, or (in the case of dat.sg. byrig) -bury. The element burh is also found in compounds such as burh-tūn and burh-stede.

The primary meaning of burh is ‘fortification, fortified place’, whether this refers to an ancient earthwork or encampment (e.g. Badbury, Do), an Anglo-Saxon fortification (e.g. Hertingfordbury, Hrt) or a post-conquest castle (e.g. Scorborough, YE). The term was sometimes used in the later Anglo-Saxon period to denote a ‘fortified house’, from which the common post-conquest sense ‘a manor house, the centre of an estate’ developed.

fæsten ‘a stronghold’. This may denote old earthworks or sometimes ‘an inaccessible or easily defended island of firm ground in marshland’.

here ‘an army’. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle this term denotes the Viking army. In place-names it occurs in compounds such as here-ford, here-pæð, here-weg, which may denote roads or fords suitable for the passage of an army. The compound here-wīc may mean ‘army quarters’, as may Old English here-beorg, although the common Middle English place-name compound herberIe may have had a more general sense ‘a shelter (for travellers), a lodging, an inn’.

*tōt, *tōte ‘a look-out’. In Old English place-names this refers to good observation points. It is often found in the compound tōt-hyll.

weard ‘a watch, ward, protection’. This element is often found in place-names with words for ‘hill’, and probably denotes ‘a watch-hill’. It also occurs in the compound weard-setl ‘a guard-house, a watch-house’.


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