Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Cinque Ports

In 1155 a Royal Charter created what became known as the Cinque Ports, the name coming from the French for ‘five’ although, as we shall see, there were effectively more. The named ports, around the coast of Sussex and Kent, were to supply and maintain ships in readiness for whenever the Crown needed them. Collectively they were to provide 57 ships for 15 days’ service per annum, the duty shared out between them. In return the charter gave the named ports a number of privileges. As the charter states (with any necessary explanations in brackets):

“Exemption from tax and tallage (tolls), right of soc and sac (self-government), tol and team (levy tolls), blodwit (those who drew the blood of others), fledwit (those who fled justice), pillory and tumbril (carry out punishment for minor offences), infangentheof and outfangentheof (detain and even execute criminals who erred within the limits of the port's jurisdiction or even outside it), mundbryce (the right to erect dikes as flood defences on the property of others without question), waifs and strays, flotsam and jetsam and ligan (claim on goods through or lost overboard or which had been unclaimed for more than a year).”

Such powers given over to small communities was quite unusual and, rather predictably, resulted in a certain amount of lawlessness. Few saw the need to obey the laws, many offences were ignored, and smuggling was so rife as to be the dominant wage-earner.

Whilst there are officially just five cinque ports, we also find eight ‘limbs’ and some twenty associated towns and settlements. As this blog so often looks at etymologies, and having produced books looking at these specific counties - East Sussex Place Names, West Sussex Place Names, East Kent Place Names and West Kent Place Names - I thought it might be interesting to look at the origins of the names, even though these place names will have been coined many years before the charter and thus will not have been influenced by same.

The official five are:

Dover – Possibly the nation’s most famous port for passengers as it is the traditional gateway to Europe, the name appears as Dubris in the fourth century, as Dofrus at the end of the seventh century, and as Dovere in the Domesday record. This is an old river name, the River Dour being a British or Celtic river name from dubras and meaning quite simply ‘the waters’.

Hastings – Recorded as Hastinges in the Domesday survey of 1086, this comes from a Saxon personal name and Old English inga telling of the ‘(place of) the family or followers of a man called Haesta’. However this was not the original name of the place, for at the beginning of the tenth century we find Haestingaceaster or ‘the Roman stronghold of Haesta’s people’.

Hythe – Old English hyth is used to refer specifically to ‘the landing place, harbour’. This name is found as Hede in the Domesday record of 1086.

New Romney – Listed as Rumena in 895 and as Romenel in 1086, this place name was originally a river name. From Old English ea ‘river’ this suffix appears to follow the element Rumen, itself an old name for Romney Marsh meaning ‘the broad one’.

Sandwich – Seen as Sandwicae in the early eighth century and as Sandwice in the Domesday record, this name comes from Old English sand wic and refers to ‘the sandy harbour or trading centre’.

Eight Limbs:

Brightlingsea – Listed as Byrhtlingan in the early eleventh century and as Brislinga in Domesday, this name refers to the ‘raised dry land of the family or followers of a man called Beorhtric’. Here the Saxon personal name is followed by ingas eg.

Deal – Found as Addelam in the Domesday record of 1086 and as Dela in 1158, here is Old English dael or ‘(place at) the hollow valley’.

Faversham – Seen as Fefresham in 811 and Faversham as early as the Domesday record of 1086, here Old English faefer ham speaks of ‘the homestead of the smith or metalworker’.

Folkestone – Recorded as Folcanstan in 697 and as Fulchestan in Domesday, here Old English stan follows a Saxon personal name to speak of ‘the stone of a man called Folca’.

Lydd – With the earliest record dating from 774 as Hlidum, this comes from Old English hlid to speak of this place being ‘at the gates’.

Margate – A famous Kent port recorded as Meregate in 1254, with Old English mere geat referring to ‘the gate or gap to the sea’.

Ramsgate – Another Kent port, this found as Remmesgate in 1275, here we possibly find Old English hraefn geat and ‘the gap of the raven’, although it may be the first element is used as a Saxon personal name. Either way the gap is still visible in the cliffs.

Tenterden – Found as Tentwardene in 1179, this refers to itself as ‘the woodland pasture of the Thanet dwellers’. The name of Thanet is suffixed by Old English ware and denn. The Isle of Thanet itself means ‘the bright island’, a British or Celtic name thought to refer to a beacon.


Bekesbourne – Seen in the Domesday record of 1086 as Burnes and in 1280 as Bekesborne, the original name is from burna or ‘stream’, with the later addition showing it was held by Willelmus de Beche, if only for a short period between 1198 and 1208.

Birchington – Found as Bircheton in 1275, here is the birce tun or ‘farmstead among the birches’.

Bulverhythe – With the earliest record dating from 1229 as Burewarehethe, here we find Old English burg wara hyp or ‘the landing place of the people of the fortified place’.

Eastbourne – Listed in Domesday simply as Burne, this is from Old English burna or ‘stream’. The addition, first seen in 1279, means exactly what it says and compares its location to the Westbourne.

Fordwich – With eighth century records of Fordeuuicum in 675 and Forduuic in 747, here is Old English ford wic referring to ‘the dairy farm at the ford’.

Grange (part of Gillingham) – As a Saxon reference is always to an outlying field or farm belonging to a monastery or the church.

Hydney (lost place name in Eastbourne) – Comes from two Old English elements, hid eg refers to ‘the hide of dry ground in a marsh’. A hide is not a true measurement of land, even if it is often cited as being equivalent to 120 acres. This is simply an average as the true definition should be ‘the area of land required to feed one family for one year’. Clearly many factors have to be taken into consideration, such as quality of the soil, annual rainfall, drainage, suitability of the crops grown, and the size of the family.

Kingsdown – Two quite obvious elements here, Old English cyng dun referring to ‘the king’s land of or near a hill’.

Northeye (lost Sussex village) – As with Kingsdown this is clearly from two Old English elements where north eg describes ‘the northern area of dry land’.

Pebsham – Once again the Old English elements are easily seen, here ham follows a Saxon personal name to refer to ‘the homestead of a man called Pybba’.

Pevensey – Listed as Pefenesea in 947 and as Peuenesea in 1050, this sees the Old English suffix ea with a Saxon personal name to describe ‘the river of a man called Pefen’.

Reculver – A Kent place name from a British word related to Welsh gylf and Old Irish gulba following a Latin prefix prae to give the great headland or promontory’. The name has a myriad early listings beginning with Regulbium in 425.

Ringwould – Found as Roedligwealda in 955, this name speaks of the weald or ‘previously high forested ground of people of a man called Hrethel’.

St Johns – Quite clearly a place named from the dedication of its church.

St Peters – Again a place named from the dedication of its church.

Sarre – Listed as Seorre in 761, this represents an old British river name, and while the true origin is not certain, possibly comes from the same root as Latin serth meaning ‘to crawl’.

Seaford – A name which is self-explanatory and describes ‘the ford by the sea’. The name is recorded as Saford in 1150.

Stonar – First seen in 1178 as Stanora this name comes from Old English stan ora and describes ‘the stony shore or landing place’.

Walmer – From Old English wahl mere here is ‘the pool associated with the Welshmen’.

West Hythe – As with Hythe this describes ‘the landing place’ with the addition showing location in respect to its namesake.

Woodchurch – A very easy name to define, indeed it is still self-explanatory. However the ‘church built of wood’ tells us rather more than would first be apparent. In Saxon times churches were predominantly constructed of wood, not until the Normans arrived were they mainly of stone. This stone gave the common place name of Whitchurch, literally ‘white church’ and showing it stood out as being made of stone, prior to this references to a church were simply to the place of worship and not to the material of which it is constructed. Hence we can deduce this church at Woodchurch was built from timber at a time when it was unusual to do so, showing the name and the church was comparatively late.

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