Sunday, 30 June 2013

Cambridgeshire Place Names

With the release of my volume looking at the origins of the place names of Cambridgeshire I thought a brief extract would be appropriate. I have chosen the entry which looks at the Undertakers and Adventurers, field names found all over the fenland and not for the reasons one might expect.


Found in 948 as Cotenham and as Coteham in 1086, here is a name from a Saxon personal name and Old English ham and referring to ‘Cotta’s homestead’.

Twenty Pence Road ran alongside a place known for its ‘twenty pens or folds’ in 1596. Alboro Close is from ald burh or ‘the old fortification’. Chear Fenn comes from Old English cear, meaning literally ‘turn’ and describing this twisting way through the fenland. The Lots tells us this was an allocation of land, one of several areas shared amongst a number of locals.

Setchel Fen was known as ‘the enclosure where sedge grows; Smithey Fen tells of the ‘smooth, low-lying land’; while early records of Top Moor show this was known as ‘Taeppa’s marsh’. Individuals who are remembered in the landscape include Jabez Ablett, after whom Ablett’s Row is named, Edward Mason gave his name to Mason’s Pastures both here in 1840, William Taylor was associated with Taylor’s Lodge in 1780, and Lamb’s Cross home to Henry Lamb in 1279.

Time and again in the fenlands of Cambridgeshire we find the field name of the Undertakers. This is not, as we might think, a sign of a burial ground or those who made their living by disposing of corpses. This always refers to fenland which has been drained, the very name tells us those who undertook to dig the drains and ditches did so on the basis they would receive a share of the reclaimed land in return, thereafter turning to farming. Of course the Undertakers were far more numerous than the Adventurers, a name also seen around reclaimed land for they too received land in return for investing money supporting the Undertakers while they were working.

The Hop Bind is a pub name which is derived from the hop, the fruit which is used in brewing. The name is not quite correct, for the true description is a hop bine where the plant grows in a helix around a supporting frame or another plant. The Jolly Millers suggests an association with those in the trade and would be particularly content to be there, the addition of ‘Jolly’ being a common invitation. The Waggon and Horses reminds us of the only way of transporting large quantities of goods until the building of the canals, public houses often acting as agents and distributors.

The local church has a strange narrative told regarding its construction. It made sense to build the church as close to the centre of the community as possible, collectively this makes everyone’s journey as short as possible. The church of All Saints had stood at one point of the village and, when it was agreed to move it, began to remove the blocks of stone and transport them to the new site. However next morning it was discovered every stone had been returned to the original site. On hearing the news the parishioners were so troubled they decided it would be better to leave their church where it stood.

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.


  1. 2019: The church has just had a facelift and looks like new.

  2. ...and leaving aside COVID-19 for a moment the bigger impact on the the area north of Cottenham will be sea-level rises resulting from global warming, which will no doubt give rise to a new generation of Undertakers and Adventurers.

  3. Intrigued to read about Ablett Row in Cottenham named after Jabez Ablett. He was my great grandfather. A more information? Sue Ablett