Exciting times (for strange people like me)

It’s my mission to try and complete synthesising the material I presented in last year’s talk on ingas into an essay before February is out. It helps that (1) it’s a leap year and (2) I’ll be spending the last week of the month with my girlfriend in Switzerland with scarcely a penny – or should that be franc? – to my name, which will keep me housebound for much of my stay. Beyond posting it on here I’m not sure what my intentions are for the finished piece, but I hope it will take its place alongside a number of other forthcoming works with the potential to transform our understanding of Surrey in the early to mid Anglo-Saxon period.

My starting point is Keith Briggs’ philological research which has called into question the existence of Old English *ge, “district”, long held to be the second element in the name Surrey (as well as a small handful of other southern and eastern English place-names). This is due to be detailed in a paper ‘Early English region names with the suffix -ia, with a special emphasis on the name Ely’ – I’m not sure which journal it is intended for publication in – but a PowerPoint presentation entitled ‘Power and place-names: did early English rulers use Roman-style province names?’ given to the Power and Place in Late Roman and Early Medieval Europe conference at UCL last November can be downloaded from Briggs’ website. On one level, his thesis that the suffixes may instead represent the Latin synonym -ia doesn’t alter the debate, given the implication of both words is the same. One might question why some (most?) of the prefixing terms are Old English; perhaps -ia was a loan-word brought into the Old English place-naming lexicon like, for instance, camp, from the Latin campus.

A more likely source of future scholarly disagreement is Briggs’ contention that the postulated -ia suffixes belong to the seventh and eighth centuries. Time and again *ge has been proposed to be of early, fifth or sixth-century currency, so for the names hitherto held to contain it to be seen as of mid Anglo-Saxon coinage would be quite a sea change. His suggestion that Surrey may owe its name to ‘an early bishop of London’ seems a little speculative without supporting references, but it does at least echo the connection with London (rather than an unrecorded “Norrey” on the north side of the Thames) first proposed by John Hines in his archaeological synopsis ‘Suþre-ge – the foundations of Surrey’ published (after a hiatus of upwards of a decade) in 2004. On the other hand, it conflicts with Pamela Taylor’s hypothesis that Surrey – or the eastern half of the historic county at least – fell within the diocese of Rochester until its transfer to Winchester some time during the early years of the eighth century (the ‘forthcoming article’ in which this will be set out in detail is mentioned in passing in footnote 9 of her 2010 essay ‘Domesday Mortlake’ – I’m feeling lazy so click here for the full bibliographic details).

I’m not convinced by Taylor’s argument, although full written explication may change my mind. For one thing, the pre-Conquest charters of Rochester make virtually no mention of property in Surrey, and neither the bishop or cathedral community was a Domesday landholder – that is if such evidence can be treated as relevant when the diocesan extent may have been determined by a antecedent territorial connection as part of the West Kentish (sub)kingdom. By contrast, the more I think about it, the more what Briggs proposes makes sense. The idea that -ia suffixes were the product of Frankish and Merovingian influence ties in with one of the most striking conclusions of the Beyond the Tribal Hidage project – a major research project that again is likely to see publication in the next couple of years – namely that the kingdoms of what is now southern England came into being as a direct result of ‘the external demands of continental kingdoms’ (page 21 of Portable Antiquities and Treasure Annual Report 2008). Maybe I’m just tired, and I’ll think differently tomorrow. Either way, it promises to be an exciting (no, really) few years ahead for early medieval studies in Surrey – even more so if Susan Kelly’s Charters of Chertsey Abbey sees the light of day anytime soon – and I want to be right at the heart of the action.


About Robert J S Briggs

Back to being a part-time early medievalist; Surrey born, London based, been known to travel
This entry was posted in Anglo-Saxon, Archaeology, internet, London, Place-Names, Surrey. Bookmark the permalink.

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