SMSW 1 – Surrey place-names in Anglo-Saxon charters

Among the many (too many) unfinished pieces of work I have “on the go” at the present time is the write-up of a talk I gave to the Surrey Archaeological Society’s Villages Study Group in a bitingly-cold village hall early last Autumn. One of the reasons for my failure to complete the essay thus far has been my decision to include a section dealing with charters and other written records of certain or purported pre-Norman Conquest date as an important (if all too often problematic) source of early place-name forms. Central to this, a calculation of the proportion of historic Surrey parishes which occur in such documents. A lot of counting and recounting later and at long last I now have that figure and a whole lot more besides. Here’s an account of how I got there.

First off, I must emphasise that the following calculations are concerned with parish-level settlements and place-names only. Many sub-parochial place-names are to be found in the same sources (Woodham in Chertsey or Binton in Seale, to give two particularly early examples) but there is no satisfactory means of comparing them against a representative county-wide population. Limiting myself to parochial names also reflects the considerable thematic overlap in my original talk between villages and parishes.

In the absence of something so convenient as a list of historic Surrey parishes, totting up the number in scope is something best done by means of a base map. The obvious choice was the index map of parishes on page 3 of John Blair’s Early Medieval Surrey (it’s not available online as far as I can see, though the West Surrey Family History Society’s site has an equivalent, albeit one that sacrifices a few names and boundaries for the sake of greater clarity). This gives the parochial topography of the county as it existed in 1823; not an ideal date by any stretch, but nevertheless one I am willing to use as the foundation for my analysis.

From Blair’s map I derive a total of 141 parishes (by way of comparison, adding up the vills listed in accompaniment to the map in the Phillimore edition of the Surrey section of Domesday Book yields a not-dissimilar figure of 148). This figure excludes the sub-parochial townships he marks at Ham and Hook in Kingston parish and Wallington in Beddington (as it happens, none of these three appears in any document relevant to this analysis anyway). It does, on the other hand, aggregate the urban parishes of St Mary’s and Holy Trinity in Guildford while treating Artington as separate despite its ecclesiastical centre being St Nicholas’ church on the western periphery of the town. I have elected to do this because Artington contains the small Domesday manors of Loseley and Littleton, proving it was more than simply an estate-cum-parish which was portioned out from a great estate centred on Guildford. Again, not an ideal situation, but such is the lot of the early medieval statistician…

Next we turn to the documentary record. With so few annalistic references (and none that is unique in mentioning a future parish otherwise unknown on pre-1066 record), the data here comes from the biggest and best of the charter websites, The Electronic Sawyer, supplemented by my own knowledge gleaned from historical and place-name reference works. I have chosen to include the relevant place-names from all documents regardless of scholarly judgements as to their authenticity, although, as you will see in due course, I do break some of the numbers down to demonstrate the degree to which fabricated material contributes to the dataset. In total, 62 Surrey historic parish names occur in “Anglo-Saxon” sources. These are tabulated in the document hyperlinked below (I should admit in advance that it does not contain the relevant documentary references as their compilation is a job too far on a hot and sticky night like tonight):

Surrey parishes in Anglo Saxon documentary sources July 2013

The method by which I included and excluded names from the total requires thorough explanation. To begin with, I excluded the following four parishes from the 62, for the following reasons:

  • Albury: while it could be the site of a small Chertsey-held estate mentioned in S 1181S 420 and S 1035, it is just as possible that it refers to a landholding called after one of the other places in Surrey formerly known by a name of the same composition: the Iron Age hillforts of St Ann’s Hill, Chertsey, or St George’s Hill, Weybridge, the gravel island site of Newark Priory, the Bee Garden on Chobham Common… (cf. Dodgson & Khaliq 1970, 39).
  • Chessington: Rumble (1976, 180 note 23) argued for its equation with the Cysledun named as a woodland appurtenance of Beddington in S 815; this has not been repeated in major place-name reference works (e.g. CDEPN, 130), with which I side on this occasion.
  • Farleigh: I do not follow Blair (1991, 45) in identifying the Fearnlege of Ealdorman Ælfred’s late ninth-century will with Farleigh in Surrey, rather with its Kentish namesake (as per the online edition of S 1508).
  • Ockley: I have no truck with the notion that it marks the site of the battle of Acleah fought in 851; Richard Coates has published a paper setting out the reasons for seeing it having taken place elsewhere (I imagine it is of his customary high standard, though I have seen only the first page thanks to De Gruyter’s paywall).

Also excluded are the names attached to Anglo-Saxon-period landholdings that were likely to have been coterminous with historic parishes but which were superseded by their present names: Henley (later Ash), Walkingstead (Godstone) and Sheen (Richmond).

In addition, I made a number of individual judgement calls:

  1. Both East and West Clandon are included as S 1035 refers to “x. mansas et Clenedune et in altera Clenedune .ii. mansas“.
  2. Great and Little Bookham are treated as one, as are East and West Molesey, on account of the relevant charters only ever referring to a single estate of each name, e.g. as Bocham and Muleseye in S 752.
  3. Thames Ditton is included but Long Ditton excluded owing to the nine-hide estate named as Dittune in S 847 and Bictun in S 911 being locatable within the former (as I noted in my short paper on “the seven acres”).
  4. Kingston is included under Chertsey as well as under other sources on account of it being given as the promulgation place of S 420.
  5. Not directly relevant, but it is interesting that Frensham appears in place of Farnham in S 818 (as Fermesham), probably an error of scribal transmission, as well as occurring on independent – though highly dubious – record in S 1181 (as Fremesham).

Perhaps the most important sum arising from the above (and one some readers may have done by themselves already using the information given above) is the percentage of early nineteenth-century parish-level place-names on supposed pre-Conquest record:

62/141 = 44%

This percentage is much higher than I had anticipated, though behind it lies some very marked patterning in the distribution of the names. For example, out of the 62, only 8 (Farnham, Frensham, Compton, Godalming, Gatton, Tandridge, Lingfield and Titsey) belong to parishes entirely or mostly situated to the south of the North Downs scarp. The reasons for this are, as may be expected, many and varied and would merit a dedicated blog post further down the line to unpick them. For the meantime, it’s back to the stats and the percentages of names recorded in charters from (1) the Chertsey archive and (2) all other ecclesiastical archives.

(1)   34/62 = 55%

(2)   39/62 = 63%

Arguably, I find the first result more significant than the second, for it underlines the importance to Surrey of Chertsey as both a landholder and a producer of administrative records, whatever the reliability of the extant texts. This is made even clearer when the number of parishes named solely in Chertsey charters is calculated. It comes to 20 (= 32.3% of the Surrey total) or 22 (35.5%), depending on whether Compton and Sutton are held to appear in King Alfred’s will (S 1507). Decent arguments can be mounted in support of both places, though final proof one way or the other is elusive and as a result I have decided to err on the side of caution and exclude them here. Not that it really makes a heap of difference; either figure means that roughly one in three of the place-names in question owe their appearance in a pre-Norman documentary context to the monastery at Chertsey. More troubling, however, is the fact that of these only four (Chobham, Egham, Molesey and Chertsey itself) are to be found in charter or other texts of reliable authenticity (all appear in S 1165, as does Thorpe, but this has been identified as a later interpolation by Susan Kelly, as I noted in my assessment of its origins as a settlement and place-name). The remaining 16 or 18 (= 80 or 82% of the Chertsey total, and 26 or 29% of the county total) occur in contexts where scholarly opinion has cast considerable doubt as to their authenticity.

What has the above told us? It has revealed a surprising breadth of coverage of the “Anglo-Saxon” written sources when it comes to naming what became parish-level places in the county of Surrey, albeit this hides the fact that a substantial number occur only once in all texts from across the period. This is without exploring fully the extent to which fabricated or dubious charter texts contribute to the corpus of place-names. Furthermore, it has proven – not that proof was really needed – the degree to which Chertsey and its charters play a substantial, though not dominant, role in our understanding of this topic and those that lead from it, such as patterns of landholding during the seventh to eleventh centuries. Behind these simple statistics lie many important grains of historical information, and to ignore the sources of these is to do a disservice to the early history of many places in Surrey.


Blair, John, Early Medieval Surrey: Landholding, Church and Settlement before 1300 (Stroud and Guildford: Alan Sutton and SyAS, 1991)

Dodgson, J McN. & Khaliq,  ‘Addenda and Corrigenda to the Survey of English Place-Names’, Journal of the English Place-Name Society, 2 (1970), 18–74

Domesday Book, 3: Surrey, ed. by John Morris (Chichester: Phillimore, 1975)

Rumble, Alexander R., Place-names and their context; With special regard to the Croydon Survey Region (Croydon: Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society, 1976)

Watts, Victor, The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names [CDEPN] (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)


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, Charters, Chertsey, Church, Documents, Domesday, History, internet, Place-Names, Statistics, Surrey and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to SMSW 1 – Surrey place-names in Anglo-Saxon charters

  1. John McIntyre says:

    As an expert in old Surrey place-names, I wonder if you could help me with the derivation of the name Gostreeds (now known as Gostrey Meadow), an area of meadowland once part of the estate of the Bush Hotel in Farnham? As the land included, or was bounded by the River Wey, there may have been reed beds. However, that may be irrelevant. Unfortunately, I don’t really know where to start, but thought I’d stumbled on something really interesting when I saw our blog. Any thoughts or guidance would be very much appreciated. Thank you in advance.

    • Hi John,

      Without knowing a huge amount about the history of the land and the changes in the spellings of the name, I’m reliant on the standard reference work, 1934’s The Place-Names of Surrey (there’s a copy in Farnham Library!). It gives the name being written as Gosereede in 1616, and interprets this as a name combining “goose” with the term ried/ryd, meaning something like “cleared land”. The former befits the riverside location, while the latter is found in many minor/field-names in the Farnham area, and can probably be connected with the enclosure of much new farming land in the 12th and 13th centuries. I wouldn’t say this is definitely the meaning of the place-name, but do believe it to be the most credible interpretation given the evidence available.

      More research to root out more early spellings in documents would help to confirm or disprove the above – if you do proceed down this route let me know how you get on!

      • John McIntyre says:

        Hello Robert,

        Thank you so much for your prompt response. I am mortified that you had to point me at a reference work in my local library, especially as I was there a week ago making enquiries and didn’t see the Place-names volume among those suggested! I apologise for having troubled you, but am most grateful that you took the time to write out the explanation for me. It is very satisfying to know that the name, as I suspected (and hoped) does indeed have pretty old origins. What you say makes so much sense that I am going to take it as definitive and look no further for the moment. However, there used to be some old maps in Farnham Museum, so if I get a chance I might try to follow that up and see if the location is spelled out on a map.

        I’ll get back in touch if I turn anything up, and meantime thank you again for solving my puzzle for me.

        John McIntyre

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