Update – well, what do you know?

So the inevitable happened and I found a medieval spelling of the place-name Epsom, probably of the thirteenth century, beginning with an H. You can see the evidence for yourself in the following screenshot… 


I had a feeling it would happen – a couple of years ago when browsing through books in a Manchester charity shop I found a reference in an edition of some royal rolls (I didn’t note down which – oops) of 1250 to Ockham as Hokeham. There are no parallels to this among the forms of Ockham collected in The Place-Names of Surrey (leaving aside the odd Domesday version, Bocheham) but Ockley has two late thirteenth-century forms starting with H: Hokeleye c1270, Hockeleye 1296, plus, for what it’s worth, in Domesday Book it appears as Hoclei.

I’m sure there’s a linguistic term for this mutation in Middle English (surely it’s analogous to when people pronounce the letter H as “haitch” rather than “aitch”?) and I may yet find it in The Dialect and Provenance of the Middle English Poem The Owl and The Nightingale, Bertil Sundby’s 1950 study I’m slowly making my way through at the moment, which is a little-known trove of philological perspectives on Surrey place-names in the post-Conquest period. Of course, it does not necessarily follow that there was a similar phenomenon in Old English (though this 1902 article by R A Williams may change my mind – once I get around to sweet-talking the Swiss girlfriend into translating it for me!)

What has got me seriously reconsidering some of the key planks of my argument, namely the three thirteenth-century instances of the name Heb(b)esham I cited in the essay, has been reading through the three-volume edition of the 1235 Surrey Eyre rolls. In particular, this has suggested to me that my most nailed-on reference to the place being in Essex, from the county’s Feet of Fines for 1234/35, may in fact be quite the opposite, with Hebesham here being a distorted form of Eb(b)esham/Epsom. The justification for this turnaround is a note highlighting that, according to the Chertsey Abbey Cartularies, “Hugh Black” rented an estate at Epsom (Meekings & Crook 1983, 489 note 217). Quite how this fits with the payment of an annual sum from an estate in Essex is far from clear, but it does raise questions over the provenance of the other two occurrences of the name – particularly those from Wallingford.

It’s the new year and it’s back to the drawing board with this study to reassess the various references and to which county they – and hence Hebbeshamm – belong. For now, anyone wanting to find out a bit more about the reference (but who, like me, are never going to go to The National Archives to look at the document proper) may like to consult its online catalogue listing.

EXTRA! A few months after writing the above, I was asked by Jeremy Harte to put together a summary of the state of play regarding the Hebbeshamm-Epsom question for the Epsom and Ewell Local and Family History Centre Newsletter. It’s not been printed yet (you can read back issues here) so I thought I would upload a version on Surrey Medieval an an extra qualification of my main piece on the subject and a fresh discussion of the implications of the “new” philological evidence. I’ve called it ‘Epsom and Hebbeshamm: Here? There? Where?’ and you’ve just overshot the link to the document…


The 1235 Surrey Eyre, Volume 2 – Text, Translation and Notes to Text, ed. by C A F Meekings & David Crook (Guildford: Surrey Record Society, 1983) – see this post from last year for more information.


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