Origins of the place-names –
and what they reveal
While the Rutland villages of Barrow and Barrowden derive their names from 'barrows' – prehistoric burial mounds – this is not the case for Barrowby. Instead a similar-sounding Scandinavian word for 'hill' (berg; pronounced 'bery') is combined with the Danish word for 'settlement' (by). The oldest record of Bergebi is in the Domesday Book of 1086. The 'e' between the two words suggests the plural form. So the literal sense of Barrowby was once 'settlement on the hills'.
Almost certainly there were farmsteads here before the Danish settlement of the late-ninth or tenth century. Whatever name the area was known by then would have been different but is now totally lost. Although many settlements were named after their founder, just possibly Barrowby was once 'Upton' or 'Overton', both of which are Old English for 'settlement on higher ground'. However the earlier name may have been something like Thrihoh ('three mounds or hills') as by 1086 the hundred name is Winnibriggs and Threo.
The original site of the Scandinavian farming settlement (or by) was almost certainly near the parish church as this was almost always close to the early 'manor house'. Best guess is one or both the 'posh houses' close to the church are a continuation of homes from over a thousand years ago. But the archaeological evidence is likely to have been lost as the houses were successively rebuilt and gardens revamped. For what it's worth, my money would be on the island in the moated site at Barrowby Old Hall once being the site of the most important house, though several centuries before there was a moat.
The name Casthorpe is also Scandinavian in origin. Domesday Book refers to both Kashingetorp and Chaschingetorp, although these are variant spellings of the same place-name. You have to feel sorry for the French-speaking scribes brought up in Normandy trying to write down in Latin what they think the 'locals' are saying in Old English – bearing in mind regional dialects were much more distinct in the eleventh century and, in this part of the country, would include many Scandinavian words and pronunciations.
There almost certainly wasn't any significant settlement at Casthorpe before the tenth century – and more probably the early eleventh century. The Scandinavian word thorpe (or torp) tells us it was a secondary (or 'daughter') settlement of Barrowby associated with – in all probability created by – someone called Caschin.
The '-ing-' part of place-names is usually from Old English ingas which means 'the followers of'. Think of a farmstead where the men inherit the property and marry women from other settlements. To use a later phrase they are 'kith and kin'. However the 1086 spellings – 'Kashingetorp' and 'Chaschingetorp' – may be a corruption of 'Caschin' (it was an uncommon name at the time) with an added 'g' in the mistaken assumption it should be ingas. In which case Cathorpe is not from ingas at all, something the modern spelling indicates.
Caschin is not an Anglo-Saxon name. But it's a bit odd for a Scandinavian one too. The experts think it might be from a Flemish personal name 'Kasekin'. This is an informal version of 'Nicasius', the Latin form of St Nicholas. Note that in the eleventh century 'Flemish' was used to refer to natives of all the Low Countries, rather than specifically Flanders.
A few centuries later and there was a massive influx of Flemish refuges who set up a very profitable weaving industry, using the wool from English sheep. Whether Caschin and his family were also weavers we will never know – thorpes are almost always principally arable farms, not pastoral. But the hill slopes between Casthorpe and Barrowby would have been unsuitable for arable, but ideal for sheep. So was weaving a lucrative 'second income' in Casthorpe's formative years?
Indeed, was Caschin – and, presumably, some fellow weavers from the Low Countries – invited over to establish a 'thorpe' specifically to enhance the local weaving trade? This would be consistent with the six freemen ('sokemen') recorded as living in Robert Malet's part of Casthorpe at the time of the Domesday survey in 1086 (more details here). I have no way of proving Caschin was Flemish, still less a weaver or invited to establish a daughter settlement. But such speculations are consistent with the somewhat unexpected Domesday Book entry.
The name of Stenwith also reveals a significant Scandinavian influence. It is from the Scandinavian words stan wath, meaning the 'stone ford'. Just to the north of Loughborough there is the village of Stanford-on-Soar, which is more readily recognisable as 'stone ford' as the modern English has evolved directly from the Old English stan ford. There are many Stanfords in England. At least two are now misspelt as Stamford, such as the one 23 miles south down the A1 where the Great North Road crossed the Welland. There are also many place-names with the element wath – but these are mostly in northern England where Scandinavian settlement was significant. Stenwith is an 'outlier' of the word wath into a region where Old English ford is more typical.
The name of tells us that the area once was known for sedges growing along a brook. 'Sedge' and 'brook' are both Old English words. But, significantly, the watercourse nearest to Barrowby is known as the Old Beck – and 'beck' is the Scandinavian word for a brook. Presumably Sedgebrook had fewer Scandinavian settlers than Barrowby or Stenwith.
Stenwith and Sedgebrook are examples of 'non-habitative names', unlike Barrowby and Casthorpe. What do I mean? Simply that place-names ending with -ton, -ham, -by, -thorp(e), -wick and -worth (along with a few more unusual examples) tell us that there was some kind of settlement.
Place-names such as Stenwith and Sedgebrook simple describe something locally distinctive but do not indicate that anyone was living there at the time the name was coined. Very likely the names Stenwith and Sedgebrook became 'established' when mills were built there – after all with so many mills in close proximity you need to be able to distinguish between them. Each mill would need at least one family to operate it, so a small settlement might steadily evolve after the mill's construction.
Note that the are a few complications when trying to distinguish between habitative and non-habitative place-names. For example, Bottesford is a habitative name because the Old English word botl means a posh house. And a few -hams were originally -hamms. You can usually spot those because the settlement is in the loop of a river. A good example is Evesham in Worcestershire. Why so? Because the Old English word hamm refered to the hollow or bend of the knee. With hammen ifalden, 'with folded hams' was a Middle English way of saying 'kneeling'. So hamm is a slightly oblique description of a looping river. And, yes, hamm is the origin of our name for a joint of cured pork, because hamm has the linked meaning of 'the thigh of a pig', from which hams are prepared.
Scandinavian place-names in broader context
The inference from the place-names is that Barrowby and its daughter settlements, along with Great Gonerby, were something of an 'outlier' of Scandinavian-speaking settlers. To the east of Grantham Scandinavian place-names – such as those ending in -by – also come to the fore. But the preponderance of -tons and -hams (both Old English words for farming settlements) to the west of Grantham and the comparative few examples of -by around Barrowby suggest a Scandinavian enclave surrounded by Anglo-Saxons. How long it took for the two to fully intermingle is difficult to establish. The names recorded in Domesday Book for land holders in 1066 suggest by then there was a well-integrated mix.
The Scandinavians in and near to Barrowby did not have far to travel to meet other Scandinavian speakers. Place-names tell us that the whole of the Wreake valley to the west of Melton Mowbray was also densely settled by Scandinavians. In contrast, the parts of Leicestershire to the west of the Fosse Way (A46) have fewer Scandinavian place-names. And Rutland has very few Scandinavian place-names at all.
Curiously one of the Rutland names – the village of Wing – is shared with the name of a cul-de-sac in Barrowby – Wong Gardens (off Hedgefield Road). Don't worry about the different vowel, there was no standard pronunciation or spelling. Modern linguists spell the Old Scandinavian word as vengi (with the 'v' pronounced as 'w'). It means 'field'. But think of something very much bigger than modern post-Enclosure closes. In the next section we will encounter another 'broad stretch of land'.
(All place-name derivations above from Cameron 1998.)
Breeder Hills – more evidence of Scandinavians
Modern OS maps show Breeder Hills Farm to the west of Casthorpe Farm, close to the parish boundary. An older OS map has 'Brederhill' and there are written references to 'Breather Hills'.
The most likely derivation is from Old English brædu and the cognate Old Scandinavian word breithr (both meaning a 'broad stretch of land') plus Old English hyll – the plural added in more recent centuries. The spelling Brederhill would be closest to this origin.
Breeder Hills Farm (arrowed) viewed from the east.
Not exactly a hill... But it is a 'broad stretch of land'.
But there are only gentle undulations in the land, nothing really resembling a hill. Perhaps the word hyll was used ironically for such a small rise?
The whole area around Breeder Hills Farm is low-lying and prone to flooding. The location of the farm utilises a small rise which is less likely to flood. That means there might have been people living at that specific site since perhaps the eighth century, maybe earlier.
L.R. Cryer, in his 1979 booklet, offers a couple of especially cringe-worthy 'folk etymologies' for Breeder Hills. Suffice to say Cryer is citing people who were not local to the area and had no expertise with English place-name etymologies (which were quite well understood by the mid-1970s).
See the page on the village green a.k.a. Steven(s) Gutter for more evidence of Anglo-Saxon names which have endured (and been slightly corrupted).
Further information about Anglo-Saxon Barrowby
If you think I've got something wrong – or can add additional information or photographs – then please email me:– firstname.lastname@example.org.
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