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The History of Placenames in Worcestershire

Do you know what a toponymist is?  Members of the Vale of Evesham Historical Society found out on the evening of 27 October when Dr. Mike Jenkins, a retired medical doctor who, over the past 30 years, has enjoyed learning, writing and lecturing on, among other things, history and toponomy (the study of place names) gave them their monthly talk.

Mike began his presentation with some general observations on the derivation of place names before turning to address the origins of some placenames local to the Evesham area.

Over the centuries, different languages and cultures have contributed to the coining of names; England after all has been home to Celts, Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Normans – to name but a few –and some of our placenames have very ancient roots.  The vast majority of our placenames are of Anglo-Saxon origin and date from between the 5th and the 11th centuries. These names are concentrated mainly in southern and central parts of the country, whilst old Scandinavian names are to be found in the north and east.  Many names derive from features of the landscape or from the name of a particular inhabitant.  One of the most fascinating snippets of information conveyed to us was that rivers such as the Thames, Teme, Tame  and Tamar share the root of their name with a tributary of the Ganges, the Tamus, that root meaning “the dark one” and deriving from a common Indo-European language.

Closer to home, most of us are aware of the origin of the name Evesham. In the Saxon period and during the early middle ages, the place was known as first as Homme, Hamme or Ham, meaning a settlement on the riverside, especially on the bend of a river, and then as Eveshomme, Eoveshame and so forth, in reference to the swineherd Eof.  (Eof’s vision of the Virgin Mary led to the founding of Evesham abbey by St Ecgwin in 709.)  What I think none of Mike’s listeners had realised was that occasionally the town has been referred to by variations of the name Cronochomme, translated romantically as “the water meadows where the cranes live”.  The name Pershore has a similarly lovely translation – “the settlement on the bank by the osier beds”.

After the meeting our Chairman, Carmel Langridge, thanked Mike for his fascinating talk and introduced a period of discussion. She also flummoxed our speaker by asking for the origin of one local name which apparently remains an enigma to toponymists, Tardebigge. (In his              Mike even suggests that the name may be related to a very ancient pre-Celtic language and originate from 3,000 to 4,000 years ago.)

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