Winchester Cathedral

Evening all! Welcome to part two of my Winchester trip. This was the Sunday when we went to the cathedral. (And a great little bookshop where I got four books for a fiver)

Here you can see the lines laid out in the grass which show where the original Anglo-Saxon cathedral stood. The signs you can just about see (I was standing on my tiptoes but I’m very short so a few snuck in) said that the original building, now referred to as the Old Minister, was the most important royal church in Anglo-Saxon England. Many kings were buried in it. It was demolished in 1093.


This, I was informed, is the oldest part of the current cathedral. Can I remember the date? No, I cannot, and Google is most unhelpful. Help?

This excellent webpage gives you much more information than I even understand about the architecture. I think I have finally grasped what a nave is, mind you.


This at first just looks like a huge stained glass window. Many colours, beautiful. However, I discovered there was more to it than that! The window was smashed by Oliver Cromwell’s forces, and the pieces were reassembled in a pretty hazard manner. There are areas where it looks like they’ve gone “I found some pieces that go together!”, but on the whole the placement appears random. Still doesn’t stop it from being beautiful.

Text reads: The font is used in Baptism, by which sacrament a person becomes a member of the Church. This mid-century font of black Tournai marble is decorated with carvings showing the miracles of St Nicholas, patron saint of children.

I’m a great sucker for anything earlier than 13th century, you might know that by now. I’m also a sucker for historical international trade, and a few seconds googling explains that this font is made from a type of black limestone found in the Belgian town of Tournai. There are a large number of these fonts in mainland Europe, and seven of them in England. According to Wikipedia, the fonts were brought by escorted caravan either across the land to the Channel, or on the exceedingly long river Scheldt, which passes through France, Belgium and a corner of the Netherlands.

So this font is actually Belgian! I just find that interesting, don’t mind me.

Ooooh these were my FAVOURITE things in the whole cathedral. THE GRAFFITI.


These were all over every single pillar we walked past. These were some of the earliest, but also some of the more interesting. Mainly because they seemed to demonstrate a distinct decline in the ability to carve over the years. I’m not even just talking about the frankly stunning bit of writing in the top right, but just the difference in depth and clarity between Thomas in 1629 and H. M. in 1931. Most of the graffiti was from the 17th century, and I wondered why that was. Thomas’ graffiti was in the year that Charles dissolved Parliament and told them to bugger off for eleven years. Still, could the large amount of 17th century carving here be at all related to Cromwell’s soldiers’ presence there? Just curious. Too many questions.

I did laugh, though. The latest we were finding graffiti was from roughly 1930 – one or two in 1960s. We hypothesised that perhaps people had stopped carrying pen knives around, or other potential carving implements. Then we saw one from 2013.

For some unknown reason, some lapse into irrationality,  I did not take a picture of it.

All of these previous bits of graffiti had solidity. Even the ones which were rubbed illegible you could tell had been deeply cut originally.

This one? Well, imagine any of the thousands of times in your life you will probably have seen words scratched into a table, desk, or bench. Chicken scratch. I  giggled at the inadequacy, I really did. Hint, if you want to make a lasting mark, you’ve got to put effort into it.

Seriously, though. I could have spent all day just looking at all the graffiti. From a names perspective as well. Maybe I’ll go back and do that some day.


Apparently I didn’t take a photo of the plaque describing this. I remember that it is a rare type of painting (fresco?), and that it is really really old (12th century?). Excuse me while I fill this alarming gap.

Google is slightly failing me on the method. Anyway, so these are in what looks to the uneducated like me to be a little side room but is called the Holy Sepulchre Chapel. It was decorated with 13th century paintings, but in 1963 it was discovered that underneath these paintings were even older paintings. You can see Jesus up the top, and the picture on the wall underneath apparently depicts him being taken off the cross and put in his tomb. According to this walking tour of Jews in Winchester, there are several Jews visible in these paintings, identifiable by the hats and badges they were forced to wear.


This was the crypt! It seemed like you could only get in on a Crypt Tour, but, it was open … so we just … went downstairs. This is one of the oldest parts of the building (apart from that sculpture), dating from Norman times, and it gets flooded. Seems an issue to have built a cathedral on a floodplain but hey, no-one ever said humanity makes good decisions.

These were creepy! Really, really cool, but somehow creepy in a way that gravestones and plaques in the floors aren’t. In the same kind of way that I find cremation urns creepy. It’s an object full of a dead person. Eeurgh.

But they were really old so my love of old things won out.

Text says: These mainly 13th century tiles are the largest and oldest area of tiling to survive in England. The tiles are very fragile and visitors are asked to walk on them with care.

WHY ARE WE STILL ALOWED TO WALK ON THEM??? Even with the best will in the world people’s feet will be wearing them down, and you just know some awful people will read that sign and immediately jump as hard as they can. Do not trust the public with old stuff! We break it!

That aside, they looked fantastic and it was a spine-tingling moment to realise that I’m walking on handiwork which is over 700 years old.

And just to finish off, officially my favourite accommodation I’ve ever seen. The text reads:

“Tactile model of Winchester Cathedral is for the use of visitors with impaired vision which enables them to feel the profile of the building. Further information on this or any of facilities for people with disabilities are available from a Guide, a (can’t tell, looks like Vitger?) or at the Entrance Desk.”

I just thought that was an excellent idea. Here’s the shape of the building you’re walking through. Not being visually impaired myself (well, it’s corrected with glasses) I don’t know how effective it is, though. I wonder how I could find out.

Well, thanks for reading about my Winchester trip! Hope you enjoyed yourself – I certainly did! See you soon.

Winchester Cathedral

Hunts place-names – Language

Welcome back to part 2 of my little series on a sample of the place-names from the historic county of Huntingdonshire. I’ll look at what they were originally named, and whether this can tell us anything about the area.

See part 1, on places originally named after people, here.

(Plug: Ask me your village/town name in the comments or on social media and I’ll look it up and tell you stuff about it! Places all over Britain welcome.)

Today I’ll show you how a few of the village/town names aren’t as English as you might have thought!

I’ll be putting these in roughly chronological order, so let’s discuss those categories first. If you know it all and want to skip to the names, feel free to click here!.


This is thought to have been a language spoken in Britain before the Celts arrived. So we’re talking probably hm, before about 700BC? 800BC? For comparison, this is roughly the period when the Greeks developed their alphabet (and by developed I mean nicked it off the Phoenicians, who got it from the Egyptians, and no-one’s quite sure where Sumerian fits in … ok so I like the history of the alphabet too, sue me). Anyway, the point I was going for is that names which use anything categorised as Pre-Celtic are really, really old. They are generally river names, which is the case in Huntingdonshire.


This is the language thought to have been spoken in Britain when the Romans invaded. (Romans were in Britain from 43 to 410.)

Old English/Anglo-Saxon

This was spoken by the Anglo-Saxons. The earliest record of them in Britain (in a position of power) was 441. I don’t think there is any evidence names anywhere in the country from that long ago, though. The question of when Old English ended is thorny but for simplicity’s sake I’ll go with traditional general views and say the twelfth century (1100 – 1199)

Old Norse/Scandinavian

This was spoken by the Vikings! gets shot by every single lecturer ever Ok, this was spoken by the settlers and also the raiders who came to live in Britain between the late 8th and 10th centuries. Fun fact, the settlers on the east coast of England were largely Danish, unlike those in Ireland and the North West (and Scottish Isles) who were largely Norwegians.

Middle English

Again to generalise drastically, this is thought of as what Old English developed into in England after the huge Latin and Romance influence from the Norman invasion of 1066. It’s the phase when, adjusting for spelling, you can generally read it without having to learn it word for word like you do Old English. Assume a rough start date of the twelfth century, and various netbooks are telling me the end date is 1475 – 1500. This basically corresponds with the printing press revolution, which standardised spelling properly.


Some of you might, if you’re paying attention, be scowling right now and asking why Latin is this far forwards in my list when the Romans were here for, like, 400 years. That is a valid concern and the Romans did definitely name places in Britain in Latin. However, the Anglo-Saxons got rid of I think pretty much all of them. There certainly aren’t any in my sampled names in Huntingdonshire! So the Latin in place-names largely comes from the same era as the French – it’s those pesky Normans again!

Most of my sampled names are Old English, but there is at least one example of everything above. Let’s go!


The name of the village COLNE comes from the name of a nearby stream. It’s so old that we don’t know its meaning, as we don’t with many Pre-Celtic words.


The “Hail” in HAIL WESTON is a name meaning “dirty water” and was a previous name for the River Kym. (People started calling the river Kym after nearby Kimbolton.)

Old English

I’ve picked EARITH to represent the Anglo-Saxons, just because the translation makes me giggle. It’s made up of ear, which means muddy, and hyth, which means landing place. Obviously enough poor Anglo-Saxons got covered when they tried to get out of the River Ouse that it got named for it. Does anyone know if Earth is still muddy???

Old Norse

There isn’t a massive amount of evidence for Norse settlement in Huntingonshire. We know it happened, but there’s not a massive amount left for us to see. There are a couple of interesting place-names in that respect, but for now I’ll just talk about COPPINGFORD. The earliest form we’ve got for it is from the Domesday book, which is Copemaneforde. This is the Old Norse word for merchants: kaupmanna, plus of course the recognisable ford. But the reason that this is great is because the -nna ending on that word is a bit of Old Norse grammar which means belonging to (like the possessive apostrophe, or if you know German or Latin it’s the genitive case.)

That means that we can be pretty sure that Coppingford was named by Old Norse speakers. Whether they were the first to settle there, whether they just traded there a lot, or whether the name just replaced another unknown one, we don’t know, but I do think that’s pretty cool.

Concrete evidence of Norse presence in Huntingdonshire!

Middle English

WOODHURST is another favourite of mine. First recorded as Wdeherst in 1209 – no that’s not a typo, or if it is it’s about 800 years old and definitely not my fault. It’s made of two elements: Middle English wode and Old English hyrst. But here comes the daft bit. Wide means wood. Hyrst means wooded hill. So, Wood Wooded Hill. What??

Easy and also interesting explanation: originally this must have been called Hyrst. When people stopped understanding Old English, they just added a distinguishing word onto it. So there you go; a name springing from a misunderstanding!

(Other points raised: was there another Hyrst/Hurst around that Middle English speaking people wanted to distinguish it from? And was that area of woodland particularly important or rare, given that both names mention it?)


The only Latin lying around in my corpus comes in the form of distinguishing adjectives as happened to LITTLE PAXTON and GREAT PAXTON. Originally this was made up of the Old English name Paecc and that Old English tun suffix. Now, I don’t know why two settlements reasonably far away from each other have the same time, nor which one came first. Or maybe at one point they were the same place ad the middle section has disappeared? I don’t know, does anyone?

Anyway, so, by the 13th century, we see in the records that these two places are Magna Paxton and Parva Paxton. The fact that today they are called Great and Little suggests that all the scribe was doing there was translating those already existing words straight into Latin. He wasn’t even doing a great translation job, since my dad who loves Latin rather a lot assures me that adjectives should come after their nouns.


And finally, French!

The only usage of French in my sample (and I think probably the most common usage in Cambridgeshire overall) is in what’s known as “manorial suffixes”, which basically just means that when the French came in and were given stole lots of land, they added their family or land name at the end to identify the land as theirs.

Easy examples: OFFORD DARCY and OFFORD CLUNY. Darcy comes from a French family, and Cluny comes from a well-known French Abbey.


Thanks for reading! Please let me know if you’re enjoying this new idea. 🙂

Hunts place-names – Language

Huntingdonshire place-names – People

For this next set of posts, I’m going to pick a selection of names from my county, Huntingdonshire. I’ll then explain to you what the names show about the area!

Technically the county is Cambridge and Huntingdonshire is a district, but given that it only lost that status in 1974, people still view Huntingdonshire as a distinct thing. It was the third smallest county after Middlesex and Rutland.

So, where is Huntingdonshire? Well, first things first:

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This is (modern) Cambridgeshire
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Map showing settlements in Huntingdonshire from the time of the Domesday Book

Now we’re talking my language! (Also, if anyone knows the origin of this map, please do tell me!! My dad brought it home one day some time before 2013 and I have no idea where from.)

Hopefully you can match the names and get a sense of where Huntingdonshire maps onto Cambridgeshire. Now, onwards!!

The names that I looked at are dotted all over the county. The earliest recorded name is Bluntisham, from 907, and there are lots more from the tenth century too. All of the names are also still existing today – so Huntingdonshire pride perhaps makes more sense when you realise that the places are over a thousand years old.

Lots of the names are basically named after someone. This is an exceedingly  common naming practise across history and across the globe – check out the Wikipedia entry! But while places on that list are largely named after royal or famous people, settlements in Anglo-Saxon times are named after … well, certainly I don’t know. Possibly someone’s studied this, but if so I haven’t read it. Important people in the community, leaders, the first man to build a house … I don’t know.

So let’s look at some of these unknown, normal people.


A nice easy one to start you off with. This was the man immortalised in the settlement name Godmanchester. Its earliest form makes it even more obvious: Godmundcestre. I’ll address the -chester element properly in another post, but for now just know that this was the word that Anglo-Saxons used to denote a Roman fort, town, road station, anything like that. According to my undergraduate research, Godmanchester was built on the Roman town of Durovigutum.


This is the name behind the oldest name in my corpus: Bluntisham. This name is: Blunt (in its possessive form, Bluntes) and the Old English word for “homestead”. Blunt’s homestead.


He’s in the name Catworth. If you look at its earliest form, you can see that possessive -es again: Catteswyrth. The second element is Old English for “enclosure”.  Catt’s enclosure.


Believe it or not, this is the name behind Abbotsley. This is a great example of how you should never, ever trust modern names when you’re looking for older forms. There’s no Abbot here! Its earliest recorded form is Albedesleg, and again, there’s the -es in the middle. The -leg ending is actually the Old English word for clearing, leah.

(Actually if I remember my books correctly, leah is an interesting bit of meaning change: it used to mean woodland, and was applied to areas where there had in memory been woodland. (All British settlers have enjoyed cutting down trees, sadly.) As time went on the word shifted from basically meaning “woodland that used to be there” to “Oh hey look, this is a clearing. Obviously it means clearing!”)


There’s another lesson in this next name. This guy had Haddon named after him. I’m going to show you the two earliest forms and you’ll see a massive difference:

[aet] Haddedune – dated 951

Adone – dated 1086

What on earth happened here?? The first form makes it easy to trace the name back to “Haedda’s hill” (Haedda + es + dun) but the second is warped beyond recognition.

What happened in 1066?


This is a record from the Domesday Book. If you don’t know what that superhuman piece of recording is, please, please check it out online. It’s basically a massive database of everything that the new king, William, had in his country, down to how many pigs a village man owned.

And the accepted wisdom is that the Norman scribes doing the recording couldn’t handle Anglo-Saxon spellings or names and so Norman-ised them. I have a few articles bookmarked to read on unfairly blaming Norman scribes, so don’t accept that as gospel, but it’s certainly what you’ll find in older introductions to the topic.

So, this is why that if you’re looking for the oldest form of a name you really want either something older than 1086, or something from a similar time but a different source, so that you can compare spellings.

And last but certainly not least:


Now, as someone who is regularly called an angry feminist at work it would be highly remiss of me not to feature the only woman in my corpus. Whoever she was, she was clearly something special. Her eponymous village is Buckden, and its second element is denu which means valley.

Thanks for reading, and come back tomorrow for the way that we can mirror the invasions of England (and thus Huntingdonshire) through the languages used in its names!

Huntingdonshire place-names – People

The Round Church

Ok, and building number 2 from my trip into Cambridge this weekend! This is the Round Church, actually called The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Exterior! The round bit at the front is the earliest bit:

“… built in about 1130 by the ‘fraternity of the Holy Sepulchre’. They were evidently influenced by the Round Church in Jerusalem; this church, called the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was built by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century.”

The church website

After paying my £2.50 entry free (in Cambridge that’s less than most of the ice-creams!) I had a nice chat with the volunteer who handed me a summary leaflet of the place. I’ve scanned it in for you, since it saves me trying and failing to explain through the pictures, or worse just plagiarising the words.

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Scan 171000003

Ok, so you’ve definitely seen the outside now! I stood right up against a wall to take the longer shots successfully, got some very odd looks!


As you can see, the floor here was too large; I couldn’t get a decent shot of it. But hopefully this woeful snippet gives you an idea of what we’re looking at. This used to be all there was of the church, just this tiny round building. For an idea: the round area was crossable in about four stretching steps on my tiny 27 inch legs.  I’m not surprised that according to its website this church only operated as a chapel for passersby until it was expanded sometime in the 13th century. It couldn’t fit anyone else in!


Here we have a sadly slightly blurry picture of the ceiling of the round bit. (According to the PDF this bit is called the nave.)


Here you can see the original Norman big thick chunky stone pillars and low rounded arches. No wonder they were good at castles; they knew how to build big bulky stone things! I can’t 100% remember where I was standing to take this, but I’m pretty certain that in the centre you can see the choir room and to the left is the north aisle, also called the scriptorium.

I can transcribe this image if anyone asks, but it basically just says that a scriptorium means “a place for writing”, found in medieval European monasteries. Then it goes on about the University of Cambridge, and says (relevant info at last!) that when this church was just a wayfarers’ chapel it was manned by a priest from the Hospital of St Johns. It goes on to say, in very pretty words, that the church offers this space to the scholars and graduates of the University to allow them a space to study away from the “pressure-driven, isolating and even dehumanising” academic experience.

Fun fact: I didn’t see that there was a rope barrier at shin level barring entry into this room and nearly either fell over or knocked over the barrier, I’m not sure which would have happened first …

So this room was added later, though I can’t quite work out when? The roof is 14th/15th century apparently and is an excellent example of a tie-beam ceiling, including cute carved angels!

And then there was also the choir, added sometime after the 13th century, and the south aisle, which I think was added as part of a 19th century restoration.

I found the purely Norman bits of this the most interesting – both because of how strikingly castle-like the pillars seemed to me, but also because I had never been in a round church before. According to Wikipedia there are only four left in use in England, since most other churches were built in a cross shape. I did a quick google and came up with this blog post about them and a few websites.

The Temple Church

The Holy Sepulchre

Do have a look if you liked this round church! Maybe I’ll go and see the Northampton one sometime.

Well, thanks for flipping through another quick photo tour with me! I’ll be back tomorrow with probably a more text-heavy piece.

The Round Church