A Weekend in Winchester

A few weeks ago I went to visit one of my uni friends in the stunning city of Winchester.

We walked round it for a solid three and a half hours. I hadn’t brought the correct shoes for this, and so my feet were pretty tender by the end! I also took twelve billion photos (about 60 or 70 in reality) which was probably to be expected because if there was ever a city with a lot of history in plain sight, it was Winchester!

I’m therefore splitting my trip up into two posts today and tomorrow (making the “weekend” part of this post both my experience of doing it and yours in reading it! Yes, I think I’m clever right now) otherwise we’d all be drowning in photos.

Before I get down into the pictures, humour me in my place-name obsession. If you want to skip this, click here.

As a settlement, Winchester has existed for a very long time indeed. There are several Iron Age hillforts around the city. I visited one, called St Catherine’s Hill, which you can see on this image:

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 16.04.56
Source: http://www.natureonthemap.naturalengland.org.uk/MagicMap.aspx

I only took one photo of my climb unfortunately, and it is an uninspiring one of the way down.


After the Roman invasion, this place became known as Venta Belgarum. This is a pretty interesting name because Venta isn’t Roman. It’s pre-Celtic. Did the Romans usually continue pre-existing names? I know very little about Roman Britain.

The Belgares were the Celtic tribe in the area at the time. My place-names dictionary only has “Venta” as the earliest recording, so was Belgares something descriptive added later?

Ah, add it all to my list of things which need further investigation.

So yes, the earliest form of this in my dictionary is “Ouenta” from about 150 CE. Then the Anglo-Saxon invasion happened, and the next recorded name is “Uintancaestir” in about 730. I have briefly mentioned this “caster/cester/chester etc” Anglo-Saxon name form before. It’s a very specific name which they gave to settlements that used to be Roman. This time they even kept the Roman name (more or less)!

My meanderings through history are over.

Onto the pictures!

The first place that we went to was the Great Hall. We had a really excellent tour; however I didn’t take notes or make recordings so I’ll be backing up what I remember from the photographs with judicious googling.


This is the famous Round Table of Winchester. It was made between 1250–1280 but only painted by Henry VII in the early 1500s. Our guide explained which I’m not sure is 100% true but is 100% hilarious: in the intervening 300 years, people forgot how the table had been made, and what had started as merely a homage to the Arthurian legends became considered the actual legendary table itself.

(It was absolutely huge, that photo can’t really do it justice. It would have filled most of the top half of the room!)

Here you can see underneath the table to the left (as you’re looking at it) is a male figure and to the right is a female figure. This showed the side that the king and queen sat on, when this was used for its original royal hall purpose.


Over the years the Great Hall was used as a courthouse quite a lot, and this was where the prisoners would go – presumably just until they were sentenced? Can’t remember. It’s a really small hole. Creepy.


That faint white area in amongst the stones is a remnant of the original  13th century wall.


I spent a very long time looking at this. This is a massive painting on the back wall of the hall. I’ve forgotten what the names actually were – were they MPs? Argh, I forget. However, for me the much more interesting thing was watching the progression of surnames.

As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, before surnames were inherited they existed as descriptive bynames. So, John Johnsson, John the Baker, John from Winchester, John the Short. Etc. All throughout this side of the wall, the earliest side, you have names like:

“1337 Robertus de Popham” (and roughly 20 years later in 1353, presumably a relative, Johannes de Popham)

This is a locative byname, showing either where he was from or where he was in charge of if he was an important person.  Five seconds of googling and you can see here that Popham was a tiny hamlet near Winchester (first documented 903 CE!), and that both Robert and John were members of the manor family.

These types are most common on the early wall, but you do get unmarked surnames which could have been hereditary (I’d have to do some serious digging to find this out), such as

“1349 Rogerus Normound” or “1345 Richard’s Fromound”

By the very bottom of the early wall in 1381, both names in that year are unmarked (Thomas Wortyne and Johannes Sandes) and as far as I remember from thereon in no-one has a “de” name. So I am hesitantly and on zero proof suggesting that this is an interesting and accidental view of surnames switching from descriptive to hereditary.

So we’re done in the Great Hall now; moving on!


Text reads: In pre-historic times, the Itchen flowed in two main channels in the centre of the river valley, near the Cathedral. Following the foundation of the Roman town, about 70AD, this new artificial channel was created. This both reduced the chance of flooding in the town centre and provided an eastern defensive moat. In the medieval period, the river was nearly twice as wide as today.

Following along similar ancient lines, this is an actual piece of the Roman wall. Two thousand years old. I got chills.

Next we went to Wolvesey Castle. Most of the remains are from the 12th century. It is hands down the coolest set of ruins I’ve ever been in because the walls are so intact that it retains the sense of size and scale.





And finally to finish this tour we will positively zoom up the timeline to have a look at the house which Jane Austen died in!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed looking at all the photographs! See you again soon.

A Weekend in Winchester

Were your ancestors Vikings?

There’s been a rash of articles floating around my alerts about Viking surnames. Apparently the TV channel History teamed up with experts from the Centre for Nordic Studies in the University of the Highlands and Islands, in which it looks like the experts did all the work and shared their knowledge and the TV channel surveyed 2000 people on questions which, given the answers, probably looked a bit like: “Do you want to be descended from a Viking?” and “Do you know anything about the Vikings?” Scintillating stuff.

I really hope that by now, unlike some of the people in that survey, you are aware that the Vikings were around in, for example, the 9th century, and not a) Elizabethan times like those people thought, or b) as one well-meaning schoolchild parent once suggested to me: “before the Romans”.

I wish all schools had basic timelines of history hung on their walls.

Since as usual I can’t find the actual source of either the survey or of any written-up piece from the university, I’m just going to go through the names that various newspapers have dropped and explain their actual origins as best I can. This will be dodgy as all I have is my 2005 reprint of the Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, and the internet for the Gaelic ones. Nonetheless, it sounds fun.

Important point for my own peace of mind: Dr Alexandra Sanmark who is the academic mentioned in all of these identikit articles, is an expert and if I question any names here it’s only because I can’t find anything academic written to look at, not because I think I know better.

Names which end in -son or -sen. This is a fairly well-known Scandinavian pattern, I think. It literally does just mean, for example, John’s son. Johnson. This originated as a type of surname called a patronymic. Actually I don’t think that it its original form it counts as a surname at all but I’m loathe to call it anything else. It’s kind of more like a byname, since it just describes someone.

(Scandinavian names in Britain?? Yeah, well, I did a tiny blog on that yesterday.)

Check out this blog for a slightly better explanation of a byname, which is a descriptive second name used to distinguish people – it was not passed down through the family. Heritable names evolved out of bynames, and that’s more or less what’s happened with the -son/sen names. I wonder if they started happening because the meaning started to blur … to explain that:

Johnson. The earliest record my dictionary has of that surname is in 1287, as Jonessone. But hilariously, the man’s first name is John. So he will pass that byname down to his children. And given that I’ve heard there was less of a variety of names in the early medieval period (warning, unsubstantiated speculation!) I wonder if that sort of thing helped this pattern of name to become hereditary.

The articles all then go on to say something along the lines of “Other surnames which could signal a Viking connection include … Roger, Rogers, Rogerson and Rendall.”

This is personally interesting, since Rogers is my grandmother’s maiden name. So I go and look it up in my dictionary, and don’t find what I expect at all.

This name was introduced to England by the invading Normans. They had it because they were ancestral Scandinavians who had, as far as I understand, assimilated into Frankish culture. This meant that the existing Germanic name (H)Rodger (fame + spear) got boosted by the Scandinavian name Hroðgeirr, which meant the same thing.

So there’s my Viking connection, just … not quite from the direction I was expecting!

Rendall is either a pet form (nickname) of Reynold or of Randolph. Again, these were names introduced with the Normans which had exceedingly similar Old Norse and Old Germanic versions.

And of course the newspapers didn’t stick with jut English names.

The Scottish surname MacAsgaill comes from … well, the articles say the Old Norse name Arskell or Asketil and my dictionary says Askell. Mac means son of, so we’re actually dealing with patronymics here too.

There’s also:

MacCaskie, which comes from a Gaelic nickname of Askell: Ascaidh.

Macaulay: the Old Norse name Olafr.

MacLeod or McCloud: Comes from the Old Norse name Liotr, which actually might have been a byname itself since it means “ugly”.

McIvor’ is also mentioned in the articles but I can’t find that in my dictionary. Let’s see what Google has to say … Got it! Goes back to the Old Norse name Ivarr, apparently.

Other names mentioned are from Shetland and Orkney, which was extremely strongly Scandinavian-ised ( I must do a blog on this) to the point where they actually spoke a different language. My dictionary’s got nothing on these, so, to the internet!

Linklater’ = lyng heather + klettr rock (Source)

Flett’ = eventually from the Old Norse flotr “arable land”. (Source)

Scarth’ looks an awful lot like Old Norse skarð but the extremely well-respected big brother of my dictionary just says it’s named after the name of a piece of land. (Source)

Heddle’ Named after a place again, but apparently originally from Old Norse hey (I don’t trust the given etymology, does it really mean high??) dalr, valley. (Source

Halcro.’ Named after a place. Can I find what it means? Can I hell.

For Irish names, I found a great little article here. I’m going to quote from there unless me and my dictionary have anything else to add.

McAuliff, son of Olaf (You can really see the similarities between this and the Scottish version MacAulay)

Groarke, Mag Ruairc, son of Hrothkekr;

McBirney, son of Bjorn;

Reynolds, Mac Raghnall, from the Norse first name Ragnall.

Doyle is Ó Dubhghaill, from dubh, “dark”, and gall, “foreigner”, a descriptive formula first used to describe the invading Vikings … O’Loughlin and Higgins both stem directly from words … [directly referring to the Vikings]: Lochlann in Irish and Uigínn, an Irish version of the Norse Vikingr.


Well I enjoyed this sojourn into surnames, and I hope you might have found it a little bit interesting! See you tomorrow, and thank you for sticking with me!


Were your ancestors Vikings?