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Centuries of our history in names

PUBLISHED: 19:20 14 May 2008 | UPDATED: 09:10 11 August 2010

THOUSANDS OF years of heritage are contained in Essex place names that show how history has shaped the English language. In a book called Essex Place-Names, James Kemble investigates the origins of names that have defined the neighbourhood of Barking and

THOUSANDS OF years of heritage are contained in Essex place names that show how history has shaped the English language.

In a book called Essex Place-Names, James Kemble investigates the origins of names that have defined the neighbourhood of Barking and Dagenham, as well as those of former settlements and parishes in the surroundings of Essex county.

The earliest place names are of Celtic-British origin and date back as far as the Stone and Bronze Ages over 3,000 years ago.

The Roman invasion brought Latin onto the shores of Britain and further, and later, the Saxons arriving in Britain in the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries, added German to the language.

When the Vikings invaded Britain a couple of hundred years later, Scandinavian meddled in with the language.

Barking and Dagenham's place names are made up of the historic influence of these tribes and peoples.

The book notes that the earliest mention of Barking goes back as far as the seventh century, when it was known as Berecingas et Beddenham.

Dagenham, which is derived from 'Daeccanhaam', is mentioned in a document from 687, when it was granted to Abbess Ethelburga by Hodilredus.

The endowment of Barking monastery is recorded in an Anglo-Saxon charter from 675-8, which is now in the British Library.

The -ing ending added to another word was used to form a place name but it can also mean 'territory of the people of', so 'Berecingas' stood for 'territory' or 'settlement' As the -ham ending could mean either settlement or enclosure, Beddenham means settlement or homestead of Bedden.

St Bede wrote in c.731 about the Barking Monastery as 'monasterio Bericinensi'.

The name also appeared as Berkynge, Byorkingan, Beorcingan and Berchingis in later historical documents.

The book lists many other place names and their origins.

Becontree, for example, was referred to as Beuentreu in Old English documents, meaning Beohha's tree, which used to be a signal beacon-stand that may have been on Beacontree Heath east of Valence House.

Ilford ford is derived from river Hile, which is the Celtic word 'sil' and stands for 'trickling stream' - now Roding river.

Rom river, which runs from the north of Romford down to Ford Motor Works in Dagenham, where it continues as Beam river, was known as Writola Burna, the 'chattering stream'.

While 90 per cent of place names date back to the period before 1500, the street names that are listed in the book, are younger and more likely to be named after people.

Barnado Drive, Barkingside, is named after Dr. Thomas Barnado who founded homes at Barkingside for destitute children in the late 19th century.

Alibon Gardens is dedicated to Dagenham-born Sir Richard Alibon, who was judge of the Kings Bench in the17th century

Samuel Hewett, who operated a large fishing fleet from Barking in the 1830s, is the inspiration behind Hewett Road.

Breach Lane in Dagenham, is a reminder of a Thames flood in 1707, in which 1000 acres of Dagenham Levels west of Beam river were under water after a tide burst a sluice drain.

Any ordinary street or place may have a hidden history that is waiting to be unveiled. As our surroundings are changing, the names of places will stay to remind us of people, events and landscapes that defined the space we live in.

The book is available from all good retailers.

It is published by Countryside Books/Historical Publications and costs £14.95.


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