Checking on local place-names

ROUSER and his friends often argue about the derivation of local place-names, so once in a while it’s handy to check with the experts.

The acknowledged master is Eilert Ekwall, author of The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-names, which Rouser recently acquired.

So let’s have a look at a few examples.

Barcombe, it turns out, has nothing to do with a combe – it is, after all, not in a valley.

The last element seems to be a rare instance of the survival of camp, dating from Roman times and derived from campus, a field.

Nearby is Hamsey, formerly Hamm, a water meadow. The last element is the family surname Say. The Say family held the village from the early 13th century.

Offham, pronounced Oafham, has nothing to do with off (or oafs). Rather it derives from a personal name and was recorded in the ninth and 10th centuries as Wocham and Wogham.

Ekwall firmly identifies Lewes as coming from the Anglo-Saxon word hlaewes, hills.

Just south of Lewes is the Rise, on Rise Farm. This doesn’t mean rise, though it is appropriate, and is in fact the plural of rye, another East Sussex place-name. It means the island.

Nearby is Iford, the island ford, and next comes Northease, which means the north haes, or wood in Anglo-Saxon. Similarly with Southease.

In the middle is Rodmell, the place of red soil, from a word similar to mould in Old English.

Next comes Piddinghoe, said to mean the hoh, or spur of land, of Pydda, an unknown Sussex worthy, and his people.

Finally we get to the coast at Newhaven. No mystery about its meaning but it used to be called Meeching until the Ouse started to flow through it, thus depriving Seaford of its ford.