Plenty of lies - and they are all true

Churchyard cottage in Hellingly  - a clearing owned by Hielle
Churchyard cottage in Hellingly - a clearing owned by Hielle

In 1927 Albert Punnett, of Lucks Farm, near Heathfield, died. His widow, Mary Ann, died aged 91 in 1953 and their son Private Egbert Punnett, of the 8th Sussex Regiment, had been killed in the trenches of northern France in March 1918.

Any deaths are sad but these were particularly notable because Albert, Mary and Egbert were the last survivors of the family that gave Punnetts Town its name.

The origins of the names of our towns and villages are often similarly derived, although usually from Saxon names.

A ‘ton’ is a settlement or village, therefore Alfriston means the Alfric’s Town.

The term ‘ing’ means ‘belonging to’ therefore Hastings means ‘belonging to Haesta’ and Worthing means belonging to ‘Wurth’.

You will often find this in the middle of a place name, for instance Arlington means ‘the town belonging to Eorla’, Blatchington means ‘the town belonging to Blaecca’ and Litlington ‘means the town belonging to Lytela’.

I say town but, of course, this usually meant just a settlement or hamlet.

Not all the ‘tons’ were named after people - Norton and Sutton simply mean north town and south town.

A clearing in a wooded area was known as a leah which over the years was shortened to ‘ly’ or ‘ley’.

Again family names precede this as in Chiddingly (a clearing owned by the Chitta) or Hellingly (a clearing owned by Hielle).

It is worth noting that the last syllable is pronounced ‘lie’ and not ‘lee’.

My grandmother used to say: “There are lots of lies in Sussex and they are all true!”

A cleared area of land was known as a field, although in Saxon times these areas were much larger and did not necessarily mean they were cultivated.

Rotherfield means ‘open land where cattle graze’ (from the old English hryther), Uckfield means ‘open land owned by Ucca’ (presumably the river was named after him too), Heathfield simply means what it says.

By the way in West Sussex a field is known as a ‘fold’.

In Sussex a ‘wick’ was a farm.

Berwick means ‘Barley Farm’ and Gatwick means ‘Goat Farm’.

A don was the old name for a hill (the South Downs were originally the South Dons), therefore Willingdon is ‘ the hill belonging to Willa’.

A valley within the downs was a coombe, although a short valley was a denu, which became a ‘dene’ or ‘dean’.

This is where the names Telscombe, Moulsecoomb and East Dean derive.

An ‘eye’ is an island (think of Jersey, Lundy, Anglesey, Sheppey etc).

You will often find place names ending in ey by the sea or along a river (the Thames has Chertsey, Putney, Battersea, Chelsea).

Rye means ‘island’. Pevensey means ‘the island of Pefen’.

In medieval times the sea flooded the Pevensey Marshes and smaller hills became the islands of Rickney, Horseye, Northeye, Glyndleigh and Mountney.

In the Ouse valley there was a ford over to one of the ‘islands’ at high tide. And this area became known as Iford - literally ‘ the ford to the island’.

Seaford was where there was a ford over the River Ouse to the sea.

Seaford was a Cinque Port and its church is dedicated to St Leonard, the patron saint of ‘sailors in bondage’. (I caution you not to search for this on the internet!).

This means sailors who had been press-ganged into service. You therefore get many St Leonard’s churches by the sea.

St Leonard’s-on-Sea was named after its church.

When you know a few of these Saxon or old English words, ton, ing, worth, field, fold, eye, coombe, dean, don, wick, you can usually trace the origins of many of our local place names.

Some place-names are more obvious than others; apparently Polegate may have meant a place where there was a pole-gate over the road.

Although Lewes is almost certainly derived from the Celtic word hlaew meaning hill, my grandmother thought that it was the French name for the local river - l’ouse !