Origins of the village and its name

Origins of the village and its name.
NB. For clarity and simplicity the term C10th is used to mean, in this case the tenth century,i.e. 0900-0999AD.


On coming to the village in 1993 I was told that its name meant "the place of the pirates". Although essentially true it has been fascinating to discover that this is far from the whole story. Spending my early years in Hampshire, close to places called Ashmansworth and Ashmanswell, the form of the name was not as strange as it appears to be to some. The Ordnance Survey, (OS), of Gt Britain identifies 17 places names starting Ash-man or –men in the UK. Over the last few years it has been quite striking how often people ask what it means. Almost equally often they ask where it is, and this not too rarely from those who live close to us. These notes intend to consider the origins of our village and its name. Although carefully researched they cannot be said to be absolutely definitive, some aspects are informed supposition. A reference list can be found at the end. But if you know better you could be right.


Several sources have been used to explore the defined meaning of the name. These in turn have drawn from the available records. Two surveys after Domesday, Hale in 1183 and Val.1. in 1254 are frequently cited. Other sources have been the wills of local people. Place names as used by the Anglo-Saxons were descriptors. They were associated with geographical features, the type of settlement or the people there. Family/tribal names were commonly included. Filby means the farm of the Fil' family; "˜by' meaning farm, "˜ton' means settlement as does "˜ham'. Hoveton being the settlement of the Hoves. A "˜stead' was a place for cattle. The following meanings for Ashmanhaugh are from the literature:Erkwell, (1936) states "The enclosure, (OE Haga), of the aescmann or pirate."Rye, (1991) states: "The pirates enclosure. Aescmann-haga. First element a nickname."Sandred, (1996) states: "The enclosure of the aesc-mann, i.e. "˜pirate'. Aescmann comparable with flotman or seaman or pirate. Haugh can be from haga or hagi, i.e a fenced enclosure usually for sheep."Many alternative spellings have been found in the record:Assemanhaghe circa 1175.Ashmanhaga circa 1183.Assemaneshawe circa 1254.Ashmonhawe circa 1535.The Bryant map of 1836 finally fixes the spelling as being Ashmanhaugh. This was used in the final 1855 enclosure maps. As the Duke of Blackwaters monumental work that fixed all spelling was completed in 1844 it will probably remain that way.


There seem to be three principle ways of pronouncing the name. We have to be cautious about this as there is no written authority that definitively identifies the proper form. Old recordings must be used with the same reserve as we don't really know the influence of population movement on the person we are hearing. This holds equally true of current residents.Firstly "˜Ashman-how' with a small emphasis on the "˜how'. The commonest, it seems to be favoured by those of received pronunciation or with a local accent of the type known as "West Thurne".Secondly "˜Ashman-hall'. Rarer than the first but popular with some villagers who have long associationswith the area. There is a C16th map to be found in Norwich library that spells the name Ashmanhall. Few people were literate then and the peasants were verbally orientated. It could be that the surveyorsspelt the name that they were given by locals phonetically. In which case this could be the closest we get to the way of pronouncing the name at that time. We have never had a manor in the village, the local halls being in Hoveton and Beeston, so the cartographer was not identifying a manoric area as he would have done for Hoveton hall or Beeston hall.The third is the least common, but local friends are very insistent that "˜Ashman-hor' is correct. They cite the Germanic pronunciation of "˜haugh', being close to "˜hor', as their authority. People from Germanic tribes were pivotal in establishing the village identity so this could be valid. Although even accepting that local accents do remain incredibly stable 900 years is stretching credibility. But then again received pronunciation was influenced by the accent of Queen Victoria's consort Prince Albert of Saxe-Cobug-Gotha.One person has claimed that the real version is "˜Ashman-huff'. They were more or less sober at the time, but I can find no other reason or authority for this form.Linguists have suggested that the American accent from New England is the closest to old English. Try pronouncing the name with this posh drawl and see which version you get. As an example of the accent George Bush senior is from Portland in New England. However, most of the pilgrims who settled that area came from the west of England in the C17th and C18th.


If "pirates" did influence the establishment of this village; what were they doing so far inland?It is well known that during the Roman occupation, (30AD – 420AD), the area south of Caister and north of Gorleston formed the entrance to a large tidal estuary. Saxons began to arrive and settled here soon after the Romans left gradually displacing, and pushing west the Britons who were Celtic iron age tribes. The "˜Hutch map' in Gt Yarmouth town hall, although drawn in the C17th, shows an approximation of the estuary as it was believed to have been around the C10th. If you follow the 10 metre contour on the current OS map, (Landranger sheet 134), you will see approximately how the topography was during the Viking attacks, and later settlements of the C9th & C10th. Fleets are known to have campaigned along this coast from Northumbria in the campaign of 869AD. Viking can be taken to mean "one who frequents the inlets of the sea". Alternatively Wik means a camp. The area now occupied by Hoveton hall and its lake formed a river inlet to the wider estuary. This opened wide to the south near what is now Upper Street on the Horning road passing a shallow inlet around North Farm. To the east there was another shallow inlet around Cangate farm and a promontory enclosing Hill Farm before the coast swung north to Butchers Common. Well sheltered from prevailing winds this inlet can be seen to have easy access north by north-east up onto the area now referred to by geographers as the Neatishead plateau. It was probably deep enough to hold water at all states of the tide and was therefore a good harbour. Was it a welcoming inlet, not too far from the homeland?Was anybody on this bit of land already? It is reasonable to presume that Hoveton, Tunstead and Neatishead, whose names are Anglo-Saxon in origin, already existed. Villages at this time seldom extended their agricultural interest more that a one mile radius from their centres. Populations did not use much land and farming technology could not manage excess production beyond need with the numbers of workers available.Vikings were known to displace existing populations when they seized land on the east coast, but they also fitted themselves into existing gaps. It is estimated that by the time of Cnut, (Canute), in the C11th only 10% of the population of Norfolk were of Viking origin. Integration was more common in this area. It is quite probable therefore that they settled on a space that was of little interest to the established population.Being coastal it is almost certain that the area was essentially heathland, possibly with small patches of wood. Pretty good land for sheep and pigs, with some potential for growing the sturdy corn of theViking people. It would have been dry land but with good access to fresh water to the west and northeast. Bear in mind they were also great traders and so would have welcomed the proximity of neighbours. As we see above "˜haugh' means an area of heath enclosed by a fence. It is likely this settlement occurred in the first wave of emigrations that followed the campaign of 869AD. The land enclosing modern Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein was without a King at this time and under population pressure. However the numbers moving were smaller and it was the later waves that spread west and pushed the English, (Anglo-Saxons), of the midlands, Sussex and Kent out. These movements were of course resisted by Alfred of Wessex ending with the establishment of the Danelaw which isolated the land that became Norfolk from the land of the Britons.Perhaps the reputation the Vikings had for violence meant the Saxons population did not fuss too much about the intrusion. Anyway, they were heavily subjugated by other settlements to the east and north. Opinion on the Vikings has been revised in recent years. Although they were capable of great violence they were also traders with a developed material technology. They "˜won' their invasions by taking control of the population and enough land for their needs but they lost the peace.Immigrants were integrated into the ways of the existing populations, wherever they settled, very quickly. It is always good for trade to fit in fast.The Saxons would have been early (post St Augustine circa 597AD) Christian, although this area was not fully Christian until the C7th. At the time we are considering these Viking "˜pirates' were pagans, worshipers of the land and its spirits. They regarded the forest tree of the genus Fraxinus, (mountain ash or Rowan) as being sacred. They would plant an Ash in a central part of their settlements to act as a collective centre for community discussion and ritual. These people were politically sophisticated and Viking social/administrative structures are still regarded as the forerunners of European republicanism.This religious distinction did not last long as many of the new incomers took on the Christian faith very quickly. Would the name aescmann still be given to Christian immigrants? Especially those arriving after the first of their kind had adopted the Christian faith? The Viking King Guthrum withdrew from conquest in the west and became Christian in 880AD. Established Vikings were put under pressure to follow their King into the faith. Caution must be exercised here though, as this would put a very narrow window on a possible date for the establishment of the village of 870-880AD.


Ashmanhaugh definitely existed before the Norman/French invasion of 1066AD. It is identified by Domesday as a part of the Tunstead Hundred. The Hundred system was Anglo-Saxon in origin being fully developed as an administrative structure during the reign of Edgar 959-975AD. It could be that the village was settled by immigrants after 880AD who arrived still pagan and were therefore distinctive enough for the land that they took to be identified by their faith. Vikings arrived Christian from the end of the C10th.This would broaden the window to 870-970AD.


It is probable that the village's name was given by the Anglo-Saxon population to Viking settlers who encroached on an unused or sparsely populated area. These settlers were of a pagan faith and enclosed an area of heathland to keep sheep and maybe farm crops. A major attraction of this land was its easy sheltered access to the sea, abundant fresh water with weather and soil close to that of their original homeland. This probably occurred between 870 and 970AD. The most likely date is in the earlier part of this period. It is also very probable that the Ash tree that they planted was quite quickly replaced by what has become the site of St Swithins church at the heart of the village.
Very many thanks to all of my neighbours who have generously shared what they knew and identified sources they have used in their own studies. Any inaccuracies or mistakes however are entirely mine. Bob Payne. "Rowans" Neatishead Rd.

Campbell, J. (1991). The Anglo-Saxons.FaberDaniel, P. Hopkinson, M. (1989) 2ed The Geography of Settlement.Oliver & Boyd.Erkwell, E. (1936) The Concise Oxford English Dictionary of English Placenames. Oxford.Meeres, F. (1998). A History of Norwich.PhillimoreMcCrum, R. et al (1986). The Story of EnglishBBCO'Morgan, K. (1984) History of Britain.OUP.Rye, J. (1991) A Popular Guide to Norfolk Placenames.Larki PressSandel, KI. (1996) The Placenames of Norfolk.English Placename Society