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The Place Names of Essex

Researching the history of the villages and towns of North Essex and South Suffolk one of the popular discussions is the origin of the name of the location.

In many cases it is a matter of speculation and cross-references with similar sounding names, owners of the location, the nature of the location and who owned the land at various times during its history.

P. H. Reaney

P. H. Reaney's "The Place-Names of Essex" - English Place-names Society - Volume XII, is quoted many times on this website and on other items of historical reference.

Reaney's book has a dedication to R.C. Fowler and J. H. Round


There are a number of locations that I am specificaly interested:

  • The Belchamps - Belchamp Walter, St. Paul.s and Otten
  • Great Wakering - Where I gew up.
  • Rochford and Rayleigh - Where I went to school.
  • Other places I have featured in my history pages
  • Thunderlow - Reaney lists Thunderlow as a "Lost Half-Hundred" and associates it with Bulmer, Smeetham and Goldington.

Reaney says in his "Place-Names of Essex":

Key to symbols


Bylcham c. 940 (14th) BCS 737, c. 1000 (c. 1125) CCC 383 (at) Belhcham, Bolcham 1045 (14th) ASWills, Belcham 1086 DB et freq to 1431-42 ECP, Belcheam 1100-35 Colne, Abingdon, Belcheham 1100-35 Colne, bealham 1181 StP, Beltham 1215 Fees, Bealcham 1297 VStP
Belcamp 1086 DB, 1254 FF
Belchamp(e) 1100-35 Colne, 12th StP, 1235 Ass, 1273 Ipm, 1552 FF, -chaump 1181 StP, bealchamp ib.
(de) Bello Cambo 1100-35 Abingdon, Bello Campo 1254-5 Ass, 12Ass 1291 Tax, c. 1300 StP, 1302 FF, 1330 Londin
Baldecamp 1181 StP
Be(a)champ 1222-1300 StP et freq to 1428 FA, -chaump 1265-85 FF, Bewchamp 1381 SR
Becham 1235 Cl (p), 1437 Pat
Belchampe of St Paul of London 1451 FF, Belching Paule 1535 VE, Water Bechampe alias Water Belchampe 1548 Pat, Pooles Belsham t. Eliz ChancP Oton 1557 FF

This is a difficult name. It is clear that originally the second element was ham. The first element is probably a lost OE bylc. The Belchamps are distributed along a ridge with some two to three miles between Belchamp Walter and Belchamp St Paul's, and it may be that bylc was the original name of this hill. byle would be allied to the common word bulk which is probably a Scand. loan-word (cf. ON búlki, 'heap,' Dan bulk, 'lump, clod')1. It is also clear that at an early stage the name was confused with the common French belchamp, beauchamp.

The ridge, although not now seen from the ground can be seen on the OS Map 1856. The ridge is the higher land between the tributaries of Belchamp Brook.

The various attributes occur as Ric', Will'i, Sci Pauli 1235 Ass, Otes, Parva, Sancti Pauli London' 1254 ib., Ledene, William 1254 FF, Oton, Willelmi 1255 Ass, Cuntasse 1262 ib., Plumme 1265 ib., 1428 FA, Abbots 1273 Ipm, Seynt Pol() 1285 Ass, 1533 FF, l a Contesse 1285 FF, Othonis, Simonis 1291 Tax, Water- 1297 Ch, 1305 FF, Otys, Willame 1303 FA, Magna t. Ed 2 FF, Canonicorum 1317 FF, Willeme 1321 ib., Canouns 1322 Pat, Poel 1327 SR, Ottonis 1341 BM, Poulis- 1343 FF, Powel 1358 ib., William alias Water 1552 ib., Poles 1607 Kip. St Paul's, Poel and Canonicorum because it belonged to St Paul's Cathedral.

Walter was also formerly called Great, Cuntasse (i.e. countess) because held by the Earls of Oxford, descendants of Aubrey de Vere, the Domesday holder, Simonis from Simon de Beauchamp (t. Stephen) and Willelmi from William, his son. Walter from Walter de Tey, a descendant of William de Beauchamp (M ii, 229, 230)

Keith Briggs

I came across Keith Briggs when I was researching P. H. Reaney. He has researched place-names of Suffolk and also has a bio of Reaney. His Suffolk place-names work is not as extensive as Reaney's (not surprisingly), I was hoping that I would get an insight into the names close to Belchamp Walter.

The bio on his page says:

.... professionally a mathematician. Some of my interests are graph theory and stochastic processes for network applications; distributed algorithms; wireless systems; and mathematical computing, including computational number theory and combinatorial optimization. I am a visiting lecturer in the Mathematical Institute of the University of Oxford, and an Industrial Fellow in the Institute for Mathematical Innovation at the University of Bath.

Most of his research into the place-names of Suffolk is more to do with the meaning of the words used in the names and generally not as in-depth as Reaney. Also, the places he chooses to explain are those local to Woodbridge and Sutton Hoo. He helped in creating the website for Wuffings - "The History of Suffolk Place-Names".


I have a more complete list here

  • CCC - Corpus Christi College, List of St. Pauls Herrig's Archiv
  • DB - Domesday Book
  • ECP - Early Chancery Proceedings
  • Stp - VStp - Star Chamber Proceedings - Visitations of the Churches belonging to St.Paul's cathedral
  • SR -
  • FF - Feet of Fines
  • FA - Feudal Aidi
  • Cl - Calendar of Care Rolls
  • BCS -
  • VCH - Victoria County History of Essex - 1903-07
  • ON - Old Norse


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