Thursday, April 3, 2008


Note; Sadly like the river this blog is following, a flow of words which seem to get longer and longer and I am beginning to meander up and down streams into other avenues; etymology will appear occasionally though I hope. As blood flows through our veins so rivers and streams flow through the landscape, and this river which I love so much, and which I have photographed in all its seasons seems to be gathering a voice of its own to which direction I take......

In the previous notes about St.Michael, the saxon language came up very strongly in the place names, the Domesday book has a whole list of saxon landholders for wiltshire, the following is gleaned from the English Dictionary and Sweets Anglo Saxon Reader;

Bourne/Burn - stream; OE; burna OHG; Brunno

Winter OE winter; winter - clearig = sad with the gloom of winter.

Swallet underground stream, hole into which a stream flows i.e.swallow-hole.

Swallow swallow-hole, funnel shaped cavity in limestone; OE and OHG swelgan

Swa (which is taken from Sweet) has a somewhat different meaning, in fact several meanings and is used as part of sentence; wine swa druncen.

Sele, as used in the early naming of Seleburgh for Silbury; here I must deviate and look to Michael Dames for the meaning of words. He goes back to the 13th century when Sele came into use, and relates it directly to the old Norse Sele - a time of happiness or festival. Following through on Sweet's A/S reader we get sele-dream - festivity; and sele-hall, this raises a certain possibility perhaps, that Silbury is seen by the saxons as a barrow-mound, an 'otherworld' hall where festivity took place, giving rise to the harvest festival image that Dames talks about. Thus his explanation in Saxon England, the Sele festival (the joyful start of harvest) also known as Lammas (hlafmaess, meaning loaf mass).
In this English Heritage report
by Jill Swanton and Peter Fowler the word Sele-Burh is translated as meaning 'fortified structure or hall'.

This of course gets translated in the christian experience to a harvest festival, but if there was a pagan saxon image of Silbury, it could have been seen as a mythical hall in the underworld in which feasting took place. My theory though must be disputed on the grounds that Silbury could equally have been used as a defensive stronghold in the early battles between the British and Saxons, as evidenced by the postholes on top of the mound.

But if you would contend that the earlier roman settlement round Silbury also used Swallowhead spring as something sacred, its mythology could have moved on into the Saxon period.

Kennet - Dames has of course taken the word back to Cunnit/or cunnt - an orifice; depicted in Christian faith as the 'mouth of hell', and indeed there is a depiction on the Winterbourne Monkton church font of a 'sheela-na-gig, a grotesque form to frighten medieval worshippers. Indeed, strangely at a nearby church in my own locality, the church at Abson has a male sheela-na-gig, though in this case we are looking at the 'wickedness of the flesh' This is a reused stone in the younger norman church, there are also reused saxon 'knotwork' stones. Could it be the linking of these churches by the river Kennet and the streams that run down to it had such a strong 'aura' of paganism, that when the early founding monks came to these 'settled' prehistoric spots, and recognised the stone and nature worship of the local inhabitants, they built their churches on the most sacred spot of paganism? Water is of course used in the christian faith as a purifying source, baptism comes to mind, and it is somewhat surprising that early iron age 'celtic' spoons found by a stream in Bath point to the fact that there was a deliberate policy by the early celtic church to impress/meld there own form of religion on the local pagan populace similar of course to the Romans, who in a more civilised way, linked their gods with the pagan ones.
Deviation on the history of Cunetio/Mildenhall
Mildenhall on the Kennet; Cunetio came into existence probably from the time of the conquest of Britain, there is a small hillfort not too far away that ceased to be occupied after the roman invasion. But Cunetio was only to develop into a more important town at a much later date, timber fencing was replaced by a massive stone wall sometime during the decade of 360 AD, and it would seem that the town became a tax-collecting and an arable farm managing centre, this late date of tightening up by the Empire can probably also be seen in the city of Aqua Sulis, though of course it was only 50 years later that it all came to nought, and Britain was left to its own devices and to the so-called dark ages. There are in fact two sites developed by the romans, an earlier on high ground, but they then moved to lower ground nearer to the river presumably, and this site is part of the field called Blacklands, excavations have taken place in this field. The Saxon history is slight, apparently the body of a saxon woman was found murdered at the bottom of one of the wells, there is also a record of a saxon brooch being found.In the following link, the author debates where the settlement would have been . somewhere near the church on the east is her conclusion, the church itself has saxon work within it, and like many churches in this part of the West country, may probably have had an original church of wood, followed by a later stone church. It is mentioned in an Saxon charter of 803 AD.
An excellent historical overview can be found at the following link......

From which the following came to light;

The strangely named hamlet of Werg was a community of nine dwellings on the River Kennet."One of the many pools on the river, as it wove its way through the water meadows was "Nicker Pool", where it is said the water spirits played. When the climatic conditions are right, the whirling wraiths can still be seen, so that the local name had good cause to be established."
Werg of course is a word that can be transformed into many meanings but given that there were only nine dwellings by this stretch of the river near Mildenhall, one of the meanings is outlaw or criminal, and presumably popular medieval myth has taken up the word and transformed a particular happening of the water spiralling around maybe, a bit like cropcircles, and transformed it into water wraiths, probably the spirits of the poor wretches who lived here.

Mildenhall has a boundary with the Og River, and this strangely named river also belongs to Ogbourne St. George, the church there having an undisputable large barrow in the churchyard, and John Chandler's words below explains the history of the church perfectly....

" Also in the churchyard stands a prehistoric bowl barrow (excavated in 1884), which was reused for pagan Saxon and medieval burials, and perhaps again in the seventeenth century as the base for a windmill. Geophysical investigation in 1999 suggested that church and barrow both lay within a larger complex of buildings, presumably belonging to the original manor. The association of pagan and Christian sacred sites is now being recognised as by no means uncommon, and may result from a longstanding superstitious feeling of sanctity for prehistoric burial sites. Ogbourne St Andrew is the only known example of a prehistoric barrow in a Wiltshire churchyard, but the juxtaposition of churches and Roman or prehistoric features occurs elsewhere in the Marlborough region, most obviously at Avebury. "

The idea that 'the association of pagan and Christian sacred sites is now being recognised as by no means uncommon' is still somewhat ridiculed by some people, but for me there seems indisputable evidence that within some churches this is happening, and is mostly strongly felt round that most ancient of sites Avebury and the great chalk downs covered with the remnants of a prehistoric past.
I shall stop at Ogbourne River, and go back to my etymology for all these place names, because my instinctive feeling for the Saxon overlay within the area is very strong especially given the near proximity of Bath.
The following is taken from The Oxford Dictionary of British Names;
And I shall first start with Clyffe Pypard, a much later church, though again having a stream round the church-yard. The Pypard is self obvious (13th c)but the Clyffe is Aet Clife in 983.
The cliff, or steep escarpment lies to the side of the church. Here I learnt there was in actual fact a word used for similar wooded escarpments - hangeng, which perfectly describes the hanging woods round my area.
Kennet -Cynetan 939, Chenete 1086, is the name for the East and West Kennet. The Kennet river of course comes from the celtic.
Mildenhall= Mildanhald 803-5, Nook of the land of a woman called Milde, or maybe a man;OE
Ogbourne St.Andrew - Ogbourne, 'Stream of a man called Occa' burna. His name also graces the river and field names.
Aldbourne = Ealdincburnan c970 - 'Stream associated with a man called Ealda'
Alton Barnes and Alton Prior, brought together because of their close proximity; Interestingly in the preamble for Alton it usually seen as the 'farmstead by the source of a river OE aiwell. The secondary name Priors of course being given by Winchester. 825 Aweltun; 1086 Auuiltone.
According to British History online; Alleburne (11th c) = stream, which might point to the fact that you are seeing a double statement of the same word, eg. Avon/river;
Alvediston/Alwold = Alton Priors


The Kennet flows past the old Roman town of Mildenhall or Cunetio, which of course embalms Cunnt/Kennet in the history of time, indisputable evidence one might say. Roman settlement at Silbury by spring and wells, large romanised town at Aqua Sulis by hot water spring, Nettleton Shrub temple by brook the evidence begins to mount up of a very strong connection of water worship, alongs with the gods of course.
There is a big step in imagination being taken here regarding a river as sacred, but evidence of offerings in water duing the bronze age are widespread, Flag Fen delivered hundreds of votive offerings and so has the Thames to name a couple. This evidence is missing locally sadly, though Jody Lewis in her survey of the bronze age swallets up on the Mendips, found votive offerings in the swallets she examined. She also put forward the theory that the famous Priddy circles may have been constructed around particular swallets, holes in the ground to an underworld, or to the goddess earth maybe.
There is also the case of Swallowcliffe in Dorset near to the Dorset cursus and the innumerable barrows and longbarrows in that area, again on chalk; here small ridge or cliff overlooking a valley in which a small seasonal lake appears in the winter, above on the ridge, a rich saxon burial of a woman, and evidence of neolithic occupation.
Eleswhere in blogs I have argued the presence of the early celtic monks travelling from Wales would have homed in on old pagan stones and barrows to deliver their particular version of religion; the founding christian church always having to fight superstition and 'pagan' ways, of an illiterate population.


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