Local history

What’s in a (Place) Name?

Lillingstone LovellLillingstone Lovell.

There’s over 170 towns and villages in the North Bucks area, and each one has its own name. But what do these names all mean?

Nearly every one started off as a brief but clear description of a certain place, usually in the words of Old English, the ancient Anglo-Saxon language that was in use from the 5th Century until about about 1250 A.D.

There’s a dozen with ‘ford’ in their name, (this is an easy one to guess) but there’s 19 with ‘den’ or ‘don’, (both mean ‘hill’) and a massive 36 with ‘ton’ in the name. ‘Ton’ means a settlement or a farm, perhaps a village or an estate; a place with buildings.

Often somebody’s name would be part of the description; so Haddenham is Haeda’s village or homestead. ’Ham’ means nearly the same as ‘ton’.

Of all the places with ‘ford’ in their name, the ones with ‘Stratford’ in the name mean a ford where a Roman road or street crossed a river or brook. Fenny Stratford was a muddy or marshy crossing; Stony Stratford was a gravelly one.

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Secrets of Haddenham

Dragon font  HaddenhamThe dragon font.

The village of Haddenham has over 120 listed buildings, and most of them are made of an unusual material; Witchert.

Witchert was cheap and available. It could be dug up out of the ground just where you wanted to build, so it was used for all sorts of buildings and walls up to about 1920. Here are some of them.

The shortest version of this walk is slightly over half a mile, or 900m; good if you are not too mobile. The longest version is a mile and a quarter, or 2.6 km.

To get there, take the A418 South West from Aylesbury, and when you get near to the village, a couple of miles off the main road, follow signs for Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital. Keep on past the entrance to Tiggywinkles and park next to the green; there’s a pond.

You might see some Aylesbury ducks at the pond; they used to be bred in the village. This breed is easy to recognise. The plumage is white, the bill is pink, and the legs and feet are orange. They are quite large, especially compared to the other ducks I saw on the pond. Ducks with an orange bill are not Aylesbury ducks.

Haddenham has often been a location for film and television. Eleven episodes of Midsomer Murders have been filmed here, and when Kermit, Fozzie Bear and Gonzo parachute into England in The Great Muppet Caper, it’s this pond they end up in.

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The Two thousand Year Old River Crossing

Side arch  Thornborough BridgeThe four side arches are fairly plain. The Roman ford lay beyond the bridge, on the North side.

Medieval Thornborough Bridge is the oldest bridge in the county, but this East to West river crossing is at least 1,200 years older; it dates back to Roman times.

Three Roman roads met and crossed each other here, and by the North side of this six arch medieval bridge over Padbury Brook was a Roman ford, made from limestone blocks held in place with wooden stakes. These were found during excavations in the 1970s.

Also found were three oak pilings on the East bank, and the ends of a road over thirty feet wide on both river banks.

Ribbed arch  Thornborough BridgeTwo of the arches are more ornate, with four chamfered ribs.

One of these roads came North from Akeman Street (the A41) at Fleet Marston near Aylesbury. Part of it is still used as a road, and it was once part of the old turnpike route to Buckingham. After the river crossing it went through modern Akeley and beyond.

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How to Spot a Turnpike

The Kings Head  AylesburyThe King’s Head in Aylesbury dates from 1455. Coaches would go through this arch when they arrived at this inn.

How do you recognise the old 18th Century turnpikes; the first decent roads to be built in Britain since the Romans left?

It’s quite easy, and there are a few ways to do it.

The first clue is the presence of milestones. If you see a milestone, you are almost certainly on a turnpike. Anciently, a turnpike was a horizontal wooden boom that turned on a vertical pivot, placed across the road until the toll keeper got your money. It came to mean the whole road.

Milepost  Little WoolstoneThis mile post is in Little Woolstone, in the middle of Milton Keynes.

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