8 Suffolk towns and villages with viking connections - is yours on the list?
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Suffolk has continuously been settled since the 5th century, so it’s no surprise its place names have changed countless times over the years.
But how did we get the names we know today, and why are they so important?
Suffolk historians Charlie Haylock and A.D. Mills explore eight more Suffolk place names and their origins – this time, those with Viking roots.
“In the 8th and 9th century, the east coast was constantly being attacked by Scandinavian pirates. But towards the end of the 800s, they decided to try and venture inland to settle, which they did with great success,” explains Charlie.
“The land of the East Angles was attacked in 869 by the Great Army of the Danes - later to be known as the Vikings. This is when King Edmund was killed, and the East Angles succumbed to the Danish warlord Guthrum and became part of his kingdom.
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“Danish settlements sprung up in many Suffolk locations, and in 885 Alfred the Great led a successful sea battle off Shotley Gate against the Danes, which has given rise to the name Bloody Point on the Shotley Peninsula. After this battle, the Danelaw was agreed in 886 and England was divided roughly into two sections - one to be controlled by the English, and the other by the Danes. Suffolk ended up in the Danelaw, hence why we have so many Suffolk place names and dialect words with Viking roots.”
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England’s most easterly point, the origins of Lowestoft can be traced all the way back to the 11th century, as A.D. Mills explains: “Lowestoft comes from the Old Scandinavian word ‘toft’, which means ‘homestead settlement’, belonging to a man called Hlothervér. This was then recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as ‘Lothu Wistoft’, and later as Lothewistoft in 1212,” he says.
“From the history of the various spellings of Lowestoft, one can quite easily see why even today, there are two pronunciations of the town: ‘Lowstoft’ and ‘Lowerstoft’ - and perhaps even a third, ‘Lowstof’. It is interesting to note that the ‘Scores’ in Lowestoft, a series of narrow lanes and steep pathways from the High Street down to the shore derives from the Old Scandinavian word ‘skora’, which means to make an incision, or in this case, cutting into the cliffs,” adds Charlie.
Just on the Suffolk-Norfolk border is the tiny village of Ashby. Its name is derived from the Old Scandinavian word ‘bý’, meaning ‘farmstead settlement or estate’, and the Old Scandinavian word ‘askr’, or even the Old English word ‘æsc’, which both mean ‘where ash trees grow’.
“It was recorded in 1198 as ‘Aschbi’, and in 1254 as ‘Askeby’,” says A.D.
“The name of this village most likely means ‘the farmstead belonging to a man with an Old Scandinavian name of either Barni or Bjarni,” suggests A.D. Mills. It has also been recorded in the Domesday Book as both ‘Barnebei’ and ‘Barneb’.
Recorded in 1185 as ‘Eik’, and in 1270 as ‘Eyk’, this village’s name means ‘(the place at) the oak tree’, from the Old Scandinavian word for oak, ‘eik’. This can be seen referenced on the settlement’s village sign, which features an oak tree on the left-hand side.
“Recorded in the Domesday Book as ‘Lunda’, and later in 1254 as ‘Lund’, Lound in north Suffolk comes from the Old Scandinavian word ‘lundr’, which means ‘a small wood or grove’,” explains A.D.
Also located within Lound is Lound Lakes, a 280-acre nature reserve comprised of woodland, open water, grassland and fen meadows.
According to A.D. Mills, this West Suffolk village’s name comes from the Old Scandinavian words ‘bý’ and ‘hris’, meaning ‘the farmstead or village among the brushwood’.
"It’s worth noting that these Viking settlements have very simple descriptive derivations. The spelling variations of many English place names and words, through the passage of time, is due to the fact we have never had any official standard in the English language and in English spelling,” adds Charlie.
“This settlement’s name comes from the Old Scandinavian ‘thveit’, meaning ‘a woodland clearing, a meadow or a paddock’,” explains A.D. Thwaite has previously been recorded as ‘Theyt’ in 1228, and in the 13th century as ‘Thueyt’ and ‘Tweyt’.
"From the 13th century spelling ‘Tweyt’, it’s easy to see why it’s still pronounced today by many locals as ‘twate’,” adds Charlie.
Interestingly, it should be noted that ‘Thwaite’ is also commonly used as a suffix for a number of place names across the North West of England and Yorkshire. There are around 80 examples in Cumberland, 40 in Lancashire, and 30 in the North Riding.
This Suffolk village, located just outside of Lowestoft, has been recorded in the Domesday Book as ‘Sumerledetuna’ and later as ‘Sumerletun’ by about 1185.
“Its name comes from the Old English word ‘tūn’, meaning ‘a farmstead or estate’ belonging to a man with an Old Scandinavian name ‘Sumarlithi’. This is a byname meaning ‘summer traveller’, and denotes a warrior who went on Viking expeditions in the summer,” explains A.D.
"Somerton, north west of Long Melford, has exactly the same derivation as Somerleyton, and originally had the same spelling, but through the ages got abbreviated to Somerton,” adds Charlie.
Other place names across Suffolk with Viking connections include Wickham Skeith, Minsmere, all the villages with ‘thorp(e)’ in the name, Thingoe, Bildeston, Drinkstone, Kettlebaston, Thrandeston , Westleton, Carlton, Coney Weston, Ilketshall, Kirkley and Kirton.
“As you can see, the Vikings had a great influence in the Suffolk dialect, and many words we use today derive from Old Scandinavian,” says Charlie.
A few of these include:
‘Ranny’ – a shrew, from the Old Scandinavian word ‘rani’ meaning ‘a snout’. ‘Ranny’ is also a Suffolk nickname for someone with a long nose.
‘Rove’ – the scab on a partially healed sore, from the Old Scandinavian word ‘ruva’.
‘Sarnick’ – to dawdle, from the Old Scandinavian word ‘seinka’, meaning to walk slowly.
‘Stroop’ – the gullet or windpipe, from the Old Scandinavian word ‘strupe’. ‘Strupe’ is also the Swedish word today for ‘throat’. The ‘oo’ in ‘stroop’ is pronounced as in ‘foot’.
‘Dag’ – the morning dew, which comes from the Old Scandinavian word ‘dagg’. ‘Dagg’ is also the Swedish word today for ‘dew’.
‘Groop’ – a gulley dug out from the grass verge for carrying off water into the ditch. This comes from the Old Scandinavian word ‘grop’, meaning ‘open water course’. The ‘oo’ in ‘groop’ is pronounced as in ‘foot’.
'Marram' – mat grass found on the shore, from the Old Scandinavian word ‘maralmr’.
‘Tittymatawter’ - a see-saw. This is derived from the Old Scandinavian word ‘tittermatorter’. Children in years gone by when playing on a see-saw would chant “Tittymatawter, ducks in the water, Tittymatahta, geese come after.”
Suffolk Place Names - Their Origins and Meanings by A.D. Mills is out now.
How many of these did you know? Or is there a Suffolk place name you wish to know the meaning of? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.