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February 2019 Meeting Report

Middle Saxon development in Cambridgeshire, by Richard Mortimer

Richard has spoken to the Sawston Village History Society on several occasions about digs with which he has been involved, and has always been interesting and entertaining. I understand that in his present role he no longer has to get down and mucky, but he still manages to tell a good story. So much so that my notes were few and far between!

The period we are talking about is after the departure of the Romans but before the Norman Conquest. It was in this middle Saxon period when villages, as we know them, began. Richard showed a map with a pre-roman road going from Stourbridge to St Ives, more or less following the direction of the present day A604. The pre-Roman road generally formed the boundaries between the villages it passed. A number of villages were named on the map. Generally those on the south-western side of the road were ones ending in "ton", such as Oakington. Those on the north-eastern side were ones ending in "ham", such as Cottenham or Willingham.

In the area Richard studied, he found the following proportions of village names :-

"-tons" 38%
"-hams" 19%
others 44%

When village size was considered, there was a tendency for increasing size from "tons" through "hams" to others. "Tons" had a single geographical focus, "hams" had more than one, and others tended to have several. "Tons" had a single deliberate enclosure, "hams" were unplanned organically growing villages. Others were named after someone or something.

Jim Butchart

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