In Butler C. and Lyne M. (2001) The Roman Pottery Production site at Wickham Barn, Chiltington, East Sussex. British Archaeological Reports: British Series No. 323

The place-name evidence
Paul Cullen (University of Newcastle)

In addition to the possible significance of the place-name Wickham Barn in relation to the kiln site, which has been touched upon in Heather Warne's article above [errm, you'll have to take my word for that!] and to which I shall return, there is a further shred of onomastic evidence for Roman period activity in the immediate vicinity. In a field a quarter of a mile to the north of the site is Comps Barn (at TQ389154 in East Chiltington parish), adjacent to Comps Wood (at TQ 390155 in Chailey parish), names which are tantalizing in that, although the lack of early records precludes certainty, they seem to point to derivation from Old English camp, a term indicative of Roman activity, borrowed from Latin campus 'open land, field'. Scholars have recognized a relationship between place-names containing camp and Roman settlements; in particular, Margaret Gelling (1988: 74-8) suggests that the element denotes a stretch of uncultivated (perhaps neglected arable) land on the edge of a villa estate. An example in Sussex of just such a relationship, that of Comps Farm in Beddingham and the nearby Roman villa at Preston Court Farm, is discussed by Richard Coates (1990: 6). Although it cannot be claimed that this application of camp has been proven to be absolutely precise or consistent (see Parsons & Styles (2000: 135-7) for discussion of some problems and possibilities), it is nevertheless demonstrable that Gelling's hypothesis suits the spatial distribution of the element remarkably well. In any case, whatever the exact sense of the element camp might be in any individual case, the important thing to bear in mind is that, given the availability in the early Anglo-Saxon period of such productive Old English place-name elements as feld 'open land, field' and ęcer 'cultivated land', we must assume that the alternative designation camp was chosen for good reason; something about the land so called was perceptibly different, whether it be its state of clearance, marginality, abandonment, or (perhaps most likely?) distinctive cultivation, or conceivably even its administrative status. Note that our names, Comps Barn and Wood, straddle the parish boundary. As mentioned above, the absence of pre-19th century spellings is problematic, requiring us to accept a considerable vacuum between proposed name-bestowal and written record, but the silence appears a little less total in the context of what is surely the early Middle English pre-nasal rounding of a (i.e. camp to comp), a well-evidenced sound-change which lends considerable weight to the contention that this is a genuinely early place-name. The -s of Comps may be explained as a genitive form, implying transmission of the place-name via a surname (cf. Coates (1990: 6) on Comps Farm in Beddingham), or as a plural form (for comparable examples of which see Parsons & Styles (2000: 135-7)).

Returning to the name Wickham in the parish of St John Without (Wickham Barn adjoins Wickham Lane at TQ393151), we again find ourselves teased by a shortage of supporting data for a place-name which seems at face value to reveal so much. Margaret Gelling (1975) has demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that the Old English appellative wic-ham refers to Roman settlement sites. This term, which is a compound of wic (a borrowing from Latin vicus '(subordinate) town or village') + ham 'homestead, village', is used of Roman villa estates and small towns (see Gelling (1988: 67-74) for analysis of the range of applications, and Coates (1999) on the semantic range of vicus and wic, especially pp. 107-9 for useful discussion of wic-ham). As this designation wic-ham for 'a (small) Roman habitation site' was in use only in the early Anglo-Saxon period, whilst our Wickham is not certainly on record until a good millennium later (in the form Wykame c.1534-47 cited by Heather Warne above[!]), we must of course proceed with caution. Besides the paucity of early spellings, are there any objections to deriving this Wickham from Old English wic-ham? Linguistically there are none. Clearly the context of the Roman pottery kilns and the immediate proximity of the Roman "Greensand Way" are supporting factors. Perhaps a more subtle indicator of significance is the location of Wickham Barn in the northern projection of the parish. Margaret Gelling (1988: 71-4) observes the 'remarkable dichotomy' in known instances of wic-ham between, on the one hand, those which give name to a parish or estate and, on the other, those which give name to a place near a parish boundary - sometimes a place where the boundary makes a detour to include it, as may be argued here (Gelling plausibly explains this dichotomy as resulting from the originally central position of wic-ham settlements in land-units; those which flourished remained as centres of a land-unit while those which failed were divided between their neighbours). All told, the credentials of Wickham Barn look good, and the occurrence of the Comps names just over the parish boundary provides, I would contend, useful corroborative toponymic evidence to boot. Finally, the possibility must be mentioned that we actually do have a record of our Wickham in an Anglo-Saxon document. In his treatment of the pre-Celtic word *cilta 'steep slope', Richard Coates (1983-4: 7-15) discusses the intriguing reference to wichama in ciltinne in a charter dated 767 (Sawyer 1968: no. 1067, contemporary). He plausibly locates ciltinne in Sussex and argues that this district-name is preserved in the parish-names East & West Chiltington (the referent of *cilta being the scarp of the South Downs). The possible wichama candidates are examined by Coates (see especially pp. 9-10), who, having no early data for Wickham Barn available to him, slightly favours identification with the Wickham which straddles Clayton and Hurstpierpoint parishes (a Wickham with 'an identifiable post-Conquest history'). Perhaps we can begin to make a stronger case for Wickham in St John Without now that new documentary, onomastic and archaeological evidence is emerging.


Coates, Richard (1983-4) 'Remarks on 'pre-British' in England: with special reference to *uenta, *cilta and *cunaco-' in Journal of the English Place-Name Society 16, pp. 1-24.

Coates, Richard (1990) 'The Roman villa site at Beddingham: report on the place-names' in Some place-names of the downland fringe: seven Sussex essays of 1990, Brighton: Younsmere Press, pp. 5-11.

Coates, Richard (1999) 'New light from old wicks: the progeny of Latin vicus' in Nomina 22, pp.75-116.

Gelling, Margaret (1975) 'English place-names derived from the compound wicham' in Kenneth Cameron [ed.] Place-name evidence for the Anglo-Saxon invasion and Scandinavian settlements. Nottingham: English Place-Name Society, pp. 8-26 (reprinted, with new postscript, from Medieval Archaeology vol. xi (1967) pp. 87-104).

Gelling, Margaret (1988) Signposts to the past: place-names and the history of England. (2nd ed.) Chichester: Phillimore.

Parsons, David and Tania Styles (2000) The vocabulary of English place-names (brace - cęster). Nottingham: Centre for English Name Studies.

Sawyer, P.H. (1968) Anglo-Saxon charters: an annotated list and bibliography. London: Royal Historical Society.

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