Place Name Derivation

The Anglo-Saxon word fær has the sense of a going, a journey or a way and can have the sense of a road (this is the sense of the word faer-weg, road way). So Farringford can also be derived from Faeringford – ‘the ford of the people living near the crossing road’. It needs to be remembered that the crossing at Freshwater Gate was very narrow and precarious and so this more inland route was probably favoured. Possibly yet another derivation can be found in the Anglo-Saxon word fǽr, meaning danger or peril. If the original settlement was sited close to or at Freshwater Gate, then the capricious nature of the tides and the sea may have given rise to Fǽringford - ‘the ford of the people living near the dangerous place’.

While more recent research indicates -ham place-names as earlier than -ing and -ingham names, it still does not alter the fact that -ing names are evidence of earlier colonisation than other non -ing place-names. This confirms that Farringford belongs to an early group of Saxon place-names, that ended in -ing, -ingas, -ingham or -ington. On the Island, most of these sites are close to rivers (which were significantly wider and deeper in Saxon times) i.e. the western and eastern Yar and the Medina, along which the settlers arrived. Of course, it must be remembered that the present Farringford house is not on the site of the original settlement, based as it is on late 18th century considerations of the picturesque and the sublime. The Saxon settlement of Farringford was more likely to be nearer to Blackwater, and was later superseded by the place-name 'Easton'. By that time the name had become a familial surname of the local lord, de Ferringford, using the possessive article de of the Norman French style to denote that the family were owners of the Farringford holding. By this time, the settlement seems to have located to the west part of their lands at Home Farm.

Katharina Ulmschneider points out that "While a study of early place-names in -ham and of the later -ing and -ingham names would seem to point to an early colonization of the Eastern Yar Valley, there is an even stronger likelihood that many other settlements would have followed spring-lines at the foot of the chalk ridge, with their cemeteries located on the higher ground, a pattern commonly recognized in other chalk areas." This condition certainly applies to the site of Farringford.

[Archaeology, History, and the Isle of Wight in the Middle Saxon Period, Katharina Ulmschneider, Medieval Archaeology, 43, 1999]

Early settlement of England by Anglo-Saxons and Jutes can be divided into two phases: pioneer and colonisation settlement. Place-names can be a good indicator of the age, topography, natural history and racial origin of a community in the 5th to the 11th centuries. Traditionally, it was accepted that place-names containing variants of -ing or -ingas indicated earliest settlement, while -ham place-names were considered a later development. However, since the 1970s, various studies have emerged that have required a re-thinking of the chronology of place-names. Thanks to studies by Barrie Cox (1973), Joost Kuurman (1975), Margaret Gelling (1978) and Gordon Copley (1986), it has become clear that -ham and - ingham placenames indicate an earlier settlement type than -ing and -ingas, which are more likely to refer to secondary colonization. This is by no means clear-cut, as -ham names are easily confused with -hamm names, a much later place-name. Also, in some areas, no definite chronology can be derived from -ham, -ing and -ingas names, as to which developed first. Cox suggests the approximate chronology of settlement as follows:

5th century: -ham

6th century: beginning of the -ingham period

7th century onwards: -ing, -ingas, etc.

Both Gelling and Copley point out that in some areas there is a high correlation between pagan Anglo-Saxon burial sites and topographical names which relate to water (water-supply, water-control, crossing places and dry sites for villages). Copley noted that, out of a study of 315 fifth and sixth century Saxon and Jutish sites, topographic names seemed to be most important in this period (78% of the total) and said that names relating to water were the most common group, while those ending in "ford" were the most common within this group. Cox noted also that topographic names seemed to be more common than habitative names. Although his study period was slightly later (about 670AD to 730AD), he noted that "ford" was the third most common ending out of all the topographic names.

As noted by Dr Gelling, overall the majority of -ford place-names refer to very small settlements and this was confirmed by a study of Shropshire -ford place-names. In many cases, the fords were of local importance and connected two settlements on either side of a stream, with one or both settlements taking the name "-ford", but some lay on longer routes. In most cases, the term "-ford" indicates a stream or river crossing and many of these are preceded by personal names. This is the case with Farringford.

It has also become clear that place-names, based on tribal or family names, do not necessarily refer to a narrowly defined and precisely demarcated settlement, but can often refer to the wider area, in which a family or the followers of a group leader operated and from which they derived resources.

"These groups were probably of varying size. Some of the groups may have been subordinate to a powerful leader, while others were probably small family groups or groups without social cohesion but merely living in the same area. In all cases, the place-names would seem to have denoted a territory rather than a nucleated settlement."

[Anglo-Saxon England, edited by Malcolm Godden, Michael Lapidge, Simon Keynes. Cambridge University Press, 2007.]

Such is the case with the settlement of Whippingham. It could also be relevant for Farringford, which has never referred to a nucleated village, but rather to a dispersed settlement, based on a farmstead. If the evidence for neolithic and bronze age activity centred on the Western Yar gap in the chalk downs is considered, then it would suggest the settlement of a social group in the area of the gap near modern Freshwater Bay. This reflected that early settlement of the Island appears to have followed the course of the three main rivers. In the West Wight area, only two early Anglo-Saxon place-names have been identified: Farringford and Wilmingham, both on opposite sides of the Western Yar. Both settlements may represent continuations of earlier settlement patterns based on the Yar gap. The ford to connect the two settlements would be an important facility and presumably the people who lived in the vicinity used the ford as a feature of their place name.

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