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Lincolnshire Geographic Names

Most regions of England can claim some terms and names that are unique to the area. Lincolnshire is no exception. Here is a list of some of the names and terms you will run into as you research this county:

  • Bank - An earthen wall or barrier to keep water out. It comes from the Old Scandinavian banke.
  • Beck - A small stream (Americans might call them "creek"). It comes from the Old Scandinavian bekkr.
  • Cars or "carrs" - a term used in northern Lincolnshire for a low lying area apt to be flooded by runoff or tides. The Car Dyke was built to keep seawater from infiltrating the cars. In the south of Lincolnshire, the term would be "Fen".
  • Chalybeate - pronounced "Ka-LIB-y-at". Lincolnshire is dotted with many small natural springs and hand-dug wells. Some of these are iron-rich, with high ratios of dissolved iron or steel in the water (See Scunthorpe), which makes them a Chalybeate spring or well. The Chalybes were a tribe of people in ancient times, living near the Black Sea, known for their iron-working skills.
  • Delph - A drain behind a dyke or embankment on the landward side; as in Metheringham Delph (Old English Delfan: to dig.).
  • Drain - A drainage canal to take water off the fens. A drain is usually over ten metres wide. Some of them are navigable, but that's not why they are there. The smaller drainage canals are called "Dykes". Example: Hobhole Drain north of Boston.
  • Drove - A cattle road or trail. It comes from the Middle English drove as the past tense of "drive." In America, cowboys were often called Cattle Drovers. In Lincolnshire, it often appears as a suffix to the name of a small hamlet. (See also the book: "The Drovers", Shire Publications Ltd (UK), 1985, ISBN 0 85263 5052.)
  • Dyke - (or Dike) A drainage ditch. Or, more precisely, the earth piled up alongside the ditch. A dyke is typically one to three metres in width. Example: Dales Head Dike west of Woodhall Spa. From Old English dic or "ditch"
  • Eau - From the French for "Water". Normally applied where there is a spring or spa, it can also be part of a name for a village near the ocean. Of course, locals don't use the French pronounciation. More commonly, the locals say something close to "Ee" as in "Sea". The Lud River splits into the North and South Eau River.
  • Fens - is Old English for "Marsh" or "Marshy Ground", a term that applied to a large area of southern Lincolnshire, almost all of Cambridgeshire and parts of Norfolk and Northamptonshire. To quote the East Anglian Archeaology Society, "The Fenland region of eastern England was once the largest wetland in Britain." Although there are some hills and high ground in the area, many parts were virtual islands (Old Scandinavian holmr) at high tide or in the rainy season and the rest spent most of the year under water. In north Cambridgeshire there is a Fenland and Wisbech Museum.

    In ancient times, the swampy Fens were a natural hideaway for those avoiding the law, and only those knowing the shallow paths between high spots could navigate the territory well. It is reputed to be one of the last areas subdued by the Normans after their 1066 conquest. One of England's cultural heroes is Hereward who fought the Normans from the Fenland.

    In more recent centuries, the Crown wished to drain the marshes to gain more land for farming. The Romans had actually started the process, digging several canals that remained in use for over a thousand years. But it wasn't until the 17th century that a Dutch engineer, Cornelius Vermuyden, and hundreds of Dutch workers along with locals, finally set up the vast system of canals, drains and dykes that led to creating large tracts of dry ground for farming and grazing. The Earls of Bedford started to drain the Fens around Thorney (Camb.) in the 17th century.

    One of the best books on the Fens is: "The History of the Fens of South Lincolnshire" by W. H. WHEELER, published in 1868 and republished by Paul WATKINS in 1990.

    Some links to more FEN data:
  • Fitties - An old word for "marsh", the chalets known as the Fitties in Humberstone were built on reclaimed saltmarsh during World War One. They are leasehold on council owned land. Bourne Leisure has the caravan park at Cleethorpes which is not on the Fitties but on the other side of the old sea bank (Antony's Bank). This is a traditional holiday area for South Yorkshire originally because of the direct rail link.
  • Foss - Fosse or Fos(s)dyke comes from the 8th century Old English foss or "ditch." It is often applied to a wall, road or dyke with a prominent ditch on either side or both sides. A portion of the ancient Roman Road from Lincoln to Bath is called Fosse Way.
  • Glebe - Glebe land was land set aside to generate income for the parish clergyman. Often this was rented out to other farmers. The land could include houses and outbuildings.
  • Gowt - The outlet of a canal or sewer where two or three drains flow into a river. It is, after all, where they "go-out". This word often gets creatively spelled and you will see it as Gate, Gote or Gout.
  • Griff - Used in the Fulstow area to refer to a lane. The Common Land is refered to as a "Bull Griff".
  • Holland - The southeastern region of Lincolnshire (the other two are Kesteven and Lindsey). The name comes from Old English hoh+land or "district characterized by hill spurs."
  • Kesteven - The southwestern region of Lincolnshire (the other two are Holland and Lindsey). The name is an interesting combination of Celtic ced and Old Scandinavian stefna or "wooded meeting place." The main towns in the region are Sleaford, Bourne, Folkingham, Stamford and Grantham. The name is pronounced as "Keh-stuh-vun", but some say "Keh-steve-un".
  • Lincoln - derives from the Roman occupation of Britain, where the settlement was the colonia or colony of the lin or pool. The pool referred to is the one formed by the river Witham outside the present city of Lincoln. The river was much larger in Roman times than it is now.
  • Lindsey - The northern region of Lincolnshire (the other two are Holland and Kesteven). The name derives from the Celtic lindo, which means "pool" and was the ancient name for the area now occupied by the city of Lincoln.
  • Soke - A political and religious unit similar to a "Hundred" in Anglo-Saxon England, the Soke is a collection of local parishes which have been granted some kind of exemption by the King. It comes from the Old English socn, which is the root for our modern word "seek". Although the term is seldom in use these days, you will find old directories prior to 1900 which are organized by Soke, such as the Soke of Horncastle.
  • Wapentake - A political unit similar to a "Hundred" in Anglo-Saxon England, The Wapentake is a collection of local parishes. The term is used in former Danelaw region of England and derives from words meaning "show your weapon". The idea was that all in favor of a resolution would raise their sword, ax, etc. to show agreement. Although the term is no longer in use, you will find old directories prior to 1900 which are organized by Wapentake.
  • The Wash - The body of shallow seawater (or bay) off the southeast coast of Lincolnshire. There are many sandbars and shoals caused by the emptying rivers competing with the coastal tides. The term comes from the Old English waesc or "sandbank washed by the sea." It is also sometimes applied to any stream that can be forded at low tide or low flow.
  • The Wolds - an upland district (also used in Leicester and northern Yorkshire). The term is Old English wald or "high-forest land, later cleared."
  • Yellow Belly - The name "Yellow Belly" is affectionately applied to anyone born in Lincolnshire. No one is certain why, but there are theories! It most likely derives from the name Elloe, found in southeast Lincolnshire, which may refer to elder trees.

For more information about Lincolnshire place names, consult:

  • CAMERON, Keith, "The Place-Names of Lincolnshire," EPNS 58, Cambridge, 1985. Price at last check was around £60. (Note: Some sources give the author's first name as "Kenneth".
  • EKWALL, E., "The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names," 4th Edition, Oxford University Press, 1960.
  • MILLS, A. D., "A Dictionary of English Place-Names," Oxford University Press, 1991, ISBN: 0-19-869156-4.