Settlers in Sussex & part of Surrey


Settlers in Sussex & part of Surrey

Sussex still shows some remarkable traces of its early Anglo-Saxon people. The survival of the custom of borough-English up to modern times, by which the youngest son is sole heir to his father`s estate, on about 140 manors in this county, is in all probability due to its having been custom of some of the original settlers. It is more common in the Rape of Lewis, but exists also in manors elsewhere.

This custom of borough English or junior right prevails more extensively in Sussex than in any county. While Kent is marked by a survival of partible inheritance, Sussex is marked in a similar way by the survival among the copyholders on a very large number of its manors of sole inheritance by the youngest son. These two customs resemble each other in one respect-the preference for the youngest. In Kent he was entitled to have the homestead on making an equitable compensation to his brothers, but in all other respects the inheritance was divided equally between the sons, so in Kent the special recognition of the youngest son is only weak. On the contrary, in the Sussex custom the recognition of the claim of the youngest son was absolute, as he succeeded to the whole of the land to the exclusion of his brothers. As already shown, this custom can be traced more clearly to Eastern Europe than to any other source.

The following circumstances in reference to settlements in the South-East of England are important considerations : (1) The Goths, under the name of the Gutae or Jutes, were the chief settlers in Kent, as proved by historical statements, the existence of fixed monuments with gothic runes on them, and the survival of gavelkind, with its incidental customs of freedom from distress and dower of widows which can be traced to a Gothic source. (2) The existence in Sussex over a large area of the custom by which the youngest son succeeded to the whole of his father`s estate.(3) The existence in Kent of a recognition of the youngest son to a less extent, he being entitled to the paternal homestead.(4)The prevalence of junior right at the present day as the survival of an ancient custom of inheritance among some people in Friesland, and among the Slavs.(5) The Slavic origin of the Vandal or Wendish tribes of the south coast of the Baltic Sea, close to the ancient seat of the Goths.(6) The survival of ancient Vandal or Wendish place-names in both Sussex and Essex.

Goths and Vandals , when allied in warlike expeditions, were commonly called Astings.(1) It may, of course, be accidental that a tribe called the Haestingas was settled on the borderland between sussex and Kent, but there is evidence of some commingling of the people of these counties near their border. The custom of partible inheritance, which is general in Kent, does not exist in Sussex, except at Rye,(2) where it mat still occur in cases of intestacy, and Rye was only separated from Kent by Romney Marsh, now reclaimed. The largest of the Wendish tribes of North-east Germany was the Wilte, hundreds of Sussex in Saxon time-viz., wndelmestrei, Willingham, Welesmere(3)-are suggestive of Wends or Wilte. When we compare the name Wendelmestrei with the place-name Wendelstein in one of the Wendish parts of Germany, we can scarcely doubt how the Sussex name arose, if considered in reference to the survival in Sussex of an old Wendish custom.

There are other Anglo-Saxon names of places in this county which may also have been derived from persons who were called by some tribal name, such as Bucgan-ora,(4) now changed to Bognor, and Buckingham, which may have come from the name of the pagus of the Bucki, in the Engern county of the old Saxons. The name Bexwarena-land for the country around Bexley occurs also in the charter of Offa,(5) and, as it is written in a genitive plural, it must be considered to refer to a settlement of people known as Bexware.

In the extreme West of Sussex there is a place near Selsea called Wittering, which is mentioned in a charter of the tenth centuryas Wedering,(6) a name presumably derived originally from a settler called weder, from his tribal name-that of the Wederas or Ostrogoths from the Wedermark, on the east of Lake Wetter. The name occurs in the boundaries of Selsea, another boundary-name of the same land being Cwuenstane.(7) this latter is much like Cwen, the Norrena name of a Fin. Another Fin settlement appears probable from the Sussex Domesday place-name Finstune.

Similarly, the Domesday name Angemare-the Angemeringum or Angemaeringtun of Saxon charters(8)- remindsus of the ancient Swedish province of Angermanland, on the west of the gulf of Bothnia, opposite to Finland. As already mentioned, there are still existing in the north-eastern provinces of Sweden stone monuments with runic inscriptions to those who `resided westward in England` or who `died in England`.(9) Eastmen or Ostrogoths were names used somewhat freely in ancient time for the same people, and it is possible that the two Domesday place names in Sussex named Essete may refer to settlers who were Eastmen. There are four places in Sussex named Garinges, and as g and w were interchangeable in sound, these mat be equivalent to Waringes, and point to settlements of Warings.

Hunestan is a Domeday name apparently referring to the settlement of a family of Hunsings, as Sasinghi does to one which bore the Saxon name.

A trace of people who were in some way connected with Franks or Burgundians in Sussex is afforded by the discovery of a weapon known as the angon in a cemetery of the Anglo-Saxon period at Ferring. Thisweapon, almost unknown in connection with the ancient burials in England, is frequently found on the continent in ancient graves of Franks and Burgundians.(10)

It is not suggested that all the manors in Sussex on which the custom of junior right prevailed were settled by Wends. That custom can be traced more fully to the Slavs than to any other race , but in ancient time, as well as in modern, the Slavs were settled close to, or even among, the Teutons, and it might have been adopted by some of the Saxon tribes or communities of mixed descent, and have been introduced into Sussex and other parts of England partly by Wends and partly by Frisians, Burgundians, or other who had adopted it. This supposition is supported by the survival of this old custom over considerable portions of North Germany at the present time, whereas generally among he Germans the mode of succession of the nobles, as well as the inferior tenants, was partible inheritance. As regards the inferior tenants, in parts of Germany the parcelling out of the land into smaller and smaller portions led to such impoverishment that the `minorat succession` was in modern time established so that the youngest son was constituted by law heir to the father`s farms and lands, it being considered that the father was better able to portion off his elder children in his lifetime.(11) a community of mixed descent in contact with another which had the junior right custom might have adopted it in ancient time, as it was by German law in modern time.

The place-names in Sussex ending in the word-mer are suggestive. Grimm tells us that the older Slavs called the world mir and ves`mir.(12) Mir is also thename for peace, and seems akin to mira or mera, a measure. Among all the counties of England Sussex is remarkable for its place-names terminating in this word –mer, in some cases –mere. It appears to refer to a boundary or limit rather than to a marsh, for some of the names which have this ending are situated on high ground, such as Falmer-the Domesday Felesmere. Keymer, Angermer, Stanmer,Jonsmer, Cuckmere, Ringmer, Udimore (commonly pronounced Udimer), Tangemere, Linchmere, and Haslemere, on the county boundary, are other examples of the name. Some of these, like those of other ancient places and hundreds in Sussex, probably refer to people.

Among Domesday names of significance in reference to Frisians of the Chaucian tribe are Cochinges and Cocheha. As in some other counties in which there are traces of Wendish settlers, we fid a place-name containing the root sem, probably derived from the old Slavonic word for lane. It occurs in the Domesday place-names Semlintun.

The number of places in Sussex whose names bear a resemblance to Frisian names is remarkable. The terminal pronounciation of some of them in –um and –un also resembles the Frisian. In Friesland we find Dokkum, Workum, Bergum, Akkrum, Wirrum, Hallum, Ulrum, Loppersum, Makkum, Bedum,and others of the same kind. In Sussex we find Horsham (locally pronounced Horsum and Hawsom), Hailsam (Helsum), Cocking (Cokkum), Lillington (Linkum).(13) the indications point to Frisians in this county are sufficient to sow that people of this nation must have settled among the South Saxons.

That there were among these Frisians tribal Hunsings and Chaucians is probable from such family names as Friston, Hunston, the Domesday names Cocheha, Cokkefield, and the numerous similar names, Cuckmere, Cuckfield, Cocking, Cockhais, Cockshut stream, Cokeham ( a hamlet of Sompting), and Cooksbridge, north of Lewes. These latter, which maybe compared with Cuxhaven in the old country of the Chaucians and similar names in various parts of England, point to family settlements of these tribal people.

The name Swanborough, the Domesday Soanberge, probably denotes the settlement of one or more families of Sweons or Swedes. Their connection with the Viking expeditions has been proved, and is not a matter of conjecture. In the original settlement of Sussex it must, however, be accepted that people of Saxon origin, including the Frisians were in the majority , and so gave their name to the Kingdom. The occurance of the Domesday name Sasingha, denoting a family of Saxon origin, in a county supposed to have been entirely settled by Saxons, maybe explained by its possible use, in this instance, as a distinctive name for a Saxon settler in a district in which the neighbouring settlements were those of people who were not Saxons .

Sussex, like all English maritime counties, had its later Scandinavian settlements as well as those of the early Saxon period. At Framfield there were customary laws of inheritance of much interest, which point, in all probability, to settlers of more than one ancient race. These customs were the subject of a legal enquiry early in the seventeenth century, and were set forth by the Court of Chancery, 4 James I. There was a framfield bondland and assartland, the former being in all probability that which was first under cultivation to arable land by some forest clearing, possibly for a later settlement of Scandinavians. However this may have been, the custom was that if any man be first admitted tenant of any assartland and die seised of it, and also of bondland, then the eldest son should be admitted heir of all his land, and if he has no son, the eldest daughter should succeed. If however, the tenant first admitted to the brondland, also called yardland, the youngest son, and failing sons, the youngest daughter, should succeed to the whole of his land. If he left no children, the youngest brother; failing brothers, the youngest sister; and failing these, the youngest uncle or aunt or youngest cousin, males being preferred in each degree of relationship.(14) The custom by which the eldest daughter succeeded if there was no son makes it probable that there was a Norse settlement on the assartland at Framfield. We may find another trace of people of Norse descent in parts of East Sussex in the custom of `principals,` by which the eldest son on some of the lands in Sussex belonging to Battle Abbey was entitled to certain heirlooms or articles in right of Primogenture. (15) The succession by the youngest seems to have been originally connected with the bondland, and follows the custom that so largely prevailed in the Rape of Lewes.

The eldest daughter custom at Framfield and the custom of `principals` in reference to the eldest son, when compared with the customs of Norway and Cumberland, are so clearly of Scandian origin that we may look for other traces of the Northmen in Sussex. The name rapes for the county divisions appears to be of Scandinavian origin, and to be connected with Anglo-Saxon rap, raep, and the Gothic raip, signifying a rope. In Iceland districts are called hreppar to the present day.(16) Scandinavian place-names maybe recognized in Harlinges (an old place near Framfield), Bosham, Bosgrave, Thorney, Angmering, Swanborough, Denton, Scale near Stenning, and Angleton, all ancient names which occur in their old forms in ancient records. There are two places named Blechington, one north of Brighton, and the other east of Newhaven. These family settlement names suggest some connection with Scandian people from Blekinge, the province in the South of Sweden. These ancient names, and the survival of the customs mentioned, so clearly point to Northmen that there can be no doubt that settlements of them, probably during the later Saxon period, took place on the Sussex coast.

At rotherfield there were three kinds of heritable land-viz., farthingland, cotmanland, and assartland. The eldeat son was heir of the assartland, and the wife was not entitled to dower. The assartland was that which had been reclaimed from some forest clearing, and, being new cultivated land, there was no customary mode of inheritance attached to it. Consequently, it followed the common law of primogeniture. The youngest son was heir of the farthingland and cotmanland, but. If there was no sons, there was this difference between the decent of farthingland and cotmanland; the former descended to the youngest daughter, while the latter was divided among all the daughters.(17) To this extent the cotmanland followed the custom of Kent, and the farthingland the custom of a great part of Sussex.

History is silent concerning Norse colonies on our southern coasts, but the custom and old place-names which have been mentioned point to a considerable settlement of Scandinavians in Sussex, and Sweons or Swedes among them. That Swedes came among the Vikings, as already mentioned, is proved by the runic monuments of their country. In the district of Vaksala (parish of old Upsala) there is still existing an inscription to Sigvid, `the England sea-farer.` In Vestermanland there is another `to a worthy young man, and he had gone to England.` In Gestrikland, near Gefle, is another made by relatives to `their brother Bruse when he set out for England.`(18) Some of these and other inscriptions maybe memorials of actual settlers in our country. There is additional evidence relating to Northmen. The Domesday names Totenore, Sidenore, Venninggore or Waningore, Icenore, and the other early names Cymenore, Kynnore, andCotenore, show by their terminations traces of Scandinavian people. Among other Danish or Scandinavian traces in the old place-names are those beginning with Sale, which may refer to settlers from Sealand. These are the Domesday places Salecome and Salhert, now Salehurst, and Salemannaburn,(19) a name for one of the old hundreds. The conditions under which settlements were formed in Sussex must have been peculiar to it from the first. With a great extent of coast, and the country nearest to it being for long distances sparsely supplied with wood, the early settlers must have depended for that commodity on the forest district further north, or on woods which became common to certain hundreds or groups of village settlements. The Andredsweald forest was known as the `Sylva communis` in the Anglo-Saxon period.(20)

There are still surviving a number of place-names ending in the word –tye, which probably denoted common lands or rights of some kind attached to various places. Berwick-tye, Bramble-tye, horntye, Pilstye, Puckstye, Wroth-tye, also tyes and Tye Cross, Tye farm, and Tye hill, are examples.

The survival of borough-English on a considerable number of manors in the south of Surrey points to colonization from Sussex. The custom of succession by the youngest son not only survived until modern time in these places, but the division of the manors into so-called boroughs also survived. At Dorking there were four boroughs-viz., Chipping borough, comprising the greater part of the town; Holmwood borough, comprising the country on the south side of the town; Milton borough; and Westcote borough. There were, similarly, a number of rural boroughs in the manor of Croydon, where Borough-English also survived. These arrangements for rural government, with a headman called the head-borough, are the same as existed in parts of Sussex, where succession by the youngest son was the custom. It is known that this custom prevailed on at least twenty-eight manors(21) in Surrey, including Dorking, Croydon, Reigate, and Bletchworth.(22) These places are all on, or quite close to, the lines of the old Roman roads which connected Sussex with London, and the survival of a Sussex custom at places in Surrey situated on these roads suggests migrations of people along them. Borough-English is also known to have prevailed in the following rural parts of Surrey: Weston Gumshall, Sutton (near Dorking), Little Bookham, Wootton, Abinger, Padington, Towerhill, Nettley, Shere, Cranley, Compton-Westbury, Brockham in Betchworth, and Dunsfold. The migration from Sussex thus appears to have been considerable.

There is in the south-east of surrey some evidence of the commingling of local colonists from both Sussex and Kent in this part of the Weald forest. It can be traced in the manorial and other local customs. At Lingfield the officials called head-boroughs were appointed for all the manors within this large parish, as was the case in Sussex on the manors where borough-English prevailed. Sterborough, one of the manors of Lingfield, bears this borough name. Part of this rural borough lay in Kent, and was subject to gavelkind. The tenants of the other part of this manor held their land subject to the payment of a heriot of the best beast on the death of the tenant.(23) This custom was probably introduced into England by Scandinavians, and is commonly met with in districts settled by them.

Blechingley had some customs which bore a strong resemblance to some of those incidental to gavelkind in Kent. The tenants paid no heriots, but one penny only, and no more, for admission to their lands. They could sell or alienate their lands, as the gavelkind tenants in Kent could. They could grant leases without their lord`s licence,(24) as Kentish tenants could. Part of Godstone was held of the manor of Blechingley, with presumably similar customs. At Reigate the free and customary tenants had the custom of borough-English, and held their lands and tenements in free and common socage,(25) which corresponded very closely to gavelkind in Kent. Similarly, at Limpsfield the copyholds descended to the youngest son,(26) like those held in the barony of Lewes.

In a previous chapter English shires from the primitive districts that had their separate popular assemblies of freemen has been referred to. Sussex affords us examples of hundreds mentioned in Domesday Book that appear originally to have been districts of this kind. This is seen in the case of the hundred of Bexelei, the area of which probably was that mentioned in a charter in the time of Offa as Bexwarena-land.(27) these Bexware people thus mentioned as a district community no doubt had their local assembly or court, common to all Teutonic tribes, and it is difficult to see any other probable origin of the later hundred of Bexelei. The hundreds of Sussex were very numerous, and consequently for the most part small. No fewer than fifty of them are mentioned in Domesday Book, and they include those bearing the clan or tribal names Mellinges, Staninges, Ghestelinges, and Poninges, which are examples of small communities of people of the same kindred, and many similar names are mentioned in the Saxon charters. With the exception of Kent, Sussex contained a larger number of hundreds at the time of the survey than any other county on the south-west coast. As we cannot suppose that all these comparatively small separate areas of administration arose in the later Saxon period, the conclusion appears unavoidable that the South Saxons were originally settled in small district communities, administered by their own local assemblies of the freemen.

Some evidence of variation in race among the South Saxons has been obtained by the examination of skulls from their cemeteries. Of fourteen, examined by Horton-Smith, found at goring, near Worthing, thirteen were long and broad.(28) the long skulls were very marked, the average index being 2. As the English skull at the present time has an average index of 78, it will be seen that the great majority of the settlers at Goring were characterized by having specially long heads. They correspond closely to the ancient German type found so numerously in an old burying-ground at Bremen, which has an index of 71 or 72. The skulls with this average characteristic index were founding that part of ancient Frisia inhabited by the Chaucians, and as some of the Sussex place-names point to Frisian settlers, the coincidence is suggestive. In reference to the broad skull, Horton-Smith supposes a fusion of race to have taken place between the Saxons of Sussex and some British descendents of the period of the Round Barrow or Bronze Age. He points out, however, an important difference in the height of the skulls-viz., that the height-index of the Round barrow race, according to Thurnam, is 76. Whereas that of the typical Saxon is 70. The settlement in Sussex of some broad-headed people with the long-headed majority, coming from a continental area where people of both race characters are known to have lived is probably a better explanation.

The survival of junior inheritance on so many manors in Sussex, and the discovery of differences in the skulls, suggest the inquiry, what evidence is there in Sussex of typical Saxon race? The custom was foreign to the Continental Saxons. The settlers in Sussex must apparently have been tribal people of more than one race. They may well have been of three races, as perhaps is dimly remembered in their traditional arrival in three ships. The observations which were made half a century ago on the ethnology of the people of this county by Mackintosh are of interest. He says `In Sussex the Saxon type is found in its greatest purity in the area extending from East Grinstead to Hastings.` It is in this area that place-names ending in –ham, such as Withyham, Etchingham, Northiam, and Bodiam, occur. He says also that `In Sussex the majority of the inhabitants would appear to belong to two races-the Saxon, and a race with harder and more angular features.`(29) The immigration of other settlers among the Frisians and Saxons probably explain this.

The village arrangements in Sussex show examples of both isolated and collected homesteads. In some parishes, as in Kent, there are old place-names apparently of early settlements, distinct from the name of the parish itself. Such names, which are now applied to hamlets or farms, were in many instances probably the names of settlements by families in isolated homesteads. This plan of village occupation, which prevails so largely in the country west of the Weser, may have been introduced into Sussex by Frisian settlers. It may, however, be a British survival which some of the tribal South Saxons found here, and adopted in the districts in which it can be traced.In other parts of the county that are marked chiefly by villages of collected homesteads the old Celtic arrangement appears to have been replaced by that observable between the Weser and the Elbe, occupied by the old Saxons, and in the country north and east of the Elbe, occupied respectively by Saxons and Wends.

One of the most interesting circumstances connected with early Sussex is the migration of a large body of Sussex people at the beginning of the eighth century, and the establishment by them of a colony in Somersetshire, which will be discussed in the chapter on the South-western counties. The early date of this migration, which can be proved, shows that the tribal people who brought with them the custom of juniorinheritance into the Rape of Lewis must have been early settlers there, and it is quite certain they were not, strictly speaking, Saxons.


1 Latham, R. G., `Germania of Tacitus,` xviii.

2 Elton, C. I., and MacKay, H. J. H., `Robinson on Gavelkind,`

3 Domesday Book.

4 Cart. Sax., i. 82.

5 Ibid., i. 294.

6 Ibid., iii. 193.

7 Ibid.

8 Codex Dipl., Nos. 314 and 1067.

9 Memoires de la societe Royale des Antiquaires du Nord, 1845-1849, p. 333.

10 Read, C. H., Archaeologia, liv. 369.

11 Baring-gould, S., `Germany, past and present.` pp. 56-68.

12 Grimm, J., `Teutonic Mythology,` ed. By Stallybrass, ii., 793.

13 Lower, M. A., `History of Sussex,` vol. i.

14 Corner, G. R., `On Borough-English,` Sussex Archaeological Collections, vi. 175,176.

15 Encyclopaedia Brittannica, Ninth ed., `Primogeniture`

16 Domesday Book, General Introduction, by H. Ellis, pp. 179, 180.

17 Corner, G. R., loc. cit., vi. 15.

18 Memoires de la Societe Royale des Antiquaires du Nord, Copenhagen, 1845-1849, pp. 334-346.

19 Placita do quo warranto, 749.

20 Horsfield, T. W., `History and Antiquities of Lewes,` p. 3.

21 Corner, R. G., loc. cit., 25.

22 Elton, C. I., and Mackay, H. J. H., loc. cit., 238.

23 Manning and Bray, `History of Surrey,` ii. 340.

24 Ibid., ii. 296.

25 Ibid.., i. 281.

26 Ibid., ii. 394.

27 Cart. Sax., i. 294.

28 Journel Anthrop. Inst., xxvi. 83.

29 Ethnological Society Transactions, i. 214, 215.

Taken from the Book = `Origin of the Anglo-Saxon race`

Author = J. W. Shore.