Monday 6 October 2014

A brief note on Willinghams and Inghams: Anglo-Saxon pagan priests and Kultverbände in Lincolnshire & East Anglia?

The following brief post is not intended as a rehearsal of the full corpus of place-names thought to make reference to early Anglo-Saxon pagan deities and temples/shrines, nor as an examination of the argument that many of these names may reflect late-surviving pagan sites that continued in use after most other such sites had been repressed or Christianized.(1) Instead, its aim is simply to draw attention to recent research on two small groups of names that could have some relevance to the study of early Anglo-Saxon paganism, but which haven't, so far, tended to feature in most discussions of this.

The first group consists of places named Willingham, where this place-name derives from Old English *Wifelingahām. There are six parishes in Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire which currently bear the name Willingham. Three of these Willinghams—South Willingham and Cherry Willingham, both in Lincolnshire, and Carlton cum Willingham in Cambridgeshire—derive from an original *Willingahām, 'the estate of the *Willingas, the people/dependants of Willa'. The other Willinghams—Willingham by Stow and North Willingham, both in Lincolnshire, and Willingham in Cambridgeshire—appear to have a different origin, however. In all three of these cases, the early forms point to an original *Wifelingahām, rather than *Willingahām.(2)

The main place-names discussed in this post, set against the current coastline (drawn by C. R. Green).

The first element in this name, wifel, is actually found in a large number of English place-names and has been discussed several times in recent years. Peter Kitson and Gillian Fellows-Jensen have made a strong case for considering that the Old English insect-term wifel, 'weevil or beetle', is probably present in a significant proportion of these names, although some could perhaps instead reflect wifel as a known variant of Old English wifer, meaning here 'a trapping spear' (as proposed by Carole Hough for Wilsill in Yorkshire, Wifeles healh in c. 1030).(3) Nonetheless, most commentators agree that early Old English habitational names like the three Willinghams in Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire require a different explanation. In this context, an unrecorded Old English personal name *Wifel formed from the insect-term wifel has often been suggested—despite scepticism from a number of researchers as to whether it is really plausible that an early Anglo-Saxon personal name might be formed from Old English wifel, 'weevil or beetle'—making *Wifelingahām simply 'the estate of the *Wifelingas, the people/dependants of *Wifel'.(4) However, such a solution is not the only possible explanation of these three place-names, as John Insley has argued in recent years.

Insley's alternative, and highly intriguing, interpretation of the significance of those place-names that derive from *Wifelingahām was published and reiterated in a series of contributions to Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde between 1999 and 2005.(5) He notes there that the Old Norse personal names Véseti and Vífill were originally terms for heathen priests and that an Old Swedish *vivil—attested in place-names—was also a designation for such a function. With regards to *vivil, Insley cites the place-name Vivilsta in Markims socken, Uppland < Vivils-Husar, 'portion of an administrative centre assigned to a pagan priest', and Fellows-Jensen further notes in this context the two early Scandinavian runic words for a pagan priest, wiwaʀ (c. 500) and wiwila (sixth century), and observes that several names derived from *vivil occur in the Mälaren region, these having been recently studied by Per Vikstrand.(6) In light of the Scandinavian evidence, Insley suggests that the three *Wifelingahām place-names (North Willingham, Willingham by Stow and Willingham in Cambridgeshire) are thus not, in fact, normal ‑ingahām names involving an unrecorded Old English personal name *Wifel. Rather, he considers that they are better seen as containing a cognate of Swedish *vivil, 'pagan priest'—which would take the form *wifel in Old English—as a specific, and so denote Kultverbände or cultic groups under the leadership of a pagan priest.

Such a possible origin for the three Willinghams is, of course, of considerable interest, and it is worth noting that these may not be the only place-names from eastern England to make reference to early Anglo-Saxon Kultverbände and pagan priests. Another potentially significant group of names from this perspective are those with the modern form Ingham, of which four examples are known (located in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Oxfordshire). These place-names are now all usually considered to represent significant early Anglo-Saxon centres and were re-examined as a group in 1987 by Karl Inge Sandred, who demonstrated that the former derivation of Ingham from *Ingan-hām, 'the estate of a man named *Inga', is unlikely to be correct. Sandred argued instead that the Ingham place-names probably all reflect Germanic *Ingwia-haimaz, which he reads as 'the estate of the Inguione', a tag to mark places as the royal property of a king who claimed to be of an Inguionic dynasty.(7) However, as with the *Wifelingahām place-names, this is not the only explanation of this original form that is possible. In particular, Kenneth Cameron and John Insley have more recently offered an alternative interpretation of an original *Ingwia-haima-, seeing it instead as a name meaning 'the estate of the devotees of the deity Ing'.(8) Needless to say, if Cameron and Insley's reading is correct, then the four Ingham places-names would again indicate sites where early Anglo-Saxon Kultverbände were based, these groups being concerned with the cultic reverence of Ing, a god who Richard North has argued had some considerable significance in the early Anglo-Saxon period.(9)

In sum, although the evidence is limited and there remains considerable room for debate and alternative interpretations, recent research and commentary suggests that there is at least a case to be made for adding the three Willinghams (< *Wifelingahām) and four Inghams (< *Ingwia-haima-) discussed above to the corpus of Old English place-names that may have something to tell us about early Anglo-Saxon paganism—the first group of names potentially denoting Kultverbände or cultic groups under the leadership of a pagan priest, and the second potentially indicating estates belonging to Kultverbände concerned with the cultic reverence of the pagan god Ing. In this context, incidentally, it is interesting to note that the Lincolnshire Ingham actually lies just to the east of one of our Willinghams (Willingham by Stow), separated from it only by the small former parish of Coates, which had close historical connections with Ingham.(10) If the place-names Willingham and Ingham do indeed both contain references to early Anglo-Saxon Kultverbände—rather than one or both of them instead simply deriving from another of their possible meanings, i.e. 'the estate of the people/dependants of *Wifel' or 'the estate of the Inguione'—then we would have here an intriguing coincidence. Of course, quite what the significance of any such coincidence would be is not entirely clear. However, in such circumstances it would perhaps be worth asking whether it might not reflect a situation wherein both of these near-neighbouring parishes were once been part of a single estate belonging to an early Anglo-Saxon Kultverband that was led by a pagan priest, Old English *wifel, and concerned with the worship of the deity Ing.(11)


1 See, for example, M. Gelling, 'Further thoughts on pagan place-names', reprinted in K. Cameron (ed.), Place-name Evidence for the Anglo-Saxon Invasion and Scandinavian Settlements (Nottingham, 1977), pp. 99–114; M. Gelling, Signposts to the Past. Place-names and the History of England, 2nd edn (Chichester, 1988), pp. 158–61; J. Insley, 'Kultische namen', Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, 17 (2000), 425–37.
2 K. Cameron, A Dictionary of Lincolnshire Place-names (Nottingham, 1998), p. 139; V. Watts, The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names (Cambridge, 2004), p. 681; E. Ekwall, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names, 4th edn (Oxford, 1960), p. 520; G. Fellows-Jensen, ‘The Weevil’s claw’ in A. van Nahl et al (eds), Namenwelten (Berlin, 2004), pp. 76–89 at 82–4. North Willingham was Wiuilingeham and Wiflingeham in 1086 and c. 1115; Willingham by Stow was Welingeham and Uiflingeheim/Wiflingham in 1086 and c. 1115; and Willingham in Cambridgeshire was Vuivlingeham and Wiuelncgaham in c. 1050 and 1086 (Fellows-Jensen, 'Weevil's claw', pp. 82–3; Cameron, Lincolnshire Place-names, p. 139; Watts, Cambridge Dictionary, p. 681).
3 For Old English wifel, 'weevil or beetle', being present in many of these names, see P. Kitson, 'Quantifying qualifiers in Anglo-Saxon charter boundaries', Folia Linguistica Historica, 14 (1993), 29–82 at 75–7, and Fellows-Jensen, 'Weevil's Claw', pp. 76–82, 86, supported by Insley, 'Kultische namen', 426–7. For Carole Hough's suggestion, see her 'Wilsill in Yorkshire and related place-names', Notes and Queries, 50.3 (2003), 253–7, although see Fellow-Jensen, 'Weevil's claw', pp. 86–7, for some some scepticism as to the general applicability of this idea.
4 Cameron, Lincolnshire Place-names, p. 139; Watts, Cambridge Dictionary, p. 681; and especially Fellows-Jensen, 'Weevil's Claw', pp.83, 84 and 86. Fellows-Jensen makes it clear that she assumes that an Old English personal name *Wifel would be a 'by-name meaning "beetle"' rather than anything else (p. 86), but Peter Kitson and Carole Hough both consider an Old English personal name *Wifel formed from OE wifel, 'weevil or beetle', to be intrinsically unlikely and 'improbable': Kitson, 'Quantifying qualifiers', 75–7, and Hough, 'Wilsill in Yorkshire', 254 and 257 (quotation at the latter location). Note, place-names involving ‑ingahām are often believed to have their origins in the early Anglo-Saxon period: J. Kuurman, 'An examination of the ‑ingas‑inga place-names in the East Midlands', Journal of the English Place-Name Society, 7 (1974–5), 11–44; B. Cox, 'The significance of the distribution of English place-names in -hām in the Midlands and East Anglia', Journal of the English Place-Name Society, 5 (1972–3), 15–73; K. Cameron, English Place Names, 2nd edn (London, 1996), p. 71.
5 J. Insley, 'Gumeningas', Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde,13 (1999), 191–3; Insley,  'Kultische namen', 426–7; J. Insley, 'Siedlungsnamen §2. Englische', Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, 28 (2005), 344–53 at 347.
6 Fellows-Jensen, 'Weevil's claw', pp. 84–5, especially 85, citing Per Vikstrand's Gudarnas platser. Förkristna sakrala ortnamn i Mälarlandskapen (Uppsala, 2001).
7 K. I. Sandred, ‘Ingham in East Anglia: a new interpretation’, Leeds Studies in English, 18 (1987), 231–40. Barrie Cox considered the case convincing in his review of the volume that Sandred's article appeared in (Saga-Book of the Viking Society, 22 [1986–89], 313–14) and references it in his study of early Anglo-Saxon place-names in northern Lincolnshire, observing that '[t]he most obvious villa regalis was surely in the west at Ingham, with its place-name derived from the pagan Germanic god Ing whose name in greater Germania was used as a tag to mark places as royal property' (B. Cox, ‘The pattern of Old English burh in early Lindsey’, Anglo-Saxon England, 23 (1994), 35–56 at 48). See also Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons: Lincolnshire AD 400–650 (Lincoln, 2012), pp. 101–03, 162, 262.
8 K. Cameron, Dictionary of Lincolnshire Place-Names (Nottingham, 1998), p. 69; K. Cameron, The Place-Names of Lincolnshire, VI (Nottingham, 2001), p. 184; Insley, 'Siedlungsnamen', 347. It should be noted that this interpretation of the name Ingham is largely adopted by Watts, Cambridge Dictionary, p. 331, for Ingham (Suffolk) and Ingham (Lincolnshire), although somewhat confusingly he offers Sandred's interpretation for Ingham (Norfolk).
9 R. North, Heathen Gods in Old English Literature (Cambridge, 1997); for some criticisms of the latter work, see, for example, Karin Olsen's review of North's book in TijdSchrift voor Skandinavistiek, 19.1 (1998), 187–93. For a possible example of a Kultverband focussed on a pagan Anglo-Saxon deity other than Ing, see perhaps Tewin, Hertfordshire—(terram) Tiwingum in 944x6 and Teuuinge in 1086—which can be potentially interpreted as '(settlement of) the worshippers of Tiw' or similar, another Anglo-Saxon pagan god, although '(settlement of) the people/dependants of *Tīwa' is the more usual interpretation of this name: Watts, Cambridge Dictionary, p. 605; T. Williamson, The Origins of Hertfordshire (Hatfield, 2010), p. 75; A. D. Mills, A Dictionary of English Place-Names (Oxford, 1991), p. 323.
10 P. L. Everson, C. C. Taylor & C. J. Dunn, Change and Continuity: Rural Settlement in North-West Lincolnshire (London, 1991), pp. 10 and 11.
11 The full extent of any such estate is entirely uncertain, of course. However, it may be worth noting that Cox has suggested that '[i]t can be no coincidence... that eventually the great Anglo-Saxon church at Stow grew up so near [to Ingham]' ('Pattern of Old English burh', 48). The large medieval parish of Stow—which encompassed the townships of Stow, Stow Park, Normanby by Stow and the now-separate parish of Sturton by Stow—lies immediately to the south of Willingham by Stow and to the east of Coates/Ingham (Everson et al,Change and Continuity, pp. 10, 11). Although the present church at Stow is of Late Saxon date, an earlier origin for it, potentially in the Middle Saxon period, has been suggested: N. Field, 'Stow church', Lincolnshire History & Archaeology, 19 (1984), 105–06; K. U. Ulmschneider, Markets, Minsters, and Metal-detectors: the Archaeology of Middle Saxon Lincolnshire and Hampshire Compared (Oxford, 2000), p. 148; K. U. Ulmschneider, 'Settlement, economy, and the "productive" site: Middle Anglo-Saxon Lincolnshire A. D. 650–780', Medieval Archaeology, 44 (2000), 53–79 at 68.

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