Keith Briggs

This page was last modified 2024-01-21  


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Newbourne - some thoughts on the name

Note: I have published a version of this material in Journal of the English Place-name Society, 38, 31-36 (2006). You may download a pdf of this article here.

There are problems with the generally accepted explanation from OE niwe burna `new stream'. If that explanation were correct, Newbourne would be a unique name compounding `new' with a natural, rather than a man-made, feature. The only other seemingly parallel case, Newburn-on-Tyne, is in fact a corruption of niwe burh. It is hard to comprehend what a `new stream' might be.

I propose we consider an ON name níu brunnar `nine springs', assimilated early to the recorded OE forms. Supporting this view are these points:

  • The large number of springs at Newbourne is a highly distinctive feature.
  • Place-names containing OE niwe are predominantly (but not universally) spelt niwe-, newe-, nywe- in their early forms. Such a spelling with -w- does not occur in the DB Neubrunna and all other recorded forms for Newbourne before 1327.
  • Adjoining Newbourne is Kirton, generally accepted to contain ON kirkja `church'. Both villages are on a creek in the Deben estuary, a natural access route for Viking settlers.

If this explanation is correct, it is likely that we have here an early example of the tradition of naming a place with many springs as either "Seven springs" or "Nine springs". In the first category are Seven Springs (Gloucestershire); and (from OE seofen wyllas or weak seofen wyllan) Seawell, Sewell, S(h)owell and Sywell In the second category are Nine Wells, the source of Hobson's Conduit in Stapleford near Cambridge (TL 461 542), Nine Wells on Knock Fell, and at least two north-country field-names.

Furthermore, this explanation would place Newbourne in a natural context of a small group of ON (or partially ON) village-names on the south Suffolk coast - Kirton, Nacton, Snape, Lound, Thorpe, the lost Stockerland, and perhaps some farm-names.

The image shows a map displayed at the Newbourne Springs Nature Reserve (taken June 2007). Note 9 springs to the east of the stream, and 7 to the west.

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