Updated: Mar 15, 2018
and finding names for extra streets. Remarkably, the town has a stock of names both familiar yet very ancient. More than a dozen centuries ago, Anglo-Saxons were also new arrivals. Their otherwise forgotten existence lingers on, preserved on present maps and roads.
So, how did Middlewich acquire its earliest place-names? To find out we have to travel back even further, to the first century AD. Just off present day King Street the Roman army chose to establish a temporary camp, and later a built fort. Their presence ceased in the early 2nd
century, leaving few if any Latin names. Nature soon turned their managed landscape back into woodland but by the 7th century other, different incomers were adding to native British populations and settling more of the district. Former tracks were still usable. Despite weathering and neglect they probably helped in exploring this tree-filled back-country and clearing it for cultivation – and eventually, for Middlewich.
An enclosure of huts and smallholdings was a tun, distinguished by the name of a farmer, or some kind of recognisable feature. Possibly one of the first tuns was not far from the old Roman zone on the ancient east-west road. Kinderton likely arose from an individual called Cynraed. Another farmstead was Sprow’s tun. Still largely unchanged – it’s now Sproston. Nearby Brereton must have presented a challenge for planting crops. The word indicates it was beset with briars. Croxton was a farm by the ‘crooked’ river Croco, Or maybe it once belonged to someone actually named Krokr? We can never be completely sure. A Roman road stretched past the ‘south tun’, which became the locality (and surname) Sutton.
One of the commonest descriptions in the country is ‘Newton’, simply ‘new village’. Here, it was exactly that – a fresh site, away from the old Roman area, and right by the medieval brine-exploiting wych. Victorians knew it as ‘Newton-by- Middlewich’. Was everything a tun No. On the Roman road opposite Croxton, Ravenscroft was the little possession of Hrafen, meaning ‘raven’. Byley was the ‘woodland clearing’ of Beofa. Stanthorne described stony ground with thorn-trees.
Perhaps these stones referred to the metalled Roman road to Chester. Once, nearby Bostock was Bota’s ‘outlying farm or hamlet’ or stoc. Back to the beginnings… and the wide, flat ground today called Harbutt’s Field. Previously this was ‘Harbour’ or sometimes ‘Harboro’ Field’. In both Old and Middle English ‘here’ and ‘beorg’ together meant… ‘army shelter’. So, Middlewich’s earliest role is recalled in modern language after all!
Julie Elizabeth Smalley