I wrote a post back in 2017, “The name of Thatcham“, detailing the history of the name of Thatcham. A few updates and more details are discussed in this post.
The local myth is that when the people were stood thinking how to roof their buildings a figure (some say red with horns) suddenly appeared and shouted “Thatch-em.”
As fascinating and amusing as this is it leads to the second thing people say, Thatcham got its name because the buildings were thatched. During the Saxon period (and yes Thatcham is most definitely Saxon), which is where the settlement originates from, most buildings in the country would have been thatched.
What is the true origin and meaning?
I started with Barfield1 and have been looking back, where possible, at the original sources and many more sources. In the previous post I mentioned that one of the earliest known written records is the will of Ælfeah (also Ælfheah) from c.975AD1 but this can now be pushed back further and the will is likely c.9712. Searching through the Anglo-Saxon charters2 further, thankfully some available digitally, I have found a reference to Thatcham, or þæcham as it was, from King Eadred in c.951. This pushes back the first known reference back a few decades.
Breaking the name þæcham down we have þæc which means thatching material and ham which has been suggested might be a shortened hamm meaning river meadow. If this is the case it might mean thatching material in or near a river meadow.
The evolving name
I mentioned in the last post that the first spelling of the modern spelling was c.1597, however I have since found earlier dates to this but I am yet to confirm they are correct. I have put these in a table below but please note I am yet to confirm all of these. I have some from various sources, primary and secondary, the following is all the variations of the name Thatcham I have found as well as the date ranges (first seen and last seen). This may change as research continues.
|Name||First seen||Last seen|
There are many spelling variations and a lot of overlapping. The variations can come about for a number of reasons such as a switch in language, Norman French, the great vowel shift, or even local dialect and the transcriber. I have also shown the above table as a graph chart below.
The Saxon period only has one spelling þæcham and although Barfield claims it was used after the Norman Conquest it would appear the spelling did change abruptly. This is likely as the nobility after the conquest would have spoken Norman French, the peasants wouldn’t have, but those that made the records probably did.
With the Normans the name was spelt Taceham with Tacheham appearing to become popular from c.1125 to c.1188 when Thacham and Tacham became popular. Of those two Thacham became the dominant. This is around the time when late old english transitioned to early middle english. Thacham was popular and even appears in early newspapers of the 18th century. However by then the spelling Thatcham was used more often than not and had been since some time in the 16th century.
The first mention of Thatcham has now been pushed back to c.951 and the modern spelling would appear to first occurs somewhere between 1545 and 1564 although variations are still used for a while after. The earliest spelling is þæcham which I believe refers to thatching material in a river meadow. Of course I am still researching and my understanding and/or additional materials may add or remove points from this work.
1Barfield, S. Thatcham, Berks, and its Manors, Oxford: Parker, 1901
2Anglo-Saxon Charters, various