phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Phrases, Sayings and Idioms Home > Discussion Forum

Re: Cold Harbour or Coldharbour

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on January 26, 2010 at 22:28

In Reply to: Cold Harbour or Coldharbour posted by Glen Dryhurst on January 24, 2010 at 01:43:

: Cold Harbour or coldharbour is explained by historians as signifying a place with Roman origins. A place at some point along a Roman road. It definition is explained by A.K. Astbury in his book on the history and geography of The Thames Estuary. "Estuary, land and water in the lower Thames Basin", 1980, Carnforth Press. If you check most "coldharbour places and farms they are on the alignment of a Roman Road. Coldharbour, Surrey is beside Stane Street and a hill fort. Coldharbour farm at Tylers Green east of North Weald Bassett is on the Roman Road from Tilbury, Brentwood to Braughing.

Sorry, no."Historians" explain no such thing. Astbury's book is way out of date, but even back in 1980 it was fairly obvious wishful thinking. What happened was this:
- One of the first people to take any interest at all in the origins of English place-names was a Victorian clergyman called Isaac Taylor. In 1898, he published a book, "Names and Their Histories" in which he wrote that in the Middle Ages,"where no religious house existed to receive the traveller he would usually be compelled to content himself with the shelter of bare walls. The ruins of deserted Roman villas were no doubt so used, and such places seem commonly to have borne the name of Cold Harbour. In the neighbourhood of ancient roads we find no less than seventy". Note that the idea that "deserted Roman villas" were used is simply a guess; but it was widely repeated as fact for decades, even after many of Taylor's other theories had been long exploded (among his wackier notions was that Finnish is related to Etruscan).
- However, as Astbury himself admits, in 1834 the English Place-Name Society (which then as now repreented the views of the entire body of legitimate English place-name scholars) stated that Taylor's notion had no basis in fact and that the great majority of Coldharbours had no relation to Roman roads.
- But clearly the idea the idea of Saxon travellers huddling wretchedly in the shattered remnants of former Roman civilisation appealed to people too much to give it up, and in 1966 a science student at Durham university (significantly, not an archaeologist, who might have seen the flaw in the methodology earlier) did a statistical study which showed that places called Coldharbour are on average closer to Roman roads than randomly distributed points.
- Which seemed to bear out Taylor's theory, till somebody pointed out that the bulk of England 's main road network consisted of Roman roads till very recently, so the chances are that all settlement sites are statistically likely to be closer to Roman roads than randomly distributed points. In fact a study has shown that half the populated places in England are 3.5km or less from a Roman road, so the fact that places called Coldharbour are is quite worthless as evidence of the name's origin. See
- But the final demolition of the "Roman road" theory came in 1984 with the publication of a study demonstrating that in the 17th century, "Coldharbour" was a fashionable name and was widely given to farms and houses, some of them newly built on greenfield sites; and that actually very few instances of the place name pre-date 1600. (VSD)