Cold Harbour

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on October 22, 2005

In Reply to: Cold Harbour posted by James Briggs on October 22, 2005

: : : There are several places named "Cold Harbour", but what exactly is a Cold Harbour? I did hear something about a connection with Queen Elizabeth the first.

: : : Can anyone enlighten me?
: : A "cold harbour" was a shelter for wayfarers constructed by the roadside, which was not occupied or manned by anyone and therefore didn't provide meals and comfort - just a rather dank chilly roof to protect you against the weather. "Harbour" here has the archaic meaning "shelter". There is no connection to Elizabeth I that I can think of. (VSD)

: There are several possible explanations for the name - in fact one professor in the north of England allegedly found more than 100 suggestions. There's no certain origin; in fact there may not be a single origin. However, my favourite, supported by the geography of Bristol, where I live, and which has two examples of the name, is from Norman French 'col d'arbre' - 'ridge of trees'. 'Col' is still used in the sense of a 'ridge' is certain English phrases - 'the south col of Everest' is an example.
The Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names by Eilert Ekwall gives only the "wayside shelter" meaning, without any maybes at all. There are wackier notions, such as the one connecting the name with the alleged makers of ley lines. I don't think the "col d'arbre" explanation can possibly be true. Firstly, "col" does *not* mean "ridge"; it means "a depression in the ridge of a mountain chain forming a pass" (the South Col of Everest is just this). Secondly, the word did not exist in mediaeval English; it was adopted from French by the first alpinists, who needed words for features of mountain landscapes that English hadn't previously needed - the Oxford English Dictionary gives the first recorded use of it as 1853. Thirdly, early forms of the place-name are against it. E.g. Ekwall cites a "Choldherberwe" in London in 1349: this very strongly suggests that the name is made up of the elements "cold" and "harbour" (spelt "hereberwe" in Middle English - cognate with modern German "Herberge" and French "auberge"). There is no way that "col d'arbre" would have been garbled into "Choldherberwe", the more so as Norman French was still a living language in England at that date. (VSD)