From Beamfleote to Benfleet

Local place-name origins

The English language is to a great degree the legacy of the Anglo-Saxons, for it was Alfred the Great who insisted on events being recorded in written form and it is in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles that we first find mention of Beamfleote.

However, literacy took a while to take hold and it was not until 1855, with the arrival of the railways that consistency became important and the current spelling was agreed on. In the intervening years it became Benfleota, Bienflet, Beanflota, Bemflet, Bamflet, Beniflet, Baunflet and Bewinflete.

Beam meaning wooded and Fleot meaning creek gives us a tree-lined creek. This makes perfect sense as we know that timber was exported from Benfleet Creek  to London and it is the derivation that P.H. Reaney endorses in his standard work on Essex place-names published in 1935.

However another author of a book on Essex place-names, James Kemble, offers the possibility that Beam can be interpreted as timbers and hence refers to a bridge over the creek. My first thought was that, without doing our Anglo-Saxon ancestors a disservice, it was another 1000 years before a bridge appeared.  At the time there would have been no economic or military advantage to warrant a bridge.

Kemble believes that it would have been near the current bridge and for good measure includes a recent photo of the bridge in question in the distance. Again I remained sceptic for his photo showed the A130 bridge and not the Benfleet one.

However on rechecking Reaney’s book I find in a different section a list of elements with “beam” shown as meaning bridge and in support of Kemble’s belief that the bridge would have been in the vicinity of the A130 bridge, Harold Priestley, the eminent local historian, belived that the Romans built a road from Chelmsford to Canvey that bridged the creek to Canvey from the north-west.

At the end of the day would you name a settlement after a bridge some distance away  ?  While not discounting the bridge theory, I tend towards the tree-lined creek interpretation.

Apart from naming places after geographical features, several local place-names derive from their owner’s name, for example Jarvis Hall from Gervis de Benefete, Kersey Marsh from Sampson de Kerseye, Boyce Hill from William Boyce, Poynetts from John Poynaunt and Reeds Hill from William le Rede. So, some explanations, but still no definitive answer to the origins of Bread and Cheese Hill.

Reference sources :

Reaney, P. H.   –   The Place-names of Essex, Cambridge University Press   1935

Kemble, James –   Essex place-names, Historical Publications  2007

Priestley H.E.   –   A History of Benfleet : early days

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  • I remember the Dexter’s pond vividly! I sometimes played with Merlin in the boat. The boat was tethered to a wooden stake I tried to disembark the boat and and the stake went in different directions and I found out how deep the pond was, apart from the water there was over a foot deep of black foul smelling gunge. I had to walk back thro the churchyard to home to face my mother!

    By Brian Penfold (12/01/2014)
  • I lived in Essex Way and was born in 1947. I was friends with Craig’s brother, Merlin. They had a small boat and we used to paddle around on their pond. I was told not to fall in because it was full of weed and very deep. I also had a friend in Karen Close called Graham Eastgate. All three of us were in the same year and would bike to the King John School (more of a walk up Essex Way!) and return home with no effort back down again.

    By Michael Walsh (Froggy) (05/08/2013)
  • During the 1960’s an area of land behind Essex Way was developed by the Dexter family who lived in Essex Way near the old Dr. Steven practice. That development is what is now Karen Close, off School Lane. I was at school with Craig Dexter who I remember telling me that a sword was found behind his house (presumably as part of the development) and it had been sent to the British Museum for identification and had been said to be of saxon origin. I never saw the sword and it was never mentioned again. I have always wondered if this had any link to the Battle of Benfleet. I have never been able to contact Craig after I left school in 1966. I might also add that there was a large pond in the Dexter’s Garden that appeared to run into the pond but there was no exit stream, yet it always stayed the same depth. I later lived in Karen Close, and was aware that the geography of the area would support a fortified encampment very well.

    By Robert Scott (22/12/2012)

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