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Lenham.net with thanks to Lenham Focus  

Lenham’s Name

The origin of place names is invariably guesswork for as Edward Hasted (18th C) said, the Norman scribes often made mistakes in interpreting what Saxon locals told them.

J K Wallenberg’s books on Kentish Place Names/The Place Names of Kent (written 1931 in Sweden) is the only extensive work we have as reference. (Judith Glover’s book is based on his.) Neither of them seem to know where places are and put Lenham in the Doddington Valley!

L’eau (French for water) is the most likely meaning. Ham is just what is says – a hamlet or home. Wallenberg suggests the early written name of Leanaham means the ham by the lea (water meadow) or possibly from launa meaning “valley, hollow or lane”. This last meaning I find interesting as I have often thought that lane is never pronounced “layne” in broad Kentish but “lie-ee-ne” and there are distinct lines (lanes and footpaths) visible across Kent.

The land divisions in Kent are defined by lanes or ‘streets’ sometimes just field boundaries that traverse NE>SW… in parallel lines! These divisions are very old and could even be Neolithic. Yes, they were sometimes made into streets by the Romans and used as drove ways by the Saxons (hollow lanes)… but their true age has been lost in time!

Lenham has at least 12 ways into it so no wonder it was called “Leanaham”. Archaeological/geological evidence also shows that Lenham is definitely connected to water. We have the source of the Stour, a series of feeder streams pouring out of the Downs and, as I mentioned last month, the Stour was once much larger. Also the Len rises near Platts Heath and flows west. Our watercress beds were famous in the 19th C and very productive. It is possible they were fed by additional streams channelled by chalk drains. Several farmers in the area have found these old channels constructed of chalk blocks. Whether these were invented in the 19th C… or adapted from far older Roman water conduits is again an item for debate! How does one determine the age of a hand carved chalk block!

But Wallenberg gives yet another intriguing possibility for the meaning of Lenham… that the stem derives from O.E.laun meaning ‘to capture, to enjoy, a gift, or reward’! For me that is also a valid meaning for I find it a lovely place to live!

The Name “Lenham”

I was told from a very young age that Lenham got its name from a Saxon or Jutish settler by the name of Leana, who was the first to start a community here at the foot of the North Downs. I remember my father pointing out the evidence in a reference book in about 1967 when I had come home from school relating the headmaster’s idea that Lenham took its name from the River Len.

Eilert Ekwall’s Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names confirms that the River Len is a back-formation from Lenham, and suggests that Leana’s Ham could have been the original name. It also suggests that “Leana” is related to Old German “Launus” or “Launobaudus”. Unfortunately I have no access to an Old German dictionary to tell what these two words may mean! The explanation is not conclusive.

It was interesting to read Lesley Feakes’ article in October’s Focus, and my mind remains open as to the true origins of the name of our village. I feel that ancient writings, although technically “evidential”, may have been written as speculatively as the musings we read or hear today.

The closest other settlement mentioned in the above reference book is Wichling, and the author notes that there are several possible origins to this name. Once again, inconclusive. Speculation, however well intentioned, will always be open to interpretation (and misinterpretation!).

Gez Clark

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