Knowing that the great inventor Sir Henry Bessemer lived in Dulwich in the nineteenth century, I was surprised to find the place name Besemer existing in Dulwich over 450 years ago. According to the Dulwich Court Rolls for July 1400, Ellen Ledes was ordered by the manorial court to scour her ditch at Besemeres bregge.
What was the significance of this name? I included it in a group of early Dulwich place names which I sent to the English Place Names Society (EPNS) for their comments, and I am very grateful for their help. They like to have an early version of a place name for analysis. They suggest that the elements in besemeres bregge are the Old English (OE) besma meaning broom, brush and the OE brycg meaning bridge. The besom or broom was made of twigs. It is possible that the bridge was a faggot causeway across a marsh, or it might be an actual bridge near to a place where broom grew or was collected. The name might also mean the bridge of the besom maker with an occupational name besomer, coincidentally also the origin of Sir Henry Bessemer's surname.
Where was Dulwich's Besemeres Bridge? Was it a bridge over the Effra? Was there marshland in Dulwich where there could have been a faggot causeway? The second part of the name Dulwich, wische in OE means damp meadow. The clay soil, prevalent in Dulwich, combined with water flowing down from the surrounding hills causes low-lying land to be waterlogged even now. The crossroads at the centre of Dulwich still floods in heavy rain. Certainly a faggot causeway could have been needed in 1400 in such an area.
Croxted Road is an old name, which is listed in the EPNS volume for Surrey. Croxted Road was Crokestrete in 1334, 1419 and 1435. It was Crocksted lane in 1594 and Croxed lane in 1780. The first element is though to be the OE Crocc meaning a pot or vessel. The earliest forms combine crocc with the OE stede meaning 'place'. The EPNS suggest the interpretation is 'road/place by a place for making pots, or a place where pots were found'. This is an early indication of firing of the local clay, also used for the manufacture of tiles and later bricks.
In the highest sections of Sydenham Hill in the south of Dulwich are found the names of East and West Peckarmans Wood. Unfortunately we don't have an early form of spelling for this name The earliest we have, according to Patrick Darby in the Dulwich Society book 'A Gazetteer of Dulwich Roads and Place Names' is in 1621 when it was called Peckamins. In their comments the EPNS agrees with Patrick Darby that there may well be a relationship between Peckarmans Wood and the village of Peckham.
According to the EPNS Place Names of Surrey, the first element of Peckham is from peac (OE) meaning 'hill', while the second element is ham. The element ham in place names is now thought to date from the early years of Anglo Saxon settlement in England. The British Museum has not yet found any early Anglo Saxon material in Peckham but they have found some late Saxon pottery. Regarding the first element peac 'The Place names of Surrey' assigns the hill to Telegraph Hill (Pepys Road) but equally this could be One Tree Hill (Honor Oak) or Sydenham Hill (the hill of the Great North Wood). It seems possible that the peac of Peckham and of Peckarmans in Dulwich refer to Sydenham Hill.
There is an unusual name, Crongemaneslond, in the Dulwich Court Roll for October 1401. At the 1401 court, the ditch at Crongemaneslond is ordered to be scoured. The EPNS suggest that this name is the combination of the surname Crongeman with land. Crongeman would mean something like 'jolly person'.
Patrick Darby gives an early version of the name Spilmans. In 1404 it was called Spendelmanfeld. The names Great and Little Spilmans are found in 1659 when they were part of what became the Belair estate. The EPNS suggests that if Spendelman was the original name then it could mean 'maker of spindles'. But if Spilman was the original then it is a nickname meaning 'joker'. In the Court Roll of October 1333 there is mention of a certain Reginald Spyndelman who was fined 2d for allowing his mare to trespass in the lord's meadow. In June 1333 and April 1334 Reginald Spyndelman was one of twelve men giving evidence on oath in the manorial court. It is likely that Spendelmanfeld was named after this family. In September 1334, Reginald's surname was spelt 'Spyleman'.
An early version of the name Howlettes (as recalled in Howlett's Road, off Half Moon Lane) is found in the Dulwich Court Roll for December 1399. The court says that a ditch called Hewloteditch had not been cleared and seven inhabitants of Dulwich are presented in court for not clearing this, and other ditches. The EPNS says that Howlettes is a surname or personal name. In origin it is the diminutive of 'Hugh'. Patrich Darby notes that the name Howlett's was also given to land between Gallery and College Roads.