Where was Oesewalum in the old Parish of Nonington?

I have previously postulated that Oesewalum was eventually divided into the late Anglo-Saxon period manors of Eswalt, Esewelle, and Soles at some time after the 830’s. This was mainly based on the identification by J. K. Wallenberg in his “The place-names of Kent”, published in 1934,  of Easole in Nonington as having originally been Oesewalum, but more in-depth study and thought has led me to now believe otherwise.

I now believe that the “bank of the god[s]”, if that is indeed what Oesewalum did originally mean, referred to is the western slope of the dry valley which runs from Womenswold on past Aylesham and Nonington and on to Chillenden. Aerial photographs and Google Earth show that this east facing slope, from where could be observed both the rising and the setting of the sun throughout the year, has many archaeological features, including barrows, which date back to the Roman period and well beyond.  Many of these features, and especially the barrows, would have still been very prominent when the early Jute and Anglo-Saxon settlers first moved into the area in the fifth and sixth centuries.  It is therefore very possible that this bank was held in some awe by these new inhabitants and that they may have held some form of religious ceremonies or gatherings there.

Excavations connected to the landscaping of parkland on this western slope in 1875 prior to the building of the new St. Alban’s Court mansion revealed fifteen burials believed at the time to be the remains of Britons killed by the Romans during their invasion and subsequent occupation of much of the British Isles, but were in fact Anglo-Saxons.  In 2001 further archaeological excavations in the same area by the Dover Archaeology Group revealed further burials appearing to date from the seventh or eighth century. This is around the time that the name Oesewalum appears to have been used for this area.
Other remains appear to have been discovered in the latter part of the nineteenth century in the vicinity of St. Mary’s Church. On the lower part of the slope just to the west of the church besides the road to Old Court is Bloody Bones Field and cut into the bank of the road was until recently Bloody Bones cart lodge, now sadly gone. Neither of these names appear on the 1859 Poor Law Commissioners map for the parish of Nonington so the name “Bloody Bones” would appear to originate from after this date.  It may have come about with the discovery of an old burial ground connected to signs of settlement further up the slope. It has been suggested that it was the site of a battle but there is no evidence for this, and I think it’s just a presumption similar to that made regarding the 1875 St. Alban’s discovery.

There are some references in the diaries of William Osmond Hammond of St. Alban’s Court to archaeological discoveries made on his property but none of them give enough details to definitely identify the discovery site or sites.
Aerial photographs from the 1980’s reveal the site of a barrow and other large features on the slope above Bloody Bones Field and at the top of the slope the road to Old Court cuts through what appears to be an enclosure. If these remains did hold some religious significance to early Anglo-Saxon settles this may go some way to explain the growth of the initial Anglo-Saxon settlement into “Nunningitun” and the subsequent building of a chapel and then a church dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin.

There is a record of the church at “Nunningitun” [Nonington] in a survey of churches for Archbishop Lanfranc made just after his accession in 1070. It is recorded as being subsidiary to the mother church at “ad Wingeham” [at Wingham].  Nunningitun almost certainly means “the nuns manor, settlement, or farm”, in this case the nuns in question being the nuns of the abbey at Minster in Thanet, sometimes known as Southminster or Suthminster Abbey, and of the abbey at Lyminge. Selethryth, who co-owned Oesewalum with her brother, Earl Aldberht, was abbess of both of these abbeys.  After the deaths of Abbess Selethryth and Earl Aldberht in the early 800’s Oesewalum came into the possession of Cwoenthryth, the abbess of Suthminster, or Minster in Thanet.
This indicates to me that this is the land referred to in the legal proceedings concerning the ownership of an estate of four sulungs of land “æt Oeswalum”, [at Oeswalum, usually written as Oesewalum], in the early ninth century and that Nunningitun was the principle settlement of the manor from where it was administered. This dispute between Abbess Cwoenthryth and Archbishop Wulfred was settled in favour of the Archbishop who retained the estate until his death in 832.

Nunningitun’s location on an ancient direct road from Sandwich to Lyminge also meant it could have been used for accommodation for people travelling between the abbeys at Minster in Thanet and Lyminge.
A sulung [Latin:solinus] was actually a unit of taxation used in Kent and was not a physical measurement of land. It was the amount of land which could be ploughed in a year by four pairs of oxen and was said to be equivalent to two hides. This gave a sulung a nominal area of 240 modern English acres, therefore four sulungs, or approximately eight hides,  could amount to some 1,000-1,200 modern English acres depending on where the land in question was situated and how productive it was.

The first Minster Abbey was built on the site of a church dedicated to St. Mary’s, and opposite to the minster across the now silted up Wantsum Channel was St. Mary the Virgin on Strand Street in Sandwich, the town’s oldest church and the site of a lost convent. From Sandwich the road went on through the settlements of Eastry, Nonington, Elham, and Lyminge, all of whose churches are dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin. Lyminge church was jointly dedicated to St. Mary and St. Ethelburgha, founder of the abbey there. 
This ancient road was of some importance into the early twentieth century, the section of road from Nonington to Lyminge and beyond was included in plans to evacuate the inhabitants of Nonington in the event of a German invasion of England during the early part of the First World War, some eleven hundred years later.
There is also a direct route from Nunningitun to Christ Church in Canterbury via Old Court Hill to Christ Church’s manor at Adisham and then on across the Downs to Bekesbourne, where the Archbishop of Canterbury had a palace, and  on to Christ Church in Canterbury.

Archbishop Wulfred left a large property portfolio to his kinsman, Werhard with the specific instruction that Werhard should in his turn leave the property to Christ Church, Canterbury. Werhard’s will, written in 830, recorded the details of charitable endowments founded by Wulfred to provide for the poor in various manors that he owned along with Wulfred’s instructions to continue with these endowments. The number of beneficiaries varied from manor to manor, at Oesewalum [written as Oesuualun in the will] seven poor people were to be beneficiaries under provisions which specified that “to each one be given daily to eat what may be suitably sufficient and annually to each poor person for clothing 26 pence”. In Werhard’s will Oesewalum was said to be ten hides of land.

The will does not specify who these poor people were, so they could possibly be of any age. If the poor persons referred to were heads of household they would presumably be given enough food to feed their dependents making it possible that upwards of thirty-five people were in daily receipt of food. This would indicate that Oesewalum was a very productive estate and well able to supply the daily bounty to the poor, if this were not so then the food would have to be brought in from another estate. This is very unlikely as why would Wulfred go to so much trouble to recover an estate which could not feed seven paupers, and why make the bequest to feed them if the food had to be brought in?

The Archbishop also required that a mass be celebrated for his soul every day and that on his anniversary 1,200 poor persons should each be given a loaf of bread, some cheese or butter and one penny.  This annual bequest amounted to £.5.00 in total, a large sum at a time when an acre of land could be bought for four pence.

Some years after Wulfred’s death Christ Church was given the Manor of Wingham by Æthelstan, made King of Kent in 839 by his father, King Æthelwulf of Wessex. After Werhard’s will there are no further references known regarding Oesewalum so the assumption can be made that Werhard’s endowment was absorbed into the Manor of Wingham and remained a part of it until the manor came into the possession of King Henry VIII some seven centuries later.

If Oesewalum was in fact the name given to the slope that I have previously described then these four sulungs could have later become the manors of Womenswold, Ackholt, and North and South Nonington which all lay on this slope and directly adjoining it and which were all sub-divisions of the Manor of Wingham.  When Archbishop Peckham had his manors surveyed between 1283 and 1285 the area of above sub-manors amounted to a total of some 1,187 acres, compatible with Oesewalum’s four sulungs in 824 or the ten hides of land in Werhard’s will of 830.

My conclusion is that Oesewalum was not, as I had for a long time previously believed, the “mother” of the manors recorded as Eswalt, Essewelle, and Soles in the Domesday Book of 1086 as part of the holdings of Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux, held directly from his half-brother, King William I.

I think that it is possible Eswalt and Essewelle, which I believe adjoined Oesewalum on its eastern boundary, may derive their names from their locations.
One possibility is that when the Manor of Wingham absorbed the estate at Oesewalum the name continued in use for the location in general and as both Eswalt and Essewelle are both respectively on and adjoining to the Oesewalum slope their names are simply derivations which evolved over two centuries or more into the names recorded in the Domesday Survey of 1086, but which pre-date it as they are the names by which these two manors were held from King Edward the Confessor. Essewelle later divided into the two manors Esol and Freydevill’ in the mid-thirteenth century.
Another possibility is that both names have their origin in the Old English “east walu or wale” meaning east bank, as they are to the east of Oesewalum forming a continuous boundary on that side. Once again they evolved through the centuries until the Domesday survey. After the Abbey of St. Alban’s  acquired Esol, having owned Eswalt since the mid-twelfth century,  the joint manorial lands then became known as Esole or Easole and continued to be so until the present day.

1086 EswaltCirca 1100:-Estwale.

Circa 1140’s:-Estwala.

1279:-Esewale

1440’s:-Eswale.

1086:-Eswelle.1166-Essewelle

1254 Eswall’

1349 Esole

By the 1480’s Esole had become known as  Beauchamps

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