Sandy Place Names – Michael Rutt



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The study of place names can be very difficult but at least in Sandy we have two, which can be explained fairly easily. The oldest of all names within the town boundaries is the river name Ivel.



Most river names are very old dating to more than two thousand years ago, which means they come from the Celtic language. The river is first mentioned in a document of the Seventh Century AD called the Tribal Hidage, referring to the people who lived along its banks. Like all names it went through various spellings in the Middle Ages. It was Gifla, and Givle then, by 1341 it was Yivele or Yevele. The village names, Southill and Northill have it meaning the people living to the south and north of the river banks. There is no ‘h’ sound in those village names.


Sandy means ‘Sand Island’, The Saxon people used their word ‘ey’ to mean places partly surrounded by water, not just completely surrounded as we might think a true island to be. Old spellings vary from ‘Sandeie’ in Domesday Book (1086) to ‘Saundeye’ and ‘Sondheye’ in the Middle Ages. It was always with an ‘e’ until the Great Northern Railway took off the last letter in the 1850s. There have been attempts to get a Roman/Latin name for the town. by calling it ‘Salinae’. This is extremely unlikely. A Roman itinerary has that name in it. But based on latitude it places Salinae in northwest England and probably refers to the salt producing area in Cheshire from the Latin for salt, a long way from Bedfordshire.


Girtford has two possible meanings. It can be ‘the gravel ford’ or the ‘great ford’. Both make sense. A firm riverbed makes an easy fording point. On the other hand it was probably the only ford across the Ivel between Biggleswade and Tempsford, unless there was a ford in what is now New Road.


Beeston also has two possibilities. It is named as ‘Bistone’ in Domesday Book. It probably means ‘farm in the bend of a river’ or it derives from a Saxon personal name, ‘Bea’. It is unlikely to come from ‘beasts’. The pasture called ‘The Riddy’ is named as Parkesriding in the thirteenth century. The modern name has the Saxon ‘ey’ again. It makes sense in relation to its position in the bend of the river before the ‘gravel ford’. Riddy is also a Bedfordshire surname in modern times.


Stratford is, perhaps, the easiest of all the names within Sandy. It is the ford across the Roman road, which came across Biggleswade Common around the western side of the Greensand Ridge to link Roman Sandy with Biggleswade and Godmanchester. We can have no idea what the Romans called Sandy. The Saxon word for the old Roman roads is the origin of our modern word ‘Street’. The ford crossed a small tributary of the Ivel.


Swaden preserves the name of a family who had land there in the fourteenth century. Thomas de Swathyng was the landowner. But it could be ‘Swaden’s Dean’. A ‘dean’ is a narrow valley. Since there are hills on either side this is a possibility.

With place-names it is so often a case of ‘you pays your money and you takes your choice’. All the above is based on the best authorities I can find.

Michael Rutt