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What's in a Name?

Issue: TW11 Oct '13

‘Twenty bridges from Tower to Kew
(Twenty bridges or twenty two)
Wanted to know what the River knew
For they were young and the Thames was old
And this is the tale that the River told:

“I walk my beat before London Town,
Five hours up and seven down,
Up I go till I end my run
At Tide-end-town which is Teddington.”

ITTLE DID RUDYARD KIPLING know the problems he would set for local Teddington historians when he penned these now famous words in 1911. Although to be fair to him, he was not the first to make Tide-end-town out
of Teddington.

The Rev Daniel Lysons discussed the etymology in his Environs of London in 1795 and came to the conclusion that it must have come from the Saxon ‘Tyd-end-ton’. The only problem with this is that this appears to be a form of spelling that does not appear ever have been used.

S C Hall also supported this explanation in his Book of the Thames in 1859.

James Thorne looked at the issue in 1876 in his Handbook to the Environs of London and in quoting the now popular legend, also noted that this explanation is the ‘one adopted by the Emperor, Napoleon III in his CESAR.’ However in later years, he dismissed the tide-end theory because of so many variations in the spelling.

In 1909, Kenneth Ingram produced A Short History of the Parish of Teddington, reciting the Napoleon connection stating that Napoleon III favoured the view that ‘TED’ meant ‘TIDE’.

Two years later, Kipling wrote The River’s Tale as a commission for C R I Fletcher’s A History of England (1911) and there it was in print for all
to see.

Going back to Lysons, he definitely hedged his bets when he produced two early spellings – ‘Todynton’ and ‘Totyngton’ which he attempted to break down into their component parts:
‘TOD’ or ‘TOT’ or ‘TOTE’ – which is not defined
‘YN’ or ‘YNG’ – a meadow
‘TON’ – an enclosure.

Writing in parish magazine in 1875, Rev Daniel Trinder followed this theme and produced some early spellings of his own, namely ‘Tuddington’, ‘Todyngton’ and ‘Totyngton’ and produced the following interpretation:-
‘TUDD’ or ‘TOD’ or ‘TOT’ – a small grove
‘ING’ or ‘YNG’ – a meadow or pasture
‘TON’ – an enclosure or town.

Edward Walford, writing his Greater London in 1883 (later reproduced as Village London in 1985), generally supported the Trinder theory but threw some doubt on ‘TOT’ which he claimed meant ‘lofty beacon’.

1914 saw a fresh approach on the origin of the name when Sir Montague Sharpe, writing in The Antiquities of Middlesex suggested that it was a corruption of ‘TOTHILLTOWN’ as there had been a Roman ‘botontinus’ or ‘tothill’ (an artificial mound probably used as a look-out post) almost opposite the Teddington entrance to Bushy Park.

Local librarian, C S Johnson lectured on the history of Teddington in 1937 and he again cited the Trinder theory, making special emphasis on Teddington Grove, suggesting that this may have been the ‘TOT’ part of the Saxon name.

More recently when E G Woodward penned ‘Teddington Town and All About It Up to 1956’, he introduced an additional meaning of ‘TOT’ as being ‘a small tribe’ as well as ‘a grove’. Unfortunately Mr Woodward did not reveal his sources for this.

Confused or what? Just what is the true origin of the name ‘TEDDINGTON’? It is true to say that until the half lock was built at Richmond in 1861, Teddington did mark the end of tidal waters but it must also be borne in mind that the first lock was not constructed here until 1811.

There was a ‘Tothill’ at the entrance to Bushy Park. It was described as being the size of a haystack and it was dismantled in 1808, we think for roadworks. This may well have been the Bronze Age Barrow excavated in 1854 and subsequently largely removed for road widening. There is a strong possibility that both features were one and the same.

I did come across the will of Aelfflaed, a Saxon ealdorman in 968 AD in which the spelling ‘Tudincgatun’ is used.

A trip to the Muniments Room at Westminster Abbey revealed the earliest written sources of ‘Teddington’, going back to pre-conquest times when Teddington was a manor of Westminster Abbey. On examining the documents here, I encountered thirty five different spellings of ‘Teddington’ from 969 AD to 1736 AD. Where do I go from here?

To arrive at the most probable explanation, it is necessary to refer to the English Placename Society. They have selected as the earliest spelling in common usage – ‘TUDINTUN’ (969 AD) and have translated this as follows :
‘TUD – the name of an Anglo Saxon leader
‘IN(G)’ – the people of
‘TUN’ – enclosure/village/farm.
Hence : the village of Tuda’s people.
The only Tuda mentioned in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle was the Bishop of Lindisfarne and died of a plague in 664 AD so it seems unlikely that he was the same Tuda of Teddington but given the close proximity to Kingston where six Saxon kings were crowned, it is not impossible.

Having cleared up that little conundrum, I was sitting back thinking of the uniqueness of Teddington when I discovered that there was also a Teddington in Gloucestershire. This is a very small hamlet close to Tewkesbury which is very much a rural community. It was in the county of Worcestershire until boundary changes moved it to Gloucester. It has an unusual five directional finger post called the ‘Teddington Hands’ which also gives its name to the village pub.

I smugly thought ‘another town of Tuda’s people’ and was immediately smacked down by The Place Names of Gloucestershire which states that their Teddington is from ‘Teoda’, which may be a hypocoristic form of the name ‘Teodbald’ in the nearby Tibblestone. Over the years, there are many other spellings and the earliest seems to be 780 AD when Offa, King of Mercia gave the village to a monastery at Bredon, now long gone.

It seems strange to me that two places of the same name and originating at about the same time can have such different explanations as to the formation of that name but I am sure similar anomalies must exist in other parts of
the country.

Ken Howe is a local historian
and author of several books on the history of the area
Tel: 020 8943 1513