What’s in a name – where does the name Lyminge come from?

The earliest record of the name Lyminge occurs in a charter of King Wihtred of Kent in which he granted land to the church of St Mary in Liminga.  This is an original charter dated to 697 or 712 AD.  It was written in Latin rather than English, so the form Liminga is probably a latinised version of the name used by the local population, but this is likely to be quite close to what people actually called it at that time.

The name is made up of two elements: ‘Limen‘ and ‘ge‘.  There has been quite a lot of debate amongst place-name experts as to what Limen might mean.  It has been linked to a Welsh root word for ‘Elm tree‘ and to another which means ‘Marsh‘ or ‘Marshy River‘.  Both possibilities point to a name that dates to before the arrival of the Romans.  Either is possible, though marshy river possibly makes better sense for Lyminge since this element probably derives from the name applied to the River East Rother, some six miles south west of Lyminge.  In the Roman period, this river was known as the Limen or Leman, and the fort built by the Romans at the mouth of this river was called Portus Lemanis which can be translated as Port Lympne.  Lympne (pronounced ‘Limm’) is the name of the present-day village close by the site of this fort.

We can speculate why the name of the River East Rother should have been applied to the site of Lyminge.  We know that there was a unit of soldiers originating from around Tournai in Belgium stationed at Portus Lemanis in the last years of the 4th Century as Roman rule was coming to an end.  It is quite conceivable that as Roman rule collapsed and the local aristocracy looked to its own defence, warrior bands from beyond the borders of the Roman Empire, from around the Baltic or from Germany, may have been employed to supplement or replace this army unit.  This is how the earliest records describe how the people we call Anglo-Saxons first arrived in Britain.  They were invited in as mercenaries, and then they stayed.

What we also know is that the site of the Roman fort at Lympne beneath the cliff is very unstable.  The entire fort has slid down the slope from where it was originally built, so in the period immediately following the end of Roman rule, it would probably have become an unsafe place to live.  Any mercenaries based there might well have sought a better place to live, and we know that the site of Lyminge was not otherwise occupied at this time.  It is possible, therefore, that a group relocated from Lympne to Lyminge, bringing the name Limen with them.  Perhaps they looked back to the Limen as their place of origin, because this is where they had first settled when arriving in England.  This is speculation, but it is a possibility supported by the little we do know.  The connection between Lyminge and Lympne is greater than a common root for the name.  During the Anglo-Saxon period, there was a port at Sandtun close by the Roman fort and we know that it was part of the estate of the monastery at Lyminge.  This actual recorded connection between the two places makes it at least credible that the names are linked.

The other element of the name Lyminge – the suffix ‘ge’ – means central place or district.  The people who lived here later took the name of Limenwara or Limen Folk, so the Limen was clearly important to them.  Thus Lyminge can be interpreted as ‘The Central Place of the Limen Folk’.

There are many place names in the area ending in ‘inge’ but the similarity is deceptive.  When interpreting the origin of place-names, it is important to look back at the earliest records of what places were called, rather than at the form they have now.  Lyminge as a name is believed to be Limen-ge, and place-name scholars believe that this is another indication of its early date.  There are relatively few local examples and they are all early.  Eastry (originally ‘East-ri-ge’), is one of them.  Eastry, like Lyminge, became a royal estate of the Kings of Kent,  so this fits with the idea that from an early date Lyminge was the centre of a territory.  The archaeological excavations in Lyminge indicate that this process may have begun as early as the last years of the 5th Century.

Sources:

Brooks, NP and Kelly, SE, 2013, Charters of Christ Church Canterbury (Oxford)

Gelling, M, 1988, Signposts to the Past (Chichester)

Rivet, ALF and Smith, C, 1979, The Place-Names of Roman Britain (London)