Thursday 11 September 2008

The origin of Witches Lane

I've been trying to find out the meaning behind the name of Witches Lane, in Riverhead, Kent.

Paul Cavill, of The Institute for Name-Studies at the University of Nottingham, emailed me to say: "The likeliest explanation is that this refers to the wych-elm: it occurs quite frequently in place-names."

The Institute for Name-Studies' website has a great search facility that allows you to look up place names and their origins, but doesn't include road or street names. It lists four places called Wychwood in various parts of England and says this comes from "Hwicce's wood" - Hwicce presumably being a person living some time in the past.

Wych elms are beautiful trees that were once common in English hedgerows and woods, but their numbers have been drastically reduced by Dutch elm disease. Wych elm wood is very strong and does not decay when immersed in water, so was often used to make things that needed to be waterproof, such as troughs and wheels, as well as furniture. It was also popular for coffins.

It is possible that wych elms once grew along Witches Lane, but information from Sevenoaks library about when and why the lane was renamed makes me wonder if there was some other reason for the name chosen.

Lesley Vinall, customer support assistant at Sevenoaks Library, told me: "The only reference I can find to the origin of "Witches Lane" is a newspaper article from the Sevenoaks Chronicle of 20th September 1980 where it says that a Miss Shorey said that the reason given at the time (during the 1930s) for making the change from Sandy Lane to Witches Lane was that Sandy Lane, Riverhead, (now Bullfinch Lane) was contuinually being confused with Sandy Lane, Sevenoaks, making it very difficult for the postal authorities."

I am still curious to find out more about the history of the area and the origins of Witches Lane. If you know anything that could help, leave a comment below or email me at


1 comment:

Unknown said...

The sign was taken by a prank I heard. Helen neeley had her husband take for her own pleasure. It just behind her gate in France 42 Le bourg.