21. Road names

View from Cut Throat Lane towards the station in 1975. The remains of the railway turntable in front, one of Crittall’s window stores behind. In the background are houses in Albert Road
View from Cut Throat Lane towards the station in 1975. The remains of the railway turntable in front, one of Crittall’s window stores behind. In the background are houses in Albert Road

How do you feel when you walk along Cut Throat Lane ? Especially in the dark. Do you shudder and peer back over your shoulder ? Perhaps you’d feel better if you knew that the name comes from “Cut Athwart Lane”, meaning “Cut Across”, a short cut across a field. There are several roads still called “Cut Athwart Lane” in Essex, including one at Beeleigh and another at Woodham Walter. For such a small thoroughfare, Witham’s Cut Throat has had several interesting features, and would justify an article of its own.

Several people have suggested I should write about place names, especially roads. There are of course many roads named after people, but most of those people were quite well-known and are discussed in readily-available books. So I’ll omit those and confine myself to a few of the others.

The name of  Newland Street, our main street, is like many similar ones elsewhere. It simply means that once upon a time they were new ! Thus our Newland was new in about the year 1200, eight hundred years ago. The Knights Templar  set out plots along the road and called it the Newland. It may seem strange to use “New” in this way, for something which will become old in no time. But we still do it – one of our new Academies is called “New”.

Chipping Hill comes from “chieping”, the Old English word for market. This was Witham’s first market place, in use by the early 1100s. It gradually faded in the face of competition from Newland’s market. As a result, the old houses in Chipping Hill escaped commercial pressure and were preserved as we see them today.

Carraways is located near several fields which had that name in the 1800s. Carraway was grown mainly for its seeds (more correctly its fruit), probably since the Stone Age. It was once thought to ward off witches.

Chess lane was a chase or chaseway (a lane or track). This is probably how it got its name. It was particularly important, being part of the route leading from the old centre at Chipping Hill, to the biggest meadow, the thirty-acre Broad Mead (now on the other side of the bypass.)

Glebe Crescent was built on glebe land, i.e. land belonging to the Church. So also were its neighbours, Ebenezer Close and Bramston Green. This was an unusually large amount of glebe for one parish.

Stepfield, now on the industrial estate, was originally a large field at the bottom of some big steps. They were much used by children heading off to spend hours playing in the fields.

The narrow Lockram Lane was first brought into public use during the 1600s, when Witham’s cloth trade was flourishing. Lockram was a coarse linen, which may have been made in Witham – it originally came from Brittany. The word meant “gibberish” also, which is probably why in the 19th century the lane was renamed Queens Lane. Tradition prevailed, however, and the name Lockram survived. (Collingwood Road, beside it, was not constructed till 1869).

Spa Road and all the other spa names arise from the glamorous early 18th century spa that was centred north of Powershall End. I don’t think any of the places with the name spa were around when the spa was there, they’ve just adopted the name since.

Finally, I don’t know where the name Dancing Dicks comes from. Some have suggested that it might represent a criminal hanging from the gallows. Gallows were often near the parish boundary, as Dancing Dicks is. But no-one knows for certain.
A version of this article appeared in the Braintree and Witham Times in May 2012

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