16. Guithavon Street


The old Police Station in Guithavon Street (now demolished)
The old Police Station in Guithavon Street in 1982 (since demolished)

People often ask me where the street name “Guithavon” comes from. It was invented by Witham’s William Henry Pattisson in 1842, when he gave the land for Guithavon Street to be laid out. Previously there had just been a footpath.

He decided that Guithavon had been the old Celtic name for Witham, with Guith meaning dividing and Avon meaning river. However there is no evidence for this.

Guithavon Street was built to provide sites for the new church (All Saints), and new schools, the National Schools.  However, it also gave access to some more of Mr Pattisson’s land, on which pleasant houses and public buildings were built.

Here I am just going to mention two of the lesser-known buildings.

First is the Police Station (above), which was built in 1849, nine years after Essex’s first full-time police force had been founded. It included houses for the Superintendent and for one of his juniors, with their families. Usually a young single constable lodged there too. There was also a room for the court of Petty Sessions.

Then there were the cells, where alleged offenders were put when they were first arrested. In 1861 Henry Carter, a farm labourer, was in a cell on census night,  charged with stealing wheat from a farmer.

After the police moved to their new station in 1937, this old one in Guithavon Street became a County Council clinic. Mothers like me, who took their children there during the 1970s, will remember the very small toilet cubicles that had previously been the cells.

The building was demolished during the 1980s to make way for Mill Vale Lodge.

The Old Savings Bank, 19 Guithavon Street
The Old Savings Bank, now 19 Guithavon Street (in 1982)

My other special building is the Witham Savings Bank (above). It had been founded in 1817 in Newland Street, and then moved into its new building in Guithavon Street in about 1850 (now number 19, known as Colne House).

The principles of Savings Banks were established earlier in the century. They were intended for people who did not have much money, and were non-profitmaking.

The trustees, treasurers and managers at Witham were volunteers from the local gentry. Prominent amongst them was the vicar, Revd John Bramston, which may explain the crosses on the building. A paid secretary or actuary lived in. An early schedule shows that the savers mostly comprised labourers, servants and minors.

The Bank closed in about 1895 but the building remains. I think it is particularly splendid. I  have asked several times whether it might be listed as being of historic interest, but I’ve had no luck so far. So if any readers would like to have a go, please do.


A version of this article appeared in the Braintree and Witham Times in December 2011

6 thoughts on “16. Guithavon Street”

  1. Gwuith would more likely be derived from the word for woods, in modern Welsh that would be Gwydd and backforming that into Brittonic (the celtic you speak of) could very well produce Guit. Using some imagination one can imagine a Romano British settlement called Guit which became known as a “ham” as Anglo Saxon took over as a language in the area and produced Guitham or ‘Uitham with the loss of the initial G, a common phenomenon in Brittonic and indeed Welsh where it is followed by a W sound.

    1. Hello Gareth, sorry for the delay. Thanks for your observation, I didn’t know about the word for woods. However, I don’t think that the people who invented the name Guithavon in the 1840s knew about it either. They took “Guith” to mean “separating”, and so the whole word to mean “separating river”. I think some thought that was where the name Witham itself originated, though as far as I know there is no written version that describes it as Guithavon. So no way for the 19th-century gents, or us, to have any evidence of that being the origin of Witham. Well I’m rambling now – do send more comments if you like.

    1. Hello Denise

      Well, I say something like GuthAvun with the stress on the A.

      I did have the advantage of hearing local people who were brought up around 1900, when they would have been only sixty years away from when the word was invented in the 1840s.

      Being invented meant that we don’t have the help of the Latin or Greek bits that so many of our words are made up of, and that might have given some guidance.

      Someone did tell me that the first part of the word was Welsh, but if so, I’m not sure the Essex folk would know how to say it.

      Sorry, you’re probably none the wiser now!

      Best wishes, Janet

      1. Hi it is all Brittonic (Welsh) (or supposed to be) everyone in Essex spoke Britonnic once, and probably some people carried on until 600 to 700 AD. There is not much evidence either way. In Cumbria people spoke Britonnic or Cumbric until about 1100 possibly and similar dates are put forward for parts of Scotland. In Cornwall people spoke it until the 18th Century by when it was known as Cornish and in Hereford they spoke Welsh in some Western Parishes until the 19th Century. In Wales people still use Britonnic in its modern form of Welsh.
        Guith is pronounced as “Gweeth” and is derived perhaps from “Gwydd” meaning “Woods” Avon is pronounced as “Ahvon” not “Ayvon” and means a “river”.
        Someone suggested that the name is made up but the “Gweeth” part is a fair guess of where the With came from in Witham. One might imagine as more Saxons moved in the area known to local Britons as “Gwith” might well add a “ham” to the end to reflect a Saxon settlement. It is all conjecture, the Doomsday Book sometimes presents names when they were better preserved but that was not compiled until long after the Saxon migrations.

      2. Hello Gareth
        I think I may have missed answering one of your essays about Guithavon – if so I’m sorry. I was just wondering if you might let me put some quotations from you onto my website. It’s really not right for me to just go on saying that the name was invented when you have provided a better explanation.
        All the best,
        Janet Gyford

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