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The meaning of the town’s name

Home / History / The History of Sittingbourne / The meaning of the town’s name
The history of any town in regard to its location is generally encapsulated in its name but the exact meaning of Sittingbourne has been lost with the passing of time so all we are left with is assumption and conjecture. There is a delightful local myth however that the town took its name from the fact that travellers stopped here to bathe their aching feet in the stream that crossed the road here, hence the name ‘Sitting-by-the-bourne’. But it really is just a fanciful myth. On a more serious note we have a choice of meanings of the word ‘Sittingbourne’. In their 1960s town guide the Urban District Council suggested the town’s name simply derived from a Saxon tribe, the Sydingas who settled here on the banks of a bourne or stream. This is interesting because the element ‘ingas’ has Celtic origins and means ‘belonging to’ or ‘the place of’. Our interpretation has moved on considerably in the intervening 40-odd years and there are now several possibilities to consider, each an intriguing and interesting hypothesis, but none of which can be fully substantiated.

Alan Abbey is convinced there is little doubt the town had its origins in the Anglo-Saxon period when ‘Saeda’ or ‘Ceda’ was a common name element so it can be presumed that Sittingbourne acquired its name at that time and that the stream flowing through the settlement played an important role in naming it. In support of this Alan refers to a reference to ‘Sidyngbourn’ which can be found in Saxon documents dated A.D. 989 as well as in contemporary records of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Judith Glover mentions the town in her book The Place Names of Kent when she spelt it ‘Saedingaburne’ and suggested it translated to ‘the stream of the slope dwellers’. Yes, the town had a stream and yes, it was partly on a slope. Ms Glover’s suggestion is endorsed by the Oxford Dictionary of Placenames which spells the name as Sidingeburn and dates it to AD 1200.

Another book, The Dover Road (Charles G. Harper, 1895) discounts any reference to a Saxon chieftain and instead suggests the town’s name derives from the Saxon word for a seething or babbling brook, which is too simplistic for my liking. However, as it can no longer be said with any certainty which, if any, of these hypotheses is correct, by combining them we start to get a picture of a group of Saxons sitting by, or guarding, a stream that crossed Watling Street, but to what end? Might it have been a ford that they were controlling? A ford would be considered a major resource and ownership highly prized for taxes and control of movement.

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