Tuesday, 10th December 2013

by Joshua Gaskell

A Dictionary of London Place-Names explains those of a number of western, riverside locations as originating with the Old English word hamm, meaning ‘land in a river bend.’ So despite it ascribing them with distinct etymologies, this makes it tempting to see an associative link between all three of the OED’s primary definitions of the noun ham: ‘the hollow or bend of the knee,’ ‘A plot of pasture ground; in some places esp. meadow-land,’ and ‘The Old English hám home.’ In any case, it means that one can survey the Thames (as it flows and as the wind blows) as a series of bends:

  • Tūn (or town) ham (Hampton)
  • Peohtrīc’s ham (Petersham, or simply Ham)
  • Twicca’s ham (Twickenham)
  • Turn ham (potentially tautological Turnham Green)
  • Fulla’s ham (Fulham)

From here the river’s bends become fewer and larger, so the patches of land within are denoted by the less homely char, isle, and peninsula. But why not Hamming Cross, the Ham of Dogs, and the Greenwich Ham?