The Earliest Mention of Stanstead Abbotts

By  R. Bennett

We usually refer to Domesday’s Stanstede or ‘Stony Place’ when talking about the earliest mentions of our settlement area. In fact there are two earlier charters that are of importance, and pre-date Domesday by almost 400 years; coming from the reign of Swaefred of Essex (693-709ce).

They relate to the granting of land for a monastic house. The first (known as S65a) reads as follows; notice particularly the last sentence:

I, King Swaefred, understand with what speed all things hasten to their end, and nothing remains steady in the affairs of man. Those things distributed for God alone stand without stain for ever. Therefore, for the relief of my soul I hand to you the land of my right that is residing in Nasyngus (the land of the Nasingas from which Nazing takes its name) some part of which land is called Enodmerese, with all that pertains there: plains, woods, meadows, pastures and fisheries, that you may have and possess it forever in such a way that you and your descendants set up the house of God and be strengthened by his will continually. The land is on the southern border of Stanhemstede.

Now there are a lot of Hampsteads or Hempsteads in Hertfordshire (Berk…Wheat...Hemel…Nut etc), that Stanstead Abbotts was once Stanhemstede is not really surprising.

The second charter (S65b) grants additional land to that above at a place called Ettunende or Tunend. The Essex University place names database offers locations for both Enodmerese and Tunend close to Roydon, with Enodmerese referring to a boundary (meare) possibly at Didgemere and Tunend as ‘bank at the edge of the settlement’. This make sense of the sentence stating that ‘the land is on the southern border of Stanhemstede’. Sadly neither OS maps nor LIDAR show an obvious bank near to Roydon and it has to be pointed out that the locations offered could be contested. But if these locations are correct then it would infer that Swaefred was granting land in Roydon, very close to the boundary of what would be the ‘Stony Place Estate’, or Stanhemstead. That boundary would be the River Stort and the land to the south the land of the Nasingas, also part of Swaefred’s estate.

So whilst Stanstede was part of the Kingdom of Essex there may have been immediately to the south at least two monastic houses, one at Roydon (shown in red on the map below), the other at Nazing (shown in blue) with the latter operating as some kind of hospital given the profile of the burials discovered there (the cemetery was excavated in 1975), These houses would offer ready markets for surplus goods from settlements at Stanhemstead in addition to the then Lundenwic further down the Lea. The navigability of the Lea and Stort could well have attracted the Royal House of Essex to the area. It has also been pointed out that early place-names from this period are usually specific, and make a unique identifier for a place. This is not so with Stanhemstede, or indeed a number of parishes close by. This may imply that such names were not needed because of being part of Royal Estates.

You can find out more and view the charters by Googling ‘The Electronic Sawyer’, a database of Early Medieval Charters.

For the place names Google ‘Essex Place Names’ and look for the site.

The full report of the excavation of the Nazing cemetery can be found online in Essex Archaeology and History Volume 10 (1978).

Thanks to Alex Woolf, Ann Williams and Philip Heath from the Anglo-Saxon History and Language Society for offering insight and helping me to frame this article.