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Historical impact of Danes in Faversham

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Jason Coulls    08 Jul 2007
Hi all,

I was working on my genealogy which is nearly totally unrelated to Faversham with the exception of one or two distant relatives (surnames of Wraight and Neaves). 

I was reading a 2003 biology paper titled "A Y Chromosome Census of the British Isles" by Capelli et al (found here: and then happened to notice that part of the research was conducted using Faversham "natives", which rules me out as I'm carrying Indo-Iranian-Franco-Viking-Pictish-Celt DNA. 

Anyway, I was reading the biology paper to see if I could shed any light on my Pictish and Viking ancestors to work out how my ancestors moved to Cornwall, and ran across the Faversham reference.  There is a passage that says this:

"Perhaps the most surprising conclusion is the limited continental input in southern England, which appears to be predominantly indigenous and, by some analyses, no more influenced by the continental invaders than is mainland Scotland.

It is interesting to note that the areas in southern England were, historically, mostly occupied by the Anglo-Saxons, while the activities of the Danish Vikings were mainly in eastern England. The results seem to suggest that in England the Danes had a greater demographic impact than the Anglo-Saxons."

So, that passage bit got me thinking about the impact (in a non-genealogical way) on Faversham and the surrounding area which survives physically to this day because Faversham's location is in both the south and east.  We have Saxon architecture, saxon sea walls, defences, etc, but I cannot think of anything survives from the Danes, or is attributed to the Danes in Faversham or the surrounding area.

The only things that I remember even mentioning anything Dane-related is Herbert Dane who probably had paternal ancestors from Denmark, and the Great Danes Hotel near Maidstone that seemed to be named after the large dog.
So my question is this:  Is there much from the Danes that survives in the area?


Jason Coulls    15 Jul 2007
Hi Arthur & Griselda,

Thanks for the comprehensive responses - there was much info there that I'd either forgotten or not made the link to.  I do already have a copy, over here in Toronto, of the Beowulf paper that Griselda mentioned - though I don't remember seeing it for a while, so I'll have a hunt about for it.



Griselda Mussett    09 Jul 2007
Hallo Jason

Arthur Percival alerted me to your posting about Danes and Faversham. It is all very interesting, but there is not a huge amount of modern data on this, though various archaeology teams take pot-shots at it from time to time, and I believe the English Place Name Society is preparing its volume on Kent, under the editorship of Dr Paul Cullen. I have no idea when that will come out...Kent offers perhaps the greatest challenge of all the counties and this volume is going to be a cracker when it finally appears.

As you know, orthodoxy says that chronologically the Anglo Saxons were here before the Danes, in the early post-Roman period (say late 5th - 7th c), and the main Danish Viking invasions were later, in the 8th and 9th.    

And as you rightly point out, Faversham is both south and east, but the main scatter of Danish place-names comes from East Anglia northwards, typically settlements ending in -by   (such as Grimsby, Whitby).   However, the Danes did get down here.  We know that Alfred had a 'castle' at Milton (now part of Sittingbourne) as a defence against the Danes, and there were successful Viking (Danish?) invasions of Sheppey.  Further, the Kent settlements ending in -gate have aroused discussion: Margate, Dargate, Ramsgate, etc.   We have Clapgate Spring in Faversham.  Gate is a Germanic word meaning road, as in 'gehen' in modern German.    -gate names are common in the Fens of East Anglia and further north.

An additional earlier twist is that it was the Jutes who arrived in Kent in the early post-Roman period, rather than Angles or Saxons, and the Jutes are thought to have come originally from Jutland which is of course in Denmark. Their launching point before they got to Britain was the Lower Rhine....what we now know as the Netherlands. The Jutish law was known as Gavelkind and had more primitive (Indo-European) characteristics, for instance partible heritance, rather than primogeniture which the Anglo-Saxons followed.  Gavelkind led to a different pattern of landholdings, still having a profound effect on life in Kent today.  Gavelkind survived in statute till the 1920s.

Intriguingly a local archaeologist Paul Wilkinson proposed that the early English poem Beowulf was set on Sheppey - specifically Harty, which always belonged to Faversham. Using place-name evidence he showed a close correlation between locations in the poem and extant places and named landscape features.  King Hrothgar (of the West Danes!) had a palace called Herot = Harty. As so much of Beowulf can be shown to be historically accurate, this may reflect a much earlier Danish settlement of Faversham and its surroundings than is usually acknowledged.   There is a Faversham Paper (no 64) dealing with all this, co-authored  by Dr Wilkinson and myself, called  Beowulf in Kent.

Lastly, local place names in and around Faversham can offer a lot of food for thought. For instance, Syndale comes from AS syn-denu.   'Syn' = 'big' (AS), but despite its spelling and sound, -denu does not mean Danish and does not come from Danish. It is Anglo Saxon and means 'valley', so the whole word means 'big valley' - which indeed it is.     Syndale offers a very long and useful pass through the North Downs, still in use for roads and lanes to Lenham etc.

best wishes

Griselda Mussett

Arthur Percival    09 Jul 2007

A useful reference, which I hadn't picked up. Thanks on behalf of us all.

I haven't read the piece yet, but just a few basic comments in the meantime:

1) As you'll know, in the 9th century the Danes used to spend their summer hols on the Isle of Sheppey, raping and pillaging on mainland Kent, presumably including Faversham, or alternatively holding it up to ransom.

2) As you'll also know, it was the Jutes rather than the Angles and Saxons who colonised Kent and the Isle of Wight. No one is quite sure exactly where they came from (not necessarily present-day Jutland), though it's thought to be somewhere along the Baltic coast.

3) However the latest theory (Oppenheimer, Oxford, in a recent book) is that Kent had been settled by a Germanic people (not necessarily Jutish) before the
Romans arrived.

4) The place-name Nagden (Graveney) is possibly of Nordic rather than 'Anglo-Saxon' origin.

5) The surname Dane is not thought to be connected with the Danes. It's usually derived from an Old English (Anglo-Saxon) word denu, meaning valley. Hence
there's Dane Court, set in a valley on the Boughton/Selling border.

Best wishes

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