The History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset
by John Hutchins:

(3rd Edition published 1868)

Transcribed by Michael Russell OPC for Dorchester - May 2010



Origin of the name of Dorchester - Pages 335-336

" THIS ancient town," says Hutchins, " certainly existed in the British ages, as is evident from the Roman name Durnovaria, which is of British extraction. Richard of Cirencester, in his map, and in his tract De situ Britanniœ , p. 19, calls it Durinum; but, in his 16th Iter, Durnovaria, which name it has also in Antoninus. Ptolemy calls it Dunium [Δoννioν] ; but Camden observes that some copies erroneously read Durnium. Both these words differ but little from Durinum, and are perhaps only corruptions of it. Mr. Baxter will have Dunium to be Maiden castle, and Durnovaria the town. But Ptolemy expressly says, that Dunium was the town [πoλις] of the Durotriges. So that these were only different names assigned to the same place in different ages."

    Camden does not state the grounds upon which he will have Varia to be one of the ancient names of the Frome, and Baxter's opinion seems to be based only on his analysis of Durnovaria (which is entirely arbitrary) into the British Dur na var ui, out of which we can make only the Welsh Y Dwr yn y gwar wy, "the water in the placid stream;" a wordy and unlikely name for a town, even if Gwargwy or Gwarwy ought not for good Welsh to be Gwy gwar or Gwywar. To use one of Baxter's own words, it seems to be applied to Durnovaria in a very loose way (solute) indeed. To follow our author a little further, Evershot can have nothing to do with the river Frome beyond its situation in the vicinity of one of its sources, and Wareham is more likely to have arisen from "Se Waerham," the Mound abode.
Durinum, or Durnium, are evidently derived from the British Dur and Dwr, which signifies water. Durnovaria imports, according to Camden, a passage over the river Varia; which he in the third edition of his Britannia, and Baxter, will have to be one of the ancient names of the river Frome. ' Britanni,' says the last quoted author, 'solute dicerent Dür na var üi, quod est profluens Varii, sive mansuetæ Undæ.' Hence he derives the name of Warham, and Camden that of Evarshot (Evershot) ; though in the later editions of the Britannia he seems to have departed from that opinion. Dr. Stukeley says, 'As this town, so Warham below, derives its names from the ford. In Lincolnshire they are still called warths.'' (Itin. Curios. vol. i. p. 154). Dr. Skinner derives it from the Cambro-British Dur, or Dwyr, water, and Vara, a ford, or a bridge made of beams of timber, whence the English word, fare,("Fare" is evidently derived from the Saxon papian, to go) equivalent to the Latin naulum, a piece of money paid for passage over the water. Vulgar tradition, because the Roman coins found here are called Dorn-pennies, and a street still retains the name of Durn-lane, deduces the etymology of the name from Dorn, a British king, who is supposed to have built the town and resided here, and to have been co-temporary with Brute and the fabulous founders of British cities. ` Somnia omnium vetustissima et miserrima ignoratæ antiquitatis subsidia,' saysBaxter. As Varia was undoubtedly the British name of the river Frome, the most natural etymology of Durnovaria, a British name a little altered, and adapted by the Romans, is from Durno, a contraction of Durinum or Durnium, and Varia, i.e. a place on or near the river or water of Varia; and antiquaries observe that the general way of naming of towns among the Britons was from the river on which they were situated. The anonymous Ravennas calls it Dolocindum, or, as Mr. Baxter amends it, Dunocindum, and will have it to be Maiden castle : but the barbarous names in that author, and the uncertain disposition of his places, make it matter of mere conjecture. The Saxons called it Dopnceartep, from the British Dur or Dour, and the Saxon Chester, a corruption of the Roman Castrum, a camp or town. Hence the Latin name Dorcestria, used in ancient records, and the modern name Dorchester."

So far the speculations and authorities which our author has placed before the reader; but the remarks of the Rev. W. Barnes, the Dorset philologist, would lead us to the conviction that Wareham was the site of the ancient Durnium or Durinum, the capital of the Dwrin-wyr or British inhabitants of Dorset, and that Dorchester or Durnovaria (derived also from Dwrinwyr, the name of the district) was the place where the Roman government of the province was established, and which was afterwards adopted by the Saxons as the law-town or chief-town of the district, and eventually became the county town of later times.

Richard of Cirencester does not call it (i.e. our Dorchester) Durinum; he says, "Below the Hedui are placed the Durotriges, who are sometimes called Morini. Their metropolis was Durinum," without telling us on what spot it stood. In his 16th Iter he gives Durnovaria as a Roman station, but does not say it is Durinum; so Ptolemy, in a table of tribes and their towns, says,

Δoυoτρυες, èν οìς πóλις Δoυνιoυ.

"the Durotriges, among whom (is) a town Dounion;" and therefore we cannot learn from him that Dunion (or Dunium as would be the Roman form of the name) was Durnovaria or Dorchester. Richard of Cirencester says that the Durotriges were sometimes called Morini; and Morin in British would mean the Little sea, as Dwrin, Durinum, would mean the Little water.

The reason why we should take Richard of Cirencester's Durinum (um is only the Latin ending) rather than the Dunium of Ptolemy for the name of the capital of the Durotriges, is, that it is woven into the Dorset names of other than British nations, and other writers than Richard of Cirencester. Asser gives the British name of Dorset as Durngueis (Dwrn (Gwys) Dwrnshire. The Saxons called it Dorn-saet, afterwards Dor'saet, the Dorn settlement; and in Dorchester is a street or lane called Durn-lane or Durnate street, and we find the name Dorn in that of the Dorn pennies, as it was taken into the Roman Durnovaria. Now, if Dorset, as the district of the capital Dwrin, took its British name from Dwrn or Dwrin, as we are told by Asser it did, and as we know that our name for the county, Dorset, formerly Dornsaet, was taken from it, then the Britons would most likely call the Dorset people Dwrin-wyr, the Dwrin people, and from that name the Romans would as likely form Durnovaria, for in other cases the British w became a Roman v; and the Roman o is only one among many instances of the Latin insertion of a vowel between the elements of a British compound, as in Cassibelaunus for Caswellawn, Cunobelinus for Cynvelyn.

In some Saxon charters or writings Dorchester is called Dorn-wara-ceaster, in which wara answers in form to the Roman varia, and in meaning to the British wyr, people, as in the Saxon Kent-wara, Kent folk; Wihte-wara, Wight men; burh wara, the town people. Dorchester is also called in Saxon-English writings Dornwarana-ceaster, Dorne-ceaster, leaving out the wara; and Dor'ceaster without the n. In King Athelstan's charter to Milton Abbey, which is dated from this place, it is called Villa Regalis, because it then belonged to the crown; and to distinguish it from 'Dorchester in Oxfordshire, which was styled Villa Episcopalis, as belonging to the Bishop of that see. [Note:- So we have in Essex Hatfield Regis; and in Hertfordshire Hatfield Episcopi.]

Location of Dorchester - Page 336

This town has been found to lie in the West longitude of 2º 35'. lat. 50º. 36' according to Salmon; long. 2 33' lat. 50 46' according to Adams; longitude 2º 37' latitude 50 40' according to Templeman. It is distant southwest from London 120 miles; from Oxford, 98; from Cambridge 172. It has the advantage of being connected with the metropolis by branches forming part of two of the great railway systems, namely, the Great Western, and South Western.

It stands on the Via Iceniana, or Icening street; not on the Foss Way, (though it had branches to the latter,) as Speed and others have erroneously asserted; for that way comes from about Grimsby in Lincolnshire, and, passing through that county, and those of Nottingham, Leicester, Warwick, &c. and entering Somersetshire at Bath, proceeds to Ilchester ; passes through Axminster and Colyton, in Devon; and ends at Seaton, where it meets the Icening Way. It is bounded on the east, south, and west, by Fordington, on the north by the ancient parish of Frome Whitfield; and extends, according to Ogilby, five furlongs from east to west. The area within the walls is about 80 acres.

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