Chigwell derived from King's Well or Cicca's Well the jury is out!

The famous Hainault Forest sheep dip pond where sheep were once brought to drink. Not sure they would now however...
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I received a call from an elderly woman named Anna from Orchard Way last week and we had a long conversation about the history of Chigwell and the need to preserve our history. She was quite fortunate as I am the type of person to take a keen interest in the history of places, though this is for pleasure and not academically.  Besides, when I read about the novelist Charles Dickens's passion for Chigwell, I was naturally intrigued myself.  In a letter to his friend  John Foster, Dickens described Chigwell:

 "the greatest place in the world ... Such a delicious old inn opposite the churchyard ... such beautiful forest scenery ... such an out of the way rural place..."

In my previous home town my eldest daughter Hannah and I successfully obtained a £50,000 replica of Ilford's famous (well in paleontological spheres anyway), from the Natural History Museum, which is now displayed at Redbridge Museum (click here).  Hannah thought up the project at the age of 7 after first hearing of the huge relic from our past during a school lesson.

While researching the history of Chigwell I discovered that a well known historian from Chigwell's past has already written a history of the area.  A copy of Peter Comber's history of Chigwell can be read (here). I have printed a copy for Anne and posted it through her door and have stopped the historical research to some extent based on this wonderful find. I would like to thank Yvonne Sandford for her help in finding the account and for helping me navigate back to the Car Park, whilst I was visiting the various wells and ponds in Hainault Forest.  

I have also discovered another interesting account of Chigwell and Chigwell' Row's history, by a walking enthusiast named Des de Moor (click here)

You may be wondering why I was visiting the various wells and ponds in Chigwell, or may not, but I will tell you anyway...

During my research into the origins of Chigwell I discovered an enduring etymological debate. Academics and passionate people are divided in their opinions, not just against one another but amongst themselves, over the use of the suffix 'well' in the name of our Parish.

The disagreement is based on whether the 'well' portion of the name refers to a watering well or whether the use of the last syllable is a distortion of the word weald, which in Anglo-Saxon times meant woods.  
PH Reaney in his book Place-Names of Essex published 1st January 1935, states several possible derivations for the name of Chigwell:

It the text of PH Reaney's book titled Place-Names of Essex, Cinguella is the first name used within historical annals for our parish - in the Doomsday Book of 1086.  By 1294 the same area was being called Chike Well and had already had a whole host of other similar titles.

British History Online (BHO) documents the etymology of Chigwell, as such: 

This place is called, in the most ancient records, Cingwella, which some suppose to signify the King's Well; others derive the last syllable from the Saxon word Weald, or wood (fn. 1). This etymology, perhaps, is the more probable, as it was in ancient times a part of the royal demesnes. Later records have varied the name to Chykwell and Chigwell.

You can read their full account on Chigwell (here)

You can also read one of the original writings of our Parish name on the  Plea Rolls of the Court of Common Pleas 1235. National Archives. (click here).  Chikewell is mentioned in entry five but you may struggle to read the text as writing styles have altered massively since then.

Like most people involved in researching the history of Chigwell I have formed my own opinion.  Though BHO is correct that the woods and surrounds were often held by Lords on behalf of Kings which include Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror, both of who no doubt, enjoyed hunting in our local forests all those many years ago. 

I cannot believe the very clear last syllable of our name which so early on in our history was distorted. Firstly, there is no recorded history of the name weald being used to refer to our Parish at any time.  Moreover, the longevity of the use of the term well suggests that is term that was supposed to be used.  Moreover, many other references to Mineral wells and even a Kings Well or Cicca's Well reinforce that our name is more likely derived from our watery past.

An Extract from: W., H. A History of the Mineral Waters and Medicinal Springs of the County of Essex . Nature 84, 361 (1910).  Download a full copy (here)

The mineral wells are still known of by many of the older residents of Chigwell and in a recording I have permission to share, Anne has informed me of wells that were under Socketts Hall, Hainault Hall and many other areas of Chigwell.  Some wells still exist in Epping Forest today and I was taken to Rose Well, an inland water well, by a local man named Richard Kinder who met me while on my search for the truth (click here)Rose well is probably named after the coppery colour of it's water.  I would not take your dogs for a drink there...

Rose Well is a stunning feature of Hainault/Epping Forest.

Deriving the origins of the first syllable of our name is a little difficult.  Though it is clear that Chigwell and surrounding areas were on land owned by Kings of England (well England as it was during their times), the language used for Chigwell in early forns never actually uses the letter 'n'.  We have never been called Chinkwell or Chingford or Kingwell.  There has in early forms of our name had a harsher consonant as listed in this post earlier i.e. Chikewell.  Kate Monk's Onomastikon, she lists Cicca or Cica as an ancient Anglo-Saxon nickname formed from one syllable in a dithematic (dual syllable) name (click here) I have not been able to find any legend of Cicca for Essex but that does not discount the fact that someone with that name, may have held authority over a local well.  

Extract taken from An Overview of Royal wells, Pixyled publications. Download a full copy (here)

In the extract above the author steers her audience towards a possible error in attributing Chigwell to a former regal well.  The author later writes:  

"Some of these such as Chigwell may be a etymological mistake being more likely derive from Cicca’s well and some such as Orton are thought to be associated with Iron age sites."

I am minded to believe this account as Loughton an area not too far from us has previously had Anglo-Saxon names attributed to local areas.  

Loughton is known for its Iron age fort Loughton Camp, Roman time settlement - as was Chigwell listed as Durolitum (Little London) in Antonine Itinerary (list of forts and stations) and 5th Century Anglo-Saxon territory.  In fact, the name Debden is believed to be formerly known as Tippadene (Valley of Tippa), which is mentioned in a 1062 Charter ordered by Edward the Confessor - but was in later records named Dupedene then distorted to Debden.  So by all accounts naming a well after a local fief lord was not uncommon in Essex and could well be the origins of our Parish name.

So there you have it.  From my research it would seem that our parish name is derived from an ancient well.  Which may have been under owned by a local fief lord named Cicca, though later the well may or may not have become known as Kings Well. The most conclusive evidence I have found for the existence of a famous well in Chigwell is a map I have purchased of Chigwell in the 1920's.  On this map a very clear reference to 'Site of Cing Well' (this is the only mention of an 'n' in early names for the well) leads me to believe that earlier generations were aware of the location of the well. Sadly this important part of Chigwell's origins have been lost to our current generation.

I hope to work on a project to commemorate that early past and have it recognised locally.  Hopefully a local project will revive an interest in our historical past like the Mammoth replica project has in Redbridge. I have followed the map I bought with local resident Neil Patel who has lived her for over 40 years. We believe that the location of Chig Well would have been in land adjacent to the wells Park School or at it's rear. I have contacted the school to try and ascertain whether the name of the school is somehow linked to the history of the well listed on the map.  A call to the school office was met with short-shrift and the woman who answered said she knew nothing about the origins and nor would other school staff. she said:

"The decision to name the school was made by Essex Council. 

"They gave the school to options and early decision-makers went with Wells Park School."

When pressed on how Essex Council derived the two name options, I was reminded to contact Essex Council.  I have contacted the Essex Record Office who is not able to advise me on the origins of the name of the school, but I will ask the officer there and the school again, in hope of clearing up this mystery.  Later it would be able to gain access to the rear of the school or the private land next to it, to locate any remnant of the potential well site.

Keep reading our CRRA posts for updates.


  1. Indeed, the origin of Chigwell (name) seems never to be resolved. There may, in fact, be a case for it being named consequent to the Roman actions following Julius Caesar's exploratory marches from Dover to Wheathamstead. Loughton Camp has the clear shape and structure of a marching camp. Given how long the column of Romans would be, the designation of a well for the use of the campers at Chigwell seems entirely reasonable. 'Chig' can also be seen to derive from the Hebrew for 'foot'.


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