Derivation of the name Feetham


Feetham derivation: Where does the name Feetham come from and what does it mean ?

There are a number of variations in the spelling of Feetham.  Some are listed here:

 Featam  Feedham  Feetum Feetom  Fetom  Featham Fetem  Fettam

We’ve seen different spellings for the same people in respect of differing events in their lives.  Clearly the scribe dictated spellings in less literate times.  Some of the above variants are still in use today, indeed Feetham itself is a variant on earlier spellings.  But where did the name start ?

There is a small hamlet in Yorkshire named FEETHAM, which was called Fyton or Fytun in the thirteenth century (Interestingly, there have been and are people named Fyton; Laurence Fyton, 15th century, younger son of the Lord of Gawsworth in Cheshire).  This is apparently a Norse word meaning River Meadow.  In a ‘Dictionary of English Place-Names’, A.D.Mills gives this definition for Feetham:

Fytun 1242 (Place at) the riverside meadows. Old Danish/Old Norse. fit in a dative plural form fitjum

 I’m not sure when Fyton turned into Feetham, but in 1645 it was referred to as Feetham, as baptism records of the time show eg :

 Jun 1 1645 Richardus filius Radulphi Simson de Feetham

During the Roman occupation (not sure of dates), a ford or stepping-stones was used by the Roman infantry, to cross the river Swale at Feetham. According to Harry Speight in his book ‘Romantic Richmondshire’ the ford gives us the name Feetham:

 “The Roman ford or stepping stones was doubtless used for many centuries down to and beyond Norman times; the name, I suspect, indicates as much, being probably explained by the A.S. fot (foot) pl. fet,whence fethe, a person on foot, cognate with the Latin peditatus, a foot soldier, infantry, wherefore this was the ham, home or hamlet reached by persons on foot, or it may mean the hamlet at the hill foot.”

The Romans may have used Feetham as a river crossing, but it looks as though nobody resided at the spot until after 1085.  The Doomsday Book was compiled at this time, and it makes no mention of anything resembling Feetham.   In proximity terms, Reeth is the closest place to Feetham that gets a mention.

Brin Feetham proffers a different interpretation.  A relative of his told him of someone who had researched the Feetham name.  Their conclusion was that it has its origins in France.  By all accounts a group of people fled France in the 1650s (Huguenots ?).  They came from a place called Fate Hameau (or something similar).  An Hameau is a Hamlet.  It’s easy to see how Fate Hameau could become Feet Ham.

So, Feetham is an Old Norse word for River Meadow, or it’s a convoluted Latin construction, or it’s a French village.  Possibly it’s all three, and the name over the centuries has converged into Feetham.

C.M Matthews in ‘How Surnames Began’, makes some interesting observations:

“There [is] hardly a village or town or tiny hamlet that has not provided a name for at least one family. Hundreds of uncommon surnames began in this way, and if you can locate yours as a place in the British Isles - especially if there is only one village of this name - you may becertain that your family lived there in Norman times, though they may have left it almost as long ago. If it is a tiny place, or was so in the middle ages, it is quite probable that your ancestors were the principal family there”


Other Places named FEETHAM

In 1822 in Leeds:

   Feetham’s Yard, Marsh Lane

   Feetham’s Fold, Marsh Lane


Feetham’s Yard (1780) owned by William Feetham

Feethams, home of Darlington Football Club. A family of Feethams were important citizens in Darlington last century; giving their name to at least one significant building.  But we haven’t yet established whether it was this branch of the family who gave their name to Feetham’s Yard or to the area known as Feethams. Feethams has been around for at least two hunderd years. A 1789 map titled ‘A Plan of Feethams’ has the following inscription:

‘Belonging to the Bishop of Durham and leased to ??? Mowbray of Darlington Jul 15th 1789’

The map can viewed in Darlington’s library.  The Prince Bishops of Durham were a signifcant and rich power a thousand years ago. The Bishops Palace (Nowold Hall) is sited next to the area marked as Feethams.  The Boldon Book produced in 1183 has entries for Darlington, including mention of the Bishops Hall:

‘...And moreover he looks after the houses and court of the Lord Bishop in Darlington, and those things which are brought there for his maintenance in return for a certain arable field which is called Hacdale which he holds in the Field of Darlington opposite the hall on the east side of the river.’ (see Phillimore’s Boldon Book).

Interestingly, the Mowbray’s were powerful people in the region at the time of the books construction, but it’s unclear whether these people are related to the Mowbray who leased Feethams in 1789.  Certainly the Boldon Book makes no mention of Feetham. More digging into the parish records is needed.


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