CORBRIDGE

This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 19th June 1995, reproduced by kind permission of the author, Desmond Holden.

The "What's in a Name" series has been a regular feature in the Advertiser.
Articles are confined to the origins and meanings of surnames and Desmond regrets he is unable to undertake research into the genealogy, descent or family history of individuals.

Editor's Note: Articles are provided for general interest and background only. They are not intended to provide an exhaustive treatise for any individual family history - investigations of which may yield quite different results. Or, in Desmond's own words:

"In the end it must remain with individual bearers of the names to draw upon family traditions and to seek out such documentary evidence as is available to decide the matter for themselves."

WHAT'S IN A NAME … Are you called CORBRIDGE?

About a year ago some Readers approached The Peak Advertiser and asked if any information could be provided as to the origin and meaning of the name "Corbridge". It is tempting to wonder if those readers "knew something" (as the saying goes) because everything about that name is shrouded in mystery and it has taken until now to follow up leads.

Of course there is no problem in establishing that it is a location-name. "Corbridge" is a small town in Northumberland, about 15 miles due west of Newcastle, on the A69 road to Carlisle. It stands on a crossing-point of the River Tyne, where the A68 from Darlington carries on to Edinburgh.

At first glance the name appears to be capable of a straighforward analysis. There are only two units "Cor-" and "-bridge" and so all that would seem necessary is to say what they mean. Unfortunately it isn't as simple as that! The two units don't perfectly relate to each other.

The first element, "Cor-" refers to a minor water-course about half-a-mile upstream, while the "bridge" itself actually spans the Tyne, lower down. Those who are expert in the study of place- names add to the confusion. They tell us that the old wording of the place was "Corebricg" and this does not mean "the bridge 'over' the River Cor", but surprisingly, "the bridge 'near' the River Cor."

So! Since "bridges" are not as a rule referred to as being "near" a stream, but "over" it, one is left to answer the question: What was so special about the River Cor so as to displace what might have seemed a more obvious reference to the River Tyne - giving something like "Tynebridge"?

As it happens the area is loaded with history - especially the history of the Roman occupation - and it is universally agreed that the unit "Cor-" is all that is left of the name of a Roman Settlement, formerly called "Corchester". It is important to emphasise "formerly" because that was not its original name. That was "Corstopium" and "Corchester" was no doubt a sort of modification, the formation of which was influenced by the frequency with which "-chester" appears in place-names.

"Corchester" lies about half-a-mile to the west of Corbridge where the "Cor" flows as a tributary into the Tyne. It is a popular heritage site. Local historians would be better able to enlarge upon the topic, but it would seem that the Romans selected this site because the River Tyne narrows perceptibly at this point and so it is feasible that it provided a ford or a ferry. A map of Roman Britain reveals that "Corchester" provided a link through Hadrian's Wall along a road which ran from the south of the country to within 20 miles of Edinburgh!

However, for some reason or other a site further down the river was later found preferable and the actual "bridge" (according to the "Guides") is now a fine seven-arched structure, dating from 1674, replacing others, the existence of which can be inferred from even before the Norman Conquest.

This certainly explains why "Cor-bridge" really means "the bridge near the River Cor" but it still doesn't tell us what "Cor" means. The problem here is that the little water-course took its name from the Roman settlement and not the other way round. If we can deduce what the original name, "Corstopitum" means then everything will fall into place. And it just won't!

After considerable research it seems that the original Roman Legion which set up camp here was recruited from a tribe in south-west Brittany, somewhere around Quimper. It is right on the extreme west coast. In the Latin histories the tribe was described as the "Corisopites."

How they got this name is uncertain but the best opinion is that the title modified from the name "Sopianae". As a place this no longer exists: it is called Pecs today and in a region the Romans called Pannonia Inferior - roughly corresponding with modern Hungary. Why the tribe migrated from Central Europe to the extreme Western Peninsula must remain, forever, a mystery.

So, persons today whose surname is "Corbridge" can take it that their name signifies: "Dwellers in the place where the bridge was built near the camp first pitched by a Roman Legion recruited from a tribe known as the Corisopites."

As is usually the case with location surnames, it could have been used to identify people who migrated to other areas. No doubt the ancestors of the bearers of the name "Corbridge" might have been involved in the Tyneside coal industry and later travelled south to Derbyshire to take up similar work.

The first reference to the name dates from 1279 and describes "Thomas of Corbridge" who was a somewhat undistinguished Archbishop of York: 1299-1304. There are about a dozen families of the name listed in the local directories.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 19th June 1995.

URL of this page: http://names.gukutils.org.uk/Corbridge.shtml
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