This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 14th November 1994, reproduced by kind permission of the author, the late Desmond Holden.

The “What's in a Name” series was a regular feature in the Advertiser over the period 1993‑2004, taking a refreshing look at the derivation of some typically Derbyshire surnames.

Articles are confined to the origins and meanings of surnames, and do not indicate any particular interest on Desmond's part in the genealogy, descent, or family history of individuals bearing the surnames featured.

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 CHATFIELD?

This is a location name and it is concentrated in Sussex. The local directories for Brighton and adjoining areas contain well over 200 entries but the numbers rapidly thin out as one moves away. The neighbouring counties can muster only fifty between them; our local directory lists barely a dozen, while for Northern Ireland there is only one! For hearers of the name in Derbyshire this might seem remarkable because of its apparent link with Chatsworth. However the name did not originate in the Peak but in the South Downs.

Warning! It is no use consulting any of the Maps or Gazeteers of Sussex because the place from which the surname 'Chatfield' has been derived no longer remains. Whether local antiquarians can point out any possible site is not known, but otherwise it does not appear on any of the Road Atlases currently in use.

Of course it might very well have been that there never was a specific settlement in the first place. The second unit of the name, "-field", tends to furnish persuasive evidence that it might have been only a general description to cover a stretch of open land of unspecified extent. It must be borne in mind that our ancestors did not know anything about the sort of "fields" such as we know today. The neat and tidy enclosures which are so much a part of the traditional English landscape did not come into existence until the beginning of the 18th century. Before then, the expression "field" referred to land which was not covered in woods and forests. The notion of space still lies behind turns of phrase such as "the field of battle" and "field sports".

The application of this meaning to "Chatfield" can be carried still further by reference to the fact that the "Chat-" in the name could very well have evolved from "Catta" which was an old Norse word meaning "a fighter". So that opens up the possibility that "Chatfield" means "the open place where there was a fight". No doubt in the dim and distant annals of the tribe it was a decisive battle, but the records have perished: we don't know anything about the combatants nor even where they fought. This is not remarkable. Even the sites of better-documented and more recent conflicts are still disputed - Naseby (1645) for example:

Equally so, "Catta" might have been an individual. In the turbulent times of our ancestors, skill in combat was essential if you wanted to survive! No doubt a member of the community who had distinguished himself in that respect would be called upon to play a vital part in dealings with hostile neighbours and be identified as "The Fighter". Exactly what claim the first man called "Catta" would have been able to assert over the particular "field" is no longer ascertainable, but it must have been sufficient to bring about the designation "Catta's Field" which modified to "Chatfield" and was subsequently adopted as a surname by people in the vicinity.

Although its exact situation has long since been forgotten, those who have researched the matter suggest that Bolney and Cowfold might provide acceptable points of reference. They lie alongside the A272, about 6 miles west of Haywards Heath.

An alternative explanation is that "Chatfield" might have once been associated with a person called "Ceatta" - which is an Old English personal name of uncertain meaning. It must have been popular because it appears in placenames all over the country, from Chatton in Northumberland to Chattendon in Kent. In the case of "Chatfield", there seem to be records making mention of a "Saint Ceatta" who flourished in the region. However he is very much localised in Sussex because he is neither listed in the Church Calendar nor mentioned in Butler's "Lives of the Saints".

It should be noted, though, that in Saxon times the title "Saint" was given more or less to any Monk or Priest and had not acquired the more restrictive definition of today. So he might well have been merely a Hermit who occupied a simple makeshift dwelling far off in the "Field" and remote from everybody else. No doubt he had a tremendous reputation for holiness during his lifetime and survives in folk memory through the name "Chatfield".

It need not necessarily have been a man who was associated with "Chatfield". An extremely fashionable name in the Middle Ages for a woman was Catherine and this sometimes modified into "Cateline". From this it is possible to deduce the name "Chatfield" as being "Cateline's Field",

Finally, there are two other suggestions: both picturesque and questionable. About 30 miles north of the supposed site of Chatfield, in Kent, there is Catford. The meaning is given as "The Ford frequented by wild cats". Similar meanings are attributed to Catsfield in Sussex, and even in Cattal in Yorkshire. So it is possible that Chatfield might have derived its name under similar circumstances. However that's something the wildlife experts ought to be asked to investigate!

Otherwise, it is proferred that the "field" might once have been owned by somebody who was convicted of treason or who couldn't pay his debts. As a consequence, the land was taken over by the King or the Lord of the Manor and he got thrown out. This process was known as an "escheat" and perhaps the site took on the name of the "Escheat Field" - hence "Chatfield". Well! May be and may be not! It certainly goes to show that even in those days they knew all about "Re-possession"!

The most distinguished bearer of the name was Edward Chatfield (1800-1839). He came from Croydon in Surrey. His life was tragically cut short. Had he lived longer he would have become one of the outstanding artists of the 19th century. He specialised in historical subject which were greatly admired and were bought for public collections and are still on exhibition.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 14th November 1994.

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