Origins of Swanbourne

 The Swanbourne name – analysis of the evidence

By Clive Rodgers

The origins of the Swanbourne name have never been entirely clear.  The second half of the name ‘bourne’ is the most obvious, however, being a version of ‘burn’ which means a stream.  Elderly villagers still describe the village as ‘Swanburn‘ phonetically, and in the interview with Jack Campbell, aged 96, the name ‘Swanburn‘ is audibly used every time the village is referred to.

The eminent Victorian Historian Arthur Clear regarded the ‘Swan’ part of the name as being derived from Swain, a standard bearer and relative of Edward the Confessor.  There was a Swain (also Suen or Sven) who also owned part of Swanbourne before the Normans.  Arthur Clear regarded the ‘bourn’ (stream) of Swanbourne as being too small for Swans to use.  However, the Swan was used as Swain’s emblem, and the Swan is even on the Buckinghamshie County flag and emblem today.

Some authors refer to the first useage of the name Swanaburna in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, attributed to King Offa in 792, with regard to it being the boundary of Winslow land which was being gifted to the Abbott of St. Albans.  However, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles comprise many authors. The Venerable Bede is regarded as the most reliable, along with others who recorded events not long after they happened, but they made no reference to Swanbourne or the gifts to the Abbey of St. Albans.  In fact, this 795 event was written from the Abbey of St Albans in the 13th Century some 400 years after the event by Mathew Paris; so he may be considered to be giving us one of the less reliable accounts because it was written so long after the events.  The first time the village was reliably referred to was in the Domesday Book of 1087   Here, there are 5 different enties:

Soeneberno, Sueneberne, Sueneborne, Sueneberie, Sueneberie

A way forward might be to look at the Swan or Suen part of the name with reference to its translation in Old English, as well as its translation in the Frisian language, really a remant of Old English and still spoken by about 50,000 people in the Dutch/German borderlands.


swan Strong Masculine Noun
swan Singular Plural
Nominative (the/that se) swan (the/those þá) swanas
Accusative (the/that þone) swan (the/those þá) swanas
Genitive (the/that þæs) swanes (the/those þára) swana
Dative (the/that þæm) swane (the/those þæm) swanum


swán Strong Masculine Noun
1. a herd herdsman particularly a swineherd peasant 2. 2 swain youth a   man warrior
swán Singular Plural
Nominative (the/that se) swán (the/those þá) swánas
Accusative (the/that þone) swán (the/those þá) swánas
Genitive (the/that þæs) swánes (the/those þára) swána
Dative (the/that þæm) swáne (the/those þæm) swánum


swa Weak Masculine Noun
A chieftain Elen. Kmbl. 1987 El. 995.a
swa Singular Plural
Nominative (the/that se) swa (the/those þá) swan
Accusative (the/that þone) swan (the/those þá) swan
Genitive (the/that þæs) swan (the/those þára) swena
Dative (the/that þæm) swan (the/those þæm) swum



Summary (in no particular order) of the possible origins and meaning of the name Swanbourne linguistically:

1. Swine herding peasant’s streams

2. Peasant’s stream or streams

3. Swan stream or streams

4. Swain’s, Suen’s or Sven’s stream or streams

5. Chieftain’s or stream or streams

6. Young Leader’s or young person’s stream or streams.

The archaeological evidence of pot fragments found at Charlton Close and St Swithun’s Church points towards the middle to late Anglo-Saxon time period for the origins of the village.  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles suggest that the East Angles had an established kingdom stretching from the East coast to Bedford by the 6th Century; King Redwald dying in 625. The grave at Sutton Hoo due East from Swanbourne (on the Esssex coast) is considered to be of King Redwald.  The Chronicles also refer to the West Saxons moving North and taking Aylesbury and Oxford from the Romano-Britons in 577.  Subsequently, the Mercians (Middle Angles) dominated, as this area became part of the Midland Kingdom of Mercia, and their most famous leader – King Offa.  So it does look quite likely that the village would have been established by 792, the supposed date that Matthew Paris suggested that Winslow was gifted to the Abbey of St. Albans.

Further archaeological work and evidence is needed to help to clarify and date the origins of the village – which should  in turn help to clarify the origins of the village name.

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