The country lane that first piqued my interest in the history behind some local roads and street names, was the intriguingly-named Dumb Woman’s Lane in Udimore. The name evokes all kinds of imagery, and hints at the worst kind of misogyny and sadism..!
Every time I passed, I resolved to Google it’s meaning when I got home, which of course I never did! You may live on an interestingly named road, or have spotted some beauties on your travels – sometimes it is obvious where a place name is derived from and with others it is a lot more obscure and baffling.
I have looked up the origins of Dumb Woman’s Lane and also looked into other interesting place names in the Rye environs . Rye was a good place to start, with its interesting history as a port and a haven for sailors and smugglers too. Rye itself is believed to be named from the French Norman Rie meaning ‘a bank’. Maps from medieval times show Rye was originally located on a huge embayment of the English channel, it is now about 2 miles away from the sea due to the changing coastline.
Unfortunately, there were lots of places in Rye and its surrounds that Google couldn’t assist with in my street-name research, including Hundred House Lane, Starvecrow Lane, Bisky Bar and Coldharbour Lane….but my trawl through the local archives did uncover some points of interest.
This winding and narrow country lane is a magnet for place-name trophy hunters (generally female) who are keen to be snapped posing with one of the lane’s signposts in an ironic post-feminist fashion! This seemingly incongruous country lane in Udimore surprisingly has a few claims to fame, apart from its attention-grabbing moniker. The famous and sadly departed comedian Spike Milligan lived at Carpenter’s Meadow on Dumb Woman’s Lane, as he sought to escape the hustle and bustle of London life. Unfortunately, it seems that Spike wasn’t too keen on the aesthetic qualities of the spacious 5 bedroomed house, as he vigorously condemned it to Room 101 for being ‘bloody awful’. Even if he thought the 1960’s constructed house itself was ugly, he must have appreciated its stunning views over the Brede Valley to the Channel beyond. Despite Spike’s unequivocal condemnation, his former abode was snapped up for a highly-respectable £1.6 million pounds in 1998.
Dumb Woman’s Lane even has its own dotcom! There is a blog at http://dumbwomanslane.com/ entitled ‘Dumb Woman’s Lane’ – and why not???! It was thanks to this blog that I encountered two theories on why the Lane first came to be known by its distinctive moniker. The first theory relates to the fact that the area was a hotbed for smuggling lace, brandy and tobacco from France from the 14th to the 19th centuries, and hiding contraband in the countryside was de rigeur. Apparently, one unlucky witness to the illegal goings-on had her tongue cut out to stop her telling any tales. Pretty gruesome! The second theory was that a mute woman lived in the lane and used to dispense herbal remedies locally, and the lane was so named because of this unfortunate disability and her relative significance in those parts. Whatever the reason, Dumb Woman’s Lane is now a quiet country lane that attracts visitors not only for its name – but also for the beautiful country side walking opportunities and panoramic views that it offers to visitors.
Take a look at the tranquillity and beauty of Dumb Woman’s Lane on Instant Street View: http://www.instantstreetview.com/2nwa3yz3feiynz16ezlkz2u
This sinister sounding road’s origins are linked to some of the darkest times in our history – the awful pestilent times of the bubonic Plague (or the Black Death). We now know that the disease was caused by a bacteria carried by fleas living on the black rat or humans – and many of these fleas had fed off dying bodies. This virulent and fatal disease wiped out one third of the population of Europe in 5 years. Rye was one of the places that the disease arrived in this area, as it was one of the coastal Cinque Ports, and of course, people and goods arriving from the continent, were bound to be contagious and spread the disease to the local population. It is notable that several villages in the area have churches on the outskirts of the town or village, away from the main population. This was a result of survivor’s reluctance to live near to the burial places of the many unfortunate victims. Deadmans Lane in Rye (and also Deadmans Lane in Winchelsea) is believed to be a site of where many Plague victims were buried. Later on in history, this is also where those killed during the raids by the French during the Hundred Years War, were laid to rest. There is another reason that the lane in Rye has earned its ominous name, as it was also the lane going up the hill to where people where hung. On a more positive historical note – the listed building Mountsfield Lodge is situated on the Lane, this was formerly the home of local dignitary of Thomas Phillips Lamb and his family. He had the great honour of being the mayor of Rye an amazing 20 times, he was born in 1752 and died in 1819.
Nowadays, there is no hint of the previous negative associations of Deadman’s Lane, Rye:
As we go about our daily lives, we are usually oblivious to the macabre history of some of the streets that we walk upon, but it is fascinating to learn of the changing uses of land and amenities over time – and the different ways they are perceived by local residents now, as opposed to their previous incarnations.
Rye Castle Museum is situated across two sites in Rye – the Ypres Tower and also East Street – and has a wealth of local information about Rye and the way life used to be for people living in the locality in the past. If you visit this link: http://www.ryemuseum.co.uk/category/local-history/rye-streets/ there is information about what life was like for the residents of Landgate Square, Watchbell Street and Mermaid Street –highlighting a great contrast to the living conditions of today.
Vilage Net is also a great source of local history information for Rye and other local towns and villages. Here is a potted history of Rye: http://sussex.villagenet.co.uk/rye.php
If you can shed some light on how any of the streets or roads in the Rye area – or indeed anywhere in 1066 country – got their names, we’d love to hear from you and feature your research.