English Place-name Society

Survey of English Place-Names

A county-by-county guide to the linguistic origins of England’s place-names – a project of the English Place-Name Society, founded 1923.

St Helen Without

Early-attested site in the Parish of Abingdon and St Helen Without

Historical Forms

  • Sancta Elena 1247–8 FF
  • Seyteleyne (sic) 1261 FF
  • Sancta Elena 1297–8 Ipm


St Helen Without, named from the church of St Helen, which was in existence in c. 995, when it is mentioned in KCD 1289, and which was probably founded much earlier. The dedication is con- nected with the early history of the abbey of Abingdon as set out in ClaudiusBvi and in Cotton Vitellius A xiii . It is related in the latter MS (Abingdon 11, 270) that in the time of Æthelwold (c. 960) some digging operations led to the finding of an iron cross near the monasterium of St Helen. The monks appear to have believed that this was a cross made ex clavis Domini and connected with St Helen and the emperor Constantine (Abingdon 1, 7, 11, 269). The cross is illustrated in ClaudiusBvi , and it has recently been shown by Mrs Lambrick that this drawing represents an open-work disc-headed pin, probably early 8th-cent., of a type found on several sites of the late 7th and early 8th cents., including that of the monastery at Whitby (Medieval Archaeology xii, 1968, 26 ff). The 'black cross' is therefore a relic of a Christian site of about the date of Hean and his sister Cille who are credited in the Abingdon chronicles with the foundation of the Abbey and of a nunnery at Helnestoue ('holy place of Helen', v. stōw ); and Mrs Lambrick argues plausibly that the church of St Helen does indeed represent a foundation of that period, and that it was a head-church or old minster for Hormer hundred. Land near the church was known as Helnestou t. Hy 1, as appears from the account in Abingdon 11, 138, of the exchange by which the Abbot obtained land near Ock Bridge for 'terram que ueteri gurgiti adiacet in loco qui anglice dicitur helenestou inferius scilicet'. The other party to the exchange was Turstinus de Sancta Helena , presumably so called because he lived near the church. The family is mentioned in the list of the knights of Abingdon in Abingdon 11, 4–6 (t. William), and again 1166 RBE and 1242–3 Fees. The district is called Sancta Elena 1247–8FF , Seyteleyne (sic)1261 FF, Sancta Elena 1297–8 Ipm.