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.

Chear Fen

Early-attested site in the Parish of Cottenham

Historical Forms

  • Char(e)fen(n) 1343 Colexlix 1596 Christ's
  • Char(e)fen(n) of Cottenham, Common Fen 1604 Atkyns 1772 Imb
  • Chaireffen (Hill) 1605 Depositions
  • Charfenn hills 1706 Moore
  • Chaff Fen c.1825 O.S.
  • ad Char', de la Char' 1279 RH
  • Char(e)lo(a)de t.Ed3,1596 Christ's


Chear Fen is Char (e )fen (n )1343Cole xlix, 1596Christ 's , Char (e )fen (n ) of Cottenham , Common Fen 1604Atkyns , 1772 Imb, Chaireffen (Hill )1605Depositions , Charfenn hills 1706 Moore, Chaff Fen c. 1825 O.S. The first part of this name is found in ad Char ', de la Char '1279 RH, which is given as one of the points on the bounds of mariscum de Coteham , which include pontem de Halderheth (High Bridge on the Old West River) and Tyllinge (Car Dyke supra 33). Chear Lode (6″) is Char (e )lo (a )de t. Ed 3, 1596Christ 's . It is a continuation of Beach Ditch which here forms the boundary between Cottenham and Waterbeach. Near it must have lived Robert atte Char in 1329 and Richard at the Chayre of Waterbeach in 1347 (Cole xxxvi). There can be little doubt that the word chare is to be identified with an OE  *cear , an unmutated form of OE  cierr , 'turn,' as suggested for the first element of the name of the Cherwell (RN 75) and found in certain street-names, notably in Newcastle, in the sense 'winding lane, passage.' The cear in Chear Fen probably has reference to one of the sharp bends in the Old West River. It may be that we have reference to the same bend in Chear Lode, but no certainty is possible. From denoting a bend in a stream it would seem to have come to be used at times of the stream itself (cf. s. nn. Chair Drove, Chain Fm, Chainbridge and Old Chair Drain infra 192, 226, 254, 289).