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.


Early-attested site in the Parish of Swaffham Prior

Historical Forms

  • Rete, Reche 1086 InqEl
  • littus Reche, Reche c.1122 ChronRams 17th Pat 1552
  • Reche iuxta Swafham 1315 ElyF
  • Reche Sopham 1481 MinAcct
  • la Reche 1230 ElyC
  • Reeche 1446 MinAcct
  • Reach(e) 1552 Pat 1564–92
  • East Reach(e), West Reach(e) 1660 ib
  • West Retche 1661 ib
  • littus de Rechere, Rechere c.1135 Rams
  • Rache 1517 EAvii


This name has been discussed s. n. Reach (PN BedsHu 125–6), the name of a place which is on rising ground in a shallow valley, the village lying along the road which runs up the valley. The Cambridgeshire Reach lies alongside the end of the Devil's Dyke, and, as Skeat has pointed out, old maps show that it stood at the very edge of the waters of the fenlands, on a rounded projection from the old shore. It was once a busy spot where sea-going ships were loaded and unloaded (cf. Conybeare 194). There is another Reach in Whittlesey (infra 264), a stretch of marsh-land near the King's Dyke, with nothing distinctive in the topography. It seems difficult to find a common element in the sites of these places. It has been suggested (loc. cit .) that the source of this name was an OE  rǣc , cognate with ON  rák , 'stripe, streak,' the source of the English rake , 'way, path,' and that the reference in the Bedfordshire place was to the steep narrow road in the valley, whilst that in Cambridgeshire was named from the Devil's Dyke which was used as a reach or path. The fact that there was also a Recheweye is not an insuperable difficulty, but it seems impossible to apply the term 'road' to Reach in Whittlesey. Ekwall (DEPN) suggests the same OE  rǣc , cognate with ON  reik , 'parting of the hair,' Sw  rēk , 'a stripe,' with a probable meaning 'strip.' This seems, on the whole, the best interpretation, rǣc referring in the Bedfordshire name to the strip of rising land, and here and in Whittlesey to the strip of land bordering on the fens or the dyke (note the use of littus supra ). The hamlet is partly in Burwell and partly in Swaffham Prior, the two parts being known as West and East Reach respectively. They were separated by the Devil's Dyke. v. Addenda lix.