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.


Major Settlement in the Parish of Harpsden

Historical Forms

  • Harpendene 1086 DB 1517 DInc
  • Harpeden' 1182 P 1501 Ipm
  • Harpesden' 1275–6 RH
  • Arp'nden' 1246–7 Ass
  • Herpedene 1263 FF
  • Harpden 1441 AD 1647 FF
  • Harding early18th ParColl
  • Harden 1761 Rocque
  • Harpsden alias Harden 1762 Bodl


Harpsden village is situated at the point where a well-marked chalk valley comes down from the Chilterns to the low ground above the Thames. Near the head of this valley, in the neighbourhood of Newnham Hill, the boundaries of Newnham Murren in BCS 1176 run andlang hearp dene . It is clearly from this valley (v. denu ) that Harpsden takes its name. This leaves us, however, with the problem of what a hearp-denu is. Ekwall suggests (DEPN) that the first element is hearpe , 'salt-harp.' 'Salt-harp valley' is not very good sense, but the forms definitely point to an etymology 'valley of the harp,' and the charter form makes it impossible to assume a personal name (v. PN Wo 75–6). Can the reference be to the shape of the valley? Cf. PN Herts 37–8, where the first element of Harpenden Herts is explained as a reduction of OE  herepæð , 'army road.' In the forms for the Oxfordshire name, even if the charter name be disregarded, the medial -n - cannot be dismissed so lightly, as, apart from the DB form, spellings with and without it occur side by side over roughly the same range of dates. The forms with -s - are clearly late and of no importance.

The form Harding , which occurs early 18th ParColl, is found in the 13th and early 14th centuries in the field-names of Goring and Eye and Dunsden (55, 71).