Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Finding Ala Chocha - a manorial seat of William of Eu in Sussex, possibly Cock Marling

What makes me spend hours following arcane links to track down something that niggles?  The amazing sensation of succeeding in solving a mystery that others have let slide for centuries!  Today I tracked down the place recorded in a notification of plea of William the Conqueror as Ala Chocha and a manor of William of Eu.  There is no place with this name in any other English or Norman record. 

Ala Chocha is now Cock Marling, on the Udimore ridge in East Sussex.  929 years ago William the Conqueror and William, Count d'Eu, would have looked across the Channel to Normandy, overlooked the harbour where ships moored in the port in the lee of Winchelsea, been opposite Old Hastingas across a ford at low tide, had views north to the London road from Appledore.  It presented an ideal spot for a prestigious manor for the man responsible for defending the coast and principal Norman port from attack.

Ala Chocha was named for the the greatest coastal saltworks in all of Britain: the 100 salt pans attributed to Rye in the Domesday Book.  Fecamp Abbey's Rameslege domain probably had even more salt pans, omitted from mention in Domesday records as free of the king's taxes.  1,195 salt pans - salinae - are mentioned in Domesday Book, but 100 is the most in any one place.  The next nearest in size is Maldon with 45 salt pans.  Cheshire has its -wiches with varying levels of production.  (Virtually all -wich names were associated with salt production.)

A 19th c. historian suggested Laycock in Wiltshire, as a near cognate for Ala Chocha, but this has been discounted by later historians as William of Eu did not own any land in Wiltshire or have any association with Laycock.

After the conquest William d'Eu, Count of Eu, was made lord of the Honour of Hastings, which included the manors of Hastingas and Bretda, both possessions before and after the conquest of Fecamp Abbey.  Possession had been interrupted from 1052 to 1066 by seizure from the abbey during Godwin's rebellion against Edward the Confessor, and Earl Harold, restored during the rebellion, refused their return after Godwin's death.  The Saxons and Danes called the region Rameslege - Rome's Law or Rome's Lowey.  A lowey was an area freed from royal dominion and taxes, with privileges of self-rule and church law.

The two manors of Rameslege bracketed the greatest estuarine port in the southeast of England.   The Brede Valley was then a huge fluvial port and the principal heavy cargo port between England and Normandy.  It was known to the Normans as Portus Hastingas et Peuenisel, Hastinge port (as used in the Carmen at line 597) and Hastingaport.

Bredta was the Udimore ridge from Sedlescombe to Rye.  The Udimore ridge is named after William of Eu, so his first manor after the conquest is likely somewhere nearby.

Thanks to this blog and some collaborative etymology and research on the LinkedIn Ancient History Group, I think we can pretty confidently place Ala Chocha as depicted below.

Taking ala to mean wing, Ala Chocha may correspond to the modern settlement of Cock Marling or a manor at nearby Udimore.  [Hat tip to Thierry Sempere on LinkedIn's Ancient History Group!]  St Mary's Church at Udimore was built by Fecamp Abbey, and there may have been a Roman or Norman signal beacon as on a fine day you can see Cape Griz Nez on the French coast opposite.  The projecting ham at the bend of the wing at Cock Marling strategically overlooked the entrance to the port on the Brede estuary to the south and also the estuary of the Tillingham River to the north.  It would have been a very important defensive site when the port was at its height, with huge treasure, trade and immigration flowing between England and Normandy.  Now it is pastoral farmland.  The toponym 'La Coque' in northern Cotentin also refers to a promontory surrounded by seawater.  The name Coque Aliensis (foreign cup) may be a basis for Cock Marling, as it is just down the road from Rye Foreign.

Both Ala Chocha and La Coque might come from the use of a large cup-shaped container to provide a beacon or coquenarium - a salt cooker. Cocca is attested in 11th-century French to mean cup and cup beacons along a series of promontories were common features of Nordic, Gallic and Britannic landscapes for defense and navigation. Promontories were obvious places to place beacons, and these needed a container for fuel. As the picture from Dover castle shows, medieval monastic cells and churches were often co-located with pharos or beacons so that the monks could service the beacon as part of their duties in administering the affairs of the port and defending the realm by practical exertions as well as prayer.

The list of witnesses to this negotiation of plea at Ala Chocha is extensive, both ecclesiastics and nobles, and some would have travelled from Normandy.  The port would have been a sensible place to meet, convenient to both those settled in England and those travelling there from Fecamp Abbey.  As Fecamp Abbey was in the jurisdiction of the Holy See of Rome, rather like embassies have separate territoriality today, it might have been deemed neutral ground between the claimants and instilled due respect in the witnesses.

Professor David Bates has reviewed the itinerary in his William I Acta (pp. 78 and 82) and helpfully confirmed that King William sailed to the Isle of Wight in the summer or autumn of 1086.  [Cheers, David!].  This may coincide with his visit to Ala Chocha for the negotiation of plea, though we don't know for certain his departure or return ports.

Google offers alterantive meanings for chocha which are also intriguing.  When I put Ala-Chocha into Google what I discovered is that chocha is Spanish slang for vagina.  [Don't try this as you'll be offered a lot of links you probably don't want to follow.]   Look at the map of the ancient port of Hastingas and Peuenisel at the top of this page.  It is a massive geographic chocha!  Chocha may have been used a thousand years ago without the sexual connotation, as vagina was the usual term then for a sheath or scabbard in medieval times, just as rape was used without sexual connotation for taking things of value by force or authority.  If derived from salsus, as suggested below, then chocha may have been an archaic nautical term for a salty marine channel or saltworks and been geographically descriptive when naming the manorial seat.  If derived from cocere, to burn or parch, that may also relate to salt flats as it took days to concentrate salt in seawater by evaporation in pools before drying the salt in saltpans.  The Brede Valley was surrounded by bloomeries to make charcoal for forges.  Charcoal-making requires a steady, moderate heat - the same as salt pans, making a natural synergy between the two businesses.

There is no entry for chocha in the glosbe.com Old French online dictionary and similarly no matches for Frankish or Norman when I search for those.  MyEtymology suggests the Spanish chocha may be a cognate of the Latin word salsus.

I wonder if we have lost an ancient meaning for Chocha as 'salty channel' or 'taxation channel', a speculation I am led to by two other usages in similar contexts.  The derivation of Kilcoagh in Ireland may come from chocha:
At Kilcoagh by Donard is her Holy Well, Tubar-no-chocha, at
which stations were formerly made. The cell is mentioned in a grant
of 1173 to the Abbey of Glendalough as "Cell Chuachje."
As does Foca in Bosnia, also a scene of border trade taxation, contested sovereignty, and multiple slaughters like the Brede Valley:
FOČA (pronounced Fáwtcha), a town of Bosnia, situated at the confluence of the Drina and Čehotina rivers, and encircled by wooded mountains. Pop. (1895) 4217. The town is the headquarters of a thriving industry in silver filigree-work and inlaid weapons, for which it was famous. With its territories enclosed by the frontiers of Montenegro and Novi Bazar, Foča, then known as Chocha, was the scene of almost incessant border warfare during the middle ages. No monuments of this period are left except the Bogomil cemeteries, and the beautiful mosques, which are the most ancient in Bosnia. The three adjoining towns of Foča, Goražda and Ustikolina were trading-stations of the Ragusans in the 14th century, if not earlier. In the 16th century, Benedetto Ramberti, ambassador from Venice to the Porte, described the town, in his Libri Tre delle Cose dei Turchi, as Cozza, “a large settlement, with good houses in Turkish style, and many shops and merchants. Here dwells the governor of Herzegovina, whose authority extends over the whole of Servia. Through this place all goods must pass, both going and returning, between Ragusa and Constantinople.”

In trying to trace the word, I've been directed by several people to a bird.  The Spanish name for a woodcock is Chocha Perdiz, where perdiz means game bird.  Now more commonly called Becada, the Scolopax Rusticola can be hunted while it feeds in tidal mud flats during freezing weather when worms in its preferred woodland habitat are harder to come by.  If Chocha once meant salty channel then that would fit nicely in explaining the older name for this game bird.  The English bird chough, a coastal relative of the daw now pronounced chuff, may have the same etymological root.  Choughe first enters the language around the 12th century, used by Chaucer and understood as a jackdaw. Its name was thought to come from the sound it made rather than its coastal habitat, but it is hard to know at this remove of time and changed pronunciation.

Ala usually means wing in Latin, although a la in French would mean 'at the(f)', which also works though unusual for an English or Norman place name. Wing would fit as a geographic descriptor if it were referring to the Udimore ridge as one of two wings of land bracketing the fluvial port. That would be elegant as the Normans spoke Romanz, a seacoast Latin, rather than Frankish or Nordic dialects. Wing is probably right given the shape of the then-peninsula (see map for the Pevenesel Peninsula above), extending long and narrow between the estuarine reaches of the Rother and Brede rivers, with a slight bend.  It would also be consistent with the manor of Peuenesel becoming known as the Honor of Aquila (the eagle), given its important strategic contribution to protection of the port from attack.

Latin, Iberian or Nordic influence on the Normans is more likely than Celtic influence, especially in the Brede Valley. This strategic corner of Britannia was occupied by Belgian Gallic tribes for at least four centuries before Caesar and continuously held by them until Godwin's raids in 1052. Al- begins many, many Iberian place names, Arabic place names too, and the Normans traded widely from Iceland to Palestine.  Nautical terms were often common among dialects, as ras means a tall headland almost everywhere.

Celtic influence can be discounted as Al does not begin any Celtic names in Britain.  A search for a place beginning with ala on the Nottingham University English Place Name directory offers Aylsby near Grimsby, but it identifies Ali as a Danish name for the settler.  The Gazetteer of English Place Names offers no matches for names beginning with ala.

A commenter on the British Military History Group at LinkedIn suggested Ala could also mean armpit. If Ala Chocha did mean Armpit Vagina in a geographic sense, then the more likely location for the manor will be between Brede and Sedlescombe, nearer the top of the medieval tidal reach. Peuenisel, which I believe was somewhere around Brede, is recorded in Domesday Book as having 25 burgesses under Edward the Confessor and zero in 1085.  Godwin and Harold presumably slaughtered or enslaved all the Anglo-Franks when they raided Peuenisel three times in 1051 and 1052 as exiled outlaws, before forcing Edward the Confessor to reinstate them as earls.  The invading Normans retook the ruined auxillary fort or abbey cell as their first act on arriving in the port, rebuilding and garrisoning the fort. After the conquest William d'Eu acquired possession and may have placed his manor nearby.  Brede was a also a strategic site as it controlled traffic on the road (now the A28) that crossed from the ford below Brede (from the Old English ba-ridu meaning 'by the ford') to the ford on the Tillingham River on the other side of the peninsula below Northiam.

If the Normans picked up chocha as a name for the port from Iberian sailors, and then later considered the name rather rude, that would explain why it is unique to this instance and did not persist as an English or Norman place name.  Alternatively, it may not have been rude at the time the manor was named, but the manor may have been a temporary residence for William d'Eu in 1086 while the fort at Peuenesel, wherever it was, and the castle at Hastings were being constructed. 

Etymology of the Spanish word chocha

the Spanish word chocha
derived from the Spanish word chocho
derived from the Quechua word chuchu
derived from the Mozarabic word šóš
derived from the Latin word salsus (salted, salty, preserved in salt)
derived from the Latin word sallere (salt, salt down, preserve with salt)
derived from the New Latin word sal (salt; wit)
derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *sal-

The Portuguese chucha is now equally rude in meaning vagina, slut or bitch, but its derivation is attributed to a different root. 

Etymology of the Portuguese word chucha

the Portuguese word chucha
derived from the Portuguese word chuchar
derived from the Latin root *suctiare
derived from the Classical Latin word sugere (suck; imbibe; take in)
derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *seuə-

The Carmen describes the Norman fleet navigating into a fluvial port three hours from the sea consistent with either derivation for the place name:

113.         Sed veritus ne dampna tuis nox inferat atra
But cautious lest dark night impose losses,
114.         Ventus et adverso flamina turbet aquas
And contrary wind and current disturb the sea,
115.         Sistere curva jubes compellat ut anchora puppes
You order the fleet to halt course, form up and drop anchor.
116.         In medio pelagi litus adesse facis
On the open sea you moor offshore.
117.         Ponere vela mones exspectans mane futurum
You caution to take in the sails, awaiting the morning to come,
118.         Ut lassata nimis gens habeat requiem
When the exhausted men will have had enough rest.
119.         At postquam terris rutilans aurora refulsit
But when the dawn had spread red over the land,
120.         Et Phebus radios sparsit in orbe suos
And the sun cast its rays over the horizon,
121.         Praecipis ire viam committere carbasa ventis
You order the sails set to the wind to make way
122.       Praecipis ut solvat anchora fixa rates
While the ships weigh anchor.
123.       Tertia telluri supereminet hora diei
The third hour of the day overspread the earth
124.       Cum mare postponens littora tuta tenes
      Since leaving the sea behind when you seize a sheltered strand.

The Bayeux Tapestry illustrates the landing at the estuarine strand.  Unlike Harold's landing in Normandy, there are no anchors.  The boats are poled to shore, masts are lowered, oarports are opened, and horses are walked off without ramps onto firm strand.  This is not a coastal port!

Whether at Cock Marling, Udimore or elsewhere, this manorial seat of William d'Eu at Ala Chocha is consistent with a place at the medieval Brede Valley port, a salty channel only accessible by ship on a flooding tide above the sea-ford where the Rye Camber met the Channel with 100 salt pans at the time of the 1086 meeting, and the principal port for cross-Channel trade (and taxation of trade) with Normandy. 

William of Hastings, Count of Eu, would later rebel against William Rufus and be tried by battle for his treason.  On losing he was blinded and mutilated, but not executed or exiled.  He died and was buried at Hastings Castle, the great coastal edifice facing toward Normandy built under his supervision.

UPDATE on 04/06/2015:

I've been searching the East Sussex Historic Environment Record for sites that might be Ala Chocha.  The leading candidate is the ancient manor house of Court Lodge at Udimore.  The original Court Lodge would date to about the right time, there was a church at the site, it was permitted crenellation in the 15th century, and it was moated.
Court Lodge - (1) Remains of homestead moat (dry) enclosing church and Court Lodge. (2) The old manor-house, Court Lodge, having been pulled down, was purchased in 1912 and re-erected at Groombridge, near Tunbridge Wells. Licence to crenellate was granted in 1479. (3) Only two areas of the moat that once enclosed the church and the old Court Lodge now exist. The extant area north of the church has an average depth of 1-0m with a partly dry pond within its banks. The existing area east and south of the old Court Lodge is under close scrub with an average depth of 1.0m. The former line of the moat has been overlaid by buildings and farmland. No trace exists of the original Court Lodge. (4) Permission to crenellate granted 1479.

Udimore - dispersed ridge top hamlet Dodimere - 1086 Uda's mere' [EPN] Held by Count of EU 6 hides, a church and 2 acres of meadow [1]
Known as 'Dodimere' 1086 Domesday Book [2]
UPDATE on 12/07/2015:

Found that a 9th century saltworks was known as salis coquinariam - a salt evaporator or salt cooker - while doing research on the salt pans of Sussex.  Coque is a near enough cognate for Chocha.

The identification of Ala Chocha as Cock Marling is strengthened by the discovery that marl was also a term for a by-product of traditional salt production, as well as something dug up for use on fields.  The marl is the sediment clarified from brine solution.

Salt was money in ancient times.  I wonder how much of the conflict between Saxons, Danes and Normans was for control of the coastal salt pans that promoted the wealth of their fisheries and farms and sustained their urban settlements for trade and manufactures.

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