West Bromwich, west of where?

Annoyingly I have lost the article I found but I have at least found another reference to the fact that West Bromwich means to the west of Birmingham.

Although West Bromwich is mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086, with some interpreting it's name as "the little village on the heath of broom" (broom being a particular type of bush), it's eastern neighbour Birmingham had amongst many spellings Bromwicham as it's name. This gives West Bromwich it's name as a village to the west of Birmingham. This particular explanation helps to explain the other Bromwich, Castle Bromwich in the east of Birmingham.

Castle Bromwich though may be said to be the precursor to Bromwicham, or Birmingham as it was to become, in that there were remains of pre-Roman earthworks and evidence that the area was first settled 5000 years ago.

The Domesday Book text and translation for Warwickshire by John Morris from 1976 gives the following description for Birmingham and West Bromwich.


Richard holds 4 hides in BIRMINGHAM. Land for 6 ploughs.
In lordship 1;
5 villagers and 4 smallholders with 2 ploughs.
Woodland 1/2 league long and 2 furlongs wide.
The value was and is 20s.
Wulfwin held it freely before 1066.

Ralph holds 3 hides from William in Bromwich."



simon gray said…
also don't forget 'brom's grove' to the south when looking for linguistic connexions !
Jack Kirby said…
Mmmm.... I'm a historian not a linguist, but having done my BA dissertation at Bham on placenames, I would consult an expert (not me) before jumping to this conclusion.

Yes, one of the 144 spellings (I kid you not) of the name is Bromwicham. However, place-name scholars tend to look at the earliest spellings.

Birmingham is first recorded in Domesday Book, with the spelling being Bermingeham. This is taken to mean either 'Homestead of the family or followers of a man called Beorma' or 'homestead at the place associated with Beorma'.

The doubt arises over the middle element of the three Old English words involved, Beorma, -inga- or -ing, and hām. Beorma is an (admittedly conjectural) Old English personal name, and hām means homestead. -inga- is the genitive (possesive) case of the plural suffix -ingas, meaning 'people, family or followers of'. By contrast -ing is notoriously difficult to interpret but in this case may mean 'associated with'. None of which, of course, has great significance until we compare the name to Bromwich.

West Bromwich is first recorded in Domesday Book, as Bromwic. Castle Bromwich is first recorded in 1168 as Bramewic. Different spellings, but both very different to Bermingeham (1086). It's inconceivable that these names, all recorded within a century, could be from the same root.

Bromwic and Bramewic both mean 'dwelling or farm where broom grows', from Old English brōm and wīc. brōm means broom (and also appears in Bromsgrove and Bromyard in the region), whilst wīc can mean several different types of settlement, but in this case dwelling or farm are most likely.

The elements West and Castle were added later to the Bromwich names. They were used to distinguish the two names from one another, probably when legal/governmental records had reached a point where they needed to distinguish between two similar names in the same region.

West Bromwich may be west in relation to Castle Bromwich as much as Birmingham. West Bromwich is first named as Westbromwich in 1322; Castle Bromwich is recorded a bit earlier, in the 13th century, as Castelbromwic. Yes there is evidence of earlier settlement but in this case the Castle element is thought to refer to a 12th century earthwork.

Most of the evidence I've quoted above comes from A.D. Mills, A Dictionary of British Place-Names (Oxford: OUP, 2003) and John Ato and Ian Crofton, Brewer's Britain and Ireland (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005).

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