Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Ham Stone

The Ham Stone

County Somerset

I have received many letters over the years about HAM Surname origins.
The letter below turned out to be an interesting one.


Subject: HAM
From: "Jenny Board"
Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2008 19:04:11

To: odoniv


I don't know if it's a red herring but I'm investigating my husband's family tree in Somerset and there are masses of Ham, presumably named after the ham stone prevalent thereabouts.



I have heard a lot of ideas about the origins of the name, but this was a new one.
The meaning of the name is still not known for many people. Lost in time somewhere.

Many people still think that because they spell the name with two "M's" that the name "Ham" does not apply to them, simply because they spell their name with two "M's" (that is, as in "Hamm"). Fortunately, I was able to do some research on the origins of the name for our book "A Short History of the HAM Surname in Virginia & NC" (co-authored with Geneva S. Greer and Susan Bullock). You can find my quick reference to Ham Hill and quarry on page 26 of Volume 1, "Origins & Migration" in about the year 1215.

The "ham stone" has an interesting history. It's known by it's honey color as it has a yellow-gold hue, a limestone mined from the vicinity of Ham Hill in County Somerset, UK.
Ham Hill is located near Crewkerne, you can find information and link to a map (south-east of Stoke Sub Hamdon or north-east of Norton Sub Hamdon or west of Montacute) at the GENUKI web site.

Ham Hill is probably the largest Iron Age hill forts in Britain, and has a defensive perimeter that streches out for about 3 miles.
You can get a panoramic view of the megalithic stone circle at the BBC web site.

It was captured by Vespasian in 45 AD, known to the Romans for some time. And the stone was quarried in Roman times for coffins. (A Roman coffin can be seen in the Dorchester museum.) The Romans built a road nearby (Fosse Way), but eventually abandoned it as a fort, preferring forts closer to Wales.

Mottes and baileys were introduced to Britain in Norman times. A motte was a mound of earth, topped by a tower. A bailey was the surrounding area for buildings. A ditch could surround either.

Robert, Count of Mortain was known to be responsible for building the
motte and bailey castle at nearby Montacute (built in 1086). By 1519, the stone was being removed from this structure. Mortain is a small town in the Department of Manche, France. It was reserved for the reigning house of Normandy. It is said that Robert, Count of Mortain was the half brother of William the Conqueror.

In about 1600, the ham stone was quarried to build the Montacute House in the town of Montacute, County Somerset.

So, we can find the ham stone being used in the Iron Age, Roman times, at the time of the Norman Conquest, and up to the present day.

Thanks Jenny, for mentioning the ham stone.

See also:

Ham Hill megalithic stones panoramic view at the BBC Somerset web site

Ham Hill panoramic view at the BBC Somerset web site

Ham Hill Herald (PDF file) from the Ham Hill Country Park, South Somerset District Council.

Roman armour find from the Somerset Historic Environment Record

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