The derivation of the name 'Bere Regis'

There have been several theories as to the derivation of the name Bere. It was at one time thought to have been derived from the Saxon word byri, meaning a fortified place or town, and now represented by the suffixes bury and burgh in place names. Such an example is Woodbury Hill, an Iron Age hill fort which would have acquired its name for this reason during Saxon times. Another idea connected the place name Bere (or Beer as it was formerly spelt) with the drinkable type of beer which is derived from the word barley. Yet another theory attributed the origin to a Scandinavian word meaning a group of buildings or a farmstead from which the word byre results, but this description could have applied equally to almost any Saxon village.

A somewhat less serious suggestion based on a supposed legend claims that King John, on one of his visits to this parish, "was so delighted with the beverage which was set before him, that he decreed that the town should ever bear the name Beer, with the addition of Regis, in token of his royal approbation".

It is now generally accepted that the name is older than Saxon, and is simply an old British word Bere meaning an under-wood, scrub or copse, and such a term would have been particularly descriptive of this area from Roke right down to Hyde and beyond, consisting as it did until recent years of expanses of marshy copse on either side of the Bere stream. This is confirmed by the fact that Doddings was known as Doddingsbere at least as long ago as 1303 and until as recently as 1860, and as a matter of interest, an old deed of 1460 refers to two closes (fields) in Doddyngbyre called le Fount and Hauheshey. Significantly, the large watercress bed west of Doddings Farm is still called Fount.

The latin suffix Regis, meaning "of a king" or "belonging to a king" was sometimes added to the name of a town or village in order to denote that it formed part of royal estates, or, particularly in more recent times, when the town or village was associated in some special way with the reigning monarch. An example of the latter is Bognor Regis in Sussex which gained its suflix when King George V convalesced there.

Our `Regis' was undoubtedly added as a result of the manor having been Crown property from Saxon times until 1259, during which time it literally "belonged to a king". During this period the reigning monarch was Lord of the Manor, and as such could freely take up residence at any time if he might so choose; and as King John took advantage of this on at least 16 occasions, this could be regarded as an additional reason for the `Regis' suffix. On the other hand Bere was by no means the only royal manor; there were 30 in Dorset alone, and King John is known to have visited at least 21 of them, some, as in the case of Gillingham, Corfe Castle and Cranborne, more frequently than Bere, and yet they did not acquire a `Regis' suffix.

Moreover, Bere does not appear to have gained its `Regis' or `Kings' component until some time after King John's reign (1199-1216). During this period it appears as Bere or, in formal documents, in its latinised form Bera or Beram, and even in 1274, nearly sixty years after the end of John's reign it still appears as Bere. However, in 1303 the anglicised form Kingsbere occurs, and seems to have remained in general use until the 16th century when both latinised and anglicised forms were in use, e.g. Beare Regis (1552) and Kynges Bere (1587). During the 17th and 18th centuries, a period well covered by parish documents, it remained consistently as Beere Regis, but by the beginning of the 19th century this had become Beer Regis in which farm it appeared in trade directories and other official printed sources, until at least 1842. The Post Office Directory of 1846 gives the spelling as "Bere Regis or Beer Regis", and these alternatives continued to appear in the directories until 1907.

 

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