The Origin of the name "Sutton-in-the-Isle"

The origin of the village name is something of a mystery.

"Sut" is generally taken to mean "south", as indeed it once did, but it also meant "flax" which was grown in the area. The Saxon word "ton" or "tun" has been various translated as an enclosure, a farm, a settlement, as well as a town. The interpretation seems to have grown as the size of the various settlements with the "ton" suffix did.

If we take the first meaning of "sut" as being correct for our Sutton, then "south" of what? Apart from Chatteris, seven and a half miles to the northwest, the only settlement of any size within reasonable distance to the north of Sutton is Mepal. In fact, no traces of any other settlements remain on any of the surviving maps to compete with Mepal's claim to be the place which Sutton is "south" of.

To further confirm its claim to be the point from which surrounding places were identified, Mepal seems to have derived its name from being the centre of the Anglo-Saxon lord Meopa's estate. There is still much evidence surviving in the district of the Saxon system of strip crop cultivation.

Regardless of whether Sutton was actually named as late as this, the village which became known as Mepal appears to have been the more important settlement of the two as late as Meopa's time, so it may well have been that way before as well.

On sheet 51 of the June 1836 edition of the 1" Ordnance Survey map, the area between Sutton and Mepal is shown as "Sutton Field" and Sutton West Fen is south and west of Mepal, rather than Sutton. South Fen is the wide area of rich farmland which lies to the south of Sutton; these are the low lands whose lowest point is the still the Division Drain.

As to the "in-the-Isle" suffix, Sutton was (and is) a very common place name, even as close as elsewhere in Cambridgeshire and its surrounding counties. To add something which most closely identified it with its nearby administrative and geographical centre, Ely, was quite natural. The full name is preserved and celebrated in its village sign which stands on the small green outside the village school on The Brook.

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