The very name ...
Most probably originally a late saxon settlement, the village of Belchalwell is now really a combination of two villages - the villages of Bell (or Belle), and Chaldwell (or Chaldwelle), now Lower Belchalwell and Belchalwell Street. Late 13th Century records refer to two distinct villages, Belle and Chaldwell, though at most other times they are treated as one.
'Bell' is commonly believed to have taken its name from the supposedly bell shaped chalk hill of the same name rising steeply to some 850 feet above it. There are, however, many hills of this shape in the area, and Bell Hill is no more bell-like than any other, and is not particularly bell shaped.
Many written references state that 'Bel' or 'Bell' is Old English for 'Hill', though this seems to be a rather simplified version, as more detailed interpretations seem to give it the meaning 'sacred hill' or 'hill of sacrifice'.
In the late 13th century, reference is made to 'La Breche in Belle
', clearly of french origin (belle meaning 'beautiful'). However, the village was present before the Norman occupation, and this is possibly a Norman interpretation of a preexisting name.
Our own thoughts are that the name could originate from much earlier times, and be associated with the celtic festival of Beltain (Beltain, Beltane, Beltaine), which was still widely celebrated up to the 17th century, and still is in places. The hill was an important place to our ancestors, with evidence of use and occupation stretching back thousands of years into the neolithic period. The ancient earthworks around the boundaries and the tumuli at the summit evidence this significance, and the multiple layers of field systems from different periods patchworking the hill show it's fertility and usefullness to many hundreds of generations.
To the south west of Bell Hill lies Bulbarrow Hill - quite literally 'Bull Barrow' - interestingly, the bull symbolises the date of Beltain.
"The old Celtic name for May Day is Beltane (in its most popular Anglicized form), which is derived from the Irish Gaelic "Bealtaine" or the Scottish Gaelic "Bealtuinn", meaning "Bel-fire", the fire of the Celtic god of light (Bel, Beli or Belinus). He, in turn, may be traced to the Middle Eastern god Baal."
"By Celtic reckoning, the actual Beltane celebration begins on sundown of the preceding day, April 30, because the Celts always figured their days from sundown to sundown. And sundown was the proper time for Druids to kindle the great Bel-fires on the tops of the nearest beacon hill"
Chalwell is much simpler to interpret, meaning 'cool spring or stream', from the Anglo-Saxon ceald (cold) and wella (a spring or well).
- 1109 - Chaldewelle
- 1207 - Bell
- 1286 - Belle and Chaldwell
- 1323 - Chaldewelle
- 1575 - Belchalwell
The name Belchalwell Street is interesting in that it contains the only known possible link with Roman times within the parish, the name 'Street' frequently being associated with Roman roads. Though there is no other real archeological or documentary evidence of Roman occupation or use within the parish, there are suggestions in the landscape and and on maps of a route between Okeford Fitzpaine and Ibberton, passing through Belchalwell Street and crossing the Bulbarrow road at the chalk pit. Ronald Good in 'The Old Roads of Dorset' writes ..
"The Word Street, which is commonly held to be associated with Roman or even earlier roads, occurs in a number of places ...
... There is also the Hamlet of Belchalwell Street, half a mile south-east of Belchalwell itself, through which an old road certainly ran ..."