Our paper at ICEHL took a new interdisciplinary look at the localization of the Ormulum, questioning the localisation to Bourne in South Lincolnshire proposed by Parkes (1983). Parkes intended the Bourne localization as merely suggestive, but it has been adopted as “all but proven fact” (Springer 2017: 30).  We’ve each been looking at different types of evidence and have written about some of our findings in this blog entry.


Localization of the Ormulum (Cole, Golding, Rye) (4119 Kb)



There are many linguistic features in the Ormulum that need to be considered when reassessing its localization, but for the conference we focused on the implications of the diachronic and diatopic distribution of two variants. Orm frequently uses the h-type pronoun hemm for them, but he categorically employs the innovative th-type pronoun theȝȝ for they. The use of hemm for them is said to rule out a more northerly localization, but h-type pronouns are found in both early and late Middle English in North Lincolnshire and along the north-westerly Nottinghamshire-Lincolnshire border in late Middle English. Given the co-existence of h-type and th-type forms in these areas up to two centuries later than the Ormulum, a more northerly localisation for the Ormulum cannot be excluded in a period where the th-type forms are spreading southwards from the North.

Orm’s use of a th-type pronoun for they not only favours a more northerly location but possibly rules out a south Lincolnshire localization. A th-type pronoun for they is not found at all in the Second/Final Continuation of the Peterborough Chronicle written just 50 miles away from Bourne about a generation earlier. It occurs in western parts of East Anglia and South Lincolnshire but in texts that are much younger than the Ormulum which means that the innovative pronouns would have had time to spread southwards. The th-type subject pronoun is only used as a very low frequency variant in West Norfolk even in the period 1300-1350. We show that this northern feature was not as firmly established in South Lincolnshire and western parts of East Anglia as previously thought.



We supplemented the textual evidence by looking also at linguistic information preserved in place-names. For the conference paper, we looked into forms of the present (or progressive) participle (forms corresponding to running in ‘I was running’). Orrm uses forms ending in -ennde in the Ormulum, for example in glowennde ‘glowing’. Present participle forms occur in place-names too, for example in Hanging Royd in Lofthouse in West Yorkshire. This place-name was recorded as Hengenderode in 1270 CE (Smith 1961–63: ii, 138) and shows that the present participle hengende ‘hanging’ (referring to land on a steep slope) was written with an -ende ending at this point.  Place-names like Hanging Royd can shed light on which forms were in use in the periods for which we have limited or no other textual evidence.

 If we just consider the later textual evidence, then Orrm’s -ende forms would correspond well with a location in South Lincolnshire, which is the northern limit of the forms in Early Middle English.  However, forms ending with -ende (like Hengenderode) are recorded in northern Lincolnshire and southern parts of the West Riding of Yorkshire in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Alongside these forms, we find forms with final -ande by the thirteenth century; these -ande forms then become dominant by the fourteenth century.  In this case, the change in the distributions of the different forms over time probably reflects the retreat of the -ende forms southwards over time as they were replaced from the north by the -ande forms.  Back when Orrm was writing in the twelfth century, the place-name evidence indicates that an -ende form could well have been used further north than south Lincolnshire!



We also approach the question of localisation from the perspective of a comprehensive consideration of the religious houses that existed in the relevant Midlands area. In the Dedication, Orm tells us that he was a canon living in a community under the Rule of Saint Augustine. We extend the potential sample of candidates to include not only the Augustinian and Arroaisian houses but also those of the Gilbertines and Premonstratensians given that their canons also followed the Augustinian rule and would certainly have referred to themselves just as Augustinians. In the light of Marcelle and Ellie’s provisional hypotheses we can broaden the range of possible communities, and by taking into account their foundation dates, as well as the houses’ economic and human resources can propose a number of communities in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, that merit  further consideration, including Thornholme, Thornton, Welbeck, and Worksop.



Parkes, Malcolm B. 1983. ‘On the Presumed Date and Possible Origin of the Manuscript of the Ormulum’. In Eric G. Stanley & Douglas Gray (eds.), Five Hundred Years of Words and Sounds: A Festschrift for Eric Dobson, 115‒127. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

Smith, A. H. (1961–1963). The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Springer, Rebecca. 2017. Local Religious Life in England, c. 1160 – 1210. Unpublished University of Oxford dissertation.