The Hanneys of Oxfordshire

Church of St. James the Great, West Hanney

Church of St. James the Great, West Hanney

Next time you hear someone refer to visiting “The Hanneys,” they may mean the place and not the family.

Water both binds and divides the sister villages of East and West Hanney, located in the Vale of White Horse, Oxfordshire. These two picturesque townships are known as “island villages,” as they were historically surrounded by marshland. The area between them silted up over the years, such that they are now separated only by a single field.

Causeways through the two villages now keep the water under control for the most part, though until very recently the two villages still might be cut off from each other in wet weather. The region remains very fertile, though some parts are still prone to flooding. Archaeological evidence, some dug up during metal detecting rallies in 2009-2010, shows the area has been variously settled for over 5000 years. The region may well have been the home of Saxon nobles, as well as various estates.

Philberd's Manor and passing brook, East Hanney

Philberd’s Manor and passing brook, East Hanney

But what about that name? The “Hanneys” designation flows out of this geography. The “ey” suffix is from “ieg,” meaning “island” in Anglo-Saxon. “Henn” is the feminine “hen” (“henna” is listed as a masculine, meaning “fowl.”) More concisely, David Nash Ford defines the name as “Cock Island,” attributing the Hanney moniker to the preponderance of wild birds, many presumably waterfowl, in this swamp-rich district.


Sources in rough order of appearance:


  • Steel, Trish. “The Church of St. James the Great, West Hanney.” Wikimedia Commons, Retrieved 16 Nov. 2021. CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.
  • Diment, Keith. “Philberd’s Manor in East Hanney.” The Hanneys, Retrieved 16 Nov. 2021.

For more good images of the area, you might check out this gallery, with more work by local photographer Keith Diment.