J. C. Hahn, Two articles on the origin of the name Coldharbour

(1) Notes and Queries, Series 3, 7, 253–254 (1 April 1865).



In different parts of England, Ireland, and America we still meet with the name of Cold Harbour given to places, farms, lanes, &c. Persons not acquainted with the etymology of this expression, and who only think of harbour in its more restricted signification of a port for shipping, are generally at a loss to understand how “Cold Harbour” can be found in the middle of a wood or on the top of a mountain. This apparent anomaly is, however, easily explained if we trace the word back to its origin and original application.

In old English writers we frequently meet with a place called “Cold Harbour,” often corrupted into Coal or Cole Harbour, and which, according to Nares, was an ancient mansion situated in Dow-gate or Down-gate Ward, London. This place was the residence of Tunstall, Bishop of Durham, in the reign of Henry VIII., when probably it obtained the privileges of a sanctuary,* and was pulled down by Earl Gilbert about the year 1600. At an earlier period, in a grant of Henry IV., it is called “quoddam hospicium, sive placeam, vocatum le Cold Herbergh.” Now herbergh is an old Germanic word, introduced into the English language from the Anglo-Saxon.

*Small tenements being afterwards built on the spot, which let well, being a protection to persons in debt.

{253b} In Ettmüller’s Lexicon Anglosaxonicum we find, “Hereberge, statio militaris, hospitium.” In Graff’s Althochdeutscher Sprachschatz (Old High German dictionary), we have—“heriberga, from heri, an army, and bergan, to cover, to shelter—hospitium, statio, castra.” In the present German, herberge signifies an inn, &c.; with which compare mediæval Latin, herebergum; Span. albergue; Ital. albergo; Fr. auberge.

Our English word harbour, therefore, meant originally a military station, a shelter, a retreat; and Cold Harbour—cold, from Anglo-Saxon ceald, cald—now signifies nothing more than a cold abode, a cold retreat, the primitive signification of the word harbour being still kept up in the present English, as is easily seen by opening Walker, where we find—“Harbour, a lodging, a place of entertainment, a port or haven for shipping, an asylum, a shelter.”

The transition form of our word from herbergh, as found in the grant of Henry IV., to our present harbour, was herborow or herborw. The Germanic gutterals g, k, preceded by zRead r ? softened down under the influence of the Norman-French to ow (e. g. Germ. Mark, Sorge; Eng. marrow, sorrow); and the form herborw is to be met with in Tyrwhitt’s note to v. 342 of the Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, where T. says:—

“St. Julian was eminent for providing his votaries with good lodgings and accommodation of all sorts. In the title of his Legende, MS. Bod. 1596, fol. 4, he is called ‘St. Julian, the gode herberjour.’ It ends thus:—

“’Therefore, yet to this day thei that over lond wende,
Thei biddeth Seint Julian anon that gode herborw he hem sende,’” &c.

The proper name Cold Harbour was no doubt brought over to England by our Saxon ancestors, for Germany has also its Cold Harbours up to the present day. About four German miles south of Aix-la-Chapelle there is a village called Kalterherberg, which is proverbially known in those parts as one of the coldest, most dreary, and dismal places any one can possibly imagine, being situated in the middle of the forest of the Eifel, where snow lies during the whole of the winter.

In the southern part of the Grand Duchy of Baden, in a mountainous country, there is a large farm called Kalteherberg situated about 1750 feet above the level of the sea, also a small village, Kaltenherberg, near Lörrach, on an elevated spot. Having lived chiefly abroad I am not acquainted with the different Cold Harbours in England; but from a passage in Hall, quoted by Nares, the London Mansion Cold Harbour was a cold place; and a friend of mine tells me there is a Cold Harbour farm near Exeter, situated on the brow of a hill, and much exposed to wind and weather.* The German Cold Harbours in the Eifel and Baden, {254a} are all very cold places, so that I very much suspect that wherever we may meet with other Cold Harbours, whether in England or Germany, we shall find them all in refreshing situations. I mention this particularly to show that cold is the Anglo-Saxon ceald, cald; Germ. kalt = frigidus, and by no means an old Celtic word, with an unknown signification, as some persons have been led to believe.

*On the road to Holcomb Burnell from Ide.

An interesting paper might be written on this proper name, and I much regret only being able to offer the above few remarks, not having the necessary works of reference at my command to enter into a fuller investigation of the subject.

J. C. Hahn, Ph. D.


P.S. There is a Cold Harbour Lane at present at Brixton. Dowgate was granted for ever, so Mr. Lodge says, to the College of Heralds by King Richard III., who had lately granted them their charter; and Henry VII., willing to annul every public act of his predecessor, gave it to the then Earl of Shrewsbury.

In Ben Jonson (Silent Woman, Act I. Sc. 3) we find

“Or its knighthood shall do worse, take sanctuary in Cole Harbour sanctuary and fast.”

“Here is that ancient modell of Cole Harbour, bearing the name of the ‘Prodigall’s Promontorie,’ and being as a sanctuary for banquerupt detters.”—Healy’s Discovery of a New World, p. 182.

(2) Notes and Queries, Series 3, 8, 71–72 (22 July 1865).



(3rd S. vii. 253, 302, 344, 407, 483.)

In reference to my “Remarks on the Origin of Cold Harbour,” and in answer to the observations made upon this subject in the subsequent numbers of “N. & Q.,” I beg to state that I have submitted my etymology of the above proper name to several English and German philologists, who perfectly agree me with as to the derivation of the word.

A few days ago I received a copy of the new edition of Webster’s Dictionary just published, and was much pleased to find that the etymology of harbour given therein perfectly corresponds to that given by me in your paper. For the benefit of those of your readers who may not have this new edition at hand, I herewith transcribe the article “Harbor “ verbatim:

“Harbor, n. [O. Engl. herbour, herbergh, O. Fr. herberge, héberge, hauberge, f., and helberc, herbert, m., N. Fr. auberge, Pr. alberga, f., albere, m., It. albergo, Sp. albergue, L. Lat. heriberga, heribergrum, from O. H. G. heriberga, A.-S. hereberga, Icel. herbergi, a lodging for soldiers, a military station, from O. H. G. heri, hari, A. S. here, army, and O. H. G. bergan, N. H. G. bergen, A. S. beorgan, Goth. bairgan, to shelter, protect; N. H. G., Dan., & Sev. herberge, D. herberg, an inn.] Written also harbour.

“1: A station for rest and entertainment; a place of security and comfort; a lodging ; an asylum ; a refuge; a shelter.

{71b} “’For harbor at a thousand doors they knocked.’


“2. A refuge for ships; a port or haven.”

Webster’s Dictionary being the authority for matters of this kind, I trust that this will be considered as a conclusive proof of the correctness of my derivation.

I now wish particularly to direct the attention of your readers to the fact that the ancient mansion Cold Harbour in London is called Cold Herbergh in a grant of Henry IV. (Vide Nares’s Glossary, “ Cold Harbour.”) It is therefore evident that the word harbour in Cold Harbour is our common word harbour, originating in the A.-S. hereberga, and in the O. H. G. heriberga.

Moreover, as mentioned by me in my last, we find places in Germany called Kaltherberg up to the present day. I named three of them, and am now able to add, after having made further researches, that these places called Kaltherberg are scattered all over Germany, and are quite as numerous as the Cold Harbours in England. As to the expression Kaltherberg, no other signification can be applied to the word than that of a cold lodging, a cold retreat; and, as Kaltherberg and Cold Harbour (Kalt = Cold) are the same expression, I hope that those of your readers who at first differed from me in opinion will now see that our Cold Harbour was only a name for a cold abode, a cold retreat, brought over to England by our Saxon ancestors—Cold Harbour = Cold Station, Cold House, Cold Lodge.

In the preface to the new edition of Webster’s Dictionary, the editor very correctly remarks that it is only within a very few years that the true principles on which the science of comparative philology rests have been suggested and confirmed, and that the methods have been determined by which future investigations may be successfully prosecuted,—I may further add, that this has been especially the case in England with comparative philology of the various Germanic dialects, and the reason why numerous Germanic words and expressions have often been erroneously referred to a Latin or some other source.

To conclude this quæstio vexata, which, I presume, will now be considered as settled, I will give the various forms of harbour from the A.-S. through the various stages of the English language as far as I have been able to collect them. Hereberga, A.-S.; herbergh, grant of Henry IV., and in Webster; herborw, “Legende of St. Julian”; harbergh, given in Nares’s Glossary; harborough and harbrough, Spenser; herborough, Ben Jonson; herbour, given in Johnson and Webster; harbour and harbor, Mod. Eng. Cold Harbour is also sometimes written Cold Harborough.

J. C. Hahn, Ph. D.


P.S. In a work written by M. de Ladoucette, {72a} and entitled Voyage entre Meuse et Rhin, Paris, 1818, the village of Kalterherberg, in the Eifel, the origin of which was an inn, built in the thirteenth century, is mentioned, and translated by froid logis, froid hospice.