Eboracum

Eboracum

Eboracum is the Roman name for what is now the city of York, and also the title of York’s first substantial published history by Francis Drake.

There are a number of theories for how the name Eboracum developed, although historians aren’t entirely sure which one of the suggestions is correct. It is thought likely however that the word is an old English word meaning “place of the yew trees”, when then developed into the name Eboracum following the Roman invasion.

The debate has run for many centuries, in 1884 there was a debate in The Times about how the city had got its name. George Trevor wrote to the paper noting that, “the oldest form, Aberach, is confirmed by the Roman name Eburacum, Eboracum, and Uberacum, the native name with the Latin termination. Aber means water, and especially a confluence of waters, whence it occurs so often at the mouths of rivers where the salt water meets the fresh. By the usual changes of b into v and v into u, we get Eur, the river, which rising at Urehead, on the backbone of England, falls into the sea at Spurn Point, after a course of 150 miles, draining and denominating the county of York”. Another correspondent the following week disagreed, “I venture to differ entirely from his view. My own plan is to take the name as it is handed down to us. George Trevor, however, begins by changing Ebor into Aber, for which there is no authority whatever and so expends a great deal of knowledge coming to an unsatisfactory conclusion. I have long made up my mind that Eboracum really marks one of the pre-Celtic settlements in Britain, and that if we eliminate the Latin affix “um” and read it Ebor-ac (Town of the Ebors) we shall not err. The endeavour to interpret Eboracum by referring to Saxon and Danish names seems to me a mistake”.

Francis Drake

Francis Drake

Francis Drake was an English antiquary who wrote the first major substantial history of the city, entitled Eboracum.

Drake was born in January 1696 and was baptised in Pontefract, the son of Francis Drake, the vicar of Pontefract and canon of York, and his wife Elizabeth. Drake was educated locally and was apprenticed to a local surgeon, Christopher Birbeck. After taking over the surgeon’s practice in his early 20s following Birbeck’s death in 1717, he grew in stature locally and was in 1727 appointed at the city’s surgeon.

Drake became interested in the history of the city and was given money by the city council in 1731, amongst others, towards illustrations for his new book. Drake was one of the first to research and collate information from the city archives, which the authorities had allowed him to access.

The Eboracum book was published in two volumes in January 1736 with 540 subscribers which paid for the creation of the work. The book was published by William Bowyer and a copy of the first edition of the book has been scanned as part of Google’s books project. Although parts of the book became out-dated much of the city’s history was recorded in a way that no-one else might have been able to do. In November 1736 Drake presented the city authorities with six copies of the book for the city archives.

Drake was married to Mary Woodyeare, from Doncaster, in York Minster in April 1720. She pre-deceased him in 1728, and they had five sons, two of whom survived childhood, including William Drake. Francis Drake didn’t remarry and he also later took the honorary position of surgeon to the York County Hospital from 1741 until 1756. Drake died in 1771 and is buried in Beverley Church.