Always considered something of an odd title for a town, the name ‘Seaton Carew’ has puzzled historians and students of place-name meanings for decades. And I’m not at all sure that we’re all yet agreed on the definitive answer.
There can be no doubt about the first two syllables. ‘Sea-ton’ is from the Old English sae-tun, meaning ‘sea settlement’. The ‘Carew’ element undoubtedly comes from a personal name – an early surname – which most seem to agree on as having come from one Petrus Carou, who held land in the vicinity in 1189. So we have “the settlement by the sea belonging to Peter Carou.” Sorted? Not quite.
The thing is: where does ‘Carou’ come from? And the jury is still out on this one. Search far and wide on the Web and across several trusty tomes of reference, and you will get no further than either Norman French or Welsh or even Cornish. Peter Carou’s nationality (or, perhaps, that of his ancestors) cannot, it seems, be pinned down, and experts old and new seem divided about whether ‘carou’ comes from the very old Celtic root word car (love) or the Welsh caerau (forts) or caer-rhiw (fort-hill). So the old ‘Carou’ family were either of Norman stock, or were well-to-do Welsh seafaring sort. Take your pick.