What is a Hamlet?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A hamlet is a settlement which is too small to be considered a town or village. As a general rule, hamlets are rural, and many of them arise around a specific site such as a mill or a large farm. In some countries, hamlets are legally defined, while in others, the world is simply a term to describe a small settlement, with no firm definition attached.

Woman waving
Woman waving

The word “hamlet” arose in English around the 1300s, borrowed from the Old French hamel, which means “village.” “Hamlet” is simply a diminutive of hamel, emphasizing the small size of a hamlet. Since hamlets are quite small, it is not uncommon for all of the property in a hamlet to be owned by the same person or company, as in the case of a farm or mill.

A typical hamlet consists of only a few houses, often clustered together close to the road. Many hamlets lack stores and services, forcing their dwellers to travel to the nearest town to meet their needs, and most also lack a church. In regions where hamlets are legally defined, they are often viewed as subordinate secondary settlements to the next largest town, with residents of the hamlet being enfolded into that town's ecclesiastical parish.

Historically, the people in a hamlet often worked for the same entity, and in many cases hamlets were formed by groups of villagers who had relocated to be closer to a site of work, or to avoid unpleasant conditions in the village. The residents of modern hamlets are typically quite close, as the small size of the settlement encourages friendly interaction between people, and it's easy to get to know all of the neighbors.

Hamlets are infrequently visited, because they lack formal accommodations for tourists and they typically don't have any attractions which would generate interest. People may, however, travel through hamlets on their way to somewhere else, and some people find hamlets rather charming, since they reflect a slow-paced, intimate lifestyle which is not very common in the modern era. In Europe especially, many hamlets have historical buildings which can be interesting to see, and in some hamlets, citizens support themselves by producing traditional crafts, ensuring that traditional culture and artisan techniques do not die out.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Could you tell us a name of a hamlet settlement?

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