SMMEFNW 3: Le Portuk

The third and final 1332-recorded Puttenham field-name I’m analysing for SMMEFNW is in my opinion the most interesting of the lot, though I can’t say it was a deliberate ploy of saving the best for last since this was the first post I drafted. As has become customary, we shall begin with my ham-fisted attempt at transcribing the Latin phrase in which the name occurs:

una[m] pecia[m] t[er]req[uamvocat[um] Le Portuk’ = “a piece of land … which is called Le Portuk“.

An additional revealing crumb of information provided in the charter text is that Le Portuk was located next to ‘Gatewyke heth’, the earliest instance I have so far identified of the name Gatwick, the hamlet which straddles the parochial boundary between Puttenham and Shackleford (earlier Godalming; cf. PNS, p. 201). Post-medieval maps and deeds name Gatwick Common (since wholly inclosed) on the Shackleford side, yet it is possible Gatwick Heath/Common once encompassed ground in Puttenham parish in the same way as the eponymous settlement. What is perhaps more relevant to the present endeavour is the hint that the field had a not-altogether propitious situation. Might this be repeated in the meaning of the name?

Identifying the root of Le Portuk (assuming the spelling is accurately reported by its antiquarian transcriber) is not as straightforward as the other two names. At first sight it seems to warrant association with ME partike, ‘a measure of land, a square perche’ (the root here being Latin pertica). The medieval forms cited in the MED entry aren’t vast in number, but they are very different in spelling from Portuk. I haven’t made an exhaustive search for analogues to the Puttenham field-name, but once upon a time I did happen upon a 1318 reference to le Purtoks, used in relation to two acres of arable land ‘at Westeton in the manor of Mapelderham’, nowadays the hamlet of Weston south-west of Petersfield in Hampshire (Stevenson 2006, p. 87). Here again, the spelling is a long way off the published examples of partike.

Having looked more closely at the evidence, I wonder if something has been missed; either confusion or deliberate melding of ME nouns, or a previously unidentified dialect term for a small field. An attested example of the latter is the not-too dissimilar ME par(r)ok, ‘an enclosed pasture’, or, if you hadn’t guessed it already, ‘paddock’. Its OE forebear pearroc has been cited as the root of the Kent place-name Paddock Wood (Parrok 1279, Parrocks 1782, but Paddock Wood 1819: CDEPN, p. 459). However, at Rivenhall in Essex, the field named Paddocks Ley 1839 was Puttokkyslegh 1413, interpreted as ‘wood or clearing of the kite’ by Gelling (1993, p. 107). The most obvious explanation would be to derive them from ME puttok(e)puttoc(k)potok, ‘kite’ (perhaps a contraction of ME polet-hauk, literally “young chicken hawk”). This seems to have been applied toponymically, either directly in its avian sense (hence Putticks Copse in Chiddingfold being connected with Puttock gate 1580: PNS, p. 193) or via its adoption as a surname (so the Ockley minor place-name Puttocks Bridge < Thomas Puttok 1476: PNS, p. 277).

To summarise on the basis of an obviously tiny sample, ME par(r)ok > ModE paddock < ME putto(c)k(e). At this point, we can bring in the field-name Puttocks, found twice in Puttenham in the Terrier of 1765 and accompanying map (which, as I’ve said in other posts and pages, is known to me through an 1816 facsimile). One was located just south of the historic village (its site is today taken up by a thatched mock timber-framed house named Birdshanger), while the other, larger example lay to the south of Suffield Lane between Gores Farm and Rodsall in what is now woodland. As far as I can tell, both originated as arable enclosures: the former in the communal South Field, the latter in the main bloc of demesne arable.

The most obvious explanation would be to derive them from ME puttok(e)puttoc(k), but the reason for a mutual connection with the bird of prey is far from clear. Likewise, the idea of the two being connected to the same forgotten individual/family is doubtful, for there is no record of anyone with the surname in the parish and Puttenham field-names derived from former cultivators are rare. (I think we can also discount a connection to the Shropshire field-names Pot Hook and Pothook Mount, which stem from the shape of the respective enclosures being akin to that of a pothook: Field 1989, p. 172; Foxall 1980, p. 13.) The larger of the two fields named Puttocks seems to have been divided in two in the mid-seventeenth century, when the names Hither Broome Puttocks and Further Broome Puttocks occur in demesne farming records. These early name forms are noteworthy for their implication of an association with a plant that was not a cereal crop, as if the ground was not the best for cereal production.

My guess is that, in many field-names – and certainly those recorded in Puttenham parish – Modern English Puttock(s) has the same sense and derivation as the fourteenth-century field-names le Purtoks and Le Portuk. The term which lies behind them all can be explained in a number of ways. It could be speculated that it represents a linguistic and semantic elision of the well-attested terms par(r)ok and partike, later modified through influence of the common term putto(c)k(e)potok. Another scenario would be the addition of the diminutive suffix -ok to a noun such as part, ‘part, portion, division’, of which pert(e) is an attested alternative spelling not so far away from that of Purtoks. (NB. -uk is another attested ME form of -ok; for an enlightening discussion of the morphologically-similar OE/ME *purroc, ‘bittern, snipe, dunlin’, see Hough 2003). A third possibility is it being a side-form of the very common ME pichtel, ‘a small, enclosed piece of land’ – whose many variant spellings include pughelpughul(l) and pewquel – with a different ending to the derivational suffix -el, albeit to the same effect.

However one chooses to interpret its origin and reconstruct its headword spelling, the word in question would appear to have been a term for an enclosure that was small in size, most likely created for cultivation purposes. The Puttenham evidence at least hints that these names were applied in places which were appreciated to be sub-optimal from the get-go, or else turned out to be that way. What with the 1318 analogue from the Hampshire-Sussex border, it could be postulated that *purtok, *portuk was a South-Eastern English dialect term. Much more work would have to be done on ME and ModE material alike to confirm if this was indeed the case, during which other similar field-names in the Puttenham locality should come in for closer inspection, for example Puddock Copse in Compton (Puttocks Copse 1841: PNS, p. 195) and Puttock Field 1838 in Albury (PNS, p. 391). For now, it seems possible to conclude that Le Portuk derived from a ME term synonymous with pichtel but which has been overshadowed by other words of similar spelling and usage.

REFERENCES (hyperlinked when available for free online)

Field, David, English Field-Names: A Dictionary (Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1989).

Foxall, H. D. G., Shropshire Field-Names (Shrewsbury: Shropshire Archaeological Society, 1990).

Gelling, Margaret, ‘The place-names of Rivenhall parish’ in Rivenhall: Investigations of a Villa, Church and Village, 1950 – 1977: Volume 2, ed. by W. J. Rodwell and K. A. Rodwell, CBA Research Report, 80 (Chelmsford & York: Chelmsford Museums Service & Council for British Archaeology, 1993), 105-108.

Gover, J. E. B., A. Mawer and F. M. Stenton, The Place-Names of Surrey [PNS], English Place-Name Society, 11 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1934).

Hough, Carole, ‘The Surname Purrock’, Notes and Queries, 50.4 (2003), 375-77.

The Durford Cartulary, ed. by Janet Stevenson, Sussex Record Society, 90 (Lewes: Sussex Record Society, 2006).

Watts, Victor, The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names [CDEPN] (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Posted in Agriculture, Charters, Documents, Field-names, History, Landscape, Middle English, Place-Names, Puttenham, Surrey | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SMMEFNW 2: le Spych

The second field-name to get the SMMEFNW treatment is actually the first to appear in the copied charter text that is the sole testament to all three being analysed. The key information is provided by the following phrase:

unu[mp[as]tu[ram] … q[uamvocat[umle Spych‘ = “A pasture called le Spych“.

The text goes on to state that it was enclosed (‘i[n]cludu[n]t[ur]’) from the common named “Whitebrook” (‘com[m]unam vocata[m] Whitebrouk‘), probably the stream which feeds Cutt Mill (and the string of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century lakes above it). This is a uniquely specific reference to the origin of a field in Puttenham parish, although I will show that its name offers clues which point to pretty much the same thing.

Without having any tales of international travels to burnish this account, let us turn straight away to the online Middle English Dictionary for help in identifying the root word. One MED entry in which use in surnames and place-names is highlighted is that for the noun spik, “animal fat, lard”. Its use in a simplex name formation is hard to credit, but help is at hand in the identification of its ancestry as OE spic. The Thesaurus of Old English Online, an excellent resource I don’t make nearly enough use of (perhaps because I bought the two-volume printed version last year) identifies three attested senses: ‘fat, suet, lard’ (as per the above translation of ME spik), ‘(cuts of) pork’ (cf. Modern German speck), and ‘brushwood’. The first of these can be ruled out in the case of le Spych, while the second is best seen as limited to dithematic place-names (e.g. Spitchwick in Devon, Spixworth in Norfolk – the specifics may represent related bynames: EPNE, 2, p. 137, CDEPN, p. 565).

This leaves us with ‘brushwood’. PNS contains a good account of OE spic (the ME cognate is not specified) as part of the entry for the minor place-name Fastbridge in Alfold, a parish in the mid-Surrey Weald (PNS, pp. 222-23). When I first looked into the meaning of le Spych a few years ago, the development of Fastbridge from Farnspiche 1342, Farspych 1410 > Vastpechebrigge 1506 had me convinced ME spich(e), spych signified some kind of not very bridge-like brushwood causeway across watery ground. After all, the same work interprets the synonymous Ridgebridge Hill in Wonersh (la Risbrigge 1259) and Ricebridge Farm in Reigate (Risbrig 1198) as signifying ‘bridge or causeway made of brushwood or the like’ (PNS, p. 255, 306). Surely brushwood is brushwood and use in causeway structures wasn’t restricted to particular types of the material?

The notion of a “brushwood causeway” hard by le Spych and crossing the Whitebrouk/Cutt Mill stream has much to recommend it topographically. There were few possible crossing points along the length of the stream, with the slopes on its eastern bank being too steep and/or high to permit easy access and egress. These get lower and shallower in the Cutt Mill area, and the advantages these provided for those wishing to traverse the stream is evidenced by the series of up to 10 parallel holloways in the area of grid reference SU 91284570 (Currie 2001, 2, p. 79, unconvincingly interpreted them as quarrying-related ‘parallel linear banks’). The lack of reference to a ford here in the Old English charter-bounds of the Farnham estate (S 382, probably a tenth-century composition albeit later than its purported date of 909) hints that it may not have come into existence until after the date at which they were composed. The causeway could have been constructed as a deliberate improvement to the route between Puttenham and Elstead, both of which emerge into recorded history in the twelfth century.

The 1816 copy of the 1765 Puttenham Parish Map (SHC 5143/1) shows the Cutt Mill stream before the creation of the lake known as The Tarn, and the enlargement of Cutt Mill Pond. The site of the former is shown as a swampy area, much the same length as the present lake. Its formation may be attributed to the construction of a berm across its original course, not to form a lake above it, but to deflect the stream into a new artificial channel that today runs from the southern corner of The Tarn along the south-western side of the mill pond. Was this the bulked-up earthen successor to a brushwood causeway? (On my to-do list is sending an email to the Surrey History Centre asking if I can upload a photo I took of this particular portion of the map, which will make the thrust of this paragraph clearer.)

For all the topographical attractions of the causeway explanation, a simpler, less applied translation which nonetheless takes account of the local environment should probably be preferred. In other words, rather than see le Spych as deriving its name from an artificial landscape feature fashioned from brushwood, it makes more sense to understand it as meaning “(the) brushwood”. This brings it in line with the Liverpudlian place-name Speke (Spec 1086-1212, perhaps from a side-form OE spēc: CDEPN, p. 564), where incidentally you can see the handiwork of what I do for my day job in the neighbourhood health centre. Closer to home, it allows le Spych to be grouped with the likes of Speach Meadow 1838 in Worplesdon parish, Speechmore 16th in Farnham, and the unattributed le Heth voc. Spytche 1548 (PNS, pp. 222-23; cf. Smith 1990, p. 206, for spic as a ‘typically south-eastern’ word). Finally, it finds no shortage of analogies in the field-names along the eastern boundary of Puttenham Common from ME firs(e), ‘furze’, and hēth, ‘heath’, which I have made a stab at mapping. I can’t say the auto-refutation of a long-cherished theory about a rudimentary medieval causeway isn’t a little disappointing, but in this case I consider the glimpse the improved interpretation gives of the Middle English regional dialect to be more than adequate compensation.


Currie, Christopher K., An archaeological and historical survey of Puttenham proposed Area of Special Historic Landscape Value (ASHLV), 2 volumes [Volume 2 here], unpublished report to Surrey County Council and Surrey Archaeological Society (2001).

Gover, J. E. B., A. Mawer and F. M. Stenton, The Place-Names of Surrey [PNS], English Place-Name Society, 11 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1934).

Smith, A. H., English Place-Name Elements, Part 2 (Jafn-Ytri) [EPNE] (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956).

Smith, A. H., ‘Place-Names and the Anglo-Saxon Settlement’ in British Academy Papers on Anglo-Saxon England, ed. by E. G. Stanley (Oxford: Oxford University Press for The British Academy, 1990), 205-226.

Watts, Victor, The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names [CDEPN] (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Posted in Documents, Field-names, History, Landscape, Latin, Middle English, Place-Names, SMMEFNW, Surrey | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SMMEFNW 1: Le Osthaghe

Welcome to the first proper instalment of Surrey Medieval Middle English Field-Names Week! The trio of lost field-names that form the basis for this and the next two posts are all contained in a single source, a charter by which Henry le Sygher “of Guildford” – but quite likely the rector of Puttenham parish at the time – made several grants of land and property to Robert de Homle and his family. If my understanding of the dating clause (20 days after the feast of St Bartholomew in the sixth regnal year of Edward III) is correct, it was drawn up and witnessed on 1st July 1332. I’m not sure if the original survives, as I have encountered it in the form of a handwritten facsimile of unknown date; at a guess I’d say nineteenth or early-twentieth century. It is one of ten deeds given the same treatment (some with watercolour renderings of the wax seals where they survived), all of which have a connection to Rodsall and/or Cutt Mill. They now form part of a compendium of ‘Parochial Papers’ relating to Puttenham lodged at the Surrey History Centre (ref. SHC G51/5/67/1-2).

With the usual apologies for my Latin skills, the passage that is the inspiration for this post is ‘una[mpeccia[mt[e]r[ram] … q[ueuocat[urLe Osthaghe‘ (“a piece of land … which is called Le Osthaghe“). The text goes on to record that it was previously a gift to Henry le Sygher from John Cutte (a byname connectable to Cutt Mill). For years I could come up with no explanation for Le Osthaghe other than the first half of the name being a form of ME ēst, “east”, as in the Modern German word ost. This would at least square with its approximate location on the east side of the parish (Cutt Mill is at grid reference SU 914455 for those who want to locate the vicinity on an OS map), but I’ve been damned if I could find a parallel in the usual reference resources for field-name studies.

Powell's City of Books, Portland, Oregon

Powell’s City of Books, Portland, Oregon

Fortunately, a solution to this problem presented itself to me in a very round about way. When I was travelling up the west coast of America last year, I paid a visit to Powell’s City of Books in Portland, reportedly the world’s largest bookstore; it certainly felt more like a department store than a local branch of Waterstones. Having browsed its Downton Abbey-related literature section and an entire aisle given over to mystical bullshit, I came across a book by Gordon Copley – something of a pioneer of interdisciplinarity in early medieval studies – entitled An Archaeology of South-East England. I’d never heard of it before and, good as it looked after a quick flick through, it was a bit too large and a bit too expensive to persuade me to buy it and carry it with me for the rest of my travels.

It was no small stroke of good fortune to find the same title on sale at a very competitive price in a withdrawn library book sale at the Surrey Archaeology Society’s Autumn Conference a couple of weeks later (don’t feel too bad, second-hand copies can be picked up for cheap online). I could now give the book a longer, deeper read-through and, while some of it has not dated well (inevitable really given it was published in 1958), there’s plenty which remains valid. So it was that, in its Gazetteer entry for Send in Surrey, I found that Copley noted a field-name Tilefield which is presumably that recorded as Tile ostefelde in the 16th century, and explained the specific of the second half of the name as ost, ‘kiln’ (Copley 1958, p. 296). He drew this information from the brief PNS discussion of the same field-name (‘Oste is OE āst, ME oste, “oast, kiln”‘ – p. 386).

The generic in the name, -haghe, is fairly easy to identify. It represents the noun the Middle English Dictionary gives as hag, hagge, hagh, with the rendering as ‘a portion of woodland marked off for cutting’ being the more relevant of the two possible translations provided. I find the MED’s interpretation a little over-prescriptive, whereas David Field’s suggestion of ‘a hedge; piece of land enclosed by a hedge’ (Field 1989, p. 270) is more inclusive and much the better for it. That said, a translation as simple as “enclosure” could be admissible in light of its extensive use. This is certainly the line taken in The Place-Names of Surrey, where it is interpreted as ‘the old term for a forest-enclosure in this county, and also for enclosures generally'; many examples of field-names from the historic county containing the element are quoted (but annoyingly not located), including Goldenehaghe 13th, le Elmhaghe 1308, and le Wodehaghe 1326 (PNS, pp. 360-61).

(The ancestor of the term is OE haga, ‘enclosure’, which is found in a number of early Surrey boundary descriptions; for a detailed discussion with examples of relevant OE and ME names, see Sundby 1950, pp. 184-88. Della Hooke drew attention to this fact – and went a step further to interpret them as the margins of hunting enclosures – in her presentation to the 2011 Archaeology of Wooded Landscapes Conference, although you’ll have to take my word for it as her presentation is no longer to be found online as it once was.)

The MED entry for ost(e) gives possible translations as ‘a furnace for drying, a kiln, a kiln for drying malt in brewing, an oven‘. The absence of a medial -e- from Osthaghe is not a problem when compared with attested compounds like osthous 1371 and ostcloth 1388. For me, the most exciting aspect of the name Le Osthaghe is the fact it alludes to a piece of “industrial” infrastructure, something I had no cause to suspect until I became aware of Copley’s book. There are a number of field-names in Puttenham parish, none recorded before the eighteenth century, which refer to kilns. In each case the feature in question was most likely a nearby lime kiln. It’s certainly a possibility which cannot be ruled out for Le Osthaghe. All the same, if the hints around its location have been correctly interpreted, it’s hard to see why a limekiln would have been constructed and operated in a part of the parish with no documented tradition of arable agriculture.

An early post-medieval tile kiln has been excavated (twice) at Hopeless Moor in Seale parish, a few hundred metres away from the north-west corner of Puttenham Common (Currie 2001, volume 2, p. 96). Its situation close to a stream bears comparison with the enclosures in the Cutmill vicinity. A later documentary reference can be used to support the idea of the ost(e) being a kiln associated with the production of ceramics. In sale particulars of 1775 for the manor of Puttenham Priory, reference is made to a brick kiln built on Puttenham Common at ‘great expense… where great plenty of brick earth may be found’ (Currie 2001, volume 1, p. 34). The kiln site has eluded identification, and seems not to have endured despite the investment made in it. It could be that the documented brick kiln was on the same site as Le Osthaghe, though I consider this to be unlikely. Still, it offers a parallel for a site to be carved out of common land (and apparently physically defined by an enclosure) to be used for the production of something manufactured using a kiln or oven.

An alternative explanation in view of its proximity to Cutt Mill, a corn mill throughout its recorded history (stretching back to its construction in the twelfth or thirteenth century), is that it may have been the site of a kiln for drying malt = germinated cereal grains. Unfortunately, so far as I am aware, there is not a shred of direct or indirect medieval testimony which might cast even the slightest shaft of light on what the kiln produced. So one can only speculate about the specifics of its origin, ownership and output. Likewise, documentary sources are so thin on the ground that it is impossible to determine whether it was relatively new in 1332 (in the same way as the brick kiln noted in 1775) or a long-standing construction – for all we know it could have been exceedingly short-lived. Is it relevant that it was a “piece of land” rather than a kiln which Henry granted the le Homles? Well, that depends upon whether one accepts the ost(e) was inside or outside the enclosure…

All that can be said is Le Osthaghe would appear to attest to a kiln, which perhaps stood inside the enclosure or else near enough to it for there to have been reason to coin the field-name. Whether one chooses to attach greater significance to the limited post-medieval evidence for brick/tile kilns in and around Puttenham Common or the propinquity of a medieval corn mill to the field’s approximate location, the name did not endure. Fortunately, even its solitary known occurrence is explicable on a etymological level, and consequently provides an exciting new sidelight on the economy (either agricultural or non-agricultural) of the medieval parish of Puttenham.


Copley, Gordon J., An Archaeology of South-East England: A Study in Continuity (London: Phoenix House, 1958)

Currie, Christopher K., An archaeological and historical survey of Puttenham proposed Area of Special Historic Landscape Value (ASHLV), 2 volumes [Volume 1 here; Volume 2 here], unpublished report to Surrey County Council and Surrey Archaeological Society (2001)

Field, David, English Field-Names: A Dictionary (Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1989)

Gover, J. E. B., A. Mawer and F. M. Stenton, The Place-Names of Surrey [PNS], English Place-Name Society, 11 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1934)

Sundby, Bertil, The Dialect and Provenance of the Middle English Poem The Owl and the Nightingale, Lund Studies in English, 18 (Lund: CWK Gleerup, 1950)

Posted in Agriculture, Charters, Dating, Documents, Landscape, Latin, Place-Names, Puttenham, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Work, introducing Surrey Medieval Middle English Field-Names Week

I’ve resolved to spend the first few months of this new year (belated happy it, btw) trying to complete several unfinished pieces of work which have been hanging around for months, in many cases years. My first accomplishment in this regard is that I’ve uploaded a tweaked version of the handout that accompanied my March 2014 talk to the Puttenham and Wanborough History Society on the subject of the place- and field-names of Puttenham parish. In fact, it comes in the form of two separate documents – read them both here. One down, still too many to count to go…

Large arable feld on the Hog's Back north-west of Puttenham village, formerly known as Further Common Downs (the clump of beech trees to left of centre is coterminous with an open field strip, a remarkable survival)

Large arable feld on the Hog’s Back north-west of Puttenham village, formerly known as Further Common Downs (the clump of beech trees to left of centre is coterminous with an open field strip, a remarkable survival)

Revisiting this particular piece of work came at a good time, since a few weeks previously I made a relevant discovery which kickstarted my taking a new look at the three earliest recorded field-names in Puttenham parish. Found in a text dating from the 1330s, you’ll find them quoted but not etymologised in the handout linked above. Duly I found my interpretations of all three names had advanced to a point at which I thought they merited detailed exposition, but what would be the best way of presenting my analyses?

Back in the summer of 2013, I wrote a series of posts under the umbrella of Surrey Medieval Stats Week. Like the election of Pope Francis and the Harlem Shake, you may remember it from the wall-to-wall coverage in the press and on social media at the time. Well, building on SMSW’s success, I’m going to repeat the trick with *drum roll* Surrey Medieval Middle English Field-Names Week (hashtag #SMMEFNW, go crazy and get it trending). Over the coming seven days, I’lll post accounts of each of the three field-names and how they fit into the wider context of Middle English language and naming practices. It should be good. Better than the acronym, anyway.

Posted in Agriculture, Being organised, Landscape, Place-Names, Puttenham, Talk, Topography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mapping pottery

Robert J S Briggs:

The English Landscape and Identities (EngLaID) project is an important research endeavour that is also getting it right in how it notifies the wider world of the progress it makes. Project team members have individually and jointly published a number of articles, such as one in the journal Medieval Settlement Research which I referenced at the end of my analysis of the name and archaeology of Thorpe. As if that wasn’t enough, EngLaID website happens to be a regularly-updated WordPress blog.

The following post is a perfect encapsulation of its exciting and often astonishingly deep approach to investigating the changes in the landscape of prehistoric and early historic England. In particular, its take on the troubles with the ceramics of what are termed the early medieval centuries is striking, especially the somewhat greater clarity with which the prehistoric material is understood. Some in Surrey have floated the idea that part or all of the county area was aceramic for part of the “Anglo-Saxon” centuries, which I find far-fetched and born out of a lack of detailed work on the early medieval pottery found in the county. Use is made of Paul Blinkhorn et al‘s recent book on Ipswich Ware, which I got for Christmas, and I’m looking forward to reading in full to work out for myself the context of ceramic production and usage in England, and hence perhaps to get a better feel for the situation in Surrey. For now, I commend to you the complex delights of the blog post’s analysis, and the simple delight of its animated GIF map of Roman pottery distributions.

Originally posted on English Landscape and Identities:

Following on from suggestions (primarily by Prof. Barry Cunliffe) at our Academic Advisory Board meeting last year, we started thinking about how we might map aceramic (or minimally ceramic-using) zones through our time period. Due their general commonness and generally diagnostic nature, ceramic finds are probably the most commonly used method for dating archaeological contexts and, thus, by extension sites as a whole. As such, in areas where ceramic objects were little used, it becomes more difficult (and probably more expensive) to date sites. This, in turn, is likely to result in sites in aceramic areas being less precisely dated. This could, therefore, bias the distribution of sites of a particular period in the archaeological record, as sites in aceramic zones within a particular period are less likely to be securely dated to that period.

However, actually mapping aceramic zones is not especially easy. To do so, one must first…

View original 1,570 more words

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The reviews are in (again)

Levitating in a rockery (Mr Briggs' wardrobe supplied by Ede & Ravenscroft)

Levitating in a rockery (Mr Briggs’ wardrobe supplied by Ede & Ravenscroft)

Earlier this month, I enjoyed an afternoon in a gown and mortarboard as I graduated from the University of Nottingham. It was a pleasant break from the work routine – oh, go on then, it was one of my proudest moments of the year – but the change was fleeting and the next day I was back to the 9 to 5. Except it’s more of an 8 to 6 with the travel involved. One upside to this has been that I’m able to devote much more time to reading books I purchased or borrowed in conjunction with a particular bit of research and duly mined without going through the whole thing, start to finish (or as I tend to do jumping around the chapters from most to least interesting). Seeing as how I’m now getting through a book a fortnight, I realised it was high time I revisited my Reviews section and share some of my opinions on some of the newer titles I get through.

The first book up is Sarah Semple’s Perceptions of the Prehistoric in Anglo-Saxon England, published in 2013 but its subject matter is kind of a big deal around these parts and anyway, who’s counting? If I’d thought about this properly, I would have posted the following before Christmas, by way of a Surrey Medieval recommendation of what you might consider buying as a gift for yourself or a loved one. Instead we’re closer to New Year’s Eve than Christmas Day so, unless you have any birthdays in the near future, its usefulness as a potential present guide is pretty limited. What is more, I’m not the biggest fan of the book (at least not in its present form) so there are better volumes to invest your money in.

Have a read of my review (other opinions are available), and keep checking back in the coming weeks – the more I read, the more I review!

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Archaeology, Barrows, Books, History, Landscape, Nottingham, Place-Names, Publishing, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Penda’s Fen (and the scourge of property speculation)

This post will be my first (and quite probably only) venture into film criticism, and is the result of a bit of cajoling by our Irish correspondent Vox Hiberionacum. Expressing whether you think a given piece of film-making is good or bad springs to mind as the thing ridiculous people reach for most often when they launch into the “If you haven’t made/done an equivalent thing yourself, how can your opinion be valid?” line of argument. True, the longest bit of film I have shot is the 40 seconds or so of snow being blown in animated serpentine patterns across the taxiway at Keflavik airport (it’s pretty derivative IMHO), but when a work both owes its inspiration to an Old English place-name and includes what is almost certain to be the only line of dialogue enquiring as to the whereabouts of a place-names dictionary – prove me wrong, cinephiles! – I feel like I have some justification for passing comment. Nor are we talking about a DVD watched at home while sat on my sofa. Rather, it was a once-in-a-blue-moon screening of the 1974 TV drama film Penda’s Fen, directed by David Rudkin. And when I say screening, I mean original 16mm film reels (with a midway interlude as they were switched) and the cosy surrounds of The Horse Hospital in central London. The event had been organised to coincide with the anniversary of the death of King Penda of Mercia in AD 655. The date of 15th November is given in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, and has far more credibility than the director’s claim that he was ‘England’s last pagan king’ (surely there were monarchs kicking around in the 680s to whom this accolade could be applied – I’m thinking one the rulers of the South Saxons or Wight, or the all-conquering, later-converted Caedwalla of Wessex).

I’ll spare you the details of the film’s plot as, having had absolutely no idea of what it was about beyond the Pendan connection, I’d rather preserve some of the mystique of the work for others to discover. (You’ll gather from the photo above that Penda does put in an appearance, although in the name of academic accuracy I should stress that there’s no evidence for a direct link between the historical king and place-name.) Penda’s Fen has been shown all of two times on television – the first in a peak-time slot on BBC1 which generated what was then the largest number of complaints about a programme received by the broadcaster – and is known to have been screened only 14 times in front of an audience since then.

Embarrassingly, I had no idea that the setting for the film, Pinvin i.e. “Penda’s fen”, is a real place in Worcestershire until I spoke to one of the event’s organisers at the end of the evening. Turns out the director’s wife spotted a sign to Pinvin on the way to work one day and things snowballed from there. I had needlessly spent the previous 90 minutes or so marvelling at Rudkin’s credible concoction of the development of the place-name from Old English Pendanfenn > ME Pendefen > ModE Pinvin, as shown in its place-names dictionary entry (Ekwall’s Concise Dictionary, but an earlier edition to my copy to judge from its position on the page). In case anyone is interested in such things, the same shift f > v is found in a couple of Surrey minor place-names from OE fennVann in Hambledon (earliest Fenne 1199), and more extremely Volvens in Abinger.


You can find the entire film on YouTube, and a beautifully produced new book, The Edge Is Where The Centre Is, containing an extended interview with David Rudkin and a bunch more besides, looks still to be available to buy online. Be that as it may, if you do ever hear of a forthcoming public screening of Penda’s Fen, I urge you to make the time to go. It’s very much a work of its time but by the same token is one that hasn’t aged as much and as badly as I’m sure a lot of other dramas made around the same time have done.

Let me tack onto the end of this post the dismaying news that The Horse Hospital building is being sold by its owners, meaning the venue looks set to shut in March 2015. It’s yet another example of the pernicious trend for capitalising on London’s astronomic property prices and make vast sums off the back of selling real estate located in the middle of a global cultural centre while simultaneously hollowing out its vitality and diversity (see too the recent news about the imminent developer-prompted eviction of the 12 Bar Club not so many miles hence in Denmark Street, a.k.a. Tin Pan Alley). The folks who run The Horse Hospital sum up the situation pretty bloody well:

“London is devolving rapidly into a culturally bereft corporate wasteland. It is being systematically cleansed of its cultural vitality, diversity and energy. “As a civilization we define ourselves by the culture we produce, we all participate and are ALL accountable and have a responsibility to the various roles we play within the structure to abide and support this unchanging principle. Although at times overwhelmed by a sense of powerlessness in the face of a gargantuan, all consuming, faceless ideology, we feel a responsibility to try and keep our little role. “People, institutions and future potentials are being priced out of this city which soon will only have a homogenous, thin layer of sanctioned and carefully monitored culture as its defining engine, this spells disaster for everyone. Transformation of all kinds relies on the possibility for the most coherent and powerful radical ideas to become tradition, without room for those ideas to even have a chance to be played out, what hope is there? “We will continue our fight to stay here, we believe in this, however symbolic it may be.”

I’m lucky enough to live fairly centrally in London, and have done for a little over three years now. In that time (and I’m sure this isn’t an experience limited either to myself or to the UK capital), I have seen most of the rough edges of my neighbourhood smoothed and few great benefits come in its place, unless you consider another Co-op convenience store or letting agents to be worth the loss of a local pub or a continental deli which sold the best pesto I e’er did eat. Yes, this has got nothing directly to do with Surrey and nothing to do with the medieval period. And yes, I am but a part-time medievalist who counts his blessings that the rent he pays is well below market-rate for the area. Nonetheless, so much of life is underpinned by the places and spaces around us, and places like The Horse Hospital are vital if cities like London are to stay, well, interesting. Let 2015 bring with it a brighter, less money-first culture.

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Art, London, Place-Names, Soapbox, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment