Kalamazoo and other stories

After a mad March, April was a quiet (or unmemorable?) month, which was probably for the best as I had to prepare myself for another 12-day trip to North America, built around the 50th edition of the International Congress of Medieval Studies, held at Western Michigan University in the small-ish city of Kalamazoo. It’s been a few weeks since the end of the Congress, in which time bloggers who are far more organised than me have written up their experiences (let me point you towards Medieval History Geek, Beoshewulf and Medievalist in Transit, to name three examples from WordPressland alone), but I thought I’d share my own thoughts on my first ‘Zoo. Furthermore, I didn’t want to truck several thousand miles and see little more of the Midwest than one college town in Michigan, so padded out my time across the Pond with several days in some cities I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. It was almost like a holiday. A tiring and at times intellectually-intense holiday.

Toronto and a date with a sword

The CN Tower from what probably bills itself as the best place in downtown Toronto to pick up some

The CN Tower from what probably bills itself as the best place in downtown Toronto to pick up some “medieval” clothing

I began my trip across the Canadian border in Toronto. I wanted to stay in the city primarily to go up the CN Tower which, by virtue of being so darned tall, has captured my imagination from a young age. As it turned out, like many of downtown Toronto’s loftier buildings, it was shrouded in thick cloud on the morning I wanted to visit (gallingly after three days which all did a very good impression of an Ontario summer). Luckily, I succeeded in my secondary objective, to visit the brilliant Royal Ontario Museum and see its collection of Viking-era swords. I was keen to inspect one in particular; its finest sword, dredged from the River Thames during the reconstruction of Vauxhall Bridge circa 1906. Thought to be of tenth-century date, it’s only by viewing the sword up close that the fineness of the copper and silver filament decoration on the hilt becomes apparent; hopefully the photo below gives you a flavour of the superlative craftsmanship. Though the exhibit text intimates these swords might have been the weapons of “Viking raiders” a little too often for my tastes, all in all it was great to see something of significance to Surrey given such prominence in an international museum.

The hilt of the Vauxhall sword; note the fine inlaid designs on pommel and guard

The hilt of the Vauxhall sword; note the fine inlaid designs on pommel and guard

Detroit to Kalamazoo

From Toronto it was on to Detroit for a couple of nights in what is not the avoid-at-all-costs post-industrial ground zero so many have it pegged as (among other things I went to a baseball game at the anything-but-ruinous Comerica Park – Let’s Go Tigers!). Detroit was and is so much more than the Motor City stereotype, and the Detroit Historical Museum really brings out its enduring capacity for innovation, industry, and knowing how to have a good time. By focusing on civic history rather than displaying collections culled from across the globe, it may well be the best of its kind I’ve been to. As for the Motown Museum, let’s just say the joyfulness of the music is matched by the enthusiasm of the in-house tour guides! I’d been nervous about staying in Detroit until a couple of people I met in Toronto said it’s really starting to go places, and they were right. The city may have declared itself bankrupt not all that long ago, but it felt like more and more ordinary people are investing in creating small businesses and renovating neighbourhoods. Part of me can’t wait to go back and see what further good work they’ve done.

The corner of Michigan and Turnbull in Corktown, Detroit's oldest neighborhood

Sunset on the corner of Michigan and Turnbull in Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood

I took the Greyhound to Kalamazoo, by way Jackson (but seemingly not the Jackson made famous by Johnny Cash and June Carter), and roadkill raccoons and a live wild turkey alongside the interstate (American wildlife is much bigger IRL). Other than an entirely unnecessary walk from the bus station to campus of Western Michigan University, I didn’t see much of Kalamazoo, though I’m sure it has its charms. (I did visit Waldo’s tavern on the edge of campus which set me up for a particularly riotous time on the Friday night – beware the regulars at the bar and their offers of spiced vodka shots!)

The first sign I had that I was walking in the right direction

The first sign I had that I was walking in the right direction

An introduction to the International Congress of Medieval Studies (in more ways than one)

As you may or may not be aware, the ICMS is the largest annual gathering of medievalists in the world, with a tweet towards the end of the four days announcing that almost 3,000 delegates were in attendance this year (which would have been even more impressive had I not read on the plane over about a medical sciences convention in Washington which attracts more than ten times that number of participants). The accommodation’s not up to much, unless you’ve spent some time behind bars, in which case it’s pretty deluxe. But griping about the quality of your digs and the fear of your next-door neighbour walking in on you in the bathroom unites pretty much everyone in attendance. That, and the abundance of medieval things on offer.

This was actually on the last day; the guy behind the desk was really nice, just wasn't responsive to my suggestion he pretend to look like he was having the time of his life.

This was actually on the last day; the guy behind the desk was really nice, just wasn’t responsive to my suggestion he pretend to look like he was having the time of his life.

You know how music festivals like Glastonbury and Primavera (and I’m guessing Coachella in the US) generate fervent devotees who go year after year, and spend the intervening months telling you how their event of choice is the best thing ever? To me, Kalamazoo felt a bit like that (albeit a very sedate and largely music-free one), with scattered “stages” and places to get food and drink entailing a lot of walking if you weren’t prepared to hang around for one of the dinky little shuttle buses. Particularly among the North American medievalist community, the ‘Zoo is obviously A BIG THING – and I don’t mean simply in terms of the goodness-knows-how-many sessions and other events that make up the Congress, which are a formidable prospect no matter when you’re from. Many people clearly come every year, or else are seasoned veterans of numerous non-consecutive editions, and seem to recognise every other person in the dining hall or perusing the book fair.

As campus residents, these geese knew where they were going

As campus residents, these geese knew where they were going

For a newbie, it took a little time to adjust and get into the swing of things, although I ended up having a great time reconnecting with friends from my spells in the IMS at Leeds and IMR at Nottingham (the latter’s session on impact was an early highlight, and I’m not saying that because it’s my alma mater!). I also met a whole bunch of brilliant new people along the way, from fellow bloggers like the book-buying machine that is Curt Emmanuel, to the group from Central European University in Budapest who run Medieval Radio (special thanks to them for rescuing me from loitering by some bins while on my lonesome at one wine reception).

Click through to the Medieval Radio website!

Click through to the Medieval Radio website!

Sessions and papers roll of honour

To return to my music festival analogy, I adopted the same approach as I do at such events and, rather than keep it locked to one of the multi-session strands on a common theme, picked and mixed things that sounded relevant on some level to my research interests. Of course, there are the constraints imposed by timetabling and the general tenor of the Congress. Thus I ended up hearing a lot of papers about Old English literature, but not so much archaeology, and only a smattering of history. My own paper, in the ludicrously well-attended Anglo-Saxon England session, was quite historical by my standards (I try to avoid putting together solely names-based papers as I think they’re dull as the proverbial water in the ditch for non-specialists). I don’t feel like I came anywhere near knocking it out of the park in terms of how I presented (hot room + thick polyester shirt = a recipe for disaster) but from the comments I received from many people after made me think the content was solid. My gratitude to Hilary Fox for organising the session and giving me the opportunity for once to research and present something related to those old crowd pleasers, King Alfred and the Vikings.

Full details of Session 245 from the ICMS program

Full details of Session 245 as per my tatty copy of the ICMS program

Of the other sessions I attended, what stood out? The one that excited me the most was ‘Medieval Data: Prospects and Practices’ late on the first evening, because it gave me a taste of how scholars have used big data to investigate things spatially, which I’m determined to make a central strand of my upcoming PhD project. Brittany Rancour‘s presentation of her not-so-recent MA research into Anglo-Norman settlement patterns in Co. Wexford in Ireland grabbed me because of its interweaving of several types of map and techniques as a means to answer broader questions. Equally inspiring was Amanda Morton‘s paper ‘Fuzzy Maps and Fictionalized Geographies’, in which she discussed how uncertain spatial data is presented visually, and whether the shortcomings of using traditional involving methods involving distinct dots and lines can be overcome by ones that more accurately reflect inherent “fuzziness”. Both had me sold.

A session room, minus panellists and audience

A Kalamazoo session room, minus panellists, presider and audience

Another highlight was the Sunday morning session on ‘Pathways to Power in Early Medieval Europe’ organised by the University of Aberdeen in association with their potentially very important Pathways to Power: Rise of the Early Medieval Kingdoms of the North research programme. (It was the first of two related sessions, but I had a lift to Chicago so missed the second.) Speakers presented on a range of regions within Scandinavia and Atlantic Europe, foregrounding archaeological evidence but drawing upon textual material as well. Oskar Sveinbjarnason‘s paper entitled ‘New Evidence for Emerging Power Structures in Northern Pictland’ shone brightest for me, reporting some astonishing excavation findings at sites like Rhynie in Aberdeenshire (whose name rather brilliantly means “a very royal place”). Showing pictures of wonderful Pictish symbol stones never hurts, either…

Sumptuous photograph by Cathy MacIver of the Craw Stane at Rhynie, with Tap o'Noth hillfort in the background, from the Rhynie Environs Archaeological Project blog - click on the image to link through to the site)

Sumptuous photograph by Cathy MacIver of the Craw Stane at Rhynie, with Tap o’Noth hillfort in the background, from the Rhynie Environs Archaeological Project blog – click on the image to link through to the site

Honorable mentions should go to a couple of excellent individual papers in sessions of more, er, mixed quality. In the very first session I attended, in a paper entitled ‘The Vernacular Fenland’, Britton Brooks considered the degree to which the Old English translation of Felix’s Life of Guthlac incorporates vocabulary more consistent with toponymy than literature, which raised intriguing questions about audience and influence. The various tellings and retellings of Guthlac’s time in and around Crowland have been repeatedly mined for landscape details to the point where I’m wasn’t sure there was anything new to add to understanding of the Fens known to the saint (or the authors of his vitae), so credit to Britton for finding a novel angle. The OE translation is dated to a period (late-ninth to mid-tenth century) which was crucial to the evolution of vernacular boundary descriptions, the “classic” forms of which are contained in many Late Anglo-Saxon diplomas, and it dawned on me that more focused cross-referencing of the two sources might reveal further insights.

Thornhill 3, Face A, showing runic inscription; image taken from page 461 of Philip Charles Sidebottom, Schools of Anglo-Saxon School Sculpture in the North Midlands, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Sheffield (1994) - click through to read

Thornhill 3 (Face A), showing the runic inscription; grainy image taken from page 461 of pdf of Philip Charles Sidebottom, Schools of Anglo-Saxon School Sculpture in the North Midlands, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Sheffield (1994) – click through to read via the White Rose eTheses Online database

On the second day, Jill Hamilton Clements’ paper ‘A Tomb with a View’ stood out for its excellent punning title, but more importantly for shining a spotlight on short texts on Anglo-Saxon sculptural fragments which have echoes of the language of the passages in Beowulf concerning the hero’s funeral. As with Guthlac’s Fens, certain sculptures (e.g. Bewcastle) come up so frequently in discussions on this topic that they almost become trite, so it was exciting to learn of some more under-the-radar analogues. In particular, the ninth-century fragment known as Thornhill 3 – see above – bearing an OE runic inscription identifying it as having originally been part of a “bekun on bergi” (in the sense of “monument”, most likely a cross, on the “tomb” of a female named Berhtswith), was a revelation to me, for one thing because of the overlap with the vocabulary of place-names.

The dance in full flow

The dance in full flow

Most Kalamazoo summaries I’ve read culminate with the Saturday night dance. It isn’t the end of the Congress, but does mark the point where delegates (save for those unlucky ones who have papers to present the following morning) ease off the intellectual throttle after the best part of three days of sustained academic activity. Moreover, it’s the stuff of salacious legend, or at least it was among many people who in the run up to the night told me about it, most of whom subsequently pronounced this year’s one a disappointment (the consensus is the one at Leeds is reliably better). I kept a lid on it (and, unlike some, my top on) that night, to make sure I was fit for my mid-morning ride away from K’zoo, but it was pretty good fun nonetheless and I got to thank the person who generously loaned her laptop (well, a USB port-less Chromebook – why?!) to our session so that we could run PowerPoints to accompany our papers.

On to Chicago – and Leeds

Our little slice of Chicago by night

Our little slice of Chicago by night

The trip to Chicago was uneventful save for more roadkill and it being an unusual combination of car, monorail, and alarmingly wobbly metro. What a city Chicago is – the above was the view from our budget hotel room! It’s a monster, both horizontally and vertically, dimensions that are best appreciated from on high, in my case the bar near the top of the Hancock Tower, from where I took the following photo after saying goodbye to the Nottingham IMR high command:

Hell of a town

80+ floors and still only the fourth tallest building in Chicago

We weren’t in Chicago for long enough to appreciate anything more than a tiny fraction of what it has to offer. Dedicated one afternoon to the Field Museum which, like the ROM, is a vast, multi-themed beast of an institution. Its main exhibition at the moment (and through to 4th October 2015) is simply titled Vikings. This isn’t the same one as people went so nuts for in London last year – apparently that’s in China right now – but organised by the Swedish History Museum and Austria’s Museum Partner (because the Vikings loved the Alps…). The majority of the artefacts on display, a significant proportion of which seemed to have been culled from excavations in Scandinavia (with Swedish finds unsurprisingly to the fore), were small and of decidedly non-martial character. I’d had my fill of swords from the period back in Toronto, so really enjoyed this subtle approach to creating a narrative of the Vikings being so much more than bloodthirsty raiders in horned helmets and ships with stripy sails.

Between the Royal Ontario and Field Museums, I developed quite a thing for button-on-bow brooches. Didn't think to jot down the provenance of this particularly fine example in the Vikings exhibition

Between the Royal Ontario and Field Museums, I developed quite a thing for button-on-bow brooches. Didn’t think to jot down the provenance of this particularly fine example in the Vikings exhibition

I doubt I’ll make the trip to the 2016 ICMS – though maybe I’ve inspired you to give it a whirl. This year was a little bit of an adventure that I was fortunate enough to be able to fund myself, but there’s no avoiding the fact it’s a right old schlep from the UK to the middle of Michigan. Plus I’d rather knuckle down and concentrate on the initial phases of my PhD! However, as part of my ongoing adventures in medieval conferences, I am going to this year’s International Medieval Congress at my beloved Leeds, where I will be giving a paper as part of a session on slavery organised by the ever-industrious Tom MacMaster. Do come along for what promises – if the poster is anything to go by – to be a really varied and vibrant session. Otherwise, see you at the dance!

Save the date!

Save the date!

This post is dedicated to the memory of Lisi Oliver, whose untimely death in a road accident was announced at the start of this week. I met Lisi for the first time at Kalamazoo, and like so many before me was immediately won over by her personality, knowledge and enthusiasm for her subject area. Medieval studies would be a better discipline if there were more practitioners of Lisi’s mindset involved, and is certainly the poorer for having lost her. When we spoke, she told me about her ongoing involvement in the Early English Laws project – if you’re unfamiliar with it, please check out the website for more information including Lisi’s important work on some of the early Kentish law codes.

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Archaeology, Canada, Conference, History, Kalamazoo, Literature, Old English, Place-Names, Talk, Viking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

London to Norwich express

I’ve come to realise there are essentially two types of blog post. The first is the sort that is true to the name, whereby the author(s) log(s) on the web what they have been/are/will be doing. The second exists out of time (though often it is commenced by something that sets it in the context of a particular event or activity), a piece produced to address a topic in brief or at length. Personally, I much prefer writing the latter sort, but this Spring has been so full of significant goings on that I thought some housekeeping was in order, capturing what I’ve been up to this past three months. However, I also realise there’s nothing more off-putting for the casual reader than paragraph after autobiographical paragraph with no unifying thread beyond yours truly. Therefore I have split things into two (and upped the image quota) for what I hope will be a more palatable report of what I’ve been up to lately.


As good a place as any to start is with the news that I’ve been accepted to commence a PhD based in the Institute of Archaeology at UCL. Kicking off at the end of September, it’s going to be a part-time endeavour at first, with the view to go full-time (and funded!) in the not too distant future. The admission process was surprisingly lengthy (I think one element of my application was accidentally becalmed in someone’s inbox for several weeks) but it’s really exciting to have made good on a long-held ambition and to know that my project is about to get going finally. Well, I’ve been nibbling away at the topic for a good few years so have a firm foundation already, but the academic guidance and resources I will be able to access as part of the IoA will transform it into something much bigger and better.

And what is my project? Embarrassingly, I can’t remember the title I gave my proposal (nor my password to get back into the online portal to find it out!) but in essence it will look at place-names in Old English -ingas in two areas of England: the South-East, and East Anglia. I consider -ingas to be of enormous interest because, in place-name formations, it points to the existence of a group of people (or things) with a significant association with the place and surrounding space to which such names are attached – here’s a summary of some of its occurrences inside and outside of toponymy I put together a few years ago.

My PhD research will hopefully take me to many more places like Tooting in (over)optimistic attempts to determine the original derivation of the place-name from a site visit. (In this case Totterdown Street recalls a field-name which might stem from Old English *tōtærndūn,

My PhD research will take me to many more places like Tooting in (?over)optimistic attempts to determine the original derivation of the place-name from a site visit. (In this case Totterdown Street recalls a field-name which might stem from Old English *tōtærndūn, “look-out building hill”;*tōt has been suggested as the first element in the name Tooting, though other explanations are available and may I add no less credible.)

OE -ingas is one of the great recurrent topics of place-name studies, with a lineage of scholarship stretching back to the great J. M. Kemble in the middle of the nineteenth century. The problem is that, for a generation at least, the question of the identities of these shadowy -ingas groups, that is to say their place or places in time and Anglo-Saxon society, has not been considered in any great detail, despite the major developments in thinking about the Roman to Anglo-Saxon transition. I aim to correct this by going on beyond looking at -ingas simply in terms of its presence or otherwise in name formations and give much more consideration to the topography, archaeology, and history of the places and spaces which are so-named.

Trying to condense a raw PhD project into a couple of short paragraphs ain’t easy, but keep checking back in the coming months and years and you’ll find more detailed explanations of elements of my research (as well as all the usual random off-topic crap). First of these will be a spruced-up version of my Nottingham MA thesis, the scope of which I’ve summarised previously, which has acted as a pilot for the first major segment of my PhD project, the collection and new philological analysis of all possible relevant place-names in the study areas. I was lucky enough to be able to present the results of my dissertation research to the Spring Conference of the Society for Name Studies in Britain and Ireland at the end of March, held at the UEA on the outskirts of Norwich. Many people said many positive things about my presentation, which was even more gratifying given it was one of those conferences where virtually every delegate was someone whose research you admire. I’ll admit the onomastic fanboy in me came out once or twice over the course of the day I was there…

The picture is of Eashing Bridge (well, one of them), and made the front page because Eashing is another name of the -ingas-but-can't-say-for-certain-which-sort sort

The picture is of Eashing Bridge (well, one of them), and made the front page of my presentation because, like Tooting, Eashing is another name of the -ingas-but-can’t-say-for-certain-which-sort sort

At the conference that I was told I’d won the SNSBI essay prize for 2015, for an essay I wrote during my Master’s last year on early-recorded place-names containing OE tun. With a good deal more work to smooth its more iconoclastic edges – though I’m quietly chuffed that I could still cut it as an angry young student with a point to prove/axe to grind – this may be published as a journal article one day. Sometime this century, anyway. My thanks to the anonymous reviewers for their extensive and perceptive comments on my essay, which will greatly assist the process of redrafting, and to those in SNSBI who organise and award the essay prize. I’ve heard on the grapevine that next year’s Spring Conference is being held at Maynooth in Ireland, so why don’t you submit something for the prize and perhaps next year you will find out you won it while on the Emerald Isle?

Norwich was my first SNSBI conference, I hope the catering is always to the same level of fanciness

Norwich was my first SNSBI conference, I hope the catering is always to the same level of fanciness – as exemplified by this pyramidal dessert

Posted in Archaeology, PhD, Place-Names | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Berries and Beans: William Gill’s estate book and the site of the Eashing burh

Eashing (or more accurately the two hamlets of Lower and Upper Eashing), just off the southbound carriageway of the A3 heading towards the Hindhead tunnel and on to the south coast, can stake a claim to be well known in medieval circles for two reasons. First, the pair of thirteenth-century bridges across two channels of the River Wey (now in the custody of the National Trust, who created a dedicated WordPress blog to document their recent restoration). Second, for being named in the so-called Burghal Hidage as the site of a Viking-Age fortification. My title’s a giveaway for which one I’m interested in here, and stems from my chancing upon a piece of evidence last weekend which may help to confirm the site of the Eashing burh.

Trees along the north-west edge of the postulated burh...

Not the most insightful photo, what you see here are ash-trees along the north-west edge of the postulated Eashing burh. I mention the species of tree because it may be pertinent to the meaning of the place-name Eashing, but that’s another story…

The first detailed argument for locating the burh at Eashing was authored by Fred Aldsworth and David Hill, and appeared in Volume 68 of the Surrey Archaeological Collections (they reference this 1964 article by Nicholas Brooks in which Eashing gets a mention [page 78], though doesn’t receive an extended discussion encompassing an attempt to locate its site on the ground). In it, they put forward the case for the burh being sited on an area of high, flattish ground between Lower and Upper Eashing, bounded on the north-west by the valley of the River Wey, on the north-east and south west by dry side valleys, and on the south-east by Eashing Lane. The hypothesis has gained general acceptance, in spite of it never being tested archaeologically.

I first became aware of Aldsworth and Hill’s argument through the reproduction of their plan of the postulated burh in Rob Poulton’s ‘Saxon Surrey’ chapter in The Archaeology of Surrey to 1540. One of the many little reasons why I embarked on this funny old journey which led to Surrey Medieval and a whole lot more besides, I remember persuading my mother to walk with me up and down Eashing Lane looking for signs of the “spread bank” which Aldsworth and Hill held up as one of the main pieces of diagnostic evidence for this being the site of the fortification. For those tempted to pay a visit to look for themselves, be aware that an optimistic eye is needed…

The main problem I have with accepting what I’ll admit is a perfectly-credible suggestion is the fact that casting one’s net a little wider in the Eashing locality turns up at least two other candidate sites: a crop mark on the other side of the River Wey from Lower Eashing, centred on OS grid reference SU4942914389, described in its Historic Environment Record entry as ‘possibly a rectangular double-ditched enclosure of about 1 hectare’, and a trio of mid-nineteenth-century field-names (Castle Field, Castle Field Mead, Castlefield Row – see pages S29 and 31 of this appendix to a 2011 article by Mark Service) a short distance south of Oxenford Grange about a mile south-west of Eashing. Until these are subjected to at least the same level of scrutiny as Aldsworth and Hill gave to their candidate site, these will remain possibilities, albeit outside ones.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s another issue to contend with; the poor fit between the circumference of the supposed defensive perimeter and the figure of 600 hides attributed to Eashing in the Nowell transcript, considered the most reliable versions of the Burghal Hidage text. I’m not the first to query this – it was the subject of a short and at first sight scientific 1983 article by Marion Gower, who accepted the basic identification but queried how the hidage attributed to Eashing matched up with the hypothesised defences. Using the formula of eighty hides to maintain twenty poles of defensive wall, at 600 hides Eashing burh would have had a circumference of 150 poles. With a pole being 16.5 feet (or in metric money a smidge over five metres), this produces a length of approximately 2475 feet or around 755 metres. Aldsworth and Hill, Gower and myself all arrive at this figure independently.

Towards the end of their article, Aldsworth and Hill (1971, 201) entered a second calculation into the debate; 2130 feet (or 649 metres), the length of the burghal perimeter which they believed would have required artificial reinforcement rather than relying on the natural topography to deter attack. This excluded the stretch along the top of a very steep slope overlooking the Wey (incidentally, round about where the trees in the above photo stand). For reasons which are unclear to me, Gower (1983, 225) adopted this distance as the best yardstick for checking the hidage figure assigned to Eashing, and duly ends up arguing for an emendation of Eashing’s assessment to 500 hides, a figure found in most other versions of the Burghal Hidage text (Gower 1983, 226, using Hill 1969, 87 Table 2).

Gower may have taken a detour from the most common sensical approach to interpreting the numerical and topographical evidence, but was right on the money when it came to querying particular aspects of Aldsworth and Hill’s maths skills. Regarding the assessment of Eashing’s hidage, they admitted a “medieval” margin of error of fifty hides (equivalent to 12.5 poles, or about 63 metres) either way, but came up with resultant defensive circuits that were wildly different from the correct figures of 2269 feet/692 metres for 550 hides, and 2682 feet/817 metres for 650 hides (see Gower 1983, 225 for comparison). Thus doubt is cast on their contention that the topography of their suggested site ‘comfortably’ accommodated all possibilities deriving from these figures (Aldsworth and Hill 1971, 200). But should we go the other way and accept Gower’s following reading of the situation?

‘If the length of the natural defences is included, the total circuit of the site is about 3300 feet [1006 metres] requiring 800 hides, which is clearly far in excess of the hideage recorded in any version of the Burghal Hidage.’ (Gower 1983, 225)

The authors of both articles cited the possibility that there was not a full circuit of artificial ramparts, with part of the river-facing side being sufficiently naturally defensible as to not warrant additional fortification. My own knowledge of the lie of the land leaves me a little uncomfortable with what is included and excluded in such contentions. I don’t recognise the 1000+ metre length Gower claimed for a full circuit; I arrived at 2965 feet (approximately 904 metres) by doing a quick tracing of the approximate course of a complete defensive circuit. This works out as a shade under 180 poles in length, equivalent to 719 hides – a full fifth greater than the Nowell figure of 600 hides and likewise well outside the 50-hide margin of error admitted by Aldsworth and Hill. For what it’s worth (which may well be nothing at all), this “maximum” hidage for Eashing is very close to those attributed to Burpham in Sussex (720 hides) and Exeter (734 hides).

No further detailed research on the topic of the Eashing burh has been published in over a generation. That said, it has long been recognised as ripe for a proper research project to be carried out on it, but the combination of a lack of any local academic archaeology department and reportedly less-than-keen landowners of the postulated burghal site means it’s never got further than the wish-list stage. I am firmly of the belief that there’s so much imperfectly-understood archaeological data in circulation that breaking the turf to uncover new artefacts in the hope of answering particular research questions should be a last resort. With this in mind, I’m interested in how other, already available indices might be used to inch closer towards proving or disproving the hypothesis of Eashing burh having been on the site suggested by Aldsworth and Hill.

I happened upon the nugget of evidence I wish to add into the mix on the excellent village website of Shackleford, the nineteenth-century parish in which Eashing lies. It boasts many pages of local historical interest, including one about the Eashing burh consisting of Aldsworth and Hill’s 1971 article reproduced verbatim save for the original footnote and references (and due authorial attribution – naughty!) Another page presents high-quality photographic images of the pages of a facsimile of a 1773 survey of the lands and other property of William Gill (I’m unclear if the manuscript is privately owned or lodged in a publicly-accessible archive). Beginning with the wonderfully-named patriarch Ezra, the Gills accumulated more or less all the land around Eashing and many of the buildings in the two hamlets by the end of the eighteenth century, and the so-called estate book captures a snapshot of this process in an advanced stage.

The digitised manuscript is a fantastic source of early field-name spellings, and combing through these in fact reaped its rewards for me not once but twice. By far the more remarkable discovery is the name of the field which coincides with almost the entirety of the interior of the postulated burh was The Berries, which could be of apposite Old English origin and implication in terms of Aldsworth and Hill’s proposition. Here is the field-name written in the estate book…

From Shackleford.org

Copyright Shackleford.org, not mine – click on the picture to go through to the full zoomable image

…and here is the field itself shown (but not named) on the accompanying map, in combination with Aldsworth and Hill’s plan of the site produced almost 200 years later:

The Berries is the field numbered 72 at the top of the image, which is copyright of Shackleford.org - click through for the precise URL

The Berries is the field numbered 72 at the top of the image, again copyright Shackleford.org – click through for the zoomable image etc.

Plan of the postulated Eashing burh site from Aldsworth and Hill 1971, 199 Fig. 1. The earlier map is not the best fit but orientation is easy enough using the T-junction of Eashing Lane and The Hollow leading down to Lower Eashing and Eashing Bridges; it lies just beyond the southermost tip of The Berries and the postulated burh.

Plan of the postulated Eashing burh site from Aldsworth and Hill 1971, 199 Fig. 1. The earlier map is not the best fit but orientation is easy enough using the T-junction of Eashing Lane and The Hollow leading down to Lower Eashing and Eashing Bridges; it lies just beyond the southermost tip of The Berries and the postulated burh.

I must underscore that the name The Berries cannot be etymologised conclusively on the basis of a single late eighteenth-century spelling. But beyond that, and putting archaeological conjecture to one side for the present moment, one of the most credible explanations is that it derives from Old English burh, ‘stronghold’, in the genitive or dative singular form byrig (Parsons and Styles 2000, 79). The Gills owned more or less all of the surrounding land, yet none of the field-names outside the postulated burghal enceinte duplicates the theme in a way which might suggest it had broader relevance and thus possibly an alternative origin (animal burrows, for example, from ME burghParsons and Styles 2000, 74).

The plural form may be an inorganic addition with no genuine semantic relevance, or else stem from the late eighteenth-century field being a composite of two or more earlier plots known by names based on singular *Berry or *Bury. I have encountered several instances of this phenomenon when comparing the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century forms of certain Puttenham field-names, and in this regard it’s interesting to note the sliver of ‘Mr Thomas Halls Land’ on the north-western margin of The Berries in the 1773 map excerpt above. The inclusion of the definite article might be a hangover from an Old English eliptical phrase like æt þære byrig, but could just as easily be a particular tick of the Gills when it came to referring to their own lands; the next field listed, The Goars, need not derive from anything more than a singular form of OE gāra or ME gōr(e), “triangular piece of land”, which is a pretty accurate description of its 1773 shape.

As if coming across The Berries wasn’t enough cause for excitement, a second field-name in Gills’ estate lists lends valuable support to a suggestion I made at the start of the year about Middle English *purtok, *portuka dialect term which seems to have been used in field-name coinages locally. The name is ‘Bean puttick’, and it appears in the manuscript twice on the same page. Located towards the foot of the river cliff to the north of The Berries, it is classified as coppice in 1773 and is now mature woodland (through which a public footpath runs, in case I’ve inspired you to pay Eashing a visit).

I don’t think too much should be read into the initial of the second element not being capitalised, since the same page features ‘Acre field’, ‘Hill field’ and ‘Mill moor'; if anything this hints at ‘puttick’ being a commonplace in the local agricultural vernacular. Judging by the preceding element, legumes were cultivated here before the 1770s. It would be interesting to discover if the field-name was recorded in earlier (ideally medieval) sources, which might reinforce the idea of a *purtok, *portuk being an enclosure sat upon less-than-great soils, made in the later thirteenth or early fourteenth century when there was demographic and economic pressures for new land to be brought into cultivation.

Identifying any forms of The Berries and Bean puttick in the mid-nineenth-century tithe award for Godalming (of which Eashing was a tithing) would be a considerably easier task, one that would certainly help to provide more clarity around the etymologies I have suggested above. For the time being, the case first set out by Aldsworth and Hill for locating the burh of Eashing on a promontory site between the two hamlets which now bear the name does seem to have a significant new piece of toponymical evidence in its favour.


Aldsworth, Fred, & David Hill, ‘The Burghal Hidage-Eashing’, Surrey Archaeological Collections [SyAC], 68 (1971), 198-201

Gower, Marion, ‘The Late Saxon Burh at Eashing’, SyAC, 74 (1983), 225-26

Hill, David, ‘The Burghal Hidage: The Establishment of a Text’, Medieval Archaeology, 13 (1969), 84-92

Parsons, David N., and Tania Styles, The Vocabulary of English Place-Names (Brace-Cæster) (Nottingham: Centre for English Name Studies, 2000)

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Archaeology, Field-names, King Alfred, Landscape, Middle English, Place-Names, Topography, Wessex | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Richard III’s back in the ground, let’s look at some Anglo-Saxon coins

Ugh. I hate leaving so long between posts – and then reviving part-drafted pieces which no longer have the same degree of relevance as when commenced (but more about that presently). Not exactly an earth-shattering admission, but I’ve had my hands full with the day job, conferences, turning a year older, celebrating others turn a year older, and something else… now what was it… oh, that’s right, applying to start a PhD (to be discussed soon in a separate post)! Now we’re in April and things are looking less hectic for the time being, so I’m determined to make the time to catch up on my backlog of posts. I’ll begin by dusting off one that was quite far along the drafting process when I last paid it some attention a good few weeks ago.

The selected highlights of the Lenborough Hoard on display in the British Museum

The selected highlights of the Lenborough Hoard on display in the British Museum

Though not attended by anywhere near the same levels of hysteria surrounding the medieval stories du jour about Richard III or Magna Carta, Anglo-Saxon coins are (or were) enjoying a greater share of the limelight than they are usually accustomed to. The reason for this is the discovery towards the end of last year of a huge hoard of Late Anglo-Saxon silver coins wrapped in a lead sheet in rural Buckinghamshire. You may remember it making the headlines at the time and, despite a modicum of misdirected online bleating about the circumstances of its recovery, it represents a triumphant demonstration of what can be achieved through the Portable Antiquities Scheme (take note, Government purse-string tighteners).

Everyone agrees that the true significance of the hoard will only become clear once it’s been the subject of sustained research prefatory to full publication, but a few things are more or less certain. First, that the contents of the hoard consist of around 5,200 coins, which makes it MASSIVE by anyone’s stretch of the imagination. Exact numbers vary from 5,190 to 5,251 coins (with further ambiguity arising from whether references to fractions of coins mean half a penny or half a halfpenny – any advice?) but, whatever the final figure, it cannot fail provide a unique fillip to the study of minting places, moneyers’ names and so forth. Second, everyone seems to have settled on the name the Lenborough Hoard to refer to it, and this is what I searched for to pull up these accounts of its discovery and preliminary analysis. Third, it’s surely got Murray of Medieval Bayton fame working overtime given its immense relevance to his PhD research…

The Stamford-minted Agnus Dei penny of 1009, with explanatory blurb (Anglo-Saxon coins aren't big!)

The Stamford-minted Agnus Dei penny of 1009, with explanatory blurb (Anglo-Saxon coins aren’t big!)

The good news is that, after recording, a portion of the hoard was quickly put on display at the British Museum. I have it in my head that there are 300 or so coins on show, which by my reckoning would make up not even 6.5% of the total components of the hoard, reinforcing the sense of just what a vast assemblage the Lenborough Hoard is. Of those which made the cut, an Agnus Dei issue of Aethelred II minted in the year 1009 at Stamford in Lincolnshire receives special attention by virtue of being rare-as-hens-teeth (although the collection of North African gold coins and other artefacts displayed underneath it in the same case vie for your attention). I must hold my hands up and confess that I’m guessing when I say the coins are still on show; if they are, then I’m not sure for how long this will be the case – perhaps until the next major discovery reported through PAS?! Whatever their current status, I recommend you pay a visit to the setting for the display, the excellent Citi Money Gallery (a.k.a. Room 68).

Copyright Surrey County Council and/or Portable Antiquities Scheme

Copyright Surrey County Council and/or Portable Antiquities Scheme

Back in February, Surrey muscled in on the vogue for Anglo-Saxon numismatics act in a much more modest – but in some quarters scarcely less significant – way. For the Surrey History Centre’s long-running Marvels of the Month strand, the county’s Finds Liaison Officer David Williams wrote about the above coin brooch, discovered by a metal detectorist close to Headley church on the mid-Surrey Downs. It began life as a silver penny minted in the reign of the infamously “Unready” king, Æthelred II (978-1016), before its obverse was gilded and perforated for reuse as a brooch. The design of the obverse has no known parallel, and that of the reverse is likewise very rare; this may tie in with why I cannot find a moneyer named Æthelmaer (you may be able to discern the letters ÐELM on the above image representing the middle portion of the otherwise truncated moneyer’s name) minting at Shaftesbury (hence SCEFT) on the PASE database. This combination of factors underlie why the object is said to be “the subject of much discussion at the moment between coin specialists”; I hope at least one of the aforesaid specialists will kick on and publish a detailed analysis of it in the near future.

The amount of time it’s taken me to complete writing this post has convinced me to stick with this topic for now and complete my long-planned revisions to my provisional list of coins of the period circa 450-1100 found in Surrey. There are a large amounts of coins to be added to the list (including the Headley coin brooch) and a few corrections to be made as well. I’m a couple of British Numismatic Journal articles away from having these licked, so look out for the end result in the coming weeks!

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Archaeology, Coins, Dating, News, Numismatics, Portable Antiquities Scheme, Surrey, Viking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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)

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