Surrey Medieval is alive and well

I really didn’t mean to leave it so long.


Panoramic pic of a snowy Farnham Castle taken on 16th March, during the SyAS Medieval Studies Forum study day in/about Farnham. If you hadn’t guessed from the snow, taking this while stood atop the remnants of the late 12th-century shell keep was unbelievably cold. Proof if proof were needed of my continued commitment to medieval studies!

Surrey Medieval has been going for several years now, and in that time I’ve seen numerous great (or could-have-been-great-if-only-their-authors-had-stuck-at-it) blogs come and go. I think this is the longest I’ve left it between posts; even if it’s not, a gap in excess of half a year is nothing to be proud of. So, to confirm a few things:

(1) Surrey Medieval is still a thing, it’s not dead – it’s just been sleeping while I did things like get a full-time job and learn how to manage my anxiety and depression.

(2) Actually, it’s not been completely dormant around these parts; I added a brief note under the Puttenham tab just before Christmas about a new history book covering Puttenham church and the three others churches in its united parish.

(3) I have a stack of half-finished draft posts waiting in the wings, covering some really interesting (and in one or two cases, pretty important) topics, so where would the sense be in jacking it all in?

(4) I still think Surrey Medieval serves a purpose for me as an outlet for my research and interests; the number of daily views hasn’t dipped much in the intervening months, which suggests the various posts and pages I’ve produced to date are proving useful to people somewhere…

Writing this post won’t be accompanied by promises to have something else done and published within X number of days or weeks. It’s fair to say I’ve learnt better than to do that. What I will do is break a promise I made last year – to write up the second, more general part of my take on the 2017 Leeds International Medieval Congress. Too much time has passed and too many significant discussions and developments have taken place since July for there to be any practical value in such an endeavour. However, if it’s any consolation, I’m still determined to make good on another suggestion for a future post, summarising the day’s fieldwork in and around Sunningwell in Oxfordshire that informed the case study culmination of my IMC paper. Much better photos to go with it, too.

Back again soon(ish)!


Posted in Being organised, Excuses, Farnham, News, Surrey, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The past couple of months in medieval studies: a reading list pulled from my phone

Here’s a quick post gathering together some of the online outpouring of exciting pieces of writing that have catalysed, reported or critiqued the debates and changes currently afoot in the world of (academic) medieval studies. They focus on issues of race, racism, far-right extremism and the geographies of contemporary medieval studies. All have been published in recent weeks, although it almost goes without saying that they are among the latest in a much longer line of contributions (here’s a pivotal one allied to a pivotal event – please click through on all three things below the Contents subtitle). Don’t worry too much if you feel like you’re playing catch-up – in some of the pieces listed below you’ll find links to important earlier contributions to the debates.

Please be aware this is far from a comprehensive reading list; it’s merely an annotated list of the tabs I’ve kept open on Safari on my phone with a view to sharing eventually in one way or another. Some readers may be familiar with most (or maybe even all) of the following items already, but I’m doing this in particular for folks who don’t do social media – or at least don’t make a habit of checking things regularly – and are interested in medieval studies but perhaps aren’t keyed-in to its latest developments. I hope that the abiding impression is one of a field experiencing a challenging but thrilling and long-overdue period of self-reflection, inspiration from new disciplines, sometimes impassioned debate, and most of all the early stages of a shift towards genuine change for the better in many aspects.

EDIT: It was pretty remiss of me to publish this initially without any statement thanking the authors of the following works for the time and effort they put into writing them. I laboured enough with writing the opening and closing paragraphs of this post, so I really do applaud each and every one of the authors for the length and quality of their pieces. 

Medievalists of Colour, ‘On Race and Medieval Studies’ – Let’s begin with the most important piece; a collective statement ‘that advocates for a more inclusive, productive, and world-improving medieval studies’. Vital reading, and the roadmap to the future of the field.

Jeffrey J. Cohen, ‘On Pushback, Progress and Promise’ – A concise, encouraging contribution stressing that change has occurred and will continue to progress despite resistance from certain quarters.

J. Clara Chan, ‘Medievalists, Recoiling From White Supremacy, Try to Diversify the Field’ – A very important report distilling the main points of controversy arising from this year’s Leeds IMC, as well as more generally the major issues at stake.

Brandon Hawk, ‘Diversifying SASLC’ – a long read but a really decent pulling-together of a lot of the key issues, including a wealth of links to other relevant stuff online.

David M. Perry, ‘White supremacists love Vikings. But they’ve got history all wrong’ – If one of the main reasons for why medieval studies has found itself in its present state of reflection and change (still) needs explaining to anyone, this article should do the trick.

Otávio Luiz Vieira Pinto, ‘Peripheries of the Middle Ages’ – A timely insight into the lives and work of medievalists in South America and other regions away from the geographical centres of contemporary medieval studies.

drdarkage, ‘a thread w/ research on medievalism & white supremacy’ – A phenomenal tweeted thread-cum-list linking a lot of essential reading (some of which may be among the pieces listed here, but with a host of ace additional items).

Daniel Remein, “ISAS should probably change its name” – A paper from this year’s K’zoo ICMS that gained renewed relevance in the run up to the biennial meeting of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists (ISAS) held very recently in Honolulu, Hawai’i. I guess the subject matter of my research makes me an “Anglo-Saxonist”, but I have major problems with the label and consequently I strive to avoid using it at all costs, so a lot of this paper is music to my ears.

Adam Miyashiro, ‘Decolonizing Anglo-Saxon Studies: A Response to ISAS in Honolulu’ – A for the most part spot-on critique written and published in the run-up to ISAS 2017 in Honolulu, about its poor approach to issues of racism and colonialism in view of its Hawaiian location. Read the comments too.

Mateusz Fafinski, ‘The Obama Moment of Anglo-Saxon Studies’ – A ‘straight out of the oven take’ on the changes happening to ISAS agreed/announced at the end of its recent biennial meeting. Slightly hyperbolic, but understandable given the circumstances in which it was written.

Thomas Bredehoft, “Anglo-Saxonists” – Something of a counterpoint, written by an eminent Germanic philologist. Given the subject matter “Anglo-Saxonist/-ism” is a disciplinary umbrella term that encompasses much more than language, this blog mentions “Germanic purity” a little too often for my tastes; such a concept is acceptable from a philological perspective but is deeply problematic in terms of archaeology, for example. Indeed, one of the impressions I’m left with from reading this post and some of the stuff coming out of the ISAS conference is that the label “Anglo-Saxonist” isn’t being treated as applying to all those scholars who study the period, with archaeology/archaeologists in particular largely overlooked.

I could attempt to synthesise the implications of all of the above, but I’d rather each reader has their own look through the pieces and draw their own conclusions. (I’ll say a bit more of substance as to my own views in my next post.) Things continue to move apace, with new pieces taking things forward appearing frequently. I especially recommend checking in on the In The Middle site on a regular basis (there’s so much more to read than the couple of pieces I’ve linked). Also, I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, make some time to read through the brilliant (and ongoing) series of essays in the ‘Race, Racism and the Middle Ages’ strand on The Public Medievalist website. Medieval studies as a whole (as hard as it is to group it together thus) is rarely at the vanguard of the latest shift changes in thinking/praxis/behaviours, so to have all this happening right now and in such an exciting and dynamic way is really something. Don’t bet against this being the first of a number of posts of this type I put together in the coming months.

PS. In the order in which I received them, thanks to Jonathan Hsy, Patrick Day, James Harland, and Dorothy Kim for the suggestions of corrections/improvements to earlier versions of the blog. If you spot anything else that needs amending or adding, let me know!

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Being organised, Conference, internet, News, Politics | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

An interrupting interruption

I’ll get straight to the point. After months of frustration, followed by a sudden stroke of inspiration and then a lot of deliberation, I’ve made the arrangements necessary to interrupt – that is, take time out from (I never know if UCL admin-speak is universal or institutional) – my doctoral studies for a period of 12 months from this autumn. And, quite honestly, I doubt if I’ll ever go back.

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It’s email offish

Okay, maybe that last sentence is my current negative line of thought talking. I’ll admit, currently I’m fresh out of positivity so far as my degree is concerned, and perhaps some time away from it will be just the tonic to revive my love for what I do and more to the point my conviction that it is a worthwhile endeavour. But it doesn’t change the fact that I no longer see this as a valid career path, one leading to a positive and profitable (in any sense of the word) outcome. Therefore, I have no motivation to complete my thesis other than for my own satisfaction, plus the interest of whoever might be interested in its subject matter. Frankly, however, I think I’m beyond the event horizon and so wouldn’t bet against me having called a stop to things for good.

I should stress again that this is not a brand new, spur of the moment decision. It’s all been lined up for weeks. Thus it was weird to sit on this knowledge for the duration of Leeds IMC, divulging the truth to one or maybe two trusted confidantes over the course of the four days, while pretending that everything was a bed of roses to anyone else I met for the first time or didn’t feel like I knew well enough to admit the reality. I had the best time in Leeds but keeping schtum about interrupting nonetheless did impinge upon my experience of the Congress.

My decision to interrupt all comes down to funding, and my failure to be awarded a full-time scholarship for the second year in succession. I know, once was not enough so I came back for a second kick in the teeth! I wrote my mum an email in the weeks after, in which I told her that things to do with the future were becoming clearer but that my studies were like an addictive drug, one that you can’t simply come off straight away. I’ve spent years training/reading/writing in support of my doctoral research, and consider myself to work at the highest standards required to do my topic justice, so you’ll understand why I’ve couched the shift away from this to something new and completely different (whatever it will turn out to be) in such stark terms.

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Bye, UCL (for the time being at least)

It hardly needs saying but, for me, this whole situation is massively annoying and frustrating. Had the chips fallen differently then no doubt I’d be all happy and keen and mapping out a future in which I tied Old English group-name and habitative place-name elements, archaeology, and history together, and blew everyone’s minds (at least a little bit) in the process. That’s not going to happen now. Ever. And it really saddens me to type those words. Someone else will have to take up the baton, whenever that might be (if that sounds like you – email me).

Perhaps it’s my fault. Perhaps it’s the fault of those who advised me on my application and gave it the green light. Perhaps it’s the fault of those who assess applications and award the funding – in the wake of my rejection, I heard some pretty “interesting” things about the none-more-opaque funding body I applied to but there’s not a lot to be gained by elaborating on that point. Ultimately, I’m an adult and so I realise that some of the responsibility (blame?) must rest on my shoulders. And you know what? I reckon I’m okay with that. I really do. I went into the process with my eyes wide open, knowing it might not turn out the way I wanted it to. At least I gave it a go – twice! – to see if it would happen for me.

Right now, I feel too old, too conflicted, too depressed, too tired to carry my research on to its conclusion. There are younger, more motivated and ambitious research students out there working in my field who can (and no doubt will) drive things forward. Maybe I don’t give enough of a shit to strive to be among their number. Three-and-a-bit degrees later and there’s a lot (maybe too much) about academia that I don’t like; years away from university working in jobs of various corporate shades really awoke me to its shortcomings, and I’ve never been able to overcome them. I do fear that academia as we know it in the UK is fucked, comprehensively outgunned by those who have it in for it and too slow and undynamic, for all the talk to the contrary, to make its own fundamental changes for the better. (PS. I’m not an arch-capitalist, quite the reverse in fact; it’s more my professional experiences with people, not processes that have left me feeling and thinking the way that I do.)

And maybe all this is a blessing in disguise. Call me idealistic or whatever, but I want to make a difference in this world, and I don’t think telling people how and why people adopted the social identities they did in bits of north-west Europe 1,500 years ago is really helping in the same way as if I was to apply my grey matter to some other issue at hand. I’m highly educated, with some hot-to-trot skills in some areas, and ample ability to learn in others, so I reckon there’s a really awesome line of work out there for me somewhere. I’m genuinely excited for what the future holds, a sense that came with my initial decision to interrupt, and hence which makes me think I’m onto a winner by choosing this path.

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London, my oyster (PS. can you believe this is the view from my friend’s new flat?)

In the immediate future I’ll be tying up loose ends with my doctoral research and other bits and pieces, so don’t be surprised if this is marked by a spike in activity on SM and elsewhere. I’m aiming to have a lot of things put to bed by the end of them summer, be it submitted or else in a position whereby I can let them be for months or years. Beyond that, however, expect a corresponding diminution in activity, but not a cessation – I still have a small number of medieval-related projects I’m aiming to undertake. Likewise, I’m not going to mothball this blog, although the frequency of posts will inevitably slacken as my attention is diverted elsewhere (not that my content creation has been voluminous these past few months!). I’ll also be continuing in my role as meetings secretary for the IoA/British Museum Medieval Seminar series, so expect some chat about that. All the same, I need to recalibrate my relationship with medieval studies, and consequently how SM fits into that and the new life I’ll be establishing for myself in the coming months. Rest assured, this won’t wind up with me going full-bore M J Harper-style anti-academic nutjob.

By way of some parting thoughts. To those who are doing or are about to do a funded PhD; you are privileged to be in that position and you should do everything you can to make the most of the opportunity. True interdisciplinarity is a mirage, now and for the immediate future. Fuck the LAHP. I wish academic medieval studies all the best, but come late-September I shall be at best semi-detached from it and I wouldn’t bet against that remaining the state of play thereafter.

Posted in London, News, PhD | 2 Comments

Leeds International Medieval Congress 2017: Part 1 – four days, 16 hours, 20 minutes

Last week was largely taken up by attending what was my third Leeds International Medieval Congress (if we discount an accidentally-larcenous first experience of the IMC a decade back when I worked as one of the people who looks after a group of session rooms). I blogged about the 2015 and 2016 editions, and can’t help but notice from the introductions to those posts that I’ve set to work on my reflections on this year in record time.


The thing is, I don’t even like Game of Thrones…

The reasons for this are three-fold. First, I have the time to do so (although I must confess this is eating into the time I had earmarked for other writing). Second, this year’s IMC was the most stimulating and productive one I’ve been to – something to do with being present for all four days, perhaps? – and many others would seem to have had a similarly superlative experience. Third, and very much interlinked with the previous point, I met a host of great new people and reconnected with many from IMCs and other conferences gone by. I even went out for a few pints with my Leeds first year undergrad tutor (from the days when I had visions of being a transport planner!) who had taken time out of his schedule earlier in the week to come and see me give my paper.

I have some pretty big fish I want to fry in the wake of this year’s IMC, but also want to talk about my paper and the session – The Medieval Landscape / Seascape II: Landscapes of ‘The Other’ and Identity (#s217) – of which it was part. Rather than try and combine personal reflection and polemic in a single post, I’ve chosen to write two, beginning with some thoughts about my own contribution to the Congress and the host session for the paper.

Let’s get the travelogue bit over and done with first. I spent the Sunday night into Monday morning travelling to Leeds from Killarney in Ireland, a journey that took 16 hours door-to-door, and involved three buses, one plane, and finally an uphill walk from Leeds Coach Station at 5.10am because this was Leeds and not London, so there were no night buses. (It also included a whistle-stop tour of the historic Limerick, which is worth a look as you’ll gather from the pics above.) All of which meant plenty of time sat around in airports but very little time for sleeping. Therefore, given I was operating on scarcely an hour’s sleep when I stood up to speak, I reckon my paper went ok!


Central Leeds at 5.10am Monday morning. The design of the new John Lewis store doesn’t convince when you’re running on a few minutes of sleep, and doesn’t fare much better when you’re feeling much more rested.

Ever since seeing the CFP and putting together a proposal while travelling across the US last summer, I wanted to use my paper as a means for taking a really good look at the social identities and attendant processes of othering embodied by the -ingas group-names that I study. It gave me the opportunity to flesh out an idea I first hit upon a couple of years ago and presented as a postscript to a paper I gave at a workshop in Leicester; namely, that -ingas name formations were self-legitimating through ancestry and the choice of titular figureheads, and that these had wider resonance, meaning the group’s name could be applied to land or landscape features in order make/defend its claims in a period which lacked written title deeds. I investigated this through a series of case studies drawn from points named in Old English charter boundary clauses, culled from the database of the brilliant LangScape website. This culminated in a discussion of Sunningwell in Oxfordshire based in part on observations I made during a visit to the village and parish precisely one week before.

Title slide

As I said at the start of my paper, it’s not a proper place-names presentation without at least one picture of a signpost

The two papers that followed mine were different in their approaches to the topic of otherness, as well as in their particular geographical foci. Daryl Hendley Rooney looked at representations of the Irish as constructed by Gerald of Wales in his Topographia Hibernica. Gerald did something of a hatchet job on those west of the Irish Sea, making them out to be a barbaric “other” by comparison with their Welsh contemporaries, and Daryl gave a brilliant introduction to how this was reflected in part through descriptions of the Irish landscape. This was followed by Marta Sancho i Planas presenting some preliminary findings from her excavations at a remarkable site named Els Altimiris in Spain. This has been revealed to be an unusual example of a religious community that established itself in an elevated, isolated site in order to assert its right to exist outside of the control of powerful local archbishoprics and bishoprics. I especially liked Dr Sancho i Planas’ final conclusion that this was a pioneering community of others, paving the way for a “new normality”.


The excavated remains of the church at Els Altimiris. The church was of two cells, first built in the 5th or 6th century CE, and rebuilt or remodelled in the 7th century, when the buildings whose remains you can see beyond were also erected. Photo from the Els Altimiris project website.

As I think I say after every conference I speak at, I much prefer presenting in sessions like this one where there’s a spread of themes, rather than everyone dancing on the head of pin, as it makes audience and speakers alike work that little bit harder to make connections between the papers, which I find much more rewarding. The questions that followed our papers and the discussions they stimulated were similarly diverse. One thing which struck me was all three papers were presenting research that’s a few years away from being completed, whether as doctoral thesis or published excavation report. I like the idea of all three of us coming back to IMC 2022 and reprising our paper subjects to give the full story about our research!

More immediately, for anyone who wasn’t at the session (and also for anyone who was!),  I’ve tidied up my paper script and uploaded it to read right here. I’ve added it to my Academia profile, too, where, for what it’s worth, you’ll also find the abstract I submitted to the session organisers way back when. I’ve reintroduced some material back into the paper that I had to cut in order to get it to around the 20-minute mark. Bonus content yo! (If you would like the PowerPoint slides that went with the paper, email me at surrey and I’ll hook you up.) I wrote the paper before reading James Harland’s debut article for Medieval Worlds, which among many things emphasises the important point that otherness is not the same as difference, rather it is the opposite of sameness. I think this view has a lot of applicability to -ingas names, which (as linguistic items anyway) are so obviously variations on a theme. However, I’m not prepared to cast out all talk of otherness in conjunction with -ingas just yet (and certainly not rewrite large chunks of my paper!), as I think it is an interesting concept with which to examine the strategies behind such name formations, particularly in a landscape context.

Without committing myself to something that will never happen, I hope to be able to find the time during this summer to do put together a short blog summarising my trip to Sunningwell and why it was crucial to my thinking on the place-name and history of the estate/parish. But these things have a tendency to take months to happen, not weeks, so bear with me!


The spring-fed pond in the centre of Sunningwell village, almost certainly the source of the place-name. Overlooking it is the medieval church of St Lawrence. But just how significant is this pairing?

Lastly, thanks to the wonderful Drs Kimm Curran and Karl Christian Alvestad for organising the session and another successful Medieval Landscape / Seascape series; to Prof Sam Turner for moderating; and most of all to my fellow presenters for presenting such interesting research.

Part 2 will be with you shortly…

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Barrows, Charters, Conference, Landscape, Leeds, Old English, Place-Names, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

New work (in progress): Bassishaw and Basinghall

A few weeks ago, I attended a seminar given by Prof. Andrew Reynolds (my primary thesis supervisor, if I haven’t mentioned that before) in which he revisited a paper on the Anglo-Saxon archaeology of the City of London first delivered at a conference last year. Without giving too much away, seeing as how it is to be written up for publication, a cluster of evidence was highlighted that seems to suggest an enduring intramural focus of political activity pre-dating the famed reestablishment of London as an urban centre by King Alfred in 886 (and separate to any ecclesiastical centre at St Paul’s). Part of this hypothesis is founded upon minor place-name evidence, including two names that appear to contain a form of the Old English (OE) element -ingas. Now I hardly hide the fact that this is the main focus of what I research, and indeed I’d developed my own line of thinking about the significance of this brace of names previously. Having the impetus to take a closer look at them, however, has led me to drastically alter my interpretation of one of the two: Bassishaw aka Basinghall.


What began life as the rest of this post, intended as my Easter gift to Surrey Medieval readers, has now made the leap into a separate page, and a new kind of page for me or rather this site. Click here to read it. To acknowledge that the piece sprawled into something far too long and detailed for quick and easy consumption, but remains at an intermediate point in its evolution, I’ve styled it a work in progress. This is in the hope some people might be minded not only to read it but also offer comments and criticisms that will serve to improve any future version. Certainly, any rewrite will distill the content into a much shorter, sharper form – build it up to tear it down, if you will! All the same, if you just fancy reading some thoughts about a relatively mysterious period in the City of London’s history and archaeology, accompanied by more photos of street signs than you can shake a stick at, then put your feet up and give it a go.

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Archaeology, Charters, Dating, History, London, Old English, Place-Names | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

410-1066 CE: What should we call the period (at least so far as Surrey is concerned)?

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Snippets of ‘Saxon’ Surrey – Godalming/Tuesley to be precise – as seen in Godalming Museum in January 2017

Midway through last month, I finished editing my first Surrey Archaeological Society Medieval Studies Forum Newsletter. I’m pretty proud of the finished product, if I do say so myself! You’ll have to join the Forum to enjoy the whole thing, but I thought I’d share something from it on Surrey Medieval. In fact, I’ve added to the published piece, written as an attempt to answer to the misleadingly simple question posed in the title of this post. All the usual suspects are given the once-over: Early Medieval and Middle Ages, Anglo-Saxon, Late Antiquity, even Dark Ages (but anyone expecting to see a weighing of the merits of the label “The Age of Arthur” or cognates need read no further). Click here to read it – but maybe read the following first…

As I hope is clear from my title, whether it is explicitly stated or not, the discussion throughout is geared primarily around evaluating the merits of various labels in terms of the archaeology and history of Surrey rather than England or some other wider historical geographical area. Notwithstanding this fact, it does offer some more general commentary as well. In doing so, it follows in the footsteps of —nay, is overshadowed by— some truly excellent recent contributions from several scholars of whose research I am a great admirer. So, as much as anything, it serves as a place where links and references to a number of important pieces are collected together.

What I’m hoping is that we’re witnessing at least the start of a shift change in the choices of words and phrases used when writing about the archaeology and history of the period (NB. I largely omitted issues surrounding linguistics in the piece because I was writing originally for an audience consisting primarily of amateur historians and archaeologists). Just because the issues are complex and may in the end require a break with what has gone before doesn’t mean we should shy away from the task. The vibrant and vital contemporary discourses around choices of terminology concerning gender and sexuality show how the considered (re)evaluation of terminology can lead to changes for the better — though not always consensus! Indeed, my piece perhaps does not offer as many hard-and-fast conclusions as you might expect, and and is certainly not intended to be any last word on the matter. With this in mind, maybe think of it more as a setting down and sharing of my opinions at the present point in time. I’ve changed my mind and my praxis in recent years, and no doubt will to do so again in the future!


Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Archaeology, Architecture, Dating, History, Language, Middlesex, Soapbox, Surrey, Sussex, Viking | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Castle or causeway? Further adventures in historical field-names

Everyone likes castles, right? They’re one of the things that make the medieval period what it is in many people’s eyes. Of course, not every castle looks like Bodiam (yes, that one that’s on the cover of pretty much EVERY book to do with castles or medieval England) or, to pick one I visited not all that long ago, Warkworth in Northumberland…

Warkworth castle 1

Warkworth Castle is marvellous, definitely worth a visit if you’re ever on the Northumberland coast. In one of the few good things to come out of my old job, I managed to blag a weekend in Warkworth (a delightful old town in its own right) at the company’s expense. SUCKERS!

Many medieval castles lack any (above-ground) masonry remnants and instead exist as earthworks – and many others nowadays have little or nothing whatsoever to show for themselves on the ground. But they can be remembered in other ways: in documents, for example, or in a place-name. A few years ago, I spotted a trio of field-names that looked to me as if they could denote the site of a lost castle in the Surrey countryside. Well, to be accurate, I thought they might represent either a later medieval castle or an earlier, Anglo-Saxon-period fortified/defensible centre. I tinkered with the possibility for a little bit, trying to understand which might be the more likely explanation, but didn’t take it very far and soon moved on to something else.

In recent months, I’ve had cause to revisit the matter and dedicate more attention to it, because a significant chunk of my time has been spent writing and now revising a research article on the burh or stronghold of (to) Escingum, i.e. Eashing, just outside Godalming in south-west Surrey. The primary purpose of the article is/will be to critically evaluate the site of the burh that was first suggested in a note published by Fred Aldsworth and David Hill in 1971, and has been accepted by all others who have written on the matter subsequently. It’s not that the original note and the contributions that followed do not make a solid case for the site in question, but a quarter of a century later David Hill himself wrote that the identification was ‘less convincing’ than others made in relation to different “lost” Burghal Hidage strongholds, which suggested to me that there’s reason to look at the evidence in a fresh, 21st-century light.

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Looking across the accepted, and by far the most credible, site of the Eashing burh from its north-west corner. My photo, taken late December 2016.

I’ve blogged previously about the main “new” piece of evidence I wish to bring to the table through my article (in fact, I have since discovered multiple earlier and later occurrences of that particular field-name) but there are other elements to the analysis besides. One of these was checking that there was not a more credible burghal site awaiting re-identification in the immediate surroundings of the present-day Eashing hamlets. In the end, I identified three possible alternative sites, one of which being the field-name cluster that implies the former existence of a castle.

The anonymous reviewers of my article draft quite rightly commented that what I wrote was overkill in view of the fact that none of my three alternatives comes anywhere near to being as credible as the one suggested by Aldsworth and Hill – albeit Nicholas Brooks seems to have been the first to come up with the idea, but that’s another story… Most of the words I wrote about this trio have been excised from the revised text, but I felt some of them merited presenting here as a standalone piece that shows the benefits of paying close attention to historic name-forms (not that I didn’t write about this very topic at the very end of last year). As for the other two candidate sites, well, you’ll just have to wait until the finished article is published; not this year as I’d hoped, but next year or the year after (else you should have come to the talk I gave about it back in February!).

The fields and field-names I want to focus on here were situated in the vicinity of Oxenford, approximately one mile to the south-west of the Eashing hamlets in the neighbouring parish of Witley. (Their sites are largely free from later development but their boundaries have been largely erased, hence why I don’t refer to them in the present tense.) Oxenford is a small sub-parochial place that first emerges in the historical record in the 12th century as a property of Waverley Abbey, located a few miles further west. In a document of appendices to a 2010 article entitled ‘The home estate, granges and smaller properties of Waverley Abbey’, Mark Service reported the field-names Castle FieldCastle Field Mead and Castlefield Row from the tithe apportionment for Witley, shown on the accompanying map in a cluster south of Elstead Road close to Oxenford Grange (S29, S31; both the apportionment of 1844 and map of 1840 are kept at the Surrey History Centre, catalogued as respectively MIL/10/1 and 864/1/135).

Castle Field

The view south from Elstead Road across what was mapped as Castle Field in 1840; the big tree on the right marks the line of the former west boundary of the field (image from Google Street View)

This trio of abutting fields were positioned at and just beyond the eastern end of a low outcrop of Sandgate Beds sandstone on the southern edge of the Wey floodplain, adjacent to a small tributary stream. This is not a site of great natural defensibility, but the field-names would seem to point to the former presence of a fortification (albeit not necessarily one of medieval origin; the district of Castlefield in Manchester takes its name from early recognition of the remains of the Roman fort of Mamucium). The first half of the name would appear to represent OE castel or ME castēl, ‘castle’, which got me thinking about a curious reference made by John Aubrey on page 40 of the third volume of his Natural History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey, written in the late 17th century but revised and published in 1718:

West of Oxenford, near the Heath, is a round artificial Hill or Barrow.’

There is no such feature visible in the approximate location today. But, bearing in mind the relative proximity of Castle Field and its namesakes, might it be possible that this round artificial hill was a motte, and that, instead of West, Aubrey meant South? I’ll readily admit that I’m forever getting my directions muddled up in writing, and that south of the fields lay Bagmoor Common, now a heathland nature reserve. Nonetheless, it’s a bit of a stretch to accept such a fundamental error (more so given that west of Oxenford is Royal Common, another area of ‘open acid grassland heath’), and to be certain of the credibility of the field-names – let alone that they marked the site of Aubrey’s mound – requires additional, earlier attestations.

A lot of searches of online catalogues led me to identify a number of other historic sources in local archives that I anticipated could contain earlier forms of the same field-name(s). My first port of call was the Surrey History Centre in Woking, and a date with a curious 1812 notebook of tithe information from the Godalming area (G145/BOX64/5). However, there was no trace of any Castle Field/Castlefield-type field-name under Oxenford. What was in evidence, on the other hand, was Causeway Field – not so different in spelling, but very different in meaning.

I felt like I had a game on my hands, and the halftime score was Castle 1, Causeway 1. I kicked off the second half (sorry, but I like this footballing metaphor and I’m sticking with it) by turning my attention to an early 18th-century transcription of information from a lost Oxenford estate map of 1715 (G145/BOX1/1). This yielded what on first impressions was an equivocal, could-stand-for-one-or-the-other name: Causey field. With everything still to play for, I took the match to extra time…

…and a different venue, the small but perfectly formed Local Studies Library of Godalming Museum. Among its small collection of original local deeds (the earliest of which is a gorgeous mid-13th century charter that will be the subject of a future SM post or page) is a 1681 release of a moiety of Oxenford with an appended, seemingly contemporary schedule of lands and properties (PWD/27/2). It’s a somewhat difficult document to read, but after a good deal of peering and getting used to the handwriting, I spotted the name I’d come for – Casey Feild:

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“called Casey Feild”: excerpt from the schedule of lands and properties attached to the 1681 release. Go to Godalming Museum’s Local Studies Library and see it for yourself – details of its location, opening times and accessibility can be found here.

By this time, I knew enough on the language side of things to be confident that a spelling like Casey (or Causey) was not some vernacular mangling of Castle, but something consistent with a form of ME caucē(e) < Anglo-French caucié(e), ‘A raised and surfaced road; a highway or causeway’. With what was now getting on for a century and a half of consistent written testimony weighed firmly in favour of this interpretation, I blew the final whistle: 3-1 to Causeway, and a clear winner – if not the one I’d expected when I started!

It must be noted that there are differences between the recorded acreages of these fields, sometimes fluctuating by more than an acre, but these may represent boundary alterations or differences in surveying techniques/competency! Over all, I find it highly probable that they all pertain to the same piece of land later mapped and named as Castle Field. My confidence is also based on the trip I took at the end of January to the Historic England Archive in Swindon, where I looked at aerial photographs of this and the other possible burghal sites. No likely cropmarks were perceptible in any of the images I looked at, which spanned several decades and were taken at different times of the year.

The Causeway

The causeway of Casey/Causey/Causeway Field fame as it exists today (okay, in 2009). Note how it is clearly elevated above the level of the pasture field on the right-hand side of the image; this formed part of Castle Field Mead in the 1840s (image from Google Street View)

The original reference would appear to be to the causeway that still carries Elstead Road (the B3001) across the apparently-nameless stream that flows north to join the Wey. It is possible that this superseded an earlier crossing that gave its name to Oxenford (an unusually transparent OE name *Oxenaford, “ford of the oxen”), although this may pertain to a crossing of the Wey between Witley and Paper Harow parishes. Indeed, it’s got me wondering if the causeway was perhaps a creation of Waverley Abbey, not only holder of Oxenford but also proposed as the patron of the nearby 13th-century Somerset and Eashing Bridges.

But how to account for the change Cause(wa)y > Castle? If 1812 is treated as a terminus post quem, then it would appear to have occurred remarkably late in time. My preferred explanation currently centres on the fact that the Witley tithe apportionment was created at the same time as the finishing touches were being applied to a new gatehouse and barn at Oxenford (plus an extraordinary arched wellhead for the medicinal Bonville Spring nearby) designed by the great Gothic Revival architect, Augustus Pugin. The building of such unapologetically medievalist structures hereabouts in 1843-44 (according to pages 12-14 of Christopher Budgen’s West Surrey Architecture, 1840-2000; The Pugin Society attribute the farm buildings to the year 1841) may have been the spur for a similar intervention in the surrounding toponymy. Could it be that, as a counterpoint to the lavish ecclesiastical stylings of Pugin’s new edifices, someone was inspired to reanalyse the name of Causeway Field and its smaller neighbours as something altogether more estimable and befitting of (neo-)medieval Oxenford?

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