New work – Puttenham, Puttenham, Puttenham

Despite living in London (not to mention a clutch of northern cities before it), I still consider the little Surrey village of Puttenham to be my home. A couple of days ago, after spilling half a can of a market-leading bitter over my laptop (it’s now in computer intensive care, positive healing thoughts would be much appreciated), I was forced to seek another machine to complete the upload of three papers to do with the village and parish. It’s quite apt, therefore, that I should end up writing this précis to them in Puttenham, on what in the good old days was (and I suppose still is) called “the family computer”.

For reasons that I don’t really need to elaborate upon seeing as how they are set out in the bodies of the papers (and for that matter in the title of one), this summer has seemed like an opportune time to set down my thoughts on a gamut of things to do with the pre-historical developments in land uses and settlement locations/forms within the area encompassed by the present civil parish of Puttenham (give or take a few boundary changes discernible through historical records). Doing this has given me the chance to recalibrate my attitude towards my accomplishments over the 10+ years I have been actively engaged in the research, lessening my disappointment that I have not completed the report giving a full account of my data collation and analysis some four years after I thought it would have been done, and emphasising that what I have found meshes well – but not unquestioningly so – with the propositions of key research projects (e.g. Whittlewood) and leading lights in landscape studies (e.g. Tom Williamson). The enterprise is belatedly entering a second phase and the search for new data to fill in the gaps and answer the questions posed by my work to date. Ultimately, I hope that this will be published in one form or another, but for the time being I have made the following trio of pieces available as an interim round-up of what one man (and a couple of Mancunian cats) has been able to achieve.

The first, ‘Ten Years Gone’ to give it its short-version title (though I can’t say I was well-versed in the Led Zep song prior to fishing around for a decade-evoking phrase to bolt on to the longer, more functional element) is the overview of the whole shooting match, explaining the germination of a fairly simple idea into a completely different and exponentially more complicated endeavour that nonetheless has served to answer several more unanswered questions – not to mention a whole bunch that had never been asked before – and raise still more in the process. I’m very happy with how it’s turned out, give or take a few topics that couldn’t been squeezed in without causing it to spiral into a beast twice the length of that you find here.

The second essay grew out of the first. Again purloining someone else’s words for the purpose of a more memorable title, ‘they would come and make a city here’ (this being a John Aubrey quote that I believe was itself the paraphrasing of a sixteenth-century poet with Surrey connections whose name I have forgotten – but will find out pronto!) began as an eleventh-hour recycling and expansion of one section of the above as a means of creating a piece suitable for publication in the Surrey Archaeological Society’s Bulletin. Whether it does make the grade and get printed is something that remains to be seen, but the piece is something I wanted to share regardless as it demonstrates the ways in which limited evidence can be made to go a long way if used correctly and with reference to the wider scholarly context, and equally how quickly you run out of road when there is a lack of dateable evidence to bring to bear on the matters in hand. It encapsulates where “the Puttenham project” stands at the present time; a carefully (dare I say exhaustively) constructed framework that points to strong likelihoods but without the solid evidence to conclusively seal the deal. Hopefully it will be a lot fewer than ten years before I can report further progress on this front!

Finally, a request for help that comes in the form of a brief(ish) note; ‘Crossing Boundaries’. There is little doubt in my mind that a substantial tract of land was grafted on to Puttenham parish in order to give it access to a much larger area of water meadows than it had been able to call its own previously (with a chunk of heath or wood pasture as an added, though much less urgently required, bonus) and that this happened between the later tenth century (on the basis of the boundary description of S 382) and the later thirteenth century (when Cutt Mill is first recorded; its pond overlapped the above-mentioned boundary line). My feeling is that this was another important innovation of the twelfth century linked to Puttenham’s inception as a manor, parish and (perhaps most relevant here) village. Moreover, there is an analogous example of a boundary change involving Wanborough parish just the other side of the Hog’s Back and I believe these two are the tip of a little-discussed but fascinating phenomenon, one that, with a pinch of inspiration/imagination, can be explained through the combination of historical and topographical information. As a request for help, I hope to elicit a response from those who read it and would be most grateful to receive any examples or comments on why such things should have occurred – is the address.


About Robert J S Briggs

Back to being a part-time early medievalist; Surrey born, London based, been known to travel
This entry was posted in Anglo-Saxon, Archaeology, Being organised, Documents, History, Landscape, Place, Place-Names, Pottery, Puttenham, Surrey, Topography and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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