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). The only information given about the production of the facsimiles is the following frustratingly vague note:

‘The original documents (from which the copies here annexed were taken) are in my inspection very ancient parchments. The copies are of the size and in imitation of the originals. I wrote them – Charlotte drew the Seals’

With the usual apologies for my Latin skills, the excerpt 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)


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 Agriculture, Charters, Dating, Documents, Landscape, Latin, Place-Names, Puttenham, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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