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).


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, Documents, Field-names, History, Landscape, Middle English, Place-Names, Puttenham, Surrey and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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