This post originally trailed the above day workshop held at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology on 22nd June 2016. The event was organised by all-round good egg Murray Andrews, a fellow IoA PhD researcher and late of Medieval Bayton parish. I’m pretty certain the first time I got in touch with Murray was about a brilliant blog post he wrote on a cryptic 17th-century Worcestershire parish register entry that he’d turned up: “It ye ghold yt was found was buryed“. It made me think of Surrey instances of the place- or field-name Goldhord (or riffs upon it), literally “gold/treasure hoard”. I had a quick search of the usual reference works and shared what I found with Murray, then let the matter be. The upcoming workshop was the inspiration for working up my original list into a blog post, testing the distribution of the names against Portable Antiquities Scheme data.
Let’s begin with the minor place-names and field-names in Surrey from OE goldhord/ME gōldhord noted in The Place-Names of Surrey (PNS), to which I’ve added another, making a surprisingly high county total of seven. In order of attestation, they are:
- Goldsworth in Woking < la Goldhord(e) 1229- (PNS, 157)
- Goldenlands in Dorking < ?Goldhordland 1403 (PNS, 275)
- Goldhord ?1408 (lost) in Ewell (shown just to the right of centre of this map of early 15th-century Ewell)
- Goldhurd 1548 (lost) in Shere (PNS, 157)
- Goldwhurd 1610- (lost) in ?Titsey (PNS, 338; ‘Various neolithic finds have been made in the neighbourhood and it may be that some treasure was once found here’)
- Goldhorde (Field) in Chiddingfold < Golden-hoard 1798, Gold Hord 1842 (Gardner 1924, 3; PNS, 389-90)
- Goldhard Farm in Godstone (No early forms given in PNS, 321, only the comment ‘It is on a Roman road’) is perhaps the same as Golards Farm deep in the Surrey Weald south of Newchapel, and apparently to be associated with Gold Hoards Wood 1748.
(Another, admittedly very dubious, name is Golding’s Copse in Abinger < Goldens lande c.1570? (PNS, 263); this may well be a reference to a one-time owner/holder of the land, or perhaps to the perceived golden quality of its soils.)
In medieval literature, the term was a popular one. A simple search of the Dictionary of Old English Web Corpus turns up no fewer than 157 results for goldhord, while the Middle English Dictionary (in subsection 2d of the entry for gōld) quotes a further eight instances spanning the period circa 1175-1500. So what do these names mean? Bosworth Toller’s dictionary entry for OE goldhord, based upon literary rather than toponymic attestations, gave two meanings: ‘A treasure, treasury’ (MED supplies only the former for ME gōldhord). He supplied many more instances of OE gold used in texts, but did not adequately distinguish whether this meant gold as the precious metal element or as a more abstract signifier of riches or payment. The additional entries under gold give a much better sense of the range of meanings: treasure, form of wealth, ornament, material, and payment. For OE hord, he gave the partly overlapping ‘hoard, treasure’. The diverse possibilities for gold set out by Bosworth Toller are refined by the Thesaurus of Old English, which advances what boil down to three basic senses: a metal, treasure/wealth, and coinage/money.
The general sense emerging from the above is of literary goldhord/gōldhord is much as PNS posited regarding its meaning in place-names: ‘The gold hoard or treasure’ (PNS, 157) or ‘Land where some treasure was once found’ (PNS, 275; this is paraphrased by Field 1989, 90). PNS speculated at several points on what lay behind the names, doing so at greatest length in the Introduction (xviii):
“The compound gold-hord which occurs three or four times in the county does not necessarily refer to treasure buried by Britons at the time of the Saxon invasions, but an examination of the sites shows that all except Goldsworth are at no great distance from old roads or tracks.”
The whole fifth-century chaos idea is indeed a weak one, particularly in terms of trying to explain all such names. What I’m interested in here, particularly in light of Murray’s post and its focus on the possible discovery of golden artefacts as the stimulus for a record in a local source, be it a parish register or place-name, is to see if data from PAS might be able to help account for them.
Acquiring the data is a straightforward task: All artefacts & coins ➔ County of origin = Surrey ➔ Material = Gold. This generates a total of 198 results, from a total county population of 10818 available search results, as of 15th June 2016. (The numbers are a little higher with researcher-level access, but I’m a man of the people so I’ll keep it public.) In other words, artefacts recorded as being made of gold make up a less than 2% of the Surrey total. Within these, 157 (or not far off 80%) are ascribed to the Iron Age; a substantial proportion are duplicates of entries from the Celtic Coin Index.
The next highest number are objects attributed a post-medieval date (23), which are probably too late to be of relevance to Goldhord name coinages. Save for one unidentified small, plain lump of sheet gold, the remaining artefacts are of no little interest. There are nine Medieval artefacts: 5 finger-rings, 3 coins, and a beautiful jewelled pin-head found during the recent excavations at Woking Palace. Almost all are late medieval: the earliest of the rings, from Shere (shown below), at least is dated to the period 1175-1300, whereas the earliest coin belongs to the years 1363-69 (SUR-BAB296). This is relevant, at least to an extent, given Goldsworth first appears on record in the early 13th century, but some of the other names may have been formed later in the Middle English period.
Numbers of artefacts from other PAS periods are much more scarce. The search yields three Early Medieval results, yet there are issues even with this small number. One is a disc pendant (SUR-883362) that came to light at a Surrey car-boot sale, but probably was not originally found in the county. A second is a pale gold Pada coin found at Pyrford (SUR-075EF5); the gold content in such coins is very low and for this reason the main material of a comparable coin from Dorking is given as silver (SUR-2CF753). By contrast, the third find, a Merovingian tremissis from Titsey parish, is one instantly recognisable as being made of gold because its gold content is much higher.
There are three Roman gold artefacts, all later fourth-century solidi, including a very worn one from Godstone (PAS-67A4E1 – unfortunately there’s no photo). Lastly, the Bronze Age is represented by two penannular rings from below the North Downs scarp at Betchworth (SUR-8F221C) and Reigate (SUR-B78614). By picking out the entries relevant to parishes containing Goldhord names (and I must underscore that I’ve kept this to parish level, rather than pursuing congruences between recorded artefacts provenances and the names), I’ve produced the following table:
What the table shows is that 5 out of 7 parishes are the provenance of at least one gold artefact entered in the PAS database. Remember this is a PAS-only survey; scouring the likes of the Historic Environment Record may very well fill in some of the gaps. Another point that must be made is that without going through the PAS data and finding out the total number of Surrey parishes from which gold artefacts are recorded, it’s probably not wise to place a huge amount of emphasis on the above proportion. All the same, proceeding on the assumption that none of them represents a modern loss or deliberate disposal of a long-curated item, it does demonstrate that there was the possibility for “ancient” gold objects to be found in these places and inspire the creation of Goldhord names. Obviously this was all without the aid of metal detectors, but it must be remembered that these were more hands-dirty days when most people in rural areas were directly involved in agriculture.
Even so, is this really any more convincing as a universal explanation than British ‘treasure’ concealment in the expectation of Saxon invaders? Does it not still beg the question of what is “golden” about these names? After all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Antiquarian accounts provide some good context for the Chiddingfold example, and suggest it may be better not to interpret Goldhords too literally. It was first discussed by Rev. James Douglas in his 1798 Nenia Britannica, who made the following valuable record (quoted by Gardner 1924, 3; bold formatting my addition):
“I opened a very large barrow, at a place called Gostrode, and traditionally preserved by the country people under the name of Golden-hoard, from a conception, by its artificial structure, of its containing a treasure: the only treasures found were the remains of a skeleton, and brown vessel of unbaked clay, usually placed in our large barrows […] Near the skeleton were some trifling fragments of corroded brass, probably the remains of a clasp or buckle.”
Here, if Douglas’ local informants are to be trusted, we find local tradition regarding the possibility of treasure being found rather than the actual discovery of any artefacts, golden or otherwise. Douglas notes that the barrow had been repeatedly ploughed in recent years but, unless it being ‘considerably depressed’ (see Gardner 1924, 3) has more than one implication, there’s no sense that it had already been plundered. Prehistoric worked flints but no metalwork were reported in the vicinity of the barrow in the 1920s, when the field-name is rendered as ‘Goldhorde Field’ and ‘Goldhorde field’ (Halahan 1925.) The stimulus for the field-name was hence the existence of a round barrow, its recognition as such, and the (mis)understanding that monuments of its kind contained “treasure” – a trope that stretches far back in time.
Surrey’s Goldhord place-names and field-names stand for encounters between the inhabitants of a place and the material remains of a past they understood in terms of time-out-of-mind folklore. Golden artefacts could be found in the fields and woodlands of medieval Surrey, but people were far more likely to discover other types of “treasure”. Non-gold coins, other metal artefacts, even prehistoric flints: all seem to have had the power to spark the imaginations of those who found or heard about them. So too the potential to find ancient riches. Consequently, a Goldhord name is best interpreted as indicative of a site of what we’d now class as archaeological significance, be it an above-ground feature or a find-spot, for which there was no explanation in the direct memory of the local community for how it came to be there, but a ready-made (and long-standing) vernacular term for characterising it.
SEPTEMBER 2016 UPDATE: I’ve found evidence of another Goldhord name, this time from the north-east of the county. It occurs as a locative byname found in three variant forms in Surrey-related entries to the Feet of Fines: Richard de la Goldhord concerning to property in Wimbledon in 1294-95, Richard and Alice atte Goldhorde in Battersea in 1310, and Richard and Alice del Goldhord in Wimbledon again in 1311 (Lewis 1894, 63, 74, 76). The trio presumably pertain to the same man – and also woman in two cases – and represent an interesting range of ways of forming the byname. What is much harder to ascertain is whether the name stems from a local Goldhord place-name, as opposed to one brought from elsewhere, and if it does then from which parish? Battersea and Wimbledon were adjoining parishes, so it can be cautiously suggested that it lay in their vicinity, but without further, place-specific testimony further speculation is not possible and the name has not been integrated with the above analysis.
REFERENCES (hyperlinked when available online for free)
Field, John, English Field Names: A Dictionary (Gloucester & Wolfeboro, NH: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1989).
Gover, J. E. B., A. Mawer and F. M. Stenton, The Place-Names of Surrey, English Place-Name Society, 11 (Cambridge: University Press, 1934).