Mapping the Medieval Countryside

Every now and again, I find out about an online resource that goes on to yield information I did not know existed up until that point, either because it makes available material that was previously unpublished or that was sequestered away in hard-to-find published editions. Mapping the Medieval Countryside – – is just such a resource, and one that is worth bringing to wider attention (not for the first time, I’m behind the curve in being aware of the research project behind it, and likewise of the excellent-sounding companion book(s)). I used to put these things under my Links tab, maybe I will start doing so again, but seeing as how I’ve started I’ll plug on here and now with a brief overview of the site and then an example of what its subject matter can do to improve our understanding of the late medieval landscape of certain places.


MMC presents the texts of all English inquisitions post mortem (IPMs) from these years – that is to say ‘formal inquiries into the lands held at their deaths by tenants-in-chief of the crown …[i.e.] those who held lands directly from the king’ (seeing as how I’ve taken this quote from the site’s About page, why don’t I just refer you there for a full account of them?) Its timespan is the period 1418-1447 (at least for the time being), a bit late on in the medieval period for my normal tastes, but for very good reasons. If you’ve never seen or heard of IPMs before, let me tell you that they are fantastic sources, particularly in terms of the shine they light upon the institutional geographies of the later medieval English countryside, be it in terms of the social relations embodied by records of knights fees and rental payments, or the land uses and acreages of demesnes.

Most of the inquisition texts are formulaic and brief, giving little away in terms of details that might be useful to the landscape historian. But a minority are more forthcoming with local-level information, and short of contemporaneous surveys or accounts, I struggle to think of textual sources that afford such a window into the medieval manorial landscape. (There are also a fair few instances of inquisitions about proof of age, which consist of assorted old codgers saying they were doing this, that or the other on the day a child was baptised – some make for unintentionally hilarious reading).

My hope is that it continues to expand beyond its current Beta status to fulfil the stated intention of covering the entirety of the period circa 1236-1509, as it would comprise a formidable online resource for researchers and so forth. Far too many projects of this ilk tend to stall for want of money or personnel and never reach their full scale (viz. LangScape and ASChart/Anglo-Saxon Charters, two excellent resources I make ample use of when and where I can), so I hope those behind MMC will be able to avoid such pitfalls and complete the project.

Before you disappear and dive into the database for yourself, I’ll give an example of what the best (in the sense of most detailed) IPMs can reveal and thus help to refine our impressions of the late medieval rural landscape. Puttenham’s sole appearance in the database is enlightening so far as it goes, but that’s not very far when compared with certain other IPMs. Therefore, I want to focus on one related to Peper Harow, something of a favourite medieval place of mine in Surrey (hence my blogging about it once, twice, thrice before). Specifically, this is the inquisition post mortem for Joan Brocas, widow of Bernard, a knight, that took place at Guildford on 8th June 1429. After summarising various lands and rents in Guildford and adjacent Artington, the inquisition text moves on to the third of the manor of Peper Harow formerly in Bernard Brocas’ tenure:

“1/3 manor with a byre, stable, and dovecot on the eastern side of the church; a meadow called ‘Roberdesmede’ containing 3 acres; a meadow called ‘Gillemede’ containing one acre; 6½ a. arable in ‘le Courtfeld’ in ‘le Northfere’; 5 a. arable in ‘le Estfeld’ in ‘Stonyfere’; 5 a. arable in the same field called ‘le Middelfere’; a moor called ‘le Frythebrok’ containing 2 acres; 3 a. arable in ‘le Colcroft’; a moor called ‘Colcroft’, containing 1 a.; a warren containing 2 a. pasture in ‘le Northfeld’ with an adjacent garth by the Peper Harow cross”

The Peper Harow section ends with a list of assize rents dues from various tenants, among which was Maud Attelford, whose second name points to her residing at Attleford, the tiny almost-hamlet on the western edge of the parish.

The most interesting details the inquisition supplies for Peper Harow relate to the geography of the medieval village and the surrounding agricultural landscape. Most direct evidence was lost when Peper Harow manor was rebuilt as a mansion, the village remodelled and the surrounding land emparked, all of which occurred in the latter half of the 18th century. In the early 15th century, the demesne centre is stated to have lain due east of the church(yard), and I think the wording indicates the three named structures were on the west of the manorial enclosure. Even if not, the inquisition text confirms that the present mansion and grounds stand on the same spot as their late medieval precursors. 


Looking south-west across Peper Harow Park towards the floodplain of the River Wey. The land in the foreground may have fallen within the medieval “Court Field”, beyond which were the meadows.

The 1429 inquisition specifies three types of non-arable land use: meadow, i.e. grassland kept for mowing, moor, land of marshy or otherwise not notably productive character used for grazing, and pasture – in this case logically for rabbits. The two meadows unsurprisingly have names ending with Middle English (ME) mēde, ‘meadow, grassland’: the first half of the former is evidently the personal name Robert, but the latter is harder to ascertain – a personal name Gille is one possibility, in which case it reinforces the impression that Peper Harow’s meadow resources were under several rather than communal tenure from a date much earlier than that of the IPM. The moor named le Frythebrok is appropriately damp and marginal in its implication (being from ME frith, “woodland/woodland meadow/enclosure/fence” + brōk, “(small) stream”), whereas (le) Colcroft, named as a location for arable land as well, is suitably less immediately explicable (take your pick from ME cōl, “vegetable”, cōl, “charcoal”, or cōl, “cool, cold” + croft, “enclosure, small piece of ground”).

A long time ago, I cited evidence that suggested Peper Harow may not have had a system of multiple open fields, rather its arable was operated on an infield-outfield system. I’m not sure if it’s a source of regret or not to learn from the 1429 inquisition that Peper Harow did after all have a multiplicity of open fields. Indeed, the nomenclature of these fields is very similar to that found in Puttenham. The first named, le Courtfeld, was probably situated close to the demesne centre (its specific most probably being ME court, ‘manor house with its court, enclosed yard’). The second, le Estfeld, i.e. “the East Field”, must have lain to the east of the village and, well, it doesn’t take much to deduce where le Northfeld sat in relation to them, even if it’s not identified as the location of any arable acres by the inquisition. The names of the three named subdivisions of these fields all end in -fere, a ME agricultural term which ultimately comes from Old English furh, ‘a strip for ploughing’, and seems to have been something of a Godalming-area vernacular speciality.


Looking north-west across Peper Harow Park towards Elstead Road and Warren Hill (visible on the horizon on the left-hand side). The footpath running across the park meets Elstead Road by Warren Hill, where the rabbit warren and associated garth lay at the suggested site of “the Peper Harow cross”. The road may have separated the medieval Court and North Fields.

The ‘warren containing 2 acres [of] pasture in “the North Field” with an adjacent garth by the Peper Harow cross’ is of considerable interest from a topographical point of view. To judge from the approximate location intimated by the field-name, it was to be found in the northernmost parts of the manor’s arable. This puts it in the vicinity of Warren Hill, and surely accounts for the surviving place-name. Of course, this then begs the question of what was meant by ‘the Peper Harow cross’. A wayside cross, or a crossroads? As much as I would like it to be the former, I suspect the latter offers a better explanation. It is feasible that the line of the present footpath between Peper Harow village and Warren Hill once continued north from where it meets Elstead Road towards Michen Hall and Rodsall. In fact, there’s still a farm track along this line, and it may mark a much older route than would be suspected without the testimony of the 1429 inquisition. All in all, a window to a world that may have seemed lost to us but, with care, is susceptible to partial reconstruction to a remarkably fine level of detail.

Posted in Agriculture, Documents, Field-names, History, Landscape, Middle English, Peper Harow, Surrey | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New work! Testing Transhumance

A brief post as I’ve gone on about transhumance and pigs more than enough already in the past couple of years. My co-authored article (with the late Dennis Turner) was published a few weeks ago in the new volume of Surrey Archaeological Collections. In time-honoured tradition, I’ve added a page under the Work tab with an introduction to the article and link to the article itself (or go straight to the source here on Academia).

It marks the culmination of around three years of intermittent activity on my part (and many years of thinking and writing on Dennis’ part before that). As something I came to as a complete rookie, the subject matter of the article revealed itself to be of huge interest, with huge amounts still insufficiently understood or yet to be subject to proper synthesis. Unfortunately, it’s not something that I’m going to be able to pursue now or in the near future, other than as a minor element of my PhD research. Thus, I’m hoping that by publishing on early medieval pig husbandry and transhumance, and by making it available online, it might pique the interest of others and inspire the articles and theses I believe the topics deserve!


The hedgerow running up the hill above is the former eastern boundary of Ambersham, the long, thin Wealden estate in West Sussex discussed on page 184 of the article. It was granted by King Edgar to the church of St Andrew, East Meon, in 963; the diploma recording this grant (S 718) includes an Old English boundary clause delimiting the estate.

I say this is the culmination of my work on the matter, but there’s a chance I’ll be speaking on it (and in particular on the bits about which I’ve had changes of heart since completing the article!) at some point this Autumn. As and when this is confirmed, I’ll tweet the details in case anyone who reads this or the article fancies coming along.

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Charters, News, Pigs, Publishing, Sussex | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Out of office

I’m writing this post while on an overnight train from Miami to Washington, DC. I’ve been in the States for a couple of weeks now, having previously been in Cuba for just shy of a fortnight. I’ll be this side of the Pond for another few days (New York beckons after we’re done in Capitol City) then it’s back to London for barely enough time to get over my jetlag before it’s off to Berlin for a “lads” weekend (I use the inverted commas advisedly as fellow lads are in reality two fellow culture vultures who are both leading lights in major London museums!)

I know what you’re thinking, pretty sweet summer holidays, Boasty McBoastface. The thing is, this year to date has been anything but sweet for me. Just after Christmas my father passed away, after several years of poor health and more time spent in hospital than at home. His death was therefore something we knew was coming and so were steeled for, but – as I’m sure many who read these words will know – the grief that follows the passing of a loved one is not something that’s easy to legislate for. It took me considerably longer than I’d bargained on to get back in a positive frame of mind, during the latter stages of which my wonderful girlfriend and I resolved to seize the opportunity of both being temporarily without current employment but with money saved from previous jobs to finish our “life reset” with a flourish by travelling for a few weeks.

Through the past few months Surrey Medieval has been (along with my PhD research) a source of comfort and stability. Regular readers may have noticed several of my 2016 posts have been considerably longer than the pattern established in previous years. The reasons for this have been partly inspiration, and partly consolation. My old man was an architect (and moreover one belonging to the old school – all hand-drawn plans and calculating things himself) but was unstinting in his support for my left-turn into medieval studies. He did his best to keep up with the new things I’d post on Surrey Medieval, so I like to think he’d approve of me putting so much time and energy into stuff for the site since the turn of the year.

I love travel (who doesn’t?!), especially for how it gets me thinking about new places visited and experiences gained along the way. Of course, this time around I’ve had even more to think about. When I first decided to write a post to explain my recent silence and current whereabouts, I found myself shaping up to launch into a tirade against post-referendum  Britain while celebrating the beauty of Cuba, its people, and certain aspects of the state. As it turned out, I never began to write such a piece, and 2+ weeks travelling across the USA from sea to shining sea inevitably yielded much new food for thought (not to mention food for the stomach – oh, New Orleans!). I’ve thought about politics and economics. I’ve thought about what it means to be British, and how I’ve taken to self-identifying as being from London rather than from the UK. I’ve thought about how progress in society can only really come from the present and the future, not the past, and thus how I can rationalise studying what I do in a way that has practical value beyond shooting down wanton misuses of the history or archaeology of the medieval period. And, needless to say, I’ve thought about my father and some of the many good times we shared.

It’ll be a few weeks before I’m back posting new stuff here again. (My phone has stopped working which is why I’ve been silent on Twitter too, so that’ll need fixing before I’m tweeting again.) I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve, for that is where I keep my ideas, including some long-delayed pieces about Puttenham church. As and when I do compose these I intend the outcomes to be a lot more focused and succinct than the multi-page screeds referred to earlier; they were labours of love, but in this tl;dr age must quickly exhaust the attention spans of most readers. More immediately, I must start preparing myself for the jolt back to reality that the end of my travels will bring, and the need to find a new (fulfilling!) job as well as resume my PhD research in earnest.

Let me sign off from a very dark Charleston, South Carolina, by bidding you a most enjoyable remainder of your summer, Northern Hemisphere!

Posted in Travel | Leave a comment

The Fields of Puttenhamia: Some thoughts on the place of Roman landscape features in the early medieval period and beyond

This is me returning to the theme of early fields and field systems initiated by a long (and gratifyingly popular) post from back in the Spring. Identifying the physical remains of field systems in the northern half of Puttenham Common may have been easy, what with them standing out so clearly on the LiDAR imagery, but identifying when they were created is a very different matter. As things stand – and this is all very provisional – the evidence fits best with an origin in the (?Middle) Bronze Age but with at least one subsequent phase of re-use as arguably attested by the scatters of abraded Romano-British pottery sherds, and one brief phase of partial destruction by plough in the late 1940s.

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Abraded sherds of what I take to be Romano-British pottery found by yours truly on the Hillbury ridge and northern lip of the Long Bottom valley

Beyond such matters, however, are other questions that I’ve been wanting to probe in depth. What I held back from highlighting in my first piece (but is perfectly obvious from the LiDAR imagery) is that the field boundaries to the east and north of those parts of Puttenham Common containing the suggested field systems follow very similar orientations. Could it be that the traces of field boundaries on the Common share a genesis with the extant systems beyond? If so, is the extant fieldscape of Puttenham parish in part much older than has been believed?

My starting to write up this recent bout of field systems-related work just so happened to coincide with getting my hands on a major new-ish book, The Fields of Britannia (trust me, if this had been intentional I wouldn’t mention it being coincidental!) The major Leverhulme-funded, University of Exeter-based research project of the same name that preceded the book had been on my radar for some time – I made reference to it way back when in an update to my paper on Thursley, reporting the dissemination of radiocarbon dating of a peat deposit from Boundless Copse that showed they belonged to the early medieval period. Contrary to what I anticipated, this finding does not appear in the full published report of The Fields of Britannia, but does make it into a Surrey Archaeological Collections article probably published too late to make the project’s cut (see the section by Grant, Norcott and Stevens in Thompson and Manning 2014, 12-15).

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I mention all of this because palaeoenvironmental evidence is one part of the “triple threat” that The Fields of Britannia comprises. The other two are diachronic change in faunal assemblages, and the common orientation/alignment of dated Late Roman field boundaries with ones of medieval or later date. The brilliance of project and book alike are their scope, and the latter interweaves the results of the data collection and analysis to compelling (if lengthy and dare I say it occasionally repetitive) effect. I have no doubt that The Fields of Britannia will prove to be a landmark book in English landscape studies, both as a go-to reference work and also the stimulus for new research.

A major feature of the analysis is the extent to which excavated Late Roman field boundaries (i.e. excavated rural linear features found to contain pottery or other artefacts dateable to the 4th century CE) and those mapped in the later 19th century – but potentially in existence in the medieval period – are oriented (coincident, either one overlying the other or one effectively acting as an extension of the other) or aligned (run in the same direction but not overlying or continuing the other) in ways that might admit the persistence of the Roman-era land divisions to influence those of the historic landscape (definitions given in Rippon, Smart and Pears 2015, 100-101).

The “headline” result is that roughly two-thirds – 64% to be precise – of the excavated Late Roman-era boundaries studied in lowland England ‘share a common orientation or alignment or orientation with medieval landscapes (i.e. historic landscapes characterized by former medieval Closes or former Open Fields)’ (Rippon, Smart and Pears 2015, 323, which includes some caveats about the sources of the percentage). For the South East region as defined by the project, in which Puttenham parish lies, the figure is a very similar 63%, dropping to a still impressive 55% when landscapes of Indeterminate type that may or may not be of medieval origin are factored in (Rippon, Smart and Pears 2015, 141; also 107 for definitions of the aforementioned types of fieldscape). Each represents a powerful, quantitative case in favour of continuity in some form from the 4th to 5th century CE and beyond, rather than wholesale abandonment.

I’ve created a page under the Puttenham tab that looks at two arguments presented in The Fields of Britannia (alignment being unrelated to topography, and the non-survival of former field boundaries in dense woodland environments) where I think there’s some margin for doubt, before concluding with an application of some of the key conclusions of The Fields of Britannia to Puttenham in the belief that this can help to frame and enhance our understanding on the exceedingly limited body of evidence from the parish. Please click through to take a look – it’s a long’un but a good’un, trust me!


Rippon, S., C. Smart and B. Pears, The Fields of Britannia: Continuity and Change in the Late Roman and Early Medieval Landscape (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015)

Thompson, S., and A. Manning, ‘Late prehistoric settlement and post-medieval industrial activity on the route of the A3 Hindhead Improvement Scheme’, SyAC, 98 (2014), 1-27

Posted in Agriculture, Anglo-Saxon, Archaeology, Books, Dating, Field-names, Landscape, Old English, Pottery, Puttenham, Topography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pannage and the Disco: Reflections on Leeds International Medieval Congress 2016

It’s little over a week since I returned from Leeds and this year’s International Medieval Congress. Previously when I’ve been to big conferences I’ve prevaricated about writing up my experiences and observations as, well, it requires quite a lot of time and words to do it justice. In spite of this, I’ve fast-tracked my IMC 2016 write-up because I was keen to set down my thoughts on the event, as it was a really significant one for me. Not so much because of its theme (‘Food, Feast & Famine’, which was something of a fertile topic – heck, I even contrived to get in on the act in a roundabout manner) but because there were certain things about the congress that were truly inspiring, and reassured me that, whatever the future holds (both for higher education and my place within it), the next generation of medievalists has an abundance of passion and energy for the period that is sure to take their various disciplines to better places.

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I spent the Monday night of IMC week not in Leeds but in nearby Wakefield, staying in a hotel my Dad designed back in the 1970s. Here’s a view from the main staircase towards the spire of Wakefield cathedral, renewed in 1823 in what I hope was faithful emulation of the medieval original. At the time of my visit there was a family of peregrine falcons (with some very vocal fledglings) in residence on the spire, with one of the birds using a crocket as a perch! The falcons have their own webpage and Twitter account, although I think nesting season may be over for this year.

Swings and round tables

Truth be told, I arrived at the Congress on a massive downer about the prospect of days hearing (and speaking) about the medieval period when things in the present day are in such a rotten state. The vote in favour of Brexit was the last thing anyone needed, and the issues it raised about real and perceived inequalities in British society got me thinking that, on a personal level, is it really worth dedicating so much time and attention to things that took place so long ago as to be essentially irrelevant to the here and now? As someone looking for work in a new field to the one I have been employed in for the past few years, could/Should I not be focusing on “real world” activities that serve to address and remedy some of the things that motivated people to vote for the illogical and self-destructive option? Yet the subsequent three days restored my faith in medieval studies and convinced me that the discipline is one worth sticking with in some capacity.

But hang on, I hear you ask, what’s with three days when the Congress lasts four? Last year, I hared around IMC bouncing from session to session to wine reception, to the extent that I burnt out by the Thursday lunchtime and skipped the final session in favour of sinking a couple of bottles of Congress Ale while trying to work out what the hell had happened over the past few days. My attitude this year was less is more. If there’s precious little in the programme that appeals for one or more set of sessions, is it really worth being present on the off-chance something might prove far better than its advertised title? I thought not, and skipped the entire first day in favour of doing other things outside of Leeds, finally arriving mid-morning on the Tuesday. (Apologies to anyone reading this who organised, moderated and/or spoke at a session on the first day, I’m sure it and you were great – this was about me being mercenary, not a negative personal judgement against you!) Thereafter, for various reasons, I went to three sessions a day, plus a couple of plenaries (including foraging!) and a non-programmed meeting, and came out the other side feeling pretty good all things considered.

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I had a very quick transition from holiday to conference mode after arriving in Leeds, plunging almost immediately into the fray with Session 624, organised and populated by my pals at the University of Nottingham’s Institute for Name-Studies. For me, the pick of the three papers was Becca Gregory‘s look at field-name vocabulary in the context of the “Midland System” of open/common-field agriculture, of which this is a murky mid-paper snapshot.

There was a lot of talk at last year’s IMC about utilising social media to reach out beyond the academy and engage with wider audiences, which was (and is) all well and good, but in retrospect had something of a self-congratulatory, I-have-this-many-followers air about it – thinking something is a solution to an issue without ascertaining if that is truly the case. This year I felt there was more of an edge, and for good reason. The anti-expert tone of some of the debate in the run-up to the EU Referendum in the UK was a worrying turn of events and, in an age of state austerity measures, medieval studies is an obvious soft target, a luxury that can be dispensed with to focus on proper, useful subjects (let me add that I don’t for a second presume that most or all of the aforementioned issues also apply wherever else in the world you might be reading this). Medieval studies – what’s it good for?

Quite a lot actually. Among the things that reinvigorated my positivity towards the field, the first was the off-programme IMC Anti-Brexit meeting, held on the Tuesday evening and representing the coming together of a bunch of brilliant people – mostly junior academics and PhD students – concerned about how medievalists can best respond to the issues thrown up by Brexit. I dovetailed the meeting with a round table (in name only – the participants were sat in a long line) entitled ‘Are The Middle Ages Relevant?’ (Session 926), which took a much-needed global perspective in addressing the question. It hammered home that the period can be (more) relevant to (more) people if the concept of a thing or things being medieval is applied to different parts of the world rather than just Europe and the Near East as is so often the case. Fast forward to Thursday morning and Session 1503 – ‘Medieval Modern: The Use of the Medieval in Modern and Contemporary Arts’ – was excellent, a hangover-beating 90-minute reminder that Old and Middle English literature shouldn’t be left to ossify in standard scholarly editions but merits performance and publication in new and different formats.

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Like a beautiful analogue word cloud, this is one of the multi-lingual inscription plates that accompany poet David Jones’ The Anathemata (1955), shown as part of Francesca Brooks‘ paper ‘A Poetic Historiography of the Early English Settlements’ in Session 1503.

Probably the most important event at this year’s IMC was one I did not attend (for good although not entirely unavoidable reasons – I wish I had made more of an effort to sort other stuff in advance so as to free up my time to be present). The Wednesday lunchtime round table ‘Embracing the #Femfog’ (Session 1198), was a last-minute addition to the programme, and a powerfully progressive statement on the part of IMC’s organisers. If you’re not familiar with the Femfog controversy and how it tore through the medievalist community (and beyond) at the start of this year then there’s plenty of online articles that give the necessary background – I’m linking this one because its author summarises other responses as well as offering their own opinion. Since then, there’s been a reappropriation of the term/hashtag for the purposes of highlighting structural inequalities and abuses of power within academia as it’s presently configured and staffed, and the round table provided a public forum for discussing these and ways of overcoming them. I urge you to read the tweets that resulted from the session, helpfully Storified by Shyama Rajendran. If there could be a single instance of something at IMC 2016 demonstrating why medieval studies is a vibrant, diverse and dynamic field of scholarship, and what is more one that can look forward to a brighter, better future, this was it.

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Little bit of a non sequitur, but a beautiful one nonetheless, this is a double-page from a lavishly-illustrated ninth-century Carolingian manuscript showing scenes from the story of St John the Baptist (now you see it!) The image was a repeated part of Beatrice Kitzinger’s paper ‘The Transformation of Carolingian Art’ in Session 1612, most of which went waaay over my head but was a treat for the eyes all the same.

A few quick shout-outs to other papers in other sessions I attended that I thought were especially good. Walter Pohl is a titan of Late Antique/Early Medieval studies, and I foresee some of my coming years spent reading through the breezeblock-sized volumes he’s edited as part of the Transformation of the Roman World programme. Thus it was a delight to hear him in Session 1612 present (at greater length than planned owing to a speaker dropping out) on ‘Ethnicity and the “Nation” in 9th- and 10th-Century Europe’ and the many theoretical implications of his title. Another Austrian highlight was a session that formed part of a strand linked to the ongoing project Digitising Patterns of Power, notably the contribution from cartographer Alexander Pucher setting out what post-Google Maps cartography might look to achieve in the context of historical research. Last but by no means least, in Session 1337 James Chetwood gave a fantastic paper, underpinned by statistics and intermittent Paul Simon lyrics, on changes to dithematic personal naming practices in England circa 700-1100 that did away with the old chestnut of the Norman Conquest changing everything (someone should tell English Heritage) in favour of a period of gradual transition, one in which the ninth century was a more significant motor for change.

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Bought more books in the second-hand book fair than I’d intended to (c’mon, who can resist a half-price offer?), fortunately there’s at least one blog post I can squeeze out of them, and that’s on top of their long-term referencing potential.

Looking at the pig picture

My paper was in Session 1221, ‘Hunting and Husbandry’, and a very good session it was too, thanks to my fellow speakers and audience of course, but especially the input of the moderator, László Bartosiewicz. The main focus of my research lies elsewhere but, as longer-term readers of Surrey Medieval may be aware, I have been working away at an article about pig farming on and off for the best part of the past three years. I dealt with what will hopefully prove to be the final set of corrections suggested by the editors last month, so all being well it will be published in Volume 99 of the Surrey Archaeological Collections before the year is out. It dawned on me at some point after last year’s Congress that the food-y focus of the 2016 edition would fit well with the article’s subject matter and so I put together a paper proposal, which was duly accepted by the IMC Programming Committee and pooled with two others into the aforementioned session.

I like conference panels where there’s a diversity of subject matter and disciplinary perspectives among the papers, and this session was all that and more. I kicked off proceedings, following which came Sirpa Aalto of the University of Oulu looking at the wealth of medieval hunting regulation texts from medieval Sweden and some of their zoological implications, and Zoe Bartliff of the University of Glasgow examining whether recurrent topoi related to hunting episodes in medieval Welsh literature could stem from a pan-Celtic fertility mythos. It all hung together very well and made me reevaluate how I have understood forests (in the geographical rather than legal sense). Coming from a background where I look at place-names as a source of testimony about settlements and other centres of archaeological significance, I realised I had fallen into the trap of seeing woodlands as not merely marginal, but largely deserted environments. The reality is that in the medieval period they were places full of both animal and human life.

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Here’s my model of extensive pig husbandry in the Wealden region of South-East England. If you weren’t there for my paper, you’ll have to wait for the article for an explanation (though frankly it is pretty self-explanatory).

Other than overrunning the allotted 20 minutes by a little bit, my paper went well, and in the concluding discussion and afterwards people said things about it which were far more complimentary than perhaps it merited. Preparing it had led me to reevaluate elements of the model at its heart and, had I had the time, there were one or two of which I would have changed, but as it was they had to remain in there and likewise will do in the published article. However, on the whole I stand by its contents and the coherent system it depicts. I’ve never come across another attempt to distill early medieval pig husbandry practices into a model so, regardless of its minor flaws, I’m satisfied it will contribute something to future discourse on the subject.

One significant point was raised in the questions at the end of the session, concerning the nature of the most famous (and very possibly only) Anglo-Saxon depiction of humans and pig-like creatures in a wooded setting – the September page of the so-called Cotton Tiberius Calendar manuscript, held at the British Library, and reproduced below. The questioner (whose identity I neglected to note, but my thanks to him for his contribution) pointed out that the details of the illustration make it much more likely that it depicts a wild boar hunt than the driving of a herd of pigs to a mast pasture (what would become the pannage of this post’s title). It just so happened that something Sirpa said in her paper made me think of this scene and caused me to reach the same conclusion in the time between my paper and questions – honestly! So, at the risk of seeming to wander off-topic, here’s a short explanation-cum-justification for my change of heart…

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An 11th-century depiction of boar hunting NOT pig droving, from the September page of the Cotton Tiberius Calendar (London, British Library Cotton Tiberius B V f.7r). The image and some further information about the manuscript can be found via the BL Online Gallery.

I knew there wasn’t consensus as to the subject matter of the Calendar illustration, but the majority of things I read that mention it interpret the scene as one of swine herding/pasturing, not wild boar hunting, so I went along with that in my paper and article alike. Earlier medieval pigs were probably little different in appearance to wild boars, so the key is to focus on what the men have with them: two dogs, a horn, a spear, and a sword. The gentlemen who made the comment during the questions characterised such accoutrements as ‘aristocratic’; I wouldn’t go quite so far along the social spectrum but they are at odds with what other sources of information tell us about the swineherd’s toolkit. Later manuscript illustrations of swineherds show them with long sticks with which to beat acorns down from trees, but never so far as I know with anything more weapon-like (other than for slaughtering the beasts come winter). The OE version of the Rectitudines Singularum Personarum notes that a tenant swineherd had to be gehorsad (“horsed”) at all times – there’s no mention of being “gehundad” (“hounded”, i.e. “having a hound” – I’m improvising the OE here) but elsewhere in the same text there’s a reference to a headorhund, “hunting dog”. So, all in all, I think we’re on firm ground rejecting the September page of the Cotton Tiberius Calendar as a (unique) depiction of Anglo-Saxon pig pasturing under trees; instead, it shows well-armed men hunting wild boar in a wooded environment. Spread the word!

Time to be realistic

If IMC 2016 got me thinking more positively about medieval studies and the future, it also made me think more practically about where I’m going with my PhD research and what it’s likely to lead to. It seems to be the default setting among PhD students that becoming a doctor is a stepping stone to a career as an academic, which of course it is, but it’s not as simple or linear as that. Many (and, based on personal anecdotal experience, I would hazard most) get no further than graduation, and maybe publishing a chapter of their thesis, before finding employment in other sectors. Not being the youngest of guns, I’ve been grappling with what I want to achieve with my PhD, and mid-Congress I came to the conclusion that I want to complete my thesis and thereby make what I hope will be an important contribution to my sub-field(s), but abandon the pursuit of forging a career in academia off the back of it. I met plenty of brilliant current PhDs and early career medievalists with a true ardour for the period and for teaching others about it, and have no doubt that the best of them will become the leading academics of tomorrow. I’ll be back at Leeds next year and aim to present on some aspect of my PhD research (I’m toying with the idea of proposing a group-names-related session). By then, I may have a kickass new job/career as well!

Oh, and to reference the second part of my title, the disco (or dance, or whatever you want to call the gloriously non-academic blowout on the Wednesday night) was every bit as good as last year. These guys are the bomb.

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On the Friday morning, and on the way to the coach station, I finally I made good on my intention to take a general picture or two of the Congress – just as they’re dismantling the temporary structures (or erecting ones for the next conference).

Posted in Being organised, Conference, Leeds, Pigs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Goldhords in Surrey: a horde of names, any hoards of gold?

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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:

  1. Goldsworth in Woking < la Goldhord(e) 1229- (PNS, 157)
  2. Goldenlands in Dorking < ?Goldhordland 1403 (PNS, 275)
  3. Goldhord ?1408 (lost) in Ewell (shown just to the right of centre of this map of early 15th-century Ewell)
  4. Goldhurd 1548 (lost) in Shere (PNS, 157)
  5. 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’)
  6. Goldhorde (Field) in Chiddingfold < Golden-hoard 1798, Gold Hord 1842 (Gardner 1924, 3; PNS, 389-90)
  7. 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.

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Iron Age gold stater of Verica, 20-40 CE, from Dorking parish (PAS Unique ID SUR-9945337). Image used on a CC BY 2.0 licence from © The Portable Antiquities Scheme / The Trustees of the British Museum

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.

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Medieval gold finger-ring from Shere parish; the bezel originally held a precious stone (PAS Unique ID SUR-FB85D0). Used on a CC BY 2.0 licence from © The Portable Antiquities Scheme / The Trustees of the British Museum

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.

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Reverse of what is in reality a tiny Merovingian tremissis, possibly struck in Orleans, found in Titsey parish (PAS Unique ID KENT-33C0D2). Image used on a CC BY 2.0 licence from © The Portable Antiquities Scheme / The Trustees of the British Museum

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:

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NOTE: A gold coin of 1471 has been found in Ewell parish (SUR-7358F0), but this post-dates what would seem to be the earliest attestation of the nearby Goldhord field-name. I’ve also left out the Woking Palace pin-head for the same reason.

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).

Gardner, Eric, ‘Bronze Age Urns of Surrey’, Surrey Archaeological Collections [SyAC], 35 (1924), 1-40.

Gover, J. E. B., A. Mawer and F. M. Stenton, The Place-Names of Surrey, English Place-Name Society, 11 (Cambridge: University Press, 1934).

Holohan, Brenda C., ‘Chiddingfold. Find of flints’, SyAC, 36 (1925), 122.

Lewis, Frank. B., ed., Pedes Finium; or, Fines Relating to the County of Surrey, Surrey Archaeological Society Extra Volume, 1 (Guilford: Surrey Archaeological Society, 1894).

Posted in Archaeology, Coins, Conference, Field-names, Folklore, Landscape, Middle English, Numismatics, Old English, Place-Names, Portable Antiquities Scheme, Surrey | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Godalming and Old English -ingas name formations


Inside the bell chamber of Godalming parish church. The rough triangular feature is the remnant of a Late Anglo-Saxon drip course, originally at the junction between nave and chancel. Above is a rubbing of a gallows erected on the nearby Lammas Lands for the last public execution in Godalming; parts of the structure were subsequently reused in the church’s spire when it was reconstructed in the 19th century.

On Saturday just gone, I was in Godalming for an Surrey Archaeological Society Medieval Studies Forum study day, both to hear about and see corners of the town and parish church that are of medieval (or general historical) importance, and to give a short presentation on the significance of the town’s name in light of the early stages of my PhD research (and my MA dissertation before it). I put together a handout to go with my talk and thought it might be of interest and use to a wider audience of Godhelmian and non-Godhelmian readers alike. Click below to read/download it.

Godalming and OE -ingas name formations June 2016

The paper here is a little different to yesterday’s printed version. In addition to correcting a couple of factual errors, it modifies the discussion of the extraordinary iron spearhead found in Farncombe and now in the collection of the excellent Godalming Museum (here’s a photo of it from an SM post a couple of years ago). It certainly looks a lot like a Swanton type H3 spearhead but, as the Museum’s curator pointed out to me, not a lot like one buried in generally acidic Surrey soil for 1450 years. There’s an element of mystery (and a whiff of suspicion) about the spearhead that I hadn’t appreciated before, and is something I now really want to get to the bottom of for my PhD!

(There’s also a second lengthy iron spearhead of unknown date on display in Godalming Museum. It’s in much poorer condition, possibly because it was found in the River Wey, which of course made me think of the many Anglo-Saxon-period spearheads found in the Thames as well as the couple known from the Wey or close to its banks. In form, it does bear a resemblance to Swanton type E3 spearheads but knowing nothing about later medieval equivalents – let alone ones of earlier and later periods! – I don’t want to make any statements about its date now that I’ll come to regret down the line…)

I had a truly fantastic day in Godalming, one that really opened my eyes to what a interesting historic town it is (one whose earlier medieval archaeology is more abundant and better understood than any comparable urban centre in present-day Surrey – with the recently-excavated Priory Orchard site certain to provide further revelations). I was born and grew up a matter of miles away from Godalming, and knew of many aspects of its medieval history, but still managed to see many new things and hear about many unknown bits of local history that I left with a renewed appreciation of the town. If you ever find yourself in South-West Surrey with some time to spare, or are looking for a historical day out, let me repeat what the car stickers of my youth proclaimed; Go to Godalming!


Old houses in Mint Street, Godalming. The street-name has yet to be adequately explained, but it’s not thought to relate to the minting of coins (as there are none known to bear the town’s name). Late Anglo-Saxon occupation evidence was found at the other end of the street in excavations conducted in 1990.

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Archaeology, Godalming, Old English, PhD, Place-Names, Surrey, Talk | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment