Puttenham terrier transcription project

This has been a somewhat-hastily thrown together project that came out of two things: the Surrey Archaeological Society (SyAS) Medieval Studies Forum’s ‘Medieval Landscape’ study day-cum-workshop held in mid-March 2020, and the Coronavirus lockdown that followed hot on its heels a matter of days later. In response to a request for ideas for possible online-only projects that SyAS could run during/in spite of the pandemic, I drew attention to the fact that back in 2017 I had taken photos of all of the pages of the 1765 terrier of Puttenham parish (in the care of the Puttenham & Wanborough History Society). I’d done this in the expectation that one day I’d have the time to go through them one by one and produce the first full edition of the text. In an entirely unsurprising turn of events, at no point in the following 2.5 years did I find the time to do that work, and this was in no small part the reason for my suggesting a transcription project could be organised based on them. Happily, the suggestion was accepted and so was born the Puttenham Terrier Transcription Project.

Don’t judge a terrier by its cover

The terrier is not, as I thought many years ago when I first saw it referred to in print, an issue of later 18th-century Puttenham’s own newspaper. Rather, it corresponds to the general definition of a (non-canine!) terrier, namely a written survey of an estate, or in this case parish. It was compiled by the well-known surveyor/cartographer/artist Peter Perez Burdett on behalf of Thomas Parker, who had bought the manors of Puttenham Bury and Priory in 1761, but did not stop there in his purchasing of property in the parish. By 1765 he had acquired a number of additional farms, and evidently had designs on even more – thereby explaining why having a measured survey of the entire parish (along with an accompanying map, which may or may not survive; there is a good 1816 copy of it kept at the Surrey History Centre) would have been so useful to him for reasons besides his status as lord of the manor/s (see Essay 1 below for more on this topic). It may also point to no such parish-wide survey having been made before, or else that one had but did not survive or was not available to Parker (a map of the lands of Rodsall Farm/Manor made in 1758 survives, proving Burdett’s survey was not the first attempt to map land in Puttenham parish at this level of detail).

In spite of the precise genesis of the project, this is much more than a case of finding something for people to do while confined to quarters. The terrier is a crucially important historical source for Puttenham parish. It is a snapshot of Puttenham in 1765, when it was on the cusp of great change: perhaps a quarter of the medieval village would be swept away in the following years in order to create a bigger garden around Parker’s much-enlarged mansion, and several fields to the south were erased and turned into parkland. But it is also a window into earlier times. The field-names it records are in many cases the earliest known attestations, and no small number fail to recur in later sources, making the terrier of prime importance for etymological work. Equally important is the way that it records the distribution of strips of land in the open fields (of which Puttenham had a number still functioning to varying degrees in 1765); these patterns very probably represent late medieval allocations.

Not a great picture (you can blame Roger Taylor, the drummer in Queen, for planting the offending hedge) but one that depicts not only the Palladian mansion of Puttenham Priory built by Thomas Parker, but also in the foreground some of the associated park he formed from fields that had hitherto been in cultivation.

At a county level, too, I hope that this project will have a positive effect. Surrey is very lucky to have had all of its tithe apportionments and awards transcribed (as well as the corresponding maps digitised), but coverage is much less comprehensive for earlier equivalent sources. Furthermore, text-heavy terriers simply aren’t as enticing to study, digitise and publish as hand-drawn maps. Focusing on the Puttenham terrier in this way, and in concert with ongoing research, hopefully can show how such sources repay the effort put into their study.

The final outcome of the project will be a partly-crowdsourced edition of the 1765 terrier, made available online for all to be able to download and read (copies of the transcriptions of pairs of pages are to be uploaded to the SyAS website after being submitted and checked). Alongside it will be a series of short essays I’m writing as the project progresses – and when a particularly interesting topic presents itself. I’m also contemplating other outlets to highlight the achievements of the project: probably a talk, maybe a short article, but I’m guessing not a Netflix series…

Here’s one I prepared earlier… My preliminary attempt at the first few lines of the first page of the terrier

I’m a long way from being a manuscript historian, and so this is the longest and deepest I’ve ever engaged with a primary source (albeit via the medium of .jpeg files). It’s been a delight to look, and I mean really look, at what’s written on the pages of the Puttenham terrier and consequently begin to pinpoint the reasons for its initial compilation and then subsequent life as a venue for intermittent notes about changes in land ownership and what crops were planted in which fields. I look forward to the project finding out more and more about the terrier, and being able to share those findings with you here.