Update – “seven ditches” on the internet (part 1)


“There’s one reference which I need to track down before I can be happy to call the article finished.”

I spoke too soon.

Making my way to a friend’s house for tea the other night, I thought I could kill some time checking whether Googling the subject of one of my posts would show up in the search results. It didn’t, but to my delight – and complete surprise – the second result was for the Wikipedia entry for the Hog’s Back which incorporates an entire section (“Archaeology and Seven Ditches”) summarising my article. Many thanks to Shortenfs, whoever you are, for letting me achieve one of my goals in life of being referenced in an article – five times over! (Would-be readers or Wiki editors should also be aware that the two charter references are the wrong way round, something which has arisen from a simple misreading of my article.)

Almost as good as this discovery was the fact that the same search brought up many more hits for “seven ditches” not pertaining to my article. These can be divided into two types: those which are of what I will call contextual interest, that is to say what significance “seven ditches” had (or has) as a physical feature or a concept in different parts of the world, and a much smaller group which shed more light on the only other example of the name I have found thus far, from the bounds of Sixpenny Handley in Dorset. It is the latter that I will appraise here.

A. D. Mills in The Place-Names of Dorset noted and offered an interpretation of the tenth-century form seuen diche, as did the editor of the aforementioned bounds in its glossed entry on the LangScape website (footnote 2). Unfortunately, Mills missed a number of much later uses of the name which I came across on two useful (if at times confusing) sites offering plain text scans of many older “antiquarian” volumes. The first source of these I came across was volume 32 of The Archaeological Journal, published in 1875 (drawing upon information from Charles Warne’s Ancient Dorset: The Celtic, Roman, Saxon, and Danish Antiquities of the County) accessible via Internet Archive and www.ebooksread.com. The key paragraph (which I have corrected for scanning-related typos) is as follows:

“The Dykes form another grand feature of the ancient remains of Dorset. Warton, in his History of Kiddington, enumerates seven, a number which Mr. Warne proves he adopted from a mistaken notion of the meaning of the term “Seven Ditches,” which was in reality merely the local name of the British settlement called by Mr. Warne “Vindogladia Celtica.” That this of old was its name he proves by an entry in the parish register of Cranborne of a woman found dead in the snow at “Seven Ditches,” and by the fact that it is so called by the peasantry at the present day.”

Warton’s History of Kiddington was first published in 1782, and as luck would have it an 1815 edition can be found reproduced in its entirety on Google Books. In it he stated that there were no fewer than seven “Celtic ramparts” to be encountered in 30 miles heading north from the Dorset coast (page 72). Presumably Warne chose to refer to Warton’s work in spite of its subject matter being an Oxfordshire village because of the intellectual prominence of the author, since the observation derives from the much earlier work of John Aubrey. Much of what he wrote on the matter is reproduced on page 248 of  Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London for November 1867 to June 1870, in a “communication” by Warne of February 1869. In it he corrects the mis-identifcation of Aubrey’s “Seven Ditches” with the name “still applied by the peasantry to that remarkable series of earthworks on Gussage Down”  – presumably “the Dykes” referred to by Mills. (Whether or not they do represent the site of Vindogladia, a suggestion Warne credits to one Sir R. C. Hoare, is not strictly relevant here.) That the descendants of the local “peasantry” remain aware of the correct interpretation of Aubrey’s “Seven Ditches” is demonstrated by the mention made here of seven ditches in the environs of Gussage St Michael.

Usefully Aubrey (and Warne likewise) also quotes the Cranborne parish register entry entry in full:

“1613. The 16th day of Marche was buryed a woman w[hi]ch dyed in the snowe at Seven Ditches.”

Aubrey then goes on to explain the entry further, namely that the deceased was buried at Cranborne because the nearest “hamlet” to Seven Ditches was Monkton Up Wimborne in the west of the parish. This of course has interesting implications for pinpointing the site of seven ditches (or at least verifying whether or not it can be identified with “the Dykes”).

The evidence at present remains too disparate to determine quite how analogous the Dorset “Seven Ditches” is with the Surrey namesake, although their elevated and remote parish-edge locations, as well as their tenth-century records, should be noted. Reynolds mentions execution burials at the nearby Wor Barrow; might there have been a functional relationship between the two, or could both have served as places of capital punishment (this of course supposes Old English seofon had an appropriate meaning in this regard, something which remains to be established)? The local use of the name in Dorset through to the seventeenth century and on into the final third of the nineteenth century demonstrated by Aubrey and Warne raises the prospect of the Surrey site being mentioned much later in parish-level records. However, no trace of the name is to be found on the eighteenth and nineteenth-century estate maps which cover the site I have seen so far. An 1824 perambulation of Puttenham parish makes no mention of it either; I am aware of post-medieval boundary descriptions for Farnham in the research library of the town’s museum (although they may not include the limits of the chapelry of Seale), and possibly Wanborough. Alongside chasing up some of the above references (especially Aubrey and Warne), this would seem to be the most productive line of enquiry to embark upon next.

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