Update – some further references

What follows replaces a brief paragraph which outlined how, pretty much ever since writing my note on Peper Harow and Warren Hill, I needed to drop by the SyAS library at Castle Arch in Guildford in order to consult two works that would add considerably to the analysis of Peper Harow as a place and name. (Read far enough and you’ll find some additions made not far short of three years later, after finally doing what I’d been meaning to for pretty much the whole of the intervening period.)

Inadvertently finding myself stuck in Guildford on the way back to London one Saturday, I took my chance and visited the library. What is more, the day after I managed to confirm that the moderately prominent hill visible from the Hillbury Ridge on Puttenham Common I suspected to be Warren Hill was indeed so (through a mixture of compass bearings and map reading – at the end of it I’m still not entirely sure about how you reconcile magnetic and grid north).

The first of my two library finds was a short note published in an edition of the Surrey Archaeological Society Bulletin, giving fuller details of the metal detecting rally held at Peper Harow in March of that year (David Graham & David Williams, ‘Metal Detecting Rally at Peper Harow’, SyAS Bulletin, 330 (June 1999), 13-14). A much greater number of finds of pre-1066 date are listed in addition to the ones I referred to previously (on account of their inclusion and illustration in the associated SyAC round-up article). These number:

  • A Late Iron Age coin, namely a silver unit of the Dobunni tribe dated to the first century AD. This is noteworthy because Surrey lies far from the Dobunnic heartlands around Cirencester (originally Corinium Dobunnorum) and Bristol. No such coin is listed on the UK Finds Database as coming from Surrey, but a search I conducted on the Celtic Coin Index pinpointed one found in the “Godalming locality” in 1869 (the purposely-incomplete grid reference indicates a provenance within or close to the western half of Godalming town).
  • A second Roman brooch, again of first century AD date, but otherwise about which no further information is given.
  • 12 Roman coins of a range of dates spanning Vespasian (60-79 AD) to Constantine (307-337 AD). I have noted a similar assemblage of Roman coins from the environs of Thursley, another local “pagan” place-name, but stop short of interpreting them as having any specific ritual significance in either the Roman or post-Roman periods.
  • A “possible” Roman lead steelyard weight, and “another object” ascribed to the Roman period (although no justification for this is provided).
  • A “fine” silver penny of Cnut (1018-1035 AD) – mint unspecified.

No details of the specific find-spots of any of the artefacts are provided. The rally is said to have taken place “on fields to the east, north and west of Peper Harow” (page 13). It is unclear how close the metal-detectorists came to Warren Hill, and whether it extended to the north of Elstead Road.

DECEMBER 2014 UPDATE! Thanks to David Graham (and the keepers of the Surrey Historic Environment Record), I now know that the various artefacts have all been ascribed an “area” provenance around grid reference SU 929 443, south of Elstead Road but at the same time a comparatively short distance south-east of Warren Hill. This doesn’t square with the full extent of activity associated with metal-detecting rally reported in 1999, but is enough to satisfy me that none of the above artefacts was found to the north of the road. There are various SHER entries which paraphrase the 1999 note but do not factor in the revised dating of one or two finds offered by the SyAC article: SHER 21325 (Bronze & Iron Ages), SHER 21326 (Roman), SHER 21327 (Anglo-Saxon).

The authors state “nothing was found that could relate to the pagan Saxon origin of the place name” (page 14), but this could be questioned in light of Semple’s research. Better is their comment that “all, or nearly all, finds probably represent casual losses” (page 14), and I would go along with this line of interpretation, as the background noise of centuries of human presence (continuous or intermittent) rather than indicators of one or more focus of significant activity.

The other reference I was after was Keith Briggs’ article ‘Harrow’, printed in the what was then the most recent volume of the Journal of the English Place-Name Society (42 (2010), 43-62). My appetite had been whetted by this presentation given to a conference in Cambridge last year, but until reading the article I didn’t know the extent and nature of the overlap between the two. It turns out that (surprise, surprise) the article is more or less the fleshed-out version of the PowerPoint slides. It’s is a valuable addition to the canon of philological analyses of “pagan” place-names (perhaps the most critically evaluated of all English place-name groups), and breaks new ground by identifying a substantial number of field-names of uncertain but (presumably) common derivation, one that is unrelated to Old English hearg in its presumed non-Christian religious sense.

With the use of terminology like “voiced velar fricative”, to my mind the article is watertight from a linguistic viewpoint. However, I have problems with Briggs’ rather superficial treatment of the archaeological evidence – or rather the archaeological implications, given direct physical evidence of early Anglo-Saxon “pagan” temples and shrines is infamously scarce. He rightly questions the strength of the link between the archaeology and the supposed hearg-name (Harrow Hay) in The Wirral, but the equivalent evidence for the locations in Sussex (Harrow Hill) and Oxfordshire (Harowdonehull in Wood Eaton) examined by Semple is much more convincing, making Briggs’ attitude towards them (“we have only these three associations, and they might have arisen by chance” – page 55) seem prematurely dismissive; Semple’s 2007 article was explicitly a preliminary study. A couple of pages earlier he adopts a rather curious attitude to the literary evidence (mostly in the form of Old English-Latin glosses), casting doubt on their applicability to the argument in hand in view of their religious, i.e. Christian origin;

“we need not assume that this literary sense of ‘shrine’ is exactly the same as the meaning in place-names.” (Briggs 2010, 53)

One could read this as Briggs splitting hairs, insomuch as when hearg occurs in place-names it is usually translated as “temple” (Old English weohwih being the element apportioned the meaning “shrine”), but such is his capability as a philologist that it should be understood to represent a break from decades of previous scholarship concerning the significance of the term. He develops the point further by using a couple of the Old English glosses – for Latin lupercal and Capitolii – as the basis for suggesting an alternative meaning for hearg of “capitol, headquarters, or citadel”, at least in relation to the two earliest documented examples: Gumeninga hergae (S 106) and Besinga hearh (S 235). The first is equivalent to Harrow on the Hill, about which I have written separately. The second is harder to place, although on a linguistic level it can be connected to (Old) Basing and Basingstoke.

Whether it can be extrapolated from this that Besinga hearh was coterminous or close to one of the extant place-names (or both – they are not so far apart) is not so easy to argue for, but Briggs fails to even countenance the possibility that the excavated high-status sixth-/seventh-century settlement at Cowdery’s Down near Old Basing might represent a “tribal headquarters” of the sort he postulates (the likelihood that the settlement was the central place of the Basingas has been highlighted previously by a number of authors). As name Cowdery’s Down indicates, it was sited on elevated ground, although to judge from the local OS map not as prominent as Briggs proposes (like Semple before him) for hills with hearg-names. Putting the meaning of the name to one side, the promulgation of a charter at a locally-important settlement in the late-seventh century is mirrored by Surrey subregulus Frithuwald’s famous land grant to Chertsey being said to have been drawn up “next to” his vill by the Fullingadich. What is more, this need not mean that (following Briggs’ aforementioned re-interpretation) Besinga hearh was a solely secular site any more than the orthodox interpretation of hearg would make it exclusively religious in function. There was a general dearth of artefacts from Cowdery’s Down indicative of its function(s), but research published in recent years – especially the reports from the excavation of the mid-Anglo-Saxon settlement at Flixborough – have shown a simple division into religious or secular sites hinders rather than helps comprehension of what were often complex multi-functional sites.

So where does this leave Peper Harow? Briggs wraps up his article with the following conclusion;

“there is ample evidence to doubt that any Harrow name, except the few ancient ones compounded with dūn, refers to heathen temples.” (Briggs 2010, 59)

The Sussex and Oxfordshire names referred to above have sufficiently well-understood archaeological profiles, representing a Neolithic flint mine complex/Late Bronze Age enclosure and Romano-British cultic site respectively, as to suggest the “temple” interpretation may be too formal – Briggs’ choice of terminology here is curiously (or perhaps deliberately) archaic. On the other hand, they do suggest those who coined the names recognised something numinous about the places. Peper Harow is unique in having an early prefix survive (Mount Harry in Sussex being a late formation, possibly replacing an earlier “standard” hearg + dun compound), although its meaning is obscure. The absence of any evidence for an -inga- conjunction as at Gumeninga hergae and Besinga hearh weakens its credentials as an Early Anglo-Saxon-period “capitol” or “citadel” (whatever Briggs envisaged one of these being); the adjacency of Eashing might be noted in this regard. For now, too much is indistinct or unknown for any firm conclusions to be drawn. However, the fact that we have promising topographical and archaeological evidence (i.e. Warren Hill and the multi-period metal artefacts from the nearby fields) means further work may strengthen the case for Peper Harow to be interpreted in the same way as the “Harrowdown” examples; watch this space for further news.

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One Response to Update – some further references

  1. Pingback: Mapping the Medieval Countryside | Surrey Medieval

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