What about Tuesley?

While putting together my recent paper on Thursley, I was struck by how many times I came across references to not-so-far-distant Tuesley being a place-name which recalls the Germanic god Tiw/Tig. I cited several in the version printed in the SyAS Bulletin but have added to the list since (it now stands at: Poulton 1987, 205; Blair 1991, 20; Hines 1997, 385; Semple 2007, 365 note 3; Walsham 2011, 25). The problem is all of these works have cited Tuesley as a place-name meaning “Tiw’s leah” (Tiwesleah in Old English) without having explicitly drawn upon the relevant published onomastic scholarship. This takes the form of two short-but-rigorous analyses which offer contradictory opinions on the origin and meaning of the place-name (I do not count the agnostic view of Mills 2011, 469, which clearly draws upon both schools of thought). So who’s right?

The long-held view that the first syllable of Tuesley derives from the name Tiw was subject to challenge for the first (and to date only) time in a study of “pagan” place-names by Margaret Gelling published in 1973. She opened her reassessment of the name with the statement that its assorted early forms (as collected by the authors of the Place-Names of Surrey) “offer much more serious difficulty” than any other place-name believed to incorporate the god’s name because many contain an -r- that cannot be accounted for in Old English (Gelling 1973, 116). Nor did she accept the idea that it could have originated from association with a common Middle English word, as in the case of Silverstone in Northamptonshire. Instead, she briefly considered the possibility proposed by other etymologists that it stemmed from early analogy with nearby Thursley, but chose to dwell on her own unprecedented interpretation that it represented an unattested dithematic personal name, *Tiwhere. This accords with a large body of Old English place-names in which leah is prefixed by a personal name (Frimley being one such example from west Surrey) as well as with observed patterns of the emergence and usage of long and short forms of place-names in Middle English.

To me this seemed convincing fare – and certainly explains Tuesley’s absence from Gelling’s later work on “pagan” English place-names, e.g. Gelling 1988, Fig. 11) – until I came across a chapter on “kultische namen” written by John Insley and published in 2001. Tuesley appears among the four lost or extant English place-names he examines and concludes to derive from Tiw (Insley 2001, 428-30). His opinion that there is “no need to reject Tuesley as a genuine heathen name” is based on two things. The more important of these is the proposal that the longer forms of Tuesley (i.e. those containing -r-) originated through a popular etymology based on the Middle English noun teuer(e), “one who taws animal skins”, which is attested in medieval surnames, overcoming Gelling’s chief objection to its later distortion in this fashion. The chance that Tuesley may derive from this occupational name is nullified by Insley’s deployment of a mid-eleventh century Old English gloss “tiwersdæye” for Tuesday not known to (or else not cited by) Gelling.

I’m no expert on linguistic matters so would not dare to pass judgement on which of the above two interpretations is correct. Insley’s dual-pronged argument certainly accounts for the disyllabic forms of the prefix in a more acceptable way than Gelling’s proposition of a hypothetical dithematic personal name, but it still does not conclusively prove its derivation from Tiw. The only way of doing this on a linguistic level would be the discovery of Old English forms of the place-name and unfortunately there is little chance of this happening.

One means of judging whether Insley’s interpretation is credible is to consider the landscape context of the place-name. Tuesley is a small dispersed settlement today. It first appears in Domesday Book as a one-hide estate; the present sixteenth- to nineteenth-century manor house may occupy the site of the demesne centre. Its Domesday entry enumerates a population of 8 (1 villan, 6 cottars, 1 slave) which, on a compact estate, would connote the practical advantages of a nucleated tenant settlement and medieval pottery and building material found near to the manor house at “Tuesley Corner” may attest to its site. However, the place-name is also associated with the site of “the first church of Godalming”, recorded as such in 1220 when it had been reduced to the status of a chapel of Godalming church (Blair 1991, 99; in Domesday Book it is assessed with Godalming, not Tuesley). The remembrance of its site by a field-name led to excavations of sorts being carried out in the nineteenth century. According to the summary given on the website of the order to which the nearby Ladywell Convent belongs;

“In 1860 the foundations of the Minster were partly excavated by Mr. J .C. Ramsden to whom the estate at Busbridge belonged at that time. They were stone built and showed a nave of 21′ x 14′ with an eastern extension 12′ x 11′ providing a chancel in the eastern part which was divided into two parts each about 21′ x 5′. In the farthest compartment were found nine skeletons lying east to west.”

The foundations and skeletal remains found undoubtedly belong to an ecclesiastical building but, contrary to what is suggested above and elsewhere (e.g. Poulton 1987, 204-205), this was not a minster church. Instead it bears a very close a resemblance to a number of excavated post-Conquest minor churches/manorial chapels, which corresponds with the above-mentioned documentary evidence.

The pictures below show the plan of what was excavated at Tuesley as displayed on a small explanation panel at the site – I do not know the published source of this – and the equivalent plan of the remains of a ?Norman chapel in the Manor Garth of the deserted medieval village of Thrislington, Co. Durham. (I must make clear that I do not own the copyright to the latter and reproduce it here with the most positive of intentions.)

The chapel (not minster church) at Tuesley

The excavated chapel at Thrislington, from Austin 1989, 19 Fig. 6

The chapel/minster site, perched above the valley in which present-day Tuesley lies, could well pre-date the establishment of the minster (presumably in the seventh or eighth century, although this is entirely conjectural) and going back to the period in which the leah – presumably a distinct (or distinctive?) area of open woodland – came to be associated with Tiw. The 1679 record of “Tewersley common” may attest to an area of open common land formed from the earlier eponymous wood pasture (Insley 2001, 429).

Insley (2001, 430) comments that the onomastic evidence, limited as it is, suggests Tiw was worshipped primarily in “forest glades” (now a somewhat outmoded interpretation of Old English leah) but also at “bodies of water” – hence tyes mere in the bounds of S 1272 and Tissø, the famous Danish ritual deposition site. By contrast, none of the larger number of place-names held to commemorate Thunor had a “watery” suffix. The proximity of the minster and manor sites to the spring-fed pond named Lady Well thus takes on more significance than might have been expected at first. Unfortunately, next to nothing is known about the spring and it is not impossible that its name came into existence with the establishment of the Busbridge Lakes in the 18th century. Lady Wells are known to exist in close proximity to minster sites (e.g. Bampton in Oxfordshire and – because I used to pass through it on the tram going to and from work – Eccles in Salford) so the Tuesley instance stands a good chance of being a genuine pre-Reformation appellation rather than a later antiquarian confection. If so, it hints at Tuesley having been a complex cult site with both dry ridge-top and wet low-level foci – this may be just as applicable to its early Christian incarnation as to its Tiw-related pre-Christian phase (and any before that).

Insley (2001, 430) links Tuesley with Godalming, “a genuine -ingas name”, although the relevance of this on an onomastic level is questionable. Tuesley is unique in being both a theophoric place-name and the site of an Anglo-Saxon minster and in this it may have existed as the enduring religious counterpart to a secular power focus close to the Wey at Godalming. Proposing such clear separation of course could be an erroneous notion as in reality both locations could have had multi-dimensional functions, ones which moreover were fluid and changed over time. Nevertheless, the thought has crossed my that there may be some significance in Tuesley – commemorating the god of war – being in a “central” position juxtaposed with Godalming whereas Thursley is liminally situated and did not attain the same level of importance in the medieval period. Two out of the four accepted Tiw/Tig place-names are lost points on estate boundaries, in other words 50% of the total. An initial consideration of the Thunor place-names accepted by Insley yields a similar statistic; five out of the nine are known solely from charter boundary clauses or in the case of Thunores hleaw a hagiographical text. However, of the remainder the Domesday half-hundred name/meeting-place of Thunreslau in Essex is thought to have lain close to the boundary between the parishes of Bulmer and Belchamp Walter (see Anderson 1939, 41), while Thunderfield in eastern Surrey is peripherally situated close to the county boundary. Thursley was not considered by Insley but I have commented on its estate-edge position previously.

A couple of books I bought recently have provided further encouragement. In Pagan and Christian: Religious Change in Early Medieval Europe, David Petts laments the lack of work in attempting to reconstruct the hierarchies of non-Christian sacred sites in Anglo-Saxon England (Petts 2011, 90-91); the polytheistic aspect of the “pagan” place-names of the Godalming area surely offer a unique opportunity to investigate their spatial distribution and characteristics. As yet no Woden-derived place-names have been identified locally, but the repeated appearance of the god in the lineages of so many of the Anglo-Saxon royal houses led Malcolm Lambert, in his very-similarly titled Christians and Pagans: The Conversion of Britain from Alban to Bede, to state in no uncertain terms that “Woden mattered” (Lambert 2010, 64). Interestingly, the majority of place-names containing Woden’s name are attached to extant settlements rather than boundary marks (with the exception of a cluster in Wiltshire associated with Wansdyke – see Insley 2001, 433-34) as if his cult even more so than Tiw’s was one situated in “central” locations. This may be a consequence of the cult of Tiw/Tig being eclipsed by Woden’s at an early date (Insley 2001, 429).

In summary, the various authors who have briefly or at greater length mentioned Tuesley as an example of a theophoric place-name commemorating the war-god Tiw have done so with the balance of evidence in their favour. What all have failed to do is draw upon the most relevant and/or latest available onomastic scholarship in making such statements. This may seem a pedantic point given the obscurity of the relevant works and the fact that all of the above-mentioned plump for what seems to be the correct interpretation but, as my scrutinising of the scholarly interpretations of the ninth-century place-name Hebbeshamm showed, unthinking identifications can quickly become the established point of view despite their erroneousness. Nevertheless, with the onomastic evidence understood as satisfactorily as can be hoped for given the evidence available at present, we can now look towards approaching the archaeology of Tuesley with a renewed sense of excitement.


  • Anderson, O. S., The English Hundred-Names: The South-Eastern Counties, Lunds Universitets Arsskrift, 37.1 (Lund: Hakan Ohlsson, 1939)
  • Austin, David, The Deserted Medieval Village of Thrislington Co. Durham; Excavations 1973 – 74, The Society for Medieval Archaeology Monograph Series, 12 (Lincoln: Society for Medieval Archaeology, 1989)
  • Blair, John, Early Medieval Surrey: Landholding, Church and Settlement (Stroud & Guildford: Alan Sutton & SyAS, 1991)
  • Gelling, Margaret, ʻFurther Thoughts on Pagan Place-Namesʼ in Otium et negotium: studies in onomatology and library science presented to Olof von Feilitzen, ed. by Folke Sandgren (Stockholm: Norstedt, 1973), 109-28
  • Gelling, Margaret, Signposts to the Past (Chichester: Phillimore, 1988)
  • Hines, John, ʻReligion: the limits of knowledgeʼ in The Anglo-Saxons from the Migration Period to the Eighth Century, ed. by John Hines (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1997), 375-401
  • Insley, John, ‘Kultische Namen – England’ in Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, 17,  2nd edition, ed. by Heinrich Beck, Dieter Geuenich, Heiko Steuer and Dieter Timpe (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2001), 425-37
  • Lambert, Malcolm, Christians and Pagans: The Conversion of Britain from Alban to Bede (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2010)
  • Mills, A. D., A Dictionary of British Place-Names (Oxford: Oxford University Press [OUP], 2011
  • Petts, David, Pagan and Christian: Religious Change in Early Medieval Europe (London: Bristol Classical Press, 2011)
  • Poulton, Rob, ‘Saxon Surrey’ in The Archaeology of Surrey to 1540, ed. by Joanna Bird & D. G. Bird (Guildford: Surrey Archaeological Society, 1987), 197-222
  • Semple, Sarah, ʻDefining the OE hearg: a preliminary archaeological and topographic examination of hearg place names and their hinterlandsʼ, Early Medieval Europe, 15.4 (2007), 364-85
  • Walsham, Alexandra, The Reformation of the Landscape (OUP, 2011)

2 Responses to What about Tuesley?

  1. babelstone says:

    Robert, I was reading your post on Thursley yesterday, which inspired me to take a walk across Thursley Common today (past “Thor’s Stone” which Arthur Conan Doyle imaginatively described in Sir Nigel: “He had ridden over Thursley Ridge past the old stone where in days gone by at the place of Thor the wild Saxons worshiped their war-god. Nigel looked at it with a wary eye and spurred Pommers onward as he passed it, for still it was said that wild fires danced round it on the moonless nights, and they who had ears for such things could hear the scream and sob of those whose lives had been ripped from them that the fiend might be honored. Thor’s stone, Thor’s jumps, Thor’s punch-bowl—the whole country-side was one grim monument to the God of Battles, though the pious monks had changed his uncouth name for that of the Devil his father, so that it was the Devil’s jumps and the Devil’s punch-bowl of which they spoke.”) A derivation from Tiwesleah seems reasonable to me, but I wonder what the explanation for Gelling’s name “Tiwhere” was. Is that “Tiw-army” or something else? And not having immediate access to “Place-Names of Surrey”, can you tell me what the early forms of Tuesley are?

    • What a fantastic quote. I knew the Thor Stone appears in the “The Broom Squire” but was unaware that Conan Doyle had written about it too.

      Gelling didn’t expand on the meaning of the postulated personal name, but I think if she had been minded to then she would have rendered it as you have. There’s not a name beginning Tiw- or Tig- in the Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England database which lessens the likelihood further.

      Selected early forms of Tuesley are in chronological order: Tiwesle (1086, 1107×17), Tywe(s)leia (1155×62), Tiwerlei (1220), Tywele (1272), Tewersle (1313, 1314), Twyuersle (1332), Tyweresle (1344), Twesley (c1350), Tuerslee (1407), Tewsley (1524), Tewersley (1589-1679).

      (You can see a full list on page 429 of Insley’s article, available via Google Books at http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=-Uo6OAap41gC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false)

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