Sunday, 16 June 2013

Hampshire Place Names

An excerpt from the book which came out in 2010 and a look at the entry for Brockenhurst which includes one of the most informative pub names I have ever found.

With just two records of note, as Broceste in 1086 and Brocheherst in 1158, the first element here is uncertain and there are two possible meanings. The more likely is a personal name followed by hyrst and thus ‘Broca’s wooded hill’. However the first element may be brocen which can still be seen as ‘broken’ and understood to be ‘undulating wooded hill’.

Locally we find Connigers Copse, a name which speaks of the time at the end of the twelfth century when rabbits were introduced to this country by the Normans. This reference to ‘the rabbit warren coppice’ reminds us that the animals which many see as pests were introduced for food and, within a few short years, they had escaped into the wild and had quite literally bred like rabbits resulting in the population we see today. Rhinefield is a regional name which began life as a field name, for the early forms from the fourteenth century of Ryefeld and Riefelde point to ‘the rye open land’.

Seen as Reidon in 1284, Reydone in 1333, and Roydon in 1573, the name of Roydon is derived from raege-dun or ‘the hill of the female roe deer’. Setley is first seen as Setle in 1331 and, although enclosing any plantation against wild animals was considered illegal until the law was changed in 1483, this can only refer to ‘the set out or planted woodland’. The name of Hincheslea tells us it was where ‘hind calves frequented a woodland clearing’ and possibly shows these immature females were being kept for meat and their hides.

Brockenhurst has some of the most informative pub names in the county, perhaps even the country. While the Filly is clearly a reference to the female New Forest ponies under the age of four, it is a very unusual name. The Morant Arms remembers Edward Morant who, in 1770, came to Brockenhurst House which he purchased for over six thousand pounds. However this was not the end of his spending for he completely rebuilt the home, a resplendent Georgian mansion with beautifully laid-out grounds and over 3,000 acres of land in total. His fortune came from the family estates in Jamaica. He is also remembered as being an amateur cricketer of considerable ability who organised many matches here at the end of the eighteenth century. The Turfcutters Arms is not what it may seem, for the ‘turf’ is a reference to a slab of peat which was dug hereabouts as a fuel.

However there can be none more unique a pub name than the Snakecatcher. Brusher Mills was born Henry (known as Harry) Mills in March 1840, one of eight children. He lived in the hut of a former charcoal burner, a simple affair with a bed of dry bracken, a chair, firewood kept in an old biscuit tin, a single spoon he had fashioned himself, and his tin of tobacco. He was not ashamed of his simple home, would often invite visitors inside for a cup of tea (plenty of sugar but no milk). A cleft palate made his speech difficult to comprehend, although tradtion has it that this was the result of a gypsy curse.

Harry ‘Brusher’ Mills was the snakecatcher, he caught adders to earn a living. Leaving his home in the early morning he would walk miles around the New Forest every day, a tin with holes in one hand, a sack over his shoulder, and a second sack carrying the tools of his trade - scissors, knives, tweezers and a forked stick. The adders would be caught, killed and stripped of the fat which would be melted down to produce an embrocation used for a multitude of ailments and troubles, including sprains, bruises, rheumatism, and, of course, adder bites. Such cures were trusted, which was not surprising, as other commonly held beliefs were that touching the body of a hanged man was the only way to rid a person of St Vitus Dance, while fits would be banished by eating the livers of no less than forty green frogs.

The majority of his catches were grass snakes, which he could sell the skins of as souvenirs. During his lifetime it is estimated Brusher, a name thought to be derived from the way he brushed the bracken aside to find his quarry, caught almost 30,000 snakes of which only one in every eight was an adder.

Harry died at the age of 65, the result of heart condition. His last meal of meat, bread and pickles was unfinished, the drink still alongside on the table, and he was found in an outhouse of his favourite pub, then called the Railway Tavern but today renamed the Snakecatcher in his honour.

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

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