When producing my books on the origin of place names I like to look at the basic names, those of towns and villages, topographical features, such as hills and rivers, and also local names, such as districts, roads and streets, pub names and field names.
Since I began researching the subject, now approaching a rather frightening twenty years ago, I have become increasingly fascinated with the field names of England. While our basic place names originate in the Old English language, the majority of field names were coined rather later and derived from Middle English which, as the name suggests, came between Old and Modern English.
Field names are not only important to rural areas. As an earlier blog post discussed, fields which have been developed for modern housing have proven the inspiration for the name of the streets – local councils like to retain existing names. Several names are commonplace, found in many places as street names. Possibly the most common from a field is Pinfold, a street name which led to the small holding area where stray animals were held awaiting collection by the owner. These were rounded up by the pinner (leading to the surname) and required payment of a fine on collection by the owner.
A few field names which I feel are worthy of particular mention begin with Blind Boys Field. This name is found around Leicestershire, indeed I cannot recall having found it far from this East Midlands county. It has nothing to do with sightless young males. Here we find an old term, one still used in North America, for the blinkers worn by a horse. Hence the Blind Boys were none other than the plough team and the field where they were pastured.
Around the boundaries with neighbouring Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Rutland an unusual name is found in that of the Nicker. This is no misspelling, here we have a dialect term for the woodpecker – so-called because the bird uses its beak to nick into the wood of the trees.
Found throughout the land is a field name which, in some cases has been used as a minor place name. However Plaistow began as Old English pleg stow and referring to ‘the place of play’. This is understood to refer to where games or sports were played, at least annually and probably several times a year on feast days.
Possibly my favourite story comes from Cambridgeshire and the huge job of draining of the fens, one which took a great deal of man hours. As it was impossible for the labourers to give enough of their time away from the fields on a voluntary basis, those with money sponsored the workforce, enabling them to carry out the work and still support their families. Those who undertook the work received a share of the land on completion of the work, those who invested their money received a great deal more. The resulting fields reflected them both in many being known the Adventurers and Undertakers.
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.