Sunday, 25 August 2013

A Selection of Field Names

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.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Walking the Malvern Hills

A recent drive to one of my favourite parts of England coincided with a delightfully warm day, if a little muggy. Not that the hills are by any means the highest in the country, simply the countryside both east and west is predominantly flat and offers a perfect view of the quintessential patchwork farmland. .I was reminded of a passage from one of my earliest books, Worcestershire Place Names, and this story of one of the most respected individuals to live in the area. As we shall see this lady’s early life was hardly an easy time for her.

Lady Lyttleton was born Apphia Witts in 1743, the second daughter of one Broome Witts. At the age of 24 she became engaged to her cousin Richard Witts, he spending much of his time away working for the East India Company. In 1769 she embarked for India, where the couple would marry on her arrival and yet she arrived only to discover her husband-to-be had died during her voyage.

Grief-stricken and penniless he met Colonel James Peach, an army veteran and governor of Calcutta. A whirlwind romance saw the couple marry the following January. Whilst she had managed to marry this one they had hardly had time to get to know watch other for six months later he was also dead. He had contracted a fever and within ten days of falling ill had made her a widow.

Mrs Peach, as she now was, returned to England and went to live at Shenstone where she met the Honourable Thomas Lyttleton – a man who was ‘honourable’ only in title - a notorious rake of his day and clearly only interested in the considerable wealth she had inherited from Colonel Peach. Somehow he managed to convince her his reputation was an exaggeration, the impetuosity of youth and he was a reformed character. Hence he became her second husband in 1772. However with the ink barely dry on the marriage certificate he was already showing his true colours. With his mind clearly on the money he made his way back to the wedding carriage without his bride and, when he apologised for his oversight, managed to refer to the new Lady Lyttleton as ‘Mrs Peach’! A few short months later and she was alone again and now living with her father-in-law, George Lyttleton, at Hagley Hall. She came to Malvern around the end of the eighteenth century, eventually settling in the home she had had built which she named Peachfield Lodge in memory of her beloved first husband.

Lady Lyttleton was soon a leading personality around Malvern as it grew from a village to a town. She rarely left her home, where her role as a hostess was legendary, although she did venture out to Madresfield Court when in her eighties where she charmed the Duchess of Kent and a young Princess Victoria to such a degree they wrote and thanked her personally for their ‘unforgettable summer’.

Despite a number of heart-breaking setbacks in her early life, Lady Lyttleton overcame them to see her ninety-sixth year. Reports seem to indicate most of the town turned out to her funeral, shops were closed, the crowds spilled out into the churchyard and many others watched the funeral procession from windows, doorways and even rooftops to witness the end of an era in Malvern’s history.

Unlike Lady Lyttleton we parked at the British Camp car park where, on returning to the car, had time to cross to the small café on the Worcestershire/Herefordshire border for a well-deserved ice cream from a local dairy. Highly recommended.

As always 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.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Tools of the Historical Trade

Recent blog posts have covered the street names and occupational surnames which may or may not prove of interest to authors of historical stories. It occurred to me how it might prove useful to look at some of the tools and terminology used by those in those occupations. That many were used in agriculture comes as no surprise as the vast majority worked the land.

ARTIFICIAL LEECH – as it suggests this blood-letting tool of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries mimicked the natural blood sucker after which it was named. It resembled a bicycle pump with one end where rotating blades with cut into the patient’s flesh and enable the blood to be drawn into the tube.

ASTROLABE – a navigational aid and a remarkably intricate piece of equipment for its day – those from the seventeenth century particularly. Useless during the day, they showed position by lining the instrument up with the stars.

BREAST PLOUGH – an early implement and one with a most misleading name, it is really a broad spade with a broad handle which pressed against the body of the user which cut a narrow swathe across the field, removing the top layer of stubble, weeds, brushwood, etc. This was then burned slowly to produce an ash which was then spread back on the field as a fertiliser. The implement was certainly available by the end of the sixteenth century, and still used in the Cotswolds in the 1930s, although it would seem to be in use much earlier and could well have been seen before the Romans arrived. Note there many different names for this item depending upon location.

BURN-BAITING – the process of using a breast plough and burning that removed.

CHAFF CUTTER – a curved blade was employed to chop the stubble from the crops into smaller pieces. The stalks were enclosed in a rectangular box on legs, both ends of the box were missing so the chaff could be slid along to protrude from chaff box and sliced through. An experienced cutter could make fifteen cuts per minute, less able workers would doubtless have at least scars to show their ineptitude. Chaff was cut into smaller pieces to mix in with the animal feed to ensure nothing went to waste, left whole the creatures could leave this in favour of the tastier morsels. Various models existed from the most basic idea in the sixteenth century to spring-loaded versions by the middle of the nineteenth century.

CROSS STAFF – a navigational aid resembling a television aerial but with cross pieces of differing lengths. Held up to horizon in the direction of the sun or pole star would be a guide to the vessel’s latitude. Looking directly at the sun caused blindness in a number of users.

DENTCHERING – the process of using a breast plough.

EMMET-IRON – another name for a breast plough and common to the south east of England, so-named because it knocked down ant hills and emmet is an early name for the ant (and in current use as a Cornish word for a tourist).

GROZIER – glaziers used lead to hold the smaller panels of glass in a larger pane, the length of lead being trimmed with a grozier.

HUMMELLER – used to remove the beard from the barley after threshing, it resembled a rake but with longer tines and a second piece along the ends to form a grill. Combed through the barley it would remove the unwanted beard.

LATHERKIN – when glaziers used lead to hold together the various glass panes in a larger window, the malleable lead was smoothed out with a latherkin.

LEY – nothing to do with track ways or lines of energies, this ‘ley’ is an alternative northern term for a scythe.

MOUTH GAG – not what it seems, this late nineteenth century implement resembled a large wooden tapering thumb screw which would be placed in the patient’s mouth when they were under to keep the mouth and the airway open.

POSSER – an alternative name for the ‘dolly’ used on wash days. When clothes were washed in a copper boiler the only means of agitating the clothes was with a wooden post with a handle which was twisted by hand to rotate the clothes.

SALVING – salve is a mixture of butter and tar which, when rubbed on to the skin of the sheep in autumn protected them from pests and parasites through the winter when the long fleece provided a welcome home for them. The process ended when the sheep dip proved to be at least as effective at under a quarter of the cost.

SEED FIDDLER – a bag containing the seed to be sowed was suspended by a shoulder strap. A rotating disc allowed the seed to be distributed from beneath the bag and was sent spinning by a bow-like action back and forth by the operator, hence the name ‘fiddler’. Used by the nineteenth century.

SHAUL – a shallow scoop of wood, used for winnowing, While the chaff would be blown away in the breeze the heavier seeds would drop back into the shaul.

SPECULUM – any of various instruments used over many years and used to open any number of body cavities to give a better view. By the look of it they got the idea from the old shoe stretcher, or perhaps the reverse was the case.

TOBACCO SMOKE ENEMA – pretty obvious from the name what it is, but just why mini-bellows blowing smoke up the patient’s backside in the late eighteenth century was thought to help breathing problems is mystifying. Unless everyone in the eighteenth century talked through their ……. no, that can’t possibly have been the case.

TREPANNING – possibly still known as a medical treatment whereby holes are drilled in the skull to cure what were seen as problems caused by demons but were actually insanity, epilepsy, or simply a fractured skull.

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.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Family Business

Following on from last week’s examination of some of the most common street names found in England, for the historical novelist it is as important to have names which fit the character as it is to have an address which is suitable for the era. As such here is a selection of surnames which may or may not inspire an idea or two – incidentally if any of these do give the writer an idea I’d be fascinated to hear about it.

Surnames come from four basic areas: place names, forenames, trades, and a smattering of nicknames. This blog covers the subject of place names quite regularly and, if you require a place name for a specific county for a character, there are some twenty books of mine out there which will give many suggestions. Christian names speak for themselves with examples such as Richardson or Robinson. Trades may be less obvious, although there is always the exception to the rule and Smith, the most common of English surnames, referring to a metalworker. Note this does not only mean a blacksmith, although this is the most common source, but also tinsmith, coppersmith, silversmith and goldsmith. The following is a list of trades which have developed into surnames – I have omitted the most obvious such as Miller, Taylor, Carter, Shepherd, etc., and list these in alphabetical order (only so I don’t duplicate any).

Arkwright – a maker of arks, which at the time would refer to large wooden chests

Bailey – a bailiff and an important official

Barker – not a market seller but one who sold bark used in the tanning of leather

Baxter – is a female baker, also Whitbread as one who produced only white bread and thus for the rich

Bond – yes James’ ancestors were serfs or bondsmen

Brewer – is obvious but included as the female version was Brewster

Chambers – one who managed the private chambers of a man of rank

Chapman – sold goods at a market

Cooper – a maker of barrels

Coward – he may or may not not be brave but he was named for being a cow herd

Dempster – a judge

Dyer – worked in cloth

Farmer – not the obvious, which is comparatively modern, but from fermier or tax collector

Fletcher – fairly well known as the man who made arrow shafts and flights for same

Fowler – trapped birds for the table

Frobisher – a polisher of metal, such as the swords and armour of knights

Fuller – like Walker a method of washing cloth

Granger – was the original farmer

Hawker – a market seller

Hooper – produced the hoops which held the wooden panels of the barrels

Lister – simply another name for a dyer

Lorimer – one who made horse-riding equipment, sometimes said to be just stirrups

Mercer – traded in the finest cloth

Napier – had a selection of cloths used to dry those who had just used a fingerbowl

Parsons – servant of a parson or clergyman

Roper – made ropes

Sawyer – produced logs

Spencer – literally dispensed goods from the stores

Stoddard – a corruption of stot herd, a stot being a young ox

Turner – operated a lathe working wood

Vickers – the servant of a clergyman

Walker – trod the cloth to wash out impurities before it was stretched on a frame to dry

Waterman – rowed a boat

Yates – was a gatekeeper

We should also include a selection of nicknames. Although these are not exactly what we would see as nicknames today. These include Strong, Armstrong, Small, Long, etc which speak for themselves.

Abbot – more likely to be a reference to one seen as arrogant rather than a holder of the office

Bishop – again one seen as arrogant more often than a holder of the office

Blunt – one with blonde hair

Bragg – nothing to do with boasting but an old synonym for bold

Crippen – would have been known for his curly hair

Darwin – literally ‘dear one’ a friend

Golightly – the way they walked

King – once more more likely to be a reference to one seen as arrogant than a holder of the office

Lord – and yet another example of an arrogant individual rather than a lord or one who worked for same

Moody – as with Bragg not what is seems but from modig and another word meaning bold

Pollard – a naturally bald man

Prince – and yet another for the arrogant rather than a holder of the office

Russell – one with red hair

Tait – someone who was cheerful

Todd – is an alternative name for a fox and could have described a cunning individual

Unwin – an unfriendly individual

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.