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Author Topic: A short essay on field names  (Read 990 times)
Charles Cater
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« on: December 05, 2008, 03:24:41 PM »

                       English Field Names - A Short Essay
Please remember that I first published many years ago but I would imagine it also includes Wales too.

In setting out to explain some of the meanings within field-names I will by no means have the capacity to fill all that is known here. I have done this essay specifically to draw your attention to the importance that field-names can be to those that use electronic means of detecting metal objects.

The use of these machines have, over the last 40 years transformed our knowledge of the history of our country, without them we would not be in the position to convince the sceptics in the archaeological world that we have done so.

So many times have beligerent authorities used public money to try, and almost succeed, in having the hobby banned in total. So with this in mind I have cobbled together this small essay for your edification.

Field-names can be defined as the names of all pieces of land forming part of the agregarian economy of a town or village.
The term thus excludes the names of streets, industrial sites, mineral working, mountains forests and similar areas,

The names of which are studied elswhere, though agricutural land adjoining such features may be named from them. Many town-dwellers are surprised to learn that every piece of land under cultivation bears a name of its own.
This is why it can be important for us to observe tithe maps from the early periods of land allocation. These can be readily viewed at any records office in any county.

Useful information can be got from seeing a map with a field marked as Well Field or Mill Field. It is indicative of past activity. Although the casual visitor to the countryside seldom hears these names,

They are constantly in use by those who (in any sense) live by the land. The names are most frequently used in speech rather than in writing, and, compared with records containg major place-names, there are fewer documents to provide convenient sources for the field-name collector.
This also accounts for field-names being less permanent than major place-names - a complicated factor in the persuit of the early forms necessary for a firmly based interpretation of any place-name.

Other difficulties result from many boundary changes and rearrangements brought about by the enclosure of open fields, and by random and sometimes inexplicable renaming of individual pieces of land.
Major place-names (ie the names of counties,towns, villages,etc) have been objects of scholarly interest for a very long time, but field-names recieve little attention until about sixty years ago, the incusion of lists of field-names in The Place-Names of Northamptonshire (1933) was regarded as a remakable innovation.
Subsequent volumes published by the English Place-Name Society have included longer lists, and the seven or eight hundred field-names cited for Northamptonshire are now seen to be a very small beginning indeed when placed against those recent volumes of the Society.

In the Cheshire volumes, for instance, lists amounting to several hundred of names are by no means unusual for different parishes. This growing attention is not entirely accounted for by the progress of place-name studies.

Place-name specialists have an interest (primarily linguistic) in the names for thier own sake, or for the sake of inclusions that can be drawn from them regarding the language of those who used the names but both they and other scholars will look beyond the structure and meaning of the words to the external significance of the field-names.

  Field-names provide many names in which dwellings are built upon, also names of cottages and houses can also be observed with field-names in which the original land was referred.
An instance of Orchard Street, Castle Street , Penfold Lane etc. these are typical of names seen today that refer to field-names of centuries past and this alone has given a starting point for many ordinary people who are interested in local history. In the end , curiosity overcomes us and we eventually ask 'What does the name mean'.

I will try to give an answer to this question. I cannot list all the field-names that are available but will give some indication of thier meaning for the benefit of those who wish to search for them within the confines of the county records office.

I cannot but mention at this point that modern forms of names are not reliable, the earlier forms must be obtained. Most of the examples here are nineteenth century or modern names in which I got from certain Tithe Apportionment documents. earlier names can be obtained from a great variety of public and private records. It is possible that names can be had from farms in which a tithe map has been handed down from generation to generation.

It is said that in 1871 there were more than 23 million acres of arable and pasture land in England and the possiblility of all field-names being recorded would be an emense task with duplications and variants to be eliminated, however, from all that has been published over the last century and a half there cannot but be a complete or almost complete record listed.

The name 'field' has changed considerably over the twelve hundred years of its recorded existence in English. the term was apparently first used to distinguish the area cleared of trees from forests by the earliest settlers in Britain.

We can see towns and cities with names such as Hatfield, Sheffield, and Henfield. The term ' Great Field' referred to unenclosed land used for agriculture and recieved such names as North Field or Near Field or related to a feature and called Wood Field, Mill Field etc.

Eventually great fields were divided into smaller areas known as 'furlongs' or 'shots' and these in turn were subdivided into strips or plots allocated to local residence or tenants. Furlongs had a name of thier own but strips did not, but simply known as holdings referring, when necessary, as a holding of a particular person within a named furlong.

The term 'field-name' can therefore be applied to any of three entities - a common field as an open field system, one of the furlongs composing of a field, or an enclosed piece of land.
The hedged, walled or fenced closes, the area of land that we loosely term 'fields' today, are completely different from either the medieval open fields or thier constituent furlongs.
The modern unit is much smaller than one of the great fields although through different instructions from the governing bodies that required fences and hedges to be ripped out to make larger fields for crop growing has left great tracts of land comparable in size to the medieval units.

I will add some more which will include actual field names and why they are named as such as and when I can find them. Of mineralisation we are familiar with in metal detecting one comes to mind as he name Allum Field . As the name implies it may refer to an area which contains allum.

Allege. remote or lonely.
Borrens - land marked by cairns.
Sart Field - woodland cleared for cultivation.
Trefoil Close - land on which clover grew, Various clovers have been grown since the seventeeenth century.
Easy Close - complementary names for good land - would have been well used.
Flit Furlong - land beside a stream, good search areas.
Footroad Meadow - land adjoining a footpath - another good search area, with permission of course.
How-so Meadow - land reserved for domestic needs of lord of the manor.
Insets Field - land almost enclosed by a winding parish boundary.
Ivey Close - Ivy Bush - Ivy Copse - Ivy Meadow - names alluding to Hedera helix. In an area where a Roman settlement has been found, searching here may produce good results.
Kiln Piddle - land on which a kiln was situated, the purpose being usually brick-making or lime burning.

It might be of interest to know that anywhere you see Sarn written on a urvey map is  sure sign of Roman connotations.

These are just a few on thousands which are known through tithe maps which can be seen at any Records Office which you will find in your area. The study of this subject is extensive and cannot be entirely covered here but further reading can be obtained at your local Reference Library.

« Last Edit: December 06, 2008, 02:26:44 PM by Charles Cater - Wrexham - North Wales » Logged

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