A field by any other name
From ‘Ding Dong’ to ‘Second Humpy’, Philip Greenway has a field day with meadows’ monikers
If, like me, you grew up on a farm, you’ll be familiar with names such as Home Field, Eight Acres (or equivalent number), Cow Field, Orchard, Bottom Field, Top Field and The Meadow. But what about the more unusual names? Borrow Bread, Dear Bought, Purgatory, Gaudy Close and Ding Dong are some examples that Farmers Weekly highlighted from A New Dictionary of English Field Names by Dr Paul Cavil (The English Place-Name Society, £22) – a new book on field name origins.
Contributors also came up with a few interesting examples:
“My wettest horror field is perfectly named – it’s the Black Bog!”
“We have a First Humpy and a Second Humpy; so named as they’re both humpy and one is in front of the other.”
“Warren Field, Hump Back Field, Junk Field (used to be full of old scrap), and my personal favourite The Big Square Field.”
“Soggy Bottom. I am sure Mary Berry would have approved.”
“There was Slates on a Cotswold farm I worked on. The Cotswold brash was so thick it was hard to spot the soil but it still grew a good crop. Here in flat Suffolk we have Hillies near us – the only gentle slope for miles.”
“10 Acre … but the field is actually only five acres.”
“Starveacre and Worlds End are probably the most amusing I’ve come across.”
“Mud Pightle, Shepherds Hills and Bulfers.”
“We have one called Cheesecake. I don’t know why.”
As you can see from the above, field names may have derived from just about anything. The majority of names, however, would have come from Anglo-Saxon origins and passed down the generations.
Many would never have been written down, although old tithe maps and tenancy agreements would have been two sources of evidence of any historical data. The old OS plans usually had a three-digit number relating to the parish in which it was located, and the more recent national grid series of plans have given each field a four-digit number based on its grid reference. Neither of these series of plans did anything to preserve the individuality or historic context of old field names.
As a chartered surveyor, I have always taken time to write down information on field names where possible. I can’t imagine my father saying to me as a young man, “Go down to OS 319 and spread the manure.” Much more evocatively he would have said, “Go ‘n’ spread the muck on Sourdown.” I would have known exactly what to do!
What we have with field names is part of the rich tapestry of the English language. It is ever- changing, largely undocumented and capable of being lost forever, unless we write it down and make use of it.
I suggest that all landowners and farmers take a few minutes to write all they know about the names of their fields, and preserve this declining fragment of our past – before it disappears altogether.
This article is taken from Symonds & Sampson's award-winning lifestyle magazine 'Country Matters'. Why not take a read?