Place names have a particular significance and are a source of considerable interest. Their primary purpose is functional. They help identify the position of a place for example, although not always precisely. At the time of Domesday three villages, Child Okeford, Okeford Schilling [Shillingstone] and Okeford Fitzpaine were all referred to as Ackford, Alford, and Ackford all mean – the ford by the oak. Only later were they distinguished by the addition of a second name. Nevertheless in ancient times as today one of the most important reasons for naming a place was that it constituted an agreed term of reference so that villagers and people from other areas could be certain they were talking about the same place. For the same reason and arguably of greater importance was the necessity to name the fields and closes in which the agricultural labourers would be sent to work
Field names in the time of the Open Fields.
Where there were three or four open fields in a parish the most common pattern of naming the fields was by their relationship to one another. Thus Martin’s tithe map of Winterbourne Steepleton shows fields named West, East and Middle field. Simple and straightforward. In the larger parishes, more names were needed and were somewhat more inventive; at Fordington we find, in addition to East and West field, names such as Pummery, Castle, East Home field and Coomb field. At Stratton in addition to East, Middle and West field we find Brewer’s Ash, Rick and Langford fields.
By the time of the tithe commutations many of these open fields were but a shadow of their former selves having been greatly reduced in extent, often to no more than a few furlongs. The open fields shown on the Stratton map are clearly remnants of an original, much larger, open field system. Brewer’s Ash and Rick may be the name of furlongs that were ‘promoted’ to fields when partial inclosure of the original field took place. Langford field is slightly different as it is continuous with Langford Farm which was probably inclosed from the original open field.
Naming of fields in this way had a limited utility and it was common for the individual furlongs to bear names as well. The only examples amongst Martin’s work that we find come, strangely enough from the Fordington open fields which were portrayed on the Dorchester Holy Trinity map [for reasons why see here]. Here part of Pummery and Castle fields were divided up into forty five furlongs. Some of these, such as ‘Pummery Gate’ furlong [a toll gate] were geographical in their origins, whilst others lay alongside the road, ‘Martin’s town path’ furlong, whereas others are less easy to explain ‘Windsor Goose’ and ‘Hunting Horn’ furlongs for example.
Below the level of the furlong lay the strips or selions owned by individual owners and occupiers. These rarely had ‘official’ names, in most open field parishes there were simply too many strips. How then did the owners know where their lands lay?
The best example of how this was managed comes from Laxton in Nottinghamshire which remains the last open field parish. It was surveyed in 1635 by Mark Pierce and has a particularly fine map which as well as showing the fields contains drawings that depict the country life; in addition to sowing, harvesting and ploughing there are hunting scenes. It is exquisite.
The large open fields are named on the maps in terms of their geography East and West fields, South field and Mill Field. These fields were packed with thousands of strips grouped together in into furlongs but these are not named on the map. With several thousand strips in the open part of the manor it would have been impossible to name each strip so how did they cope? The book of particulars is of interest at this point. Unusually it does not give a list of the furlongs instead under each man’s name are a series of numbers which relate to individual plot numbers on the map. Those who farmed in the open fields had no need for names. The strips themselves acted as their own point of reference as was pointed out by C S Orwin,
“The outside furrow slices of each parcel turned away from each other formed a well marked borderline [the furrow] between them and they were supplemented with landmarks, posts, driven in under the direction of the juries of the Manor Court at the corners of each man’s parcel……… These men knew their own lands as a shepherd knows his sheep.”
A farmer looking over the location of each of the 20 strips held by his father in the Mill field, which he had cultivated as a young man 30 years before described how it was done;
“Start in Holme side furlong, plough two lands, miss three, plough one more, go onto Foxmore furlong etc”. He said that the only time that he had made a mistake was once when the ridge and furrow were alike obliterated by snow and he had carted manure to land adjacent to his father’s.”
Although there were over three thousand strip in Laxton they were divided between one hundred freeholders and tenants most of whom enjoyed long standing tenures. As Orwin said, they knew their lands as a shepherd knows his sheep. There was no need for names.
Field names after Inclosure.
Inclosure swept away the large open fields which were broken up into any number of smaller ‘closes’ separated by hedgerows. For a variety of reasons these new closes acquired names. A D Mills  is the acknowledged expert on place names and his ‘Place Names of Dorset’ series has extensive records of the parishes field names derived from the legal records [indentures] of the sale of land within the parish. In numerous parishes there is scant evidence of field names before [usually] the late 16th and early 17th century when they often appear in profusion. This is almost certainly due to recent inclosure within the parish.
Leaving aside the seemingly natural desire of humans to name things there were a number of reasons to name these new closes. Whereas before there were thousands of strips now there may have been only a few dozen closes but the disposition of these new closes would not have been known to the majority of agricultural labourers who would be required to work in them.
Furthermore inclosure made the sale of land easier and in the absence of a land registry it was necessary when selling land to be as accurate as possible in describing it’s position. The extract below is from an indenture of sale of lands in Shillingstone. It uses nine ways of identifying the lands involved. Ways that even decades later would be remembered and verified, if the need arose, by the local community.
“Two pieces or parcells of Meadow or pasture lying adjacent to or near unto the new Dwellinghouse  of Henry Kaines  in Beer Marsh aforesaid called by the name or sign of the Lamb  containing by Estimation four acres and three quarters  be the same more or less and also all that Close called East Well  Situate and being within the parish of Child Okeford  aforesaid between the Kings Highway and the River Stower containing by Estimation half an acre more or less ”.
The names of many of these newly formed closes betray their origins. At Child Okeford there were no fewer than seven closes named ‘Southfield’. Named, presumably, after the open field from which they had been inclosed. Just as the open fields disappeared so too did the furlongs which they contained although, as suggested previously, some of the new closes may have taken their names from them.
Field  names then are features of inclosed parishes and although I am not aware of anyone having done this, it might be possible, using the dates at which field names appear, to identify the progress of inclosure in a particular parish. The excellent series of books published by the English Place Name Society would be useful in this research.
Halstock and Corscombe.
Replacing several thousand, but unnamed strips, with several hundred new closes all requiring names does not appear to have taxed the ingenuity of the landowners greatly.The eponymously named John Field in his, ‘Dictionary of English Field Names’, identifies a number of groups into which field names can be put. They are fairly self evident and not particularly imaginative. The following names are taken from the tithe apportionment for Halstock [H] and its neighbouring parish Corscombe [C] and illustrate the different groups.
|Size||Distance from village|
|2 Acres [actually close enough]
14 Acres [actually 9].
|The Far Grove [H]|
|Yonder Fields [H]
Hither Ridge [H]
|Lower Lewcombe Field
Higher Lewcombe Field
|Shape||Type of Soil|
|Gore [H] a more or less triangular shape
Strap [H] a long thin strip
Lower and Higher Stoney Close [C]
Wax Mead [C]
|Natural Features||Type of Cultivation|
Hangings Leaze [H]
|Willow Bed [C]|
|Crops||Wild Plants or Animals|
|Spring Sewing Ground [H] now pasture but probably arable originally
Barley Close [H]
|Alder Moor [H] and Cuckoo Ford [H]|
|Great Bull Bridge [H]
Horse Close [H]
|Mill Mead [H]|
|Roads||Name of Owner or Occupiers|
|Roadway [H] a green lane connecting two fields which paid tithe of 10d but which was not cultivated||Hoopers Hill [H]
Ryams Meadow [C]
|Archaeological Features||Person or Object maintained originally by income from field|
|Castle [C]||Charity Plot [C]|
|Land used for industrial purposes||Names of Arbitrary Application|
|Marl Pit Close [C]
Brick Kiln [C] actually 15 acres of pasture
|Dame Betty’s Backside [H]
Dancing Hill [H]
Yearning Close [C]
There are some categories that cannot be completed from the Halstock or Corscombe field names  but it appears at first glance that there is nothing very unusual about these parishes. As you continue to browse the names in the apportionment however you soon begin to realise that something unusual has taken place in these parishes. Plot 587 for example is conventional enough, “House Outbuildings, Yards, Barton and Garden” but the next plot, 8 acres of Meadow and Orchard is named “William 3rd” and plot 589, 4 acres of meadow and Orchard is called ‘Settlement’. More strangeness follows as in succession we come across ‘Stuart Coppice’, ‘Revolution’, ‘Boston’, ‘Freestate’ and much more.
It soon becomes obvious that Halstock and Corscombe are unusual parishes, and the man responsible for these unusual names is Thomas Hollis.
In 1740 Thomas Hollis inherited the lands of his father and great uncle. Rather unimaginatively they were all named Thomas. Young Thomas however was far from being unimaginative. He was educated as a lawyer at Lincoln’s Inn and until 1848 he lived there before embarking on an extended ‘grand tour’ around Europe not returning for over five years. He was by all accounts an exceptionable man for his time. “He drank no intoxicating liquor, abstained from dairy products, sugar, spices or salt” and in politics was probably a republican. In religion his failure to attend any church caused him to be labelled an atheist. 5
Disdaining parliament he sought to espouse his views by paying for the publication of numerous books and by editing numerous works of others. He was a major donor of books to Harvard when in 1865 it’s library burnt down, and to the University in Berne.
In 1770 he retired to Corscombe, the neighbouring parish to Halstock, and set about renaming the fields of both parishes. The tithe maps of Corscombe, drawn in  and Halstock  are of considerable interest. The parishes are similar in that there were multiple small centres of population. Mostly clusters of farms and their ancillary buildings.
At first sight the map of Halstock is unremarkable with the names of these farms written in; these are Wyke, Netherstoke, Croads, Abbots Hill and Bakers which do not sound to out of the ordinary but then we notice Ludlow, Portland and Sydney and even more strangely, Churchill, Russell, Neville, Factory, Moryatt, Factory, Locke, Marvell, Liberty and Harvard. The latter is explicable at least, in that his great Uncle was one of the founding benefactors of that American University.
Corscombe names are not quite so unusual although they still seem a little strange; Wick, Wayland, Weston, Norwood, Catsley, Urless.
When we come to the tithe apportionment of Halstock we find this strangeness in naming continues, for here we find closes [the parish was fully inclosed] named as follows. Some are self evident, some are derived from J D Mills’ work whilst others have eluded me but all have some reference to the ancient past, the English Civil War, Puritanism or the Enlightenment.
|Adams||Probably John Adams 2nd President of the USA went to Harvard or possibly after the school where he was educated||Alfred||The Great of course|
|Annett||Not Known||Aristogyton||Lover of Harmodius and one of the Greek Tyrants|
|Aristotle||Greek Philosopher||Bacon||Francis Bacon ‘inventor’ of modern science.|
|Baron||Not Known||Bastwick||John Bastwick English Puritan physician|
|Belchier||British Surgeon||Berne||Hollis made donations of books to the library there.|
|Bestall||Not Known||Birch||Not Known|
|Boston||Hollis had an American Pen Pal in Boston called Jonathan Mayhew||Brachetts Plantation||Not Known|
|Bracton||According to JD Mills an eminent legal author of Commonwealth times.||Bradshaw||John Bradshaw President of the court that tried Charles I|
|Brooke||Probably Henry Brooke 8th Baron Cobham plotted against James I||Brutus||Murderer of Julius Caesar|
|Buchanan||According to JD Mills George Buchanan Scottish Humanist||Burton||According to JD Mills another Puritan writer|
|Care||One of the puritan virtues||Cassius||Murder of Julius Caesar|
|Chesford||A commemorative name||Christchurch||A major centre for the roundheads in the civil war.|
|Churchill||Winner of the battle of Blenheim||Cicero||Roman Writer and Politician Judicially murdered.|
|Commonwealth||The nature of the country under the puritans||Comprehension Coppice||One of the puritan virtues|
|Confucius||Chinese Philosopher||Constitution||A good enlightenment idea|
|Cook Coppice||One of the prosecutors of Charles I||Cotton||Probably a John Cotton an earlier minister in Massachusetts|
|Education||One of the puritan virtues||Eliot||John Eliot Puritan MP or Andrew Eliot and American Correspondent|
|Flaxley||Probably the village of the same name producing cannons in the civil war||Freestate||Probably a reference to Holland|
|Geneva||Another centre of puritanism||[The] Good Old Cause||The name given by the new model army to the reason they were fighting in the civil war.|
|Goodwin||Another 17th century MP and supporter of Parliament in the Civil war.||Government||What stands between us and anarchy|
|Hamden Mead||Probably John Hampden one of the MP’s whose arrest set off the civil war.||Hanover||Home of the Kings who took over from James II|
|Harmodius||See Aristogyton||Harris||A commemorative name|
|Harrisons||Thomas Harrison one of the signatories to the execution of Charles I||Harvard||American University|
|Hervey||Possibly Harvey of which there are too many options to be reliably determined||Hiero Coppice||According to JD Mills probably refers to Hieron a work by Xenophon|
|Holland||Home to William of Orange||Hollis Plot||The man himself|
|Hutchinson||Another famous MP and soldier in the parliamentary cause.||Ireton||Henry Ireton son in law of Oliver Cromwell|
|Upper January 30th||January 30th the date of the execution of Charles I||Kennet||Possibly White Kennet and English antiquarian|
|Lampugnano||According to JD Mills a district of Milan but it is not obvious what connection there is||Lay Preacher||A number of Christian Sects encouraged lay preaching.|
|Leicester||Site of battles in the civil war||Leighton Mead||Sir Ellis Leighton was a senior office in the King’s service so it is probably not him|
|Leslie||General David Leslie another parliamentary soldier||Limburgh||An area of Holland|
|Liberty||Another desirable virtue||Lilburne Mead||‘Freeborn’ John Lilburne was a leveller during the civil war.|
|Locke||John Locke English Philosopher and Radical||Ludlow||Edmund Ludlow MP and one of the judges at the trial of Charles I|
|Lycurgus||A Spartan law maker||Maber||According to JD Mills this was apparently the name of Hollis’s farm steward|
|Machiaval||Oddly spelt without the I he was an Italian author and in modern terms a political scientist||Maiden Bradley||Birthplace of Edmund Ludlow|
|Maitland||Probably John Maitland Duke of Lauderdale. Signed the Scottish Covenant||Marlow Mead||According to JD Mills a commemorative name|
|Marvell||Andrew Marvell Poet of the civil war period||Masham||According to JD Mills a commemorative name|
|Massachusetts||Nickname the Puritan state||Messala||Roman General and sometime friend of Ben Hur|
|Molineaux||Probably a member of the Molyneux family who were surprisingly Royalist||Nassau||William III was prince of Orange – Nassau|
|Needham||? Robert Needham supporter of Charles I||Neville||Henry Neville was one of the authors Hollis supported|
|New England||Famous for it’s puritan colony||Northumberland||The Earl of Northumberland together with Cromwell resisted the Scots extreme presbyterianism|
|Numa||Numa Pompilius 2nd King of Rome||Olgiati||According to JD Mills possibly an allusion to Olgiate Comasco in Italy. The reference is obscure.|
|Pelopidas||Leader of a select group of Thebans who beat the Spartans at Tegyra in 375||Pellin||Not Known|
|Peters||Hugh Peter a puritan clergyman hanged for his part in the execution of Charles I||Plato||Greek Philosopher famous for his universals|
|Plutarch||A Platonist philosopher||Prynne, Outrack Prynne and Middle Prynne||William Prynne a radical puritan|
|Pythagoras||Mathematician, philosopher and vegetarian||Reasonableness||One of the enlightenment virtues; certainly not one of the Puritan ones.|
|Republic||Refers to the Commonwealth Government 1649-1660||Revolution||Hmm!|
|Russell||Possibly a reference to a puritan clergyman John Russell. However it was a common name.||Savile||William Savile Royalist MP killed in action in the civil war or
George Savile Marquess of Halifax who wrote against James II
|Scot||Thomas Scot MP one of the regicides||Secker||A commemorative name|
|Settlement||Probably a reference to the Act of Settlement 1701 which assured a protestant succession.||Sharpe||A commemorative name|
|Shirfield||Henry Sherfield was another puritan. Trained as a lawyer he became MP for Salisbury and Southampton. He died in 1634.||Socrates||Greek Philosopher who believed in democracy so much he accepted the verdict of his fellow men and drank Hemlock|
|Solon||Credited with founding Athenian Democracy||Staunchester||A more conventional name meaning stone fortification [mead]|
|Stuart Coppice||An allusion to the Stuart Kings||Stodge Park||According to J D Mills, perhaps a reduced form of Stone Henge [Park]|
|Stubbs||A commemorative name||Temple||According to JD Mills Sir William Temple was an arranger of marriages. In this case of the Duke of Orange to James II’s daughter Mary|
|Thrasybulus||Athenian General and democrat||Timoleon||Another Greek General and democrat|
|Tindal||An allusion to William Tyndale translator of the bible.||Toleration||One of the enlightenment virtues; again not one of the Puritan ones.|
|Understanding||One of the enlightenment virtues||Valtravers||A commemorative name|
|Vane||Henry Vane the Younger Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony and supporter of Harvard||William 3rd||Aka William of Orange. Clearly one of his favourite kings|
|Xenophon||Athenian philosopher general|
Some of these names have a connection with the Puritan movement and their side in the civil war; The Good Old Cause, Commonwealth, Lilburne, Ireton, Ham[p]den, New England, Massachusetts, Toleration and so on have such a connotation and of course Charles I was executed on 30th January. Others are great philosophers such as Aristotle, Plato, Socrates and Confucius whilst still others are what we could call political scientists such as Locke and Machiaval [spelt without the terminal I.] Still others simply reflect the spirit of the Enlightenment such as Understanding, Toleration, Constitution, Liberty and Reasonableness.
Hollis was no less inventive at Corscombe. Here the majority of names are more conventional but there are several of interest; I must leave the reader to work them out.
|Henry VIII||Remembered possibly because he helped establish the Church in England||Edward VI||Remembered as a protestant King|
|Cromwell||Lord Protector of the Commonwealth||Diapole|
|Halley’s||Astronomer after which the comet is named.||Royal Society||Founded in 1660 Hollis became a member in 1757|
|Magna Charta [sic]||Arguably the foundation document of the English constitution||Reformation||The beginnings of protestantism|
|Antiquarian and little Antiquarian||Perhaps Hollis’s most obvious achievement||Shaftesbury||Might be the town or possibly Anthony Ashley Cooper Earl of Shaftesbury a 17th century philosopher and advisor to Charles II|
|Lyttleton||A large family could be any one of them||Coke||Sir Edward Coke the greatest jurist possibly of all time but certainly the Elizabethan period|
|Vaughan||Possibly the poet Henry Vaughan||Horace||Quintus Horatius Flaccus known as Horace a Roman poet|
|Selden||John Selden was a 17th century jurist. Wrote a book critical of the way Tithes were collected. He argued they were subject to civil not canon law. Imprisoned as a result.||Whitlock||Possibly Bulstrode Whitelock MP took Parliaments side in the civil war|
|Fleta||Dating from the 14th century this an anonymous commentary on the Common law of England||Monks of Sherborne||Dissolved in 1539 the Priory of Sherborne had links at one time with the Bishop of Salisbury. No idea why he included them.|
|Bishop of Salisbury||Self evident but it’s not known why he was included.||Knox||Scottish Puritan clergyman famous for his ‘The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women’|
|Calvin||Prominent Puritan and founder of Calvinism an extreme protestant sect||Luther||Nailing bits of paper to the church door can be dangerous. It can turn the world upside down|
|Part of Pope , Ploughed part of Pope||Probably the poet Alexander Pope rather than the Vicar of Rome||Bracton||Henry Bracton a 13th century Jurist famous for his ‘On the laws and customs of England’|
|Collegiates||Probably a reference to Harvard one of nine institutions of higher education established by the British before America became a sovereign nation.||Cobham||Possibly Richard Temple Viscount Cobham related to the Lyttletons|
|Enoch||One of the protestant writers||Wickliffe||Cleric and producer of the first [middle] English bible|
|Grege||There are several plots of this name but the meaning is unclear||Sydneys||Phillip Sydney was an Elizabethan Poet whose work Hollis promulgated|
|Passover Plot||Apart from the obvious biblical allusion it is not known what he was thinking of here.||Telegraph Ground||Oddly enough although we think of the electric telegraph the term was in use much earlier for optical semaphore systems|
|Turnpike Ground||Turnpikes ground was just that. Probably included as a sign of the modern times. No turnpikes were actually involved||Woodwalls||Not known. Possibly a reference to the navy.|
|Fortescue||Faithful Fortescue was an Irish knight and Royalist Commander||Pistols and Hangings Pistol||Not Known|
|Little Petite Close and Grand Petite Close||Nell||Perhaps a tribute to Nell Gwyn|
|Gaulins||Not Known||Water Sleigh||Not Known|
|Muscobar||Not Known||Paradise||The reward awaiting God’s chosen ones.|
|Grandfair Ground||Not Known||Bethens||Not Known|
|Catsley Mead||Not Known||Weston||Two Westons from different families fought on the Royalist side in the civil war|
|Hither and Yonder Atkins||Possibly John Atkins a puritan preacher at Exeter.||Dogwell||Not Known|
and for the prurient
|Upper Backside||Lower Backside|
Even Hollis could not find enough Puritans or Greeks or Enlightenment figures to complete the project and as a consequence there are plenty of ‘normal’ sounding names in both parishes. Shepherd’s Mead, Yonder Close, Longs strap and so on. There are however a whole raft of other names where it is not so clear whether they were made up by him or not.
|Far, Near and Great Pea||Eames Ground|
|Great [and little] Bull Bridge||Quiet Woman [public House] and Common|
|Knappy Ground||Old House Ground|
|Dame Betty’s Back side [sic] 11 acres of meadow||Stowcroft|
|Great Linnards Mead||Steels Common|
|Wiffins Garden Mead and Close||Dancing Hill|
What the tenants of the manor thought about all of this is not known although I suspect bemused would be one response. They did not appear to object to the changes and although Hollis died in 1774 his field names lived on – at least until the time of the tithe commutation some 68 years later. After that I cannot say.
1 The Open Fields C S Orwin 1938
2 Mills A. D. The Place Names of Dorset in 4 parts last volume published 2010. English Place Name Society.
3 Even I use the colloquial term Field when what I really mean when talking about inclosed fields is ‘closes’.
4 Trade or profession of owner/ value of land/ boundary terms/games/soil fertility/ supernatural or folk lore/ people enjoying the income of the field e.g. the Poor.
5 Dictionary of National Biography
Categories: In Depth