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19th Century Field-Names of Bridestowe Parish (History Section)

Thu. 5 May 2022 at 2:00 pm


To be held by Zoom video conferencing.

A talk “19th Century Field-Names of Bridestowe Parish” by Ellen Chaplin (School of English, Nottingham University).

This will be a joint event with Tavistock and West Devon Branch.

Important notes

To join this meeting please contact the organiser (details below) by 6 pm on Weds 4 May. You will be sent instructions on how to log in, which you will be able to do a few minutes before the start of the lecture.

Report on the talk

The English Place Name Society (EPNS) has attempted to record all place-names in England. Their publications started in 1925 with Buckinghamshire and the most recent was with Shropshire in 2020. From the 1950s lesser known historical names have been included. Major place-names are those that can be seen on a map while minor place-names are such things as field names and street names which can be more temporary and recent than those on a map.

Devon was surveyed early on and two volumes were published in 1931/2. This means that anything that has happened in the last 90 years is omitted and the EPNS survey now includes many minor place-names. This accounts for the fact that Devon has only two volumes whereas the latest survey on Shropshire has nine volumes despite Shropshire being much smaller than Devon.

Ellen is studying for a PhD on the Place-Names of Devon and is re-analysing place-name terms and adding other information that is now available. She is hoping to include all the field names in Devon and that they can be included in future volumes of the EPNS. She has divided Devon into its hundreds and then parish by parish within the hundred and has started with Lifton hundred as this is an area that she knows well.

Using four OS maps – 25k, 10k, 6 inch and 1 inch – Ellen is taking all the names from them and entering them on a database. The one inch and six inch OS maps were produced in the early nineteenth century so Ellen can see if names have changed in the later maps or if names are only on the more recent maps, which would indicate a new name or place. Using the different maps she can also see if spellings have changed.

For field names, Ellen has also used tithe maps. These were created in the 1840s when they were needed due to changes in the taxation system. On the tithe maps fields are numbered and to find their names they have to be cross referenced with other documents. Therefore Ellen has created her own maps to include field names and from them she can see clusters of field names, e.g. 10 acre fields. Clusters of field names are not common in other counties; Devon is unique.

Bridestowe parish has a mixture of private and public land so is interesting to study. It has 124 field names and there is an abundance of information. Ellen has divided her field names into several categories.

Shape and size – fields that are named “elbow” or “throat” are common and resemble those parts of the body. “Shoot Meadow” comes from the Old English (OE) sciete meaning “corner” but it does not mean that this is an Anglo-Saxon field. “Three Journeyed Meadow” indicates how long it takes to plough this field but “Forty Acre” fields are usually the smallest and much smaller than forty acres!

Cultivation and wildlife are indicated in names such as “Turnip Field” or “Ox Court Field” whilst the condition of the land is indicated in names like “Stoney Burrow”, “Watering Plat” or “Thieves Hole” (indicating very, very poor soil).

“Newtake” indicates recently enclosed land from Dartmoor but in Bridestowe this name does not occur, using “Moor” instead. “Moor Field” is not well cultivated and a bit marshy but “Way Moor” is land that is cultivated.

Some fields have interesting names such as “Cake Piece Field” – this could indicate either its shape or that it is land that is easy to work. “Claw Meadow” comes from dialect – “clawe” meaning a heap of hay. “Yelloways Lane Field” comes from the OE “Holloway” meaning a road with a high bank either side. Some fields are named after local people – there is a “Alford’s Long Plot” referring to John Alford from Mortonhampstead.

Ellen has also come across names that she cannot be certain about their meaning and asked members if they had any ideas. “Leandenk” could mean “clearing in woodland” from the OE leah and “Rutfit” could mean “grassland by river” from the Old Norse fit but her main conundrum was “Canna Park” which occurs fifteen times in Bridestowe and 450 times in Devon, mainly in West Devon. Members gave several suggestions for the origin of this name, the main one being “coney” meaning rabbit. The debate continues!

At the end of the talk, Ellen Chaplin answered questions from the members.

Chris Reader
May 2022

The talk was recorded and is available on request to members (see this page).

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Thu. 5 May 2022
2:00 pm
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History Section
History Section (Lynda Vickery)
01409 253927


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