Intial report on the 1966 WI survey of field names
Not so long ago country dwellers would refer to the surrounding fields by their names as if they were old friends, as, indeed, they were, for the countryman lived in close association with the land. Many farmers still accord this recognition to their fields, but, generally speaking, field names are no longer in such common use and they are not always handed down. Moreover, fields can lose their identities, as happens when, denuded of their trees and hedges, they are merged into one vast expanse. Therefore Professor W. H. Hoskins of the Department of English Local History at the University of Leicester suggested that local Women’s Institutes should record the field names in their parishes, the Leicestershire and Rutland Federation of Women’s Institutes were quick to accept the idea. They sought the reactions of the individual Institutes, and the response was immediate and enthusiastic. Seventy-eight W.I.’s sent representatives to a briefing session at the County Rooms in Leicester. Later others joined, and now more than 1OO Institutes are engaged in the Survey, covering 124 parishes.
Briefly, the aim is first to record the names remembered today secondly, to record any older names (they may be the same names) by ‘referring to maps “and documents in the County Record Office and elsewhere. With so many people taking part, some conformity was necessary in the presentation of the results of the Survey, and a general plan was outlined. The project was made possible by the help of Leicestershire County
Council, which agreed to provide photo-copies of the necessary maps. The condition was made that these maps, with the corresponding lists of collected field names, would be deposited in the County Record Office when the Survey was completed. In this way they would form a permanent record.
The field names are intriguing in themselves. At this stage it is possible to quote only a few examples at random, because the Survey has but recently begun. Hallaton has fields called Big Foxholes, First Foxholes, Catholes, Rat’s Leas, Smock Hedges, Bunch Bit and Honeypots. The last name crops up elsewhere – in Ridlington, Rutland, for example. Arnesby has Branthill and Little Branthill, alternatively called Brantles and Little Brantles. Hoby has Brants, Far Brants, Top Brants, Bush Brants and Flat Brants also Shoby Nook, Cheese Cake Hill and Upper Wong.
Many names are descriptive, e.g., Starvelands in Thurnby. The land by a brook invited suitable names – the Slidings, the Anglings (with Anglings Farm) and Mouldy Banks in Gaddesby; Miry Close, Rushy Close and Brook Close in Thurnby; Mirey Spinney, Ford Meadow, Bog Meadow and Brook Furlong in Bushby.
There are field names ending in “sic”, said to indicate a field which gave access to other fields, and which was therefore harvested first, e.g. Broadsic in Thurnby and Willowsic in Houghton on the Hill. Pingle, indicating small enclosure and found in Bushby and elsewhere, goes back to the 13th or 14th century.
Wong (Avey’s Wong at Burrough and Upper Wong at Hoby, etc.) is of Scandinavian origin, and refers to a strip of land. Names may contain indications that the income from the field was used for a charitable purpose – e.g. Charity Farm and Mountsorrel Close in Bushby, were owned by a Mountsorrel charity.
An Arnesby W.I. member has had the satisfaction of discovering in 17th century Glebe Terriers some names which are still remembered today, for example, Shallow Thistles, Crooked Tree and Wiggins Hose. Whether the names are applied to approximately the same piece of ground cannot be traced, because no maps accompany the Glebe Terriers. The persistence of the names, however, shows that village memories are long. A Branston member has a good start in that her husband’s family has farmed in that district since 1830.
The Women’s Institutes gladly acknowledge the help and encouragement they have received from Dr. L. A. Parker, County Archivist, and the staff of the County Record Office. They consider that they have embarked on a worth-while and interesting record of local history. At present the organisers are watching progress. Later they will probably welcome offers of co-operation, to fill gaps in their coverage of the County.
Map of Hoby fields
The field “Bell Ringer” was so called because two Hoby ladies ,out for a walk, were lost there and were guided home by the sound of Hoby Church bells. The field is actually in the Thrussington parish.