Field Names: Why Name Fields?

Lambs near Warwick
Anne Langley

I previously gave an introduction to field names and their history. The names of fields originated in a very practical way to identify them for illiterate farm labourers who had to go out to work on them. It was clearly important that they did not go out and plough or lay a hedge in the wrong field. The names were often descriptive, though some were not useful: e.g. ‘Gate Close’ (there was a rather more helpful ‘Blue Gate Close’ in Hillmorton.) There is a book on ‘English Field-Names: A Dictionary’ by the splendidly named John Field. He devised a classification of 26 types of field name: here are some local examples.

Distance: a nice rural sense of irony named fields a long way from the village as ‘Worlds End’, ‘Siberia’, ‘Timbuktu’ or ‘Van Diemen’s Land’!

Value: ‘Ten shilling Wood’ in Stoneleigh.

Owner: In Long Itchington there was ‘Paddy’s Piece’ and ‘Billy Well’ but these names will have long-outlived their owners. Sometimes we find the name of the charity owning the field (e.g. ‘Bell Rope Meadow’ in Sheldon where the rent went to provide new bell-ropes for the local church).

Owner’s Occupation: ‘Shoemaker’s Ground’ in Farnborough, ‘Tanner’s Close’ in Leek Wootton, ‘Potters Field’ and ‘Matmakers’ in Stoneleigh.

Work: ‘Nine-days Work’ in Sheldon, ‘Five men’s math’ [mowing] in Farnborough.

Features: these are particularly interesting where things have disappeared. ‘The Butts’ was probably where archers practiced. ‘Wheeler’s Hovel’ and ‘’Stable Ground’ tell of old buildings. ‘Railway Meadow’ and ‘Cricket Ground’ are likely to be recent additions. In Stretton on Dunsmore ‘Windmill Hill’ is the only record that there was once a windmill in the village. ‘Sawpit Close’ reminds us of when tree trunks were sawn with a vertical saw over a pit. In Stoneleigh there were fields called ‘Gibbet’, ‘Chantry Heath’ and ‘Wash Pit’. ‘The Musters’ In Stoneleigh marks where local soldiers assembled. In Dunchurch there was a ‘Pest House Close’ and in Wolston ‘Malt Kiln Close’.

Resources: ‘The Marl Pit’, and ‘Brickyard Field’ record brick-making. ‘Stone Pit’ or ‘Gravel Field’ show where stones were taken to mend roads and ‘Osier Bed’ where willows were cut for weaving into hurdles etc. ‘Lime pit’ shows where lime was dug for fertilizer. ‘Spring’ or ‘Pit Closes’ show where there was water (not – as you might think – mines). In Stretton on Dunsmore there was a ‘Plaister Pit Close’ (where gypsum was mined to make plaster).

Crop: alongside more common crops we find ‘Pease Close’, ‘Flax Close’ (in Long Itchington) and ‘Mangel Wurzel Piece’ (in Farnborough). This kind of name must have been very unhelpful when the crop changed.

Useage: ‘Bell Piece’ (in Stratford upon Avon) records where a pit was dug to cast a church bell. ‘Tenter’ fields around Coventry were used for drying cloth as part of the fulling process. There was a ‘Fish Ponds’ in Leek Wootton. On Limekiln Farm in Stretton on Dunsmore stood a ‘Cockpit Field’ where it is said illegal cock fights were held in days gone by.

Farm animals: ‘Sheep Pen’, ‘Calves Close’, ‘Ox Close’ or ‘Pony Field’. ‘Coney Close’ shows where rabbits were kept.

Type of land: ‘Splash Field’, ‘Top High Clay’ and ‘The Rough’ speak for themselves. Many fields near a waterway were called ‘Something Meadow’ and used for hay or grazing. ‘Hungry Hill’, ‘Thistley Field’ ‘Rushey Close’ and ‘Docky Close’ suggest poor land; another field was called ‘Mouldy Hay’.

Natural History: ‘Crab Tree’, ‘Tansy Hill’ and ‘Cuckoo Spinney’ (all in Long Itchington). There were beautiful names such as ‘Lapwing Close’ (in Solihull), ‘Nightingale Wood’, ‘Foxhole Pits’ (in Hatton) and ‘Cherry Tree Field’ (in Arley)’. One farm in Bulkington had a delightful series of field names recording the local flora and fauna; these are listed elsewhere on this web-site.

Land history: some field names date back to the 13th century. In Stretton on Dunsmore there was a field called ‘The Dumbley’ after the old great ‘Dumbley Field’. In Arley there were ‘Far & Near Common Field’ and elsewhere ‘Fallow Meadow’.

Baffling ones: in Thurlaston there was a ‘Pudding Bag Lane’ and in Leek Wootton ‘The Lunch’. In Wolston there were fields called ‘Hell Kitchen’ and ‘Near Hell Nook’. Even worse was the ‘Strumpet’s Leasow’ in Chesterton!