Winchester Cathedral

Evening all! Welcome to part two of my Winchester trip. This was the Sunday when we went to the cathedral. (And a great little bookshop where I got four books for a fiver)

Here you can see the lines laid out in the grass which show where the original Anglo-Saxon cathedral stood. The signs you can just about see (I was standing on my tiptoes but I’m very short so a few snuck in) said that the original building, now referred to as the Old Minister, was the most important royal church in Anglo-Saxon England. Many kings were buried in it. It was demolished in 1093.


This, I was informed, is the oldest part of the current cathedral. Can I remember the date? No, I cannot, and Google is most unhelpful. Help?

This excellent webpage gives you much more information than I even understand about the architecture. I think I have finally grasped what a nave is, mind you.


This at first just looks like a huge stained glass window. Many colours, beautiful. However, I discovered there was more to it than that! The window was smashed by Oliver Cromwell’s forces, and the pieces were reassembled in a pretty hazard manner. There are areas where it looks like they’ve gone “I found some pieces that go together!”, but on the whole the placement appears random. Still doesn’t stop it from being beautiful.

Text reads: The font is used in Baptism, by which sacrament a person becomes a member of the Church. This mid-century font of black Tournai marble is decorated with carvings showing the miracles of St Nicholas, patron saint of children.

I’m a great sucker for anything earlier than 13th century, you might know that by now. I’m also a sucker for historical international trade, and a few seconds googling explains that this font is made from a type of black limestone found in the Belgian town of Tournai. There are a large number of these fonts in mainland Europe, and seven of them in England. According to Wikipedia, the fonts were brought by escorted caravan either across the land to the Channel, or on the exceedingly long river Scheldt, which passes through France, Belgium and a corner of the Netherlands.

So this font is actually Belgian! I just find that interesting, don’t mind me.

Ooooh these were my FAVOURITE things in the whole cathedral. THE GRAFFITI.


These were all over every single pillar we walked past. These were some of the earliest, but also some of the more interesting. Mainly because they seemed to demonstrate a distinct decline in the ability to carve over the years. I’m not even just talking about the frankly stunning bit of writing in the top right, but just the difference in depth and clarity between Thomas in 1629 and H. M. in 1931. Most of the graffiti was from the 17th century, and I wondered why that was. Thomas’ graffiti was in the year that Charles dissolved Parliament and told them to bugger off for eleven years. Still, could the large amount of 17th century carving here be at all related to Cromwell’s soldiers’ presence there? Just curious. Too many questions.

I did laugh, though. The latest we were finding graffiti was from roughly 1930 – one or two in 1960s. We hypothesised that perhaps people had stopped carrying pen knives around, or other potential carving implements. Then we saw one from 2013.

For some unknown reason, some lapse into irrationality,  I did not take a picture of it.

All of these previous bits of graffiti had solidity. Even the ones which were rubbed illegible you could tell had been deeply cut originally.

This one? Well, imagine any of the thousands of times in your life you will probably have seen words scratched into a table, desk, or bench. Chicken scratch. I  giggled at the inadequacy, I really did. Hint, if you want to make a lasting mark, you’ve got to put effort into it.

Seriously, though. I could have spent all day just looking at all the graffiti. From a names perspective as well. Maybe I’ll go back and do that some day.


Apparently I didn’t take a photo of the plaque describing this. I remember that it is a rare type of painting (fresco?), and that it is really really old (12th century?). Excuse me while I fill this alarming gap.

Google is slightly failing me on the method. Anyway, so these are in what looks to the uneducated like me to be a little side room but is called the Holy Sepulchre Chapel. It was decorated with 13th century paintings, but in 1963 it was discovered that underneath these paintings were even older paintings. You can see Jesus up the top, and the picture on the wall underneath apparently depicts him being taken off the cross and put in his tomb. According to this walking tour of Jews in Winchester, there are several Jews visible in these paintings, identifiable by the hats and badges they were forced to wear.


This was the crypt! It seemed like you could only get in on a Crypt Tour, but, it was open … so we just … went downstairs. This is one of the oldest parts of the building (apart from that sculpture), dating from Norman times, and it gets flooded. Seems an issue to have built a cathedral on a floodplain but hey, no-one ever said humanity makes good decisions.

These were creepy! Really, really cool, but somehow creepy in a way that gravestones and plaques in the floors aren’t. In the same kind of way that I find cremation urns creepy. It’s an object full of a dead person. Eeurgh.

But they were really old so my love of old things won out.

Text says: These mainly 13th century tiles are the largest and oldest area of tiling to survive in England. The tiles are very fragile and visitors are asked to walk on them with care.

WHY ARE WE STILL ALOWED TO WALK ON THEM??? Even with the best will in the world people’s feet will be wearing them down, and you just know some awful people will read that sign and immediately jump as hard as they can. Do not trust the public with old stuff! We break it!

That aside, they looked fantastic and it was a spine-tingling moment to realise that I’m walking on handiwork which is over 700 years old.

And just to finish off, officially my favourite accommodation I’ve ever seen. The text reads:

“Tactile model of Winchester Cathedral is for the use of visitors with impaired vision which enables them to feel the profile of the building. Further information on this or any of facilities for people with disabilities are available from a Guide, a (can’t tell, looks like Vitger?) or at the Entrance Desk.”

I just thought that was an excellent idea. Here’s the shape of the building you’re walking through. Not being visually impaired myself (well, it’s corrected with glasses) I don’t know how effective it is, though. I wonder how I could find out.

Well, thanks for reading about my Winchester trip! Hope you enjoyed yourself – I certainly did! See you soon.

Winchester Cathedral

A Weekend in Winchester

A few weeks ago I went to visit one of my uni friends in the stunning city of Winchester.

We walked round it for a solid three and a half hours. I hadn’t brought the correct shoes for this, and so my feet were pretty tender by the end! I also took twelve billion photos (about 60 or 70 in reality) which was probably to be expected because if there was ever a city with a lot of history in plain sight, it was Winchester!

I’m therefore splitting my trip up into two posts today and tomorrow (making the “weekend” part of this post both my experience of doing it and yours in reading it! Yes, I think I’m clever right now) otherwise we’d all be drowning in photos.

Before I get down into the pictures, humour me in my place-name obsession. If you want to skip this, click here.

As a settlement, Winchester has existed for a very long time indeed. There are several Iron Age hillforts around the city. I visited one, called St Catherine’s Hill, which you can see on this image:

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 16.04.56

I only took one photo of my climb unfortunately, and it is an uninspiring one of the way down.


After the Roman invasion, this place became known as Venta Belgarum. This is a pretty interesting name because Venta isn’t Roman. It’s pre-Celtic. Did the Romans usually continue pre-existing names? I know very little about Roman Britain.

The Belgares were the Celtic tribe in the area at the time. My place-names dictionary only has “Venta” as the earliest recording, so was Belgares something descriptive added later?

Ah, add it all to my list of things which need further investigation.

So yes, the earliest form of this in my dictionary is “Ouenta” from about 150 CE. Then the Anglo-Saxon invasion happened, and the next recorded name is “Uintancaestir” in about 730. I have briefly mentioned this “caster/cester/chester etc” Anglo-Saxon name form before. It’s a very specific name which they gave to settlements that used to be Roman. This time they even kept the Roman name (more or less)!

My meanderings through history are over.

Onto the pictures!

The first place that we went to was the Great Hall. We had a really excellent tour; however I didn’t take notes or make recordings so I’ll be backing up what I remember from the photographs with judicious googling.


This is the famous Round Table of Winchester. It was made between 1250–1280 but only painted by Henry VII in the early 1500s. Our guide explained which I’m not sure is 100% true but is 100% hilarious: in the intervening 300 years, people forgot how the table had been made, and what had started as merely a homage to the Arthurian legends became considered the actual legendary table itself.

(It was absolutely huge, that photo can’t really do it justice. It would have filled most of the top half of the room!)

Here you can see underneath the table to the left (as you’re looking at it) is a male figure and to the right is a female figure. This showed the side that the king and queen sat on, when this was used for its original royal hall purpose.


Over the years the Great Hall was used as a courthouse quite a lot, and this was where the prisoners would go – presumably just until they were sentenced? Can’t remember. It’s a really small hole. Creepy.


That faint white area in amongst the stones is a remnant of the original  13th century wall.


I spent a very long time looking at this. This is a massive painting on the back wall of the hall. I’ve forgotten what the names actually were – were they MPs? Argh, I forget. However, for me the much more interesting thing was watching the progression of surnames.

As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, before surnames were inherited they existed as descriptive bynames. So, John Johnsson, John the Baker, John from Winchester, John the Short. Etc. All throughout this side of the wall, the earliest side, you have names like:

“1337 Robertus de Popham” (and roughly 20 years later in 1353, presumably a relative, Johannes de Popham)

This is a locative byname, showing either where he was from or where he was in charge of if he was an important person.  Five seconds of googling and you can see here that Popham was a tiny hamlet near Winchester (first documented 903 CE!), and that both Robert and John were members of the manor family.

These types are most common on the early wall, but you do get unmarked surnames which could have been hereditary (I’d have to do some serious digging to find this out), such as

“1349 Rogerus Normound” or “1345 Richard’s Fromound”

By the very bottom of the early wall in 1381, both names in that year are unmarked (Thomas Wortyne and Johannes Sandes) and as far as I remember from thereon in no-one has a “de” name. So I am hesitantly and on zero proof suggesting that this is an interesting and accidental view of surnames switching from descriptive to hereditary.

So we’re done in the Great Hall now; moving on!


Text reads: In pre-historic times, the Itchen flowed in two main channels in the centre of the river valley, near the Cathedral. Following the foundation of the Roman town, about 70AD, this new artificial channel was created. This both reduced the chance of flooding in the town centre and provided an eastern defensive moat. In the medieval period, the river was nearly twice as wide as today.

Following along similar ancient lines, this is an actual piece of the Roman wall. Two thousand years old. I got chills.

Next we went to Wolvesey Castle. Most of the remains are from the 12th century. It is hands down the coolest set of ruins I’ve ever been in because the walls are so intact that it retains the sense of size and scale.





And finally to finish this tour we will positively zoom up the timeline to have a look at the house which Jane Austen died in!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed looking at all the photographs! See you again soon.

A Weekend in Winchester

Anglo-Saxons and the continent

As promised, here’s a quick skimming of the surprisingly international world of Anglo-Saxon trade.

To be fair, perhaps you, dear reader, are knowledgeable and are aware that trade and travel between countries, even distant ones, has happened ever since there were people who wanted things. Or perhaps you are logical and think, well, we might have been an island but we had boats. Excellent points.

Still, you might then be surprised to know how many people believe that nobody ever went anywhere “in medieval times” and that the Romans leaving killed off all contact with the continent.

I’m going to be broadening “trade” to mentioning gifts from abroad, and people travelling for non-commercial reasons.

So, let’s start off with something I have a picture of from my previous post. This is a quernstone.


It’s just a grinding stone. It makes flour.

Another thing that people tend to think is that, ok, fine, goods from far away countries ended up in Britain, but only for the high status people, like the royal woman I talked about earlier. Nope.

These quernstones aren’t high status in and of themselves, and aren’t concentrated at high status settlements or houses, yet they were frequently imported from the Rhineland. Why? I don’t know. Was the stone quality better? I’ve read that they could actually be used as ballast on ships which carried light and expensive cargo, so that’s an interesting explanation for such a prosaic import.

If you look at this photo from my earlier post, you can get an idea of the varied trade routes of higher status items:


Coins from far away can be found in Anglo-Saxon England. Sometimes these are found as part of a “hoard” or deposited stash, as you can read about in my Silverdale post, and it’s thought that the Arabic coins might have been valued as gifts or art rather than as currency. Gold Arabic coins may have arrived earlier; silver ones were largely brought in by the Vikings. In the 8th century the powerful Mercian king Offa had what looks like an imitation Arabic coin struck. It was gold, and one of the more amusing ways we can tell that it’s not actually Arabic is because a bit of the text is upside-down. There are many theories for why this was necessary – was it trade? Was it a gift? Was is part of a payment? Whyever it was (I’m claiming that as a word now) we can be confident that it demonstrated a good, if not perfect, knowledge of foreign currency on the part of the Mercian Anglo-Saxons.

We know about a lot of expensive imported goods because they were buried as “grave goods”. However we don’t often know how the objects ended up there. Were they obtained just for that purpose? Did their use or owner in life lead to their value in death? Were they tokens from family members? So many questions.

Other known trading areas: Aquitaine, Italy and Sicily – in general there was a good set of trade links to the northern Mediterranean.

Next up to discuss: travel. While the Anglo-Saxons didn’t do the whole invade anywhere with water thing like the Vikings, individuals travelled far afield and for many different reasons.

One of the slightly more unusual was fosterage. It wasn’t uncommon for the royal Anglo-Saxons to foster their counterparts’ children, and even internationally with the Scandinavian nobility. King Athelstan, for example, was foster-father to the future Duke of Brittany, Alan II (that name is hilarious, I don’t know why. Alan the second.). Alan grew up in England and may even have been born here. Aethelstan may possibly have also been foster-father to  a Norwegian prince but there is no contemporary evidence of it. He also used the sponsoring/fostering technique as a diplomatic tool to help cement relationships.

There were two things which drove the Anglo-Saxons furthest afield. Both, ah, quite different from each other.

First: slavery. Yes, the Anglo-Saxons had a thriving slave trade, as had the Romans, as probably had most civilisations with enough wealth. There was domestic slavery as well as farmland slavery.

They probably enslaved the Celts, the people who were in Britain before the Anglo-Saxons and who ended up clustering in modern Cumbria, Wales,  and Brittany, as well as remaining pretty strong in Ireland for a while. The word for Celt, wealh, came to mean “slave” as well, and I really doubt that sort of semantic slide happens by accident.

They enslaved other Anglo-Saxons too. However they were also enslaved themselves, with Anglo-Saxon slaves being found in northern France and Ghent. The city of Bristol was apparently a well-known slaving hub.

Time for mood whiplash: the other major movement factor was pilgrimage. As Christians, Anglo-Saxon pilgrims were known to make the trip to Rome, and even the  astoundingly long trip to Jerusalem. In 884, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, two pilgrims set off for India! It’s not too difficult to believe that the pilgrims would have picked up objects and coinage along the way. Certainly there were merchants along the routes! Offa (he of the golden coin) was sent an angry letter by a continental king telling him to please stop his merchants posing as pilgrims along the route to ambush unwary people.

I like to imagine that more than a few Middle Eastern people ended up in Britain during the Anglo-Saxon period. Maybe the Anglo-Saxons had a few Aramic-speaking traders. It’s all fun speculation. The world is a big place.

Thank you for reading! I hope you found some of this interesting! See you tomorrow!

Anglo-Saxons and the continent

Redcar and the royal burial

Over the weekend I visited the Kirkleatham Museum in Redcar to check out the Anglo-Saxon exhibit they have there. This is the first time my trip had involved an actual official exhibition, and it was definitely a more detailed experience.

The geographically astute among you are probably noticing that Redcar is an exceedingly long way away from Huntingdonshire. Unless you’re American or from another large country, in which case you probably don’t think that anywhere in Britain is very far away from the rest of it.

I got there because I went up to Darlington to visit a friend. Because she has done Nanowrimo (except properly with a novel) several times, she was sympathetic to my constant search for these daily posts, and so off we tootled to the coast. After she’d patiently stood around while I took photographs of literally everything I could see, including using her height to take better photos, we went to the seaside and got chips and ice-cream. Best trip ever is what I’m saying.

As I said up there, this was a proper museum exhibit. This means that I wasn’t just taking photos of small pieces of buildings, or of things displayed in one small room. This covered the whole second floor; multiple rooms, multiple rooms. Even the gift shop was excellent, since they sold an extremely detailed guide for only £3, written by the same person who’d written … dun dun dun … THE ACTUAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL REPORT.


(Please remember my complete thing for original sources.)

But yeah, so what I mean is that there was a lot of information there. It was exciting. Basic story: they were excavating an area expecting it to be full of Iron Age. They did find some of that, but they also found something completely unexpected: a luxurious royal burial and small cemetery in a 7th century Anglo-Saxon settlement.

You should all go, but in lieu of that, here is my little tour:


This is the exterior of the museum itself. It’s a Grade II* listed building, I think, and is quite impressive all by itself.

In I went, into the reception area and gift shop where the very nice people behind the desk directed us to the only exhibition I cared about:


Into the first room!


I intend to discuss this kind of thing more in this last week of daily blogging: the international nature of high status Anglo-Saxon life. I know the images aren’t clear: the caption is “Trade links across the world in Saxon Times” and some examples from the close-up map are ivory from Africa, garnets from beyond the edge of the map (Middle East? China?? Not sure) and amber from the Baltic. This room also had a detailed timeline and a map of the broad areas of the main Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

In the second room you could watch a little living history-esque film about the Anglo-Saxon “princess” who is the undisputed star of this exhibition.


She was buried in a bed, which as you will later on was a very rare type of burial. Mock-up of it here:


In the next two rooms, you had these ever so slightly creepy models showing what houses and farms would have looked like at the time.

The next room had a number of Anglo-Saxon games, and a quern stone for grinding flour.






Text: “This diorama is a not to scale representation of the Royal Saxon settlement excavated at modern day Street House. It shows the unusual layout of the cemetery (including the bed burial structure), the people and buildings of the settlement itself, and a small ship lying on the beach at nearby Skinningrove, as her crew trade goods with the local inhabitants.”


tldr; The excavated cemetery is unique in the Anglo-Saxon world. It was only used for a short time, and was focused on grave 42 (bed burial) with many beautiful golden pendants also being found there.

Here you can see the remnants of the burial bed, which meant that the archaeologists and researchers could figure outwit the bed would have looked like. Unusually for a bed burial it was apparently a previously-used bed, and not one built for the occasion.








And here are the most impressive of the grave goods:





If you can’t see the text, it basically says that all the jewellery here was very rare and unusual, and this specific example is of Iron Age coins being used as part of a necklace. These were already antiques for the Anglo-Saxons, being at least 600 years old at the time, so would have been a brilliant status piece and probably very expensive, same as antiques today.



And acknowledgements of the huge amount of hard work that this exhibition has clearly taken:


Thanks for reading!

Redcar and the royal burial

Discovery in Croydon

Hi all!

(This started off a news story and ended up with me getting exceedingly interested in Anglo-Saxons with rickets. A topic for another time, clearly.)

Today’s Anglo-Saxon in the news is a 1,300 year old skeleton from a front garden in  Croydon 16th April 2014. It was dug up by a builder. The homeowner got a distinctly unexpected phonemail to say that they had found a skull. She called the police, and the entire area was promptly shut down as a potential crime scene. Quite understandable, however on this occasion any crime which may have been committed was definitely out of their jurisdiction!

After testing in Florida it was revealed that the bones dated from 670 to 775. There was an almost complete adult skeleton, aged no more than 36, and a thigh bone from a child somewhere between 3 and 11. The bones are now on display in the Museum of Croydon. In 2016 apparently a report was commissioned to find out more about them. I can’t find it to save my life, so we’re just going to have to go with what the newspapers say the report said. *shudders*

Neither skeleton nor thighbone could be confirmed as male or female. The adult had had rickets as a child, but was no longer deficient as an adult.

For another Anglo-Saxon with a similar had-rickets-now-don’t, have a look at this cool article on skeletons found under Lincoln Castle. His reconstructed face is here!

Rickets is caused by lack of vitamin D, or sometimes lack of calcium. It was common before the 20th century but massively shrunk in occurrences after we started fortifying food like breakfast cereals and margarine. So eat your cornflakes, they really are good for you! People think that rickets is all about sunlight, and while sunlight is definitely incredibly important you can also get vitamin D from oily fish and eggs – and I’m sure we all know a few common ways to get calcium through food. More relevantly of course, this means that rickets can not only be caused or exacerbated by lack of sunlight but by malnutrition too. Thus it can be treated by eating more of the right food. Presumably the Anglo-Saxon had better access to eggs and stuff as they got older, somehow – I’m not good at 8th century life in comparison to 10th and 11th.

There are many signs and symptoms of rickets, and having as I said no access to the actual report I’m going to assume (gasp) that the diagnosis of childhood rickets was gained through skeletal deformities. The NHS website states some of these as: thickening of the ankles, wrists and knees, bowed legs, soft skull bones and, rarely, bending of the spine. There’s also the fact that bones with rickets don’t grow properly so the adult may have been shorter than others around them. On the other hand, they probably all had rickets too … hm, according to this book most adults were “of normal height”, which was 1.72 for men and 1.61m for women. Taller than bones found from the Roman period!

Rickets also messes with your teeth so the adult may have really needed a filling or two. Do I know Anglo-Saxon dentistry practises? No, I do not. Do I really want to  research if it was anything more than “This is very sore; please yank it out?” Most definitely. Making a note for after this month is over.

Oh boy, I’ve been sidetracked. No, but personally I find that this sort of thinking really helps me to visualise the person. They’re not just a skeleton now because we have a clue about how their early life may have been. Every now and again it pays for me to step back and remember that these were actual living human beings, not just stats or facts. I suppose that’s why historical novels are so popular.

Well, that was a random collection of words tonight! Hope you found some of it of interest! See you tomorrow!

Discovery in Croydon

An exceedingly natural burial

The French do make my life difficult sometimes. For once I’m not talking about the Normans, or even the French public toilets of my childhood holidays.

I have an alert set up for when “Anglo-Saxons” get mentioned in the news, and it’s often filled with French newspapers talking about us. Like, I know we as a country left the rational world a good ten months ago and are charging onward to the moon yelling “WE CAN DO ANYTHING!”, but still, stop clogging up my early medieval interests!

Eventually I found a couple of recent pieces of news about Anglo-Saxon discoveries. Sadly these won’t be quite as thorough as I was able to be with the cannibalism vs vampire story, because I can’t find the original report behind either story.

Today’s is about … well, not quite mummified trees. Kind of exactly the opposite, if you’re associating mummies with heat and drying out. Preserved. Really stunningly well-preserved.

(I tried to come up with an Old English heading along the line of “waterlogged trees” but couldn’t find any decent adjectives and couldn’t for the life of me think what tense the verb would be in (trees which had been soaked???). Ah language skills, I miss you.)

The story is about a discovery of two very rare types of Anglo-Saxon grave on a dig in Great Ryburgh in Norfolk. I’ll link you to the funding body’s article, Historic England, for want of a better source. I don’t know if I can use the images from that so I won’t – you should really go and look at them!

(I love learning about things like this. It can be so difficult to picture people from a long time ago without actual things to look at.)

As it obviously by now, these graves involved trees. The majority, with 81, were tree trunks. I think they were oak trees. These had been cut in half lengthwise and hollowed out. The bodies went in the bottom half and the top half was the lid. To continue the mummy theme, imagine a kind of tree sarcophagus. (Click the link up there and you’ll find an option to explore one of the coffins in 3d!). This is an ancient form of burial which we first see evidence for in the early Bronze Age, so, around 2000BC.

Forgot to mention: not only were the graves still around, so were the skeletons inside! Truly phenomenal preservation.

One of the things that I found most fascinating about this form of burial is that the trees had to come from somewhere, reliably, in large quantities. Did the Anglo-Saxon community involved “farm” the trees? “Death Orchards”? Did they perhaps trade for the trees with other areas? And the work was extremely intensive, up to 4 days work according to the Historic England article, so again was that labour which came from within the Norfolk community or was that bought in? If it wasn’t skilled work, just difficult, maybe slaves were involved? I would assume that the burials would be high-status but there were so many of them!

(Yes, the Anglo-Saxons had slaves. I’ll try to do something on this later)

The remaining six graves were even rare and more unusual. The grave space was cut into the ground and then the area was lined with planks of wood and more planks were used for the covering/lid. These are thought to be the earliest examples of this type of burial yet found in England.

However, the buzzword on most of the newspaper articles about this was “Christian”, because the lack of buried possessions and apparent timber church foundations nearby, along with east-west oriented placement, suggests this rural 7th – 9th century Norfolk settlement was Christian. There’s a novel Christian funeral for you – inside a tree.

The only reason that these pieces of wood remain so astonishingly intact is apparently:

James Fairclough, Archaeologist from MOLA said: “The combination of acidic sand and alkaline water created the perfect conditions for the skeletons and wooden graves to survive, revealing remarkable details of Christian Anglo-Saxon burial practices.””

Lots of future study is planned on the bodies and the coffins to find about more how they lived and died, and finds from the dig will be kept at the Norwich Castle Museum.

There we go, a summary of a unique find. Hopefully in a while I can link back to this blog as I discuss their findings on the skeletons’ lives, but if not I have certainly enjoyed reading around the internet about this.

Hope you enjoyed reading too; let me know!


An exceedingly natural burial

Hunts place-names: Fauna

Evening all! Today I’ll show you some Huntingdonshire names which have animal elements. This is part of my little mini series on a sample of Huntingdonshire place-names, where I look at what they were originally named and discuss what this could mean about the area (for example, what was farmed there?) or the people living there (who were they?).

(Catch up with part 1 and part 2, or browse my whole place-names tag)

Tenuous link: Easter makes me think of, spring means lambs and baby animals, animals mean nature in general. So now you’ve had that peek inside my head …


I found 5 names in my sample which have something to do with animals. It’s worth remembering – and I will point out – that a few of these may have been named for oddly shaped hills rather than important nearby animal populations or the like. Bearing that in mind:

  • Woolley – “Wolf Wood”

This hamlet has some frankly astonishing recorded spellings. I don’t know how anyone ever figured out what it meant. In the Domesday Book it’s Ciluelai, and in 1158 it is called Wulueleia. My general place-names dictionary even wrote [sic] next to the Domesday Book entry to prove that it wasn’t their typo. Scribes, what were you doing? Where’s the f gone? Is there an extra syllable in the middle – some distant past grammatical marker? Apparently it’s wulf + leah. I’m just going to agree. An information website gives more recorded spellings (sadly no sources though!):

Ulvelai (11th century); Wulueleia, Wolfleg, Wlfleg, Wolle (13th century) Wolley (16th century) and Woolley (Modern).

You might remember me previously mentioning that leah can mean either wood or clearing. I reckon it’s more likely to be wood here because WOLVES although maybe it could have been a clearing where wolves appeared a lot? Who knows? It’s near another wood place-name, weald, but that one can mean both wooded area and clearing too. Still, I’m claiming wood, because I can.

  • Buckworth – Buck (goat) enclosure

This village is only about 2.5 miles from Woolley. Wild conjecture time – was there a load of wolves nearby because there was a penned up fast food supply of walking meat?? Still doesn’t help with the wood vs clearing thing. This is mind-bogglingly self-explanatory as a place-name: Old English: bucc + worth, though my dictionary does suggest it could be Bucc as a name. Buck as a name, oh dear, I can’t blame the Americans for that any more …

I checked in the online Old English dictionary and bucc might specifically mean male goat. I kind of assumed we were talking deer or sheep, because in my head a male goat is a billy, but, that’s cool. Goat pen!

  • Yaxley – Cuckoo’s Clearing

Yay, it’s another name where you can see the possessive!! (Again, or for those who haven’t read previous posts, I’m talking about what in English we basically just have as the possessive apostrophe, and what if you’ve learnt German, Latin or basically any other language you might know as the genitive case.)

This first appears in 963 as Geaceslea, and is actually remarkably unchanged 120 years later in the Domesday Book: Iacheslei. Note the -es- middle bit!! Genitive!!!

The Anglo-Saxon didn’t always pronounce ‘g’ like we do. In front of certain vowels (I could dig  out my textbook and find out but I am sleepy … maybe I’ll do a brief post on it tomorrow?) it is pronounced like “y”. So you can see that the pronounciation hasn’t changed that much either.

  • Raveley – Raven Clearing

Great and Little Raveley are up near Ramsey in the fens. More on the fens in another post! This is fairly simple name. It was first attested as Raeflea in 1060, and it’s made up of Old English hreafn and good old leah.

Thanks for reading! I really do watch the view counter on WordPress with alarming concentration. I think I might have an F5 addiction.

Tomorrow I’ll do another little post on places named after plants and crops, and then hopefully I’ll do a meatier post about what names can tell us about the shape of the land at the time. See you then!

Hunts place-names: Fauna