Gloucestershire

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Given that we spend so much of our time looking at places on maps, it is hard not to pay attention to some of the more memorable place names.  There are some gems in the English countryside: places such as Nether Wallop in Hampshire, Wyre Piddle in Worcestershire, and my personal favourite address in Berkshire, Rotten Row, Tutts Clump.  It certainly leads one to think about the origins and etymology of those names.  We notice patterns when cataloguing collections from particular counties; there are lots of places in Sussex with the name component –hurst, and lots in Somerset that include Coombe or Combe.  Incidentally, hurst is a reference to a ‘wooded hill’, and Combe essentially means ‘valley’ (see below for a link to a great website you can search for information like this). 

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have recently spent a lot of time cataloguing ploughs, and one of the most interesting things about the earlier ploughs is that their names often include the name of the county in which they were designed to be used.  Ploughs might be heavy or light for different soil types or the gradient of the landscape.  It is interesting to think that the names of the places in which those ploughs might have been used often reflect those same features of the landscape.  At school in Redditch we were often told that the town was named for the bright red clay that passes for soil in the local area, and like Combe above, many other place names relate to hill and valley features.  As objects often show the links between people and places, so too do the names we call those places.

 

Gloucestershire Long Plough (54/91)

This is a Gloucestershire Long Plough (54/91), used at Bangrove Farm, Winchcombe. The farmer who used it said that the heavy plough was made to cope with the local clay-like soil, and that he had to hitch five Suffolk punch horses to it to get it going 'full pelt'.

Reading, like many other places, is formed of a personal name and the –ing component – it means ‘the people of Reada’.  Reada, according to an article in The Independent, was ‘an otherwise forgotten man… whose name suggests that he had red hair’.  This feels appropriate, given that I am a redhead myself.  Another somewhat amusing place name etymology is that of Nottingham.  It is formed of a personal name, the ­–ing component, and the –ham component.  In total, it formed Snotta-ingas-ham – the village of Snot’s people.  Nottingham is, all things considered, a rather better name.

It is outside the scope of this project to start recording the origins of the place names we are entering into a hierarchy.  A project which is carrying out this valuable task is the Survey of English Place Names, at the English Place-Name Society and the Institute for Name-Studies at the University of Nottingham (or, the University of the village of Snot’s people).  On their website, you can search a map with information about the origins of English place names.  There is also a wealth of websites and books out there with information about this fascinating area.  For me, it remains an interesting side topic to the main geographical cataloguing I do.  Noticing these sorts of patterns in the names of places in different areas of the country helps me to get an even better appreciation of the significance of place and the landscape for people’s lives, and consequently, the objects in MERL’s collections.

Perhaps there are some other great place names out there that you know about, or places that mean something to you – do comment on this post and share them.  We might even have catalogued an object from there – we can let you know!

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I’m straying into Ollie’s blogging territory a bit here, but I found that the polehead collection got me thinking quite a bit about place, and the relationship between objects and places.

Seeing so many place names at once, I started to draw connections between them and notice patterns. The most obvious was the number of places with ‘combe’ in the name, especially in Somerset. The strong relationship between the names of places and their geographical features can be found throughout the UK, in English, Welsh and Gaelic. ‘Combe’ comes from the Saxon word for ‘valley’ and Compton, which I’ve also catalogued a few of, means ‘valley farm’.  There’s a handy website with more examples and look out for a blog post on this theme in the future.

Another idea that came to me, although I’m struggling to articulate it clearly, is how a polehead can relate to place in so many ways. Not only is the polehead connected physically to a place in that it was actually used there, it is also connected symbolically – it represents membership of the Friendly Society which was formed for the benefit of the people there. As mentioned earlier, the form and shape of the polehead can directly represent the place it comes from – such as an anchor if it comes from a village near the sea, or a deer if the squire owned a deer park. On a wider level, these types of poleheads are representative of the West Country in that they are only found in this region of England.

And finally, while cataloguing the Shickle Collection I made a list of all the places mentioned. I think it would be good to add the other polehead collections to it when we catalogue them… I’ll try to persuade Felicity.

  • Aller, Somerset
  • Alveston, Gloucestershire
  • Ansford, Somerset
  • Ashby Saint Ledgers, Northamptonshire
  • Ashcott, Somerset
  • Axbridge, Somerset
  • Banwell, Somerset
  • Batcombe, Somerset
  • Bath, Somerset
  • Bathpool, Somerset
  • Binegar, Somerset
  • Bishop’s Hull, Somerset
  • Bishops Lydeard, Somerset
  • Bitton, Gloucestershire
  • Blagdon, Somerset
  • Bower Hinton, Somerset
  • Bowlish, Somerset
  • Bradninch, Devon
  • Bridgeyate, Gloucestershire
  • Bristol
  • Broadway, Somerset
  • Bruton, Somerset
  • Buckhorn Weston, Dorset
  • Buckland Dinham, Somerset
  • Burrington, Somerset
  • Burrow Bridge, Somerset
  • Burton, Wiltshire
  • Butleigh, Somerset
  • Cannington, Somerset
  • Carlingcott, Somerset
  • Castle Cary, Somerset
  • Charlton Horethorne, Somerset
  • Chedzoy, Somerset
  • Chew Magna, Somerset
  • Chewton Mendip, Somerset
  • Chilcompton, Somerset
  • Chiselborough, Somerset
  • Churchill, Somerset
  • Clutton, Somerset
  • Coalpit Heath, Gloucestershire
  • Combe Florey, Somerset
  • Combe Hay, Somerset
  • Combe Saint Nicholas, Somerset
  • Combwich, Somerset
  • Compton Martin, Somerset
  • Corsley Heath, Wiltshire
  • Corston, Somerset
  • Creech Saint Michael, Somerset
  • Crewkerne, Somerset
  • Crowcombe, Somerset
  • Curry Mallet, Somerset
  • Ditcheat, Somerset
  • Dowlish Wake, Somerset
  • Downend, Gloucestershire
  • Drayton, Somerset
  • Dudley, West Midlands/Worcestershire
  • East Stour, Dorset
  • Evercreech, Somerset
  • Farrington Gurney, Somerset
  • Fifehead Magdalen, Dorset
  • Filton, Bristol
  • Filton, Gloucestershire
  • Filton/Whitchurch, Somerset
  • Fishponds, Bristol
  • Frenchay, Gloucestershire
  • Frome, Somerset
  • Glastonbury, Somerset
  • Halberton, Devon
  • Halse, Somerset
  • Ham, Somerset
  • Hambrook, Gloucestershire
  • Hanham, Gloucestershire
  • Hardington, Somerset
  • Harptree, Somerset
  • Hele (near Bradninch) Devon
  • Henstridge, Somerset
  • Henton, Somerset
  • Heytesbury, Wiltshire
  • Holcombe, Somerset
  • Huntspill, Somerset
  • Ilchester, Somerset
  • Keevil, Wiltshire
  • Kelston, Somerset
  • Keynsham, Somerset
  • Kilmersdon, Somerset
  • Kilve, Somerset
  • Kingsbury Episcopi, Somerset
  • Kingsdon, Somerset
  • Kingston Saint Mary, Somerset
  • Kingswood, Bristol, Gloucestershire
  • Larkhall, Somerset
  • Long Ashton, Somerset
  • Long Burton, Dorset
  • Lopen, Somerset
  • Maiden Bradley, Wiltshire
  • Mark, Somerset
  • Marnhull, Dorset
  • Marston Bigot, Somerset
  • Martock, Somerset
  • Meare, Somerset
  • Merriott, Somerset
  • Mickleton, Gloucestershire
  • Milverton, Somerset
  • Middle Chinnock, Somerset
  • Misterton, Somerset
  • Monkton Farleigh, Wiltshire
  • Montacute, Somerset
  • Nailsea, Somerset
  • Nether Stowey, Somerset
  • Nibley, Gloucestershire
  • North Cadbury, Somerset
  • North Coker, Somerset
  • North Perrott, Somerset
  • Norton Saint Philip, Somerset
  • Nunney, Somerset
  • Oakhill, Somerset
  • Panborough, Somerset
  • Pawlett, Somerset
  • Potterne, Wiltshire
  • Priddy, Somerset
  • Publow, Somerset
  • Pucklechurch, Gloucestershire
  • Puddletown, Dorset
  • Radstock, Somerset
  • Redhill, Somerset
  • Rode, Somerset
  • Seavington Saint Michael, Somerset
  • Shepton Beauchamp, Somerset
  • Sherborne, Dorset
  • Shirehampton, Bristol
  • Siston, Gloucestershire
  • Somerton, Somerset
  • Soundwell, Gloucestershire
  • South Brewham, Somerset
  • South Petherton, Somerset
  • South Wraxall, Wiltshire
  • Stalbridge, Dorset
  • Stapleton, Bristol
  • Stogursey, Somerset
  • Stoke Saint Michael, Somerset
  • Stoke sub Hampton, Somerset
  • Ston Easton, Somerset
  • Stone Allerton, Somerset
  • Stourton Caundle, Dorset
  • Street, Somerset
  • Studley, Wiltshire
  • Sturminster, Dorset
  • Sutton Veny, Wiltshire
  • Swineford, Gloucestershire
  • Taunton, Somerset
  • Temple Cloud, Somerset
  • Templecombe, Somerset
  • Timsbury, Somerset
  • Tiverton, Devon
  • Tividale, West Midlands
  • Tunley, Somerset
  • Wanstrow, Somerset
  • Warminster, Wiltshire
  • Watchet, Somerset
  • Wedmore, Somerset
  • Wellow, Somerset
  • Wells, Somerset
  • Wembdon, Somerset
  • Westbury on Trym, Bristol
  • West Chinnock, Somerset
  • West Coker, Somerset
  • West Monkton, Somerset
  • West Pennard, Somerset
  • West Stour, Dorset
  • Westonzoyland, Somerset
  • Whitechurch, Somerset
  • Wick, Somerset
  • Williton, Somerset
  • Willoughby, Warwickshire
  • Winsley, Wiltshire
  • Winterbourne, Gloucestershire
  • Wrington, Somerset
  • Writhlington, Somerset
  • Yate, Gloucestershire
  • Yatton, Somerset
  • Zeals, Wiltshire

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Time for the technical stuff…

One of the key points of focus in our cataloguing is location (hence all this place-related blogging). The Shickle Collection covers about 180 villages, many of which were not listed on the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names, so I spent quite a lot of time exploring Google Maps of Somerset, Wiltshire, Devon, Dorset and Gloucestershire. I’d love to see all of these places pinned on a map to see just how big an area the Shickle Collection covers, and to get a feel for whether it is very evenly spread out, or clustered in particular areas. Perhaps that’s something for a rainy Sunday afternoon…  We hope that one of the outcomes of the cataloguing work we’re doing will be to have our collections pinpointed on a map so maybe one day I’ll get lucky!

As part of the cataloguing process I had to create thesaurus terms for all of these places. This was not an easy task.

 

Challenge 1: Getty.

Many of the places, being very small villages, were not listed in Getty. This wasn’t too bad, as it could be overcome by using other online sources such as Google Maps and A Vision of Britain through Time.

 

Challenge 2: Spelling.

Along with variant spellings and alternative names for places, there was also quite a lot of mis-spellings on the original accession records, so I had to search for lots of possible spellings and scour the maps to find what I was looking for. Thankfully, many of the villages were recorded as being near somewhere so at least I had a starting point to look at.

 

Challenge 3: One name, several villages.

Place names aren’t unique and we’ve come across many instances in our catalogue of several places sharing the same name, but these are usually in different counties and can be distinguished by this on the Adlib catalogue. The problem I had this time round was when there were two, or more, villages sharing the same name in the same county, such as Hele in Devon. In this case, it wasn’t possible to distinguish them by county so instead I had to resort to using ‘near’ e.g. ‘Hele [near Bradninch]’ and ‘Hele [near Ilfracombe]’.

 

Challenge 4: One polehead, several villages.

In some cases it was hard to establish the relationship between the polehead and the place recorded in the accession records. Did the (tangible) polehead belong to the identified place, or was it the (intangible) design which belonged there? When a polehead was identified as belonging to several clubs, does it mean that several villages shared the same tangible polehead, or shared the intangible design? There were many subtleties in the wording on the accession records to do with degrees of certainty and I tried to rationalise the cataloguing in the following ways:

  1. It belonged to the Club at A – A recorded as ‘place used’
  2. It belonged to Club at A and B – A and B recorded as ‘place used’
  3. It probably belonged to Club A – A recorded as ‘associated place’
  4. It probably belonged to Club A and B – A and B recorded as ‘associated place’
  5. It belonged to Club A or B – A and B recorded as ‘as associated place’
  6.  It belonged to one of Club A, B or C – A, B and C recorded as ‘associated place’

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I don’t have time to visit every place I’ve catalogued (see my post on East Hendred and the Lavinia Smith Collection), but I feel I’ve been getting to know Somerset (and the surrounding counties) through the Shickle Collection of Friendly Society poleheads (search ‘Shickle’ under collection in the online catalogue). MERL holds four collections of poleheads – the Shickle Collection, the Allen Collection, the Jardine Collection and the Forster Collection. The Shickle Collection consists of about 250 and occupied a happy week of cataloguing from the year 1951. It’s definitely Felicity’s turn to catalogue the next polehead collection!

Poleheads from the Allen Collection.

Friendly Societies were village clubs formed to provide insurance for members in the case of sickness or death, and they also played an important role in the village social life. A government act was passed in 1793 to encourage their foundation, and they were common until the late-nineteenth century. Most Friendly Societies held an annual meeting which was followed by a church service and a procession, or ‘walk’, around the parish. In many areas, simple poles were carried in the processions, but in Somerset and the adjoining counties brass poleheads, like those in the Shickle Collection, were commonly used.

There are two basic types of poleheads in the Shickle Collection – the ‘spear’ type, which is essentially flat, and the ‘bedpost’ type, which is bulbous. These are often embellished in various ways – with cut out designs, curved edges, projections, differently shaped and sized bulges and so on. Common motifs include crowns, oak leaves, clasped hands, birds, diamonds, triangles, hearts etc. and in some cases the motif represents the interest of the Friendly Society or the place where they met. The Society at Frome in Somerset met at the Ring of Bells pub and their polehead is spear shaped with cut outs of five bells and two crescents (51/913). Unfortunately the Shickle Collection poleheads are all packed away in boxes so I couldn’t take any photos, but the Allen Collection is on open display in our stores.

Spear type poleheads with an array of emellishments.

Close up of a bedpost type polehead.

 

 

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