Make Me Rich, Clear Gains, Heiress’s Meadow – when you’re enjoying a rural view or walking through the countryside, it’s a fair bet you won’t be wondering what those fields are called. Perhaps you didn’t realise that fields have names. And I don’t mean ‘a field of wheat’ or ‘a field of beans’, but something much more descriptive or downright intriguing. Eight Acre Rise, Orchard Piece, Cow Leasow, or Leg of Mutton are some of the more straightforward identifiers for size, location, usage and shape (not the ultimate fate of any sheep grazing there).
If you stop and think about it for a moment, you quickly realise that being able to identify one field from another by name isn’t as daft as might seem. Field names commonly occur in old conveyances, surveys and estate management records, and were in constant use before maps and plans became commonplace and the population’s education had progressed sufficiently to enable them to be read. Those who managed and worked the land needed to ensure that the chap heading out with the plough didn’t convert their prize pasture into arable, and names would have been a handy signpost for someone taking the ploughman’s lunch down to Soggy Bottom.
While the derivations of field names such as Three Days Work, Small Profits and Back o’ the House may be obvious, others are utterly mystifying. Take Great Killer Dog Field for example, which conjures up horrific visions of giant Dobermans until you find that a smaller adjacent piece was called Little Killer Dog Field. Even so, it probably didn’t bode well for the local rabbit population. Pudding Poke, Waistcoat Piddle, and Bloody Croft Orchard are no less fascinating in their origin. Where we may be on firmer ground, as it were, is with names such as Breakheart Hill, Cupid’s Alley and Good Wives Hey that hint at romantic liaisons or cheerful neighbourliness. Some names are too risqué to be used in polite company and we shall gloss over the origin of Eleanor’s Breeches.
So next time you head out into the countryside, spare a thought for the person who gave his name to Thunderbolt Piece.