Some Place-Names in the Immediate Area of the Staffordshire Hoard

Mattias Jacobsson (Jönköping University)


The names of the towns, hamlets and other settlements in the area surrounding the findspot of the Staffordshire hoard comprise a mixed lot. Although most of them are fairly young, they vary considerably in time of conception, linguistic affiliation and meaning. Nevertheless, it is perhaps this diversity that is significant, since it may in itself provide us with clues as to the landscape and character of settlements at earlier dates. This paper provides linguistic interpretation of some of the place-names in the hoard's vicinity, along with brief discussions about the context of the names.

The area - Britons, paganism and the Hundreds

The area in question lies in the heartland of the old Mercian kingdom, not considering the intricacies of actually defining Mercia. However, in the 6th and 7th centuries the land was still disputed territory with several parties involved. The Welsh of Powys were still a force to be reckoned with and so were of course the Anglo-Saxon contenders of land and power. In the names this situation is hinted upon by a number of Celtic/Welsh names such as Lichfield, Leomansley (the latter perhaps OBr. *lēme, 'limetree' as qualifying element (Gelling 1976: 202)) and Cannock Forest (from Celtic cnocc, 'hill'). Celtic/Welsh is also reflected, although certainly in a different way, in Walsall to the south (wealh, 'foreigner', 'serf', +halh, 'nook, corner'). Early Anglo-Saxon religion in the names is suggested by reasonably nearby Wednesbury and Wednesfield (Wodan's burh, 'fortification' and field respectively), and also Weeford (weoh, 'holy' + ford) just south of Lichfield.

In the following sections, one of the places mentioned, Cannock, is in Cuttlestone hundred (personal name Cuþwulf + stān (Anderson 1934)) whereas all other places are located in Offlow hundred, personal name Offa + hlāw, 'mound' (Anderson 1934). The hundred names, as well as the hundred organisation may date back to early Saxon times but they emerge in their historical form in the 10th century during the reign of Edgar. Of course the royal name Offa sets the imagination spinning, but the name was a common one in Old English times. Duignan (1902) and Anderson (1934) claim that 'Offa's mound' lay in Swinfen, about 3 miles south of Lichfield, and half a mile north of Watling Street. The mound was more or less already demolished by ploughing when Duignan wrote.

Lichfield, Wall and Pipehill

Some distance from the findspot of the hoard is Lichfield, where the Ryknield Street meets Watling Street. Lichfield is conceivably the most ancient settlement-name in the area; it was the Roman Letocetum which in turn goes back to a proto-Celtic *latocaiton > OW Caer Lwytgoed, 'grey forest' (Ekwall 1960, Greenslade 1990, Mills 1991). A few early forms quoted from Greenslade:

  • c. 710 locum donatum sibi Onlicitfelda (Life of St. Wilfrid)
  • 730 in loco qui vocatur Lyccidfelth (Bede)
  • 11th c. Licetfeld (Liebermann)
  • 12th c. Licitfeld (William of Malmesbury)

Consensus seems to be that the first element in the name Lichfield is Celtic and that the Latin form Letocetum (Etocetum in the Antonine Itinerary c. AD 300) referred to the Roman settlement at Wall (Wall is known as Walla 1167 (Ekwall 1960); this place-name element often refers to Roman constructions). However, already in the middle ages alternative but not very sound interpretations were suggested by various authors. A very persistent idea is that the first element is OE līc, 'corpse' which led Matthew Paris (d. 1259) of St. Albans abbey to suggest that the name, campus cadaverum, commemorated the slaughter of 999 Christians, martyred under the emperor Diocletian AD 284-305. This was probably the first time a link was made between Lichfield and St. Alban (Greenslade 1990).

In AD 669 Lichfield was made the Mercian episcopal see, according to Bede, but only a little more than a decade earlier it had obviously been the site of a battle involving Mercians and the Welsh of Powys caught up in a rather complex political and military struggle. The battle is referred to in the Welsh poem, or awdl, 'Marwnad Cynddylan' ('The Death Song of Cynddylan'). Although the poem only survives in a 17th-century manuscript, it is commonly believed to be earlier than the 10th century, perhaps even composed shortly after Cynddylan's death (Rowland 1990). Cynddylan was for a time allied with King Penda and was probably killed with him in AD 655 (Kirby 2000, Rowland 1990). Koch (2006) dates the battle of Winwæd to 15 November that year. In the poem it is said that:

Mawredd gyminedd! Mawr ysgafael
y rhag Caer Lwytgoed, neus dug Moriael.
Pymtheccant muhyn, a phum gwriael;

'Grandeur in battle! Extensive spoils
Morial bore off from in front of Lichfield.
Fifteen hundred cattle from the front of battle;'

So, Moriael (Morfael), presumably the brother of Cynddylan, bore of with cattle and as we are told, also 50 horses and five bondsmen which might provide clues about the second element of the place-name, OE feld. The common explanation of feld is that it means 'open country', but in the case of Lichfield the meaning could be more specialized and refer to a 'common pasture'. It has been suggested that the feld element carrying the specialized meaning could be added to a place-name when English settlers began exploiting the land to which it referred (Gelling 1981: 23). The Welsh poem certainly describes a successful raid of a place with substantial pastures - a feld. In conclusion, the best interpretation at present is that Lichfield is "the common pasture in or beside the grey wood'.

The hamlet of Pipehill also deserves a brief comment: It is most certainly OE pīpe, 'stream, water-pipe' + OE hyll, 'hill'. However, it is Pipe Hardwick in the 14th century (Greenslade 1990) which could indicate that this name, from OE heorde, 'herd' + wīc' carried the meaning of 'wīc for the flock' or sheep-farm' (Ekwall 1960)


The name Hammerwich has been interpreted either as *hamor, 'hill' + wīc, or hamor, 'hammer' + wīc (Ekwall 1960, Mills 1991). The word *hamor, 'hill' might have been a cognate of a Scandinavian word with the same meaning, but it is not evidenced in Old English. A better explanation is probably 'hammer-making workshop' or 'a smith's workshop' (see David Parsons's paper for a detailed consideration of the place-name Hammerwich). In 1086 there were two Hammerwiches and in the 13th century there were three of them, Overton, Netherton and Middleton (Greenslade 1990).

Burntwood, Edial and Woodhouse

There is no indication that any of these places date back further than the late 1200s. Burntwood is Brendewode in 1298 (Ekwall 1960, Mills1991). Curiously, the incident giving rise to the name is given in Forest Proceedings from 1262 (Greenwood 1990) where it is mentioned that the 'vill' of Hammerwich burnt a heath in Cannock Forest; the incident is said to be commemorated in the Morris-dance 'The Vandals of Hammerwich' but, it is likely that Brendewode simply refers to land cleared for agricultural purposes.

Edial is probably edisc, 'enclosed park' + halh, 'nook of land' (Ekwall 1960, Mills1991). Woodhouse is transparent: wudu, 'wood' + hūs, 'house'.

Ogley Hay, Knaves Castle and Brownhills

The village of Ogley Hay, now in Burntwood parish, lay right on Watling Street (the A5), about 3 miles west of Wall Roman settlement. The village must have had the so-called Knaves Castle close by. That Knaves Castle really existed is likely, but what it actually was remains unknown. I more or less accidentally found a remarkable book by one T. G. Lomax with the likewise remarkable title A Complete History of the Druids; their Origin, Manners, Customs, Powers, Temples, Rites, and Superstition; with an Inquiry into their Religion and its Coincidence with the Patriarchal, printed in Lichfield in 1810. The suggestion put forward with admirable confidence in this book is that Knaves Castle functioned as the winter residence of the Archdruid. The name Knaves Castle is also explained: 'as if some robber had here secreted himself to plunder travellers, since the time of the Britons.' We might consider the explanation of the name plausible, but should most certainly be sceptical about the druids.

It is possible that Ogley Hay is the into Ogintune of the charter S 1380 (Sawyer 1968; see Della Hooke's paper for details of this charter) where the manor is mentioned as belonging to the monastery of Wolverhampton in AD 996. Ekwall (1960) interprets the name as Ocga + ingtūn, 'settlement connected with Ocga'. In Domesday 1086 it is mentioned as Hocintune. By 1231 the -ingtūn has disappeared and we get Oggele. In 1292 it is Hay of Uggele (Ekwall 1960: 349). The new elements are obviously lēah, 'clearing' and g, 'hay, enclosed piece of land'.

The element -ingtūn (itself a compound of ing + tūn (see below)) is not easily accounted for. It has been suggested that the first element in -ingtūn names may be topographical appellatives based on their recurrent appearances (Fellows-Jensen 1995: 71). On the other hand, Cox (1980:44) suggests that -ingtūn with recurring qualifiers might as well reflect a person's multiple holdings and when it comes to Ocga + ingtūn I see no reason to dispute Ekwall's interpretation of the first element as a personal name. Nevertheless, Fellows-Jensen's discussion culminates in a very interesting conclusion; that English -ingtūn names, whether the -ing- was originally masculine (preceded by a personal name), a neuter -ingias- (a topographical appellative) or a plural -inga- (with the name of a group of people, or a tribe), reflect intensification of, and later secondary, Anglo-Saxon colonization in the 8th and 9th centuries towards the Celtic areas. Arguably, Fellows-Jensen's conclusion does not contradict Gelling's (1988) suggestion that -ingtūns represent portions carved out from larger estates, but rather complements it. The earliest recorded -ingtūn is Lavington in Sussex, which is mentioned in a charter from about AD 725 (Sawyer 1968, S 43).

As a final remark that might not be entirely relevant, tūn in the oldest Germanic language simply meant 'fence' or 'enclosed place' but Andersson (1991) and several other scholars suggest that the Celtic dūnum 'fortified place', at some point has influenced the Germanic word. Commonly, continental tūns have some type of defensive construction. This was probably the meaning that the Anglo-Saxons associated with tūn, and Campbell suggests further that the Anglo-Saxon tūns were 'localities of demesne' (Campbell 1986, 115-6; quoted in Andersson 1991). Barbara Yorke (1995: 76) equates the tūn with the villa regia, a centre of administration in the Anglo-Saxon state.

Brownhills is a modern, transparent name. It seems to date from the 17th century, and is found on Robert Plot's map surveyed and published in the 1680s (Plot 1686).

Conclusion and suggestions for further research

Although definite conclusions about the onomastic landscape of the Staffordshire Hoard will have to wait, there are a few remarks that are possible to make. Firstly, as I indicated in the introduction, the name-flora of Offlow Hundred is heterogeneous, with a Celtic element remaining strong. Secondly, there are certain features, such as the occurrence of feld and hardwīc that suggest Anglo-Saxon husbandry from an early date. The wīc of Hammerwich implies an industrial site of some importance (see David Parsons's paper for a discussion of the meaning of wīc), and the ingtūn of Ocgintune could mean that we are looking at a name given at a time of intense Anglian expansion. Finally, and somewhat disappointingly perhaps, there is no direct link between any of the place-names mentioned in the above and an unusually large hoard of Anglo-Saxon metal-objects. But then, that was not to be expected, and we should definitely not exclude the names from the context.

On the wish-list for the place-name scholar, and indeed for anyone interested in the hoard and its context, I would like to put the following items:

  • A general overview of Offlow Hundred is needed - Oakden's Place Names of Staffordshire (1984) deals with Cuttlestone Hundred. Other publications include Duignan (1902) and Horovitz's (2005) revision of Duignan, which both look at the major names, but these are not in themselves sufficient.
  • Obviously, more work on the names is needed; in their topographical and historical context, and in relation to the hoard and other archaeology. I believe that although the interpretation of names is largely a linguistic problem, extra-linguistic studies will always be necessary.


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