The ancient district, field, road and water-feature names in and around Stonnall
Echoes from the Past
by Julian Ward-Davies BA Hons
In this paper, we will explore the origins and meanings of some of the place-names that are associated with enclosures, roads, lanes, streams and districts, as recorded in maps of the Stonnall area and other documents.
Most of the names selected for interpretation are instantly recognisable because they are, of course, in everyday use. However, some of the selections are now virtually obsolete and exist only in old documents. These have been chosen because they can tell us something about the physical and historical environment in which the Stonnall area evolved over many hundreds and, indeed, thousands of years.
Sources of the place-names
We will refer to several documents as sources, including:-
- The Tithe Map survey of the Parish of Shenstone, which was conducted in the early 19th century. This document contains the names of every enclosure in the parish, along with the names of every district, hamlet and village, together with the names of most roads and lanes. Items quoted from this source are annotated TMS.
- The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Shenstone, 1769, by Rev Henry Sanders, the one-time curate of the parish in the mid-18th century. Annotated RHS.
- Various editions of the Ordnance Survey of the parish. Annotated OS.
- Records of late mediaeval local court proceedings, known as the Pipe Rolls,
in which some of the names of local features and their dialectal alternatives are preserved. Annotated PR.
- The Estate Map of Stonnall, dating from 1818. This high-quality
map may have originated from the various Acts of Inclosure of the 18th century. It preserves the names of every enclosure and owner of the time. Annotated EM.
Diversity of language
As we will see, the place-names in this locality are derived from several languages that have been spoken in this part of the West Midlands during several periods in history and prehistory. These languages include:-
Welsh (or more properly Brittonic) and its immediate precursor, Old British
Welsh and its ancestor language, Old British,
have given rise to many place-names throughout Britain. The language had an impact on local place-names because this area was part of the territory of the Iron Age Celtic tribe known as the Cornavii.
Latin was brought to this country as a result of the Roman Conquest in 43AD.
English and its precursor, Anglo-Saxon
Conventionally, Anglo-Saxon was said to have been brought to this country through migration from Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany following the collapse of Roman administration in about 410AD. However, based on new linguistic and genetic evidence, this view has now become controversial since some scholars have suggested that Germanic migration had commenced at a point in prehistoric times, that is, even before the Roman Conquest
French was brought to this country as a consequence of the Norman Conquest in 1066.
Incidentally, I have not been able to detect any local place-names based on Danish or any other Nordic language. This is almost certainly because this area was not in the Danelaw.
How the information is formatted
Every name is interpreted and annotated with an etymology as necessary and a brief discussion
of any relevant information. This is followed lastly by a long-form interpretation of the implied meaning in quotation marks.
Black Walls TMS
Black Walls is an enclosure recorded as field number A148 in the Tithe Map survey. It is the slope leading from the top of Lazy Hill where water drains to the relatively low and flat Stonnall Gorse. The Anglo-Saxon name would have been rendered as Blaec Waelles. The word waelle was used to indicate a source of water (not necessarily suitable for human consumption) that caused a dark colouration to the soil, hence the adjective black. In this case, the word waelle has been given the plural ending 's'. The other A-S way of forming a plural was to add an 'n', depending on which dialect of the language was in use. This seems to show that at least two dialects of A-S were brought into the area by Germanic migrants. See Wallong.
"The damp, black earth oozing water at various points"
Borrowcop appears to be a Welsh compoud of berw, meaning hill and copa, meaning top. This interpretation fits the topography of the area perfectly.
"The top of the hill "
Bosses TMS, RHS, OS, PR, EM
The Bosses is derived from the Latin noun boscus, meaning a wooded area, and thus may have originated in the Roman period.
"The home in the woods"
Cartersfield Lane TMS, RHS, OS, EM
Before the introduction of the internal combustion engine, the use of horses and carts was the only method of road haulage. The problem with this means of carriage was that hills with a steep gradient were inaccessible to carts drawn by a single horse. To avoid this, carters would find alternative routes around problem areas. Cartersfield Lane was such a route, which enabled drivers to get around Shire Oak Hill. The lane may also have been noted for the number of carts that were parked in a field outside The Fighting Cocks which, now a farm, was almost certainly a public house in an earlier manifestation.
"The lane habitually used by many carters"
Castle Hill/The Castles TMS, RHS, OS, EM
Castle Hill, alternatively The Castles, receives its name from the Iron Age fortification that is still visible from the adjacent Castle Hill Road. The word castle is a borrowing from Old French castel, but is derived ultimately from the Latin castellum, meaning stronghold. As the word castle was introduced to this country as a result of the Norman Conquest in 1066, the site must have had a different name before that event. See Old Fort.
Part of the fortification on the south side of Castle Old Fort, Castle Hill, Stonnall.
Chesterfield TMS, RHS, OS, PR, EM
Chester is derived from Anglo-Saxon ceaster, meaning fortified town or city, ultimately a borrowing from Latin castrum, meaning fortified place. Chesterfield is near the Roman settlement of Letocetum, present-day Wall near Lichfield. See Kesterton Croft and Lichfield.
"The open space near the fortification"
Chester Road TMS, RHS, OS, EM
Chester Road was used undoubtedly as a route to Chester. However, this might be a red herring because the road could easily have received the name from the ancient fortification or ceaster at Castle Hill. The proximity of Kesterton Croft would seem to support this view. See Kesterton Croft.
"The road that goes to Chester"
- or -
"The road that passes by the fortification"
Crane Brook TMS, OS, PR, EM
Crane might be a composite of an ancient word meaning flowing water with a lost initial preposition or article. The ancient word gives us diverse nouns and verbs, such as River Rhine, River Brent, English run and drain and Welsh penrhyn.
Druid Heath TMS, RHS, OS, PR, EM
Druid Heath appears to be a reference to the Celtic priestly class, whose ritual practices seem to have included the worship of trees. Druid comes from an old word meaning tree. The related Welsh word derw (pr. derroo) means oak tree. However, an alternative derivation for Druid Heath has been attributed by some commentators to the name of a mediaeval landowner.
"The uncultivated piece of land where some druids once lived" possibly.
Footherley TMS, RHS, OS, EM
The first element foother- is derived from a Celtic word similar to the Welsh word ffrwd, (pr. frood), meaning stream and is thus a reference to Footherley Brook that flows through the hamlet. The second element -ley is either the Anglo-Saxon suffix indicating a clearing, or it is the Welsh noun lle meaning place.
"The place or clearing where there is a stream that flows across the road"
Fox Covey/Covert TMS, OS
The first word is quite obviously a reference to the common fox, Vulpes vulpes. The second comes from the Norman French covert, meaning a covering (in this case of trees and other wild vegetation), in the sense of hiding or hidden.
"The place where foxes hide"
In the foreground, Stonnall Gorse - a natural bowl into which water drains from
Lazy Hill (to the left) and Castle Hill (to the right) .
In the background on the horizon to the left, the slope once known as Black Walls.
To its right, the trees of the Fox Covey.
Gorse TMS, OS, EM
Recorded in five locations in Stonnall, Lynn, Shenstone and Footherley (Stonnall Gorse, Gorsey Piece, Gorsey Leasow and Footherley Gorse), Gorse is one of the most challenging items in this collection. Despite the seemingly obvious reference to the gorse plant, Ulex europaeus, also known as furze, the problem is that, in each and every instance, the plant could not have found a suitable environment to flourish. This is because gorse requires dry, well-drained areas in a relatively high places, whereas all the examples of the place-name Gorse in this locality occur in in relatively low, wet and boggy places. For example, Footherley Gorse is adjacent to Footherley Brook. Clearly, an explanation for the name must be sought elsewhere. The only reasonable explanation is an origin in the Celtic-speaking Iron Age pointing to Welsh y gors, meaning the marsh.
"A marshy place"
Grove Hill TMS, OS, EM
Grove is an English word indicating a small group of trees (from A-S graf). The earliest Ordnance Survey map of the area shows five trees on top of the hill where there is now only one.
"The hill where there is a small group of trees"
Kesterton Croft TMS
Kesterton Croft is recorded as field number A2 in the Tithe Map survey of the Parish of Shenstone. The first element, Kester-, is undoubtedly another form of the Anglo-Saxon word ceaster that was borrowed from Latin. The second element, -ton, indicates a homestead or a group of dwellings and gives rise to the modern English word town. Kesterton Croft is only a stone's throw from the hill fort at Castle Hill, which might lead us to believe that Kesterton means the settlement near the fortification. Croft is an A-S word meaning small field. See Chester-.
"The small field that belongs to the homestead near the fortification"
Knaves Castle TMS, RHS, OS
Knaves Castle was an Iron Age, pre-Roman fortification located on Watling Street. As such, it was an outpost belonging to the Iron Age Celtic tribe, the Cornavii. The name Knave is likely to be a contraction of that tribal name.
"The fortification that belongs to the Cornavii"
The earliest Ordnance Survey map of Stonnall, dating from about 1820.
Centre: the five trees of Grove Hill.
Lower left: the location of Stonnall Gorse next to the wooded area known as the Fox Covey.
Middle left: the Iron Age Castle Old Fort.
Lazy Hill TMS, RHS, OS, EM
The word Lazy seems to be derived from a Germanic source, meaning tired in this context. Certainly, the gradient of Lazy Hill presents a formidable challenge to most pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles.
"The hill that makes one weary"
The first element leoman is undoubtedly the Old British word for elm and is very similar to the contemporary Welsh word for that tree. The second element is probably the A-S word denoting a clearing.
"The clearing in the elm woodland"
Lichfield RHS, OS, PR
Lichfield is a bilingual composite made up of a contraction of Letocetum, the name of the Roman settlement at Wall, and the A-S noun field. The name Letocetum (pr. leeto-cheetum) was based on an Old British precursor, meaning grey wood. In modern Welsh, this would be rendered as Llwyd Coed and Lichfield is referred to as Caerlwytgoed.
"The open space near the Roman station at Letocetum"
Lynn/Lyndon TMS, RHS, OS, PR, EM
Lynn is derived from the Welsh word llyn, meaning lake. We should expect that the area was liable to flooding and the presence of semi-permanent standing water when the place-name was coined in the Iron Age. This type of watery incursion continued into the 20th century and is thus still within living memory. Lyndon was a synonym for the hamlet used frequently by Rev Sanders. Although the name has fallen out of usage, it survived in the name of Lyndon Cottage (now demolished) into the 20th century. The second syllable -don may be a Celtic language element referring to the Iron Age fortification at Castle Hill. If so, Lyndon, or something very similar, might have been the Iron Age name for the whole of the Stonnall area. See Quebb.
Lynn: "The place where there are many pools, bogs and floods"
Lyndon: "The place where there are many pools, bogs and floods near the fortification"
Flooding in Mill Lane which, in former times, would have fed the source of Quebb Brook nearby.
Mill Lane takes its name from the steam mill that was located in Lower Stonnall between about 1840 and 1900. Mill Lane that extends from the junction of Church Road and Wall Heath Lane was formerly known as Lower Stonnall Lane and Mill Lane that extends from Lynn Lane was formerly known as Quebb Lane. See Stonnall and Quebb.
"The lane that leads to the mill"
Muckley is derived from the Anglo-Saxon adjective muckle, meaning big, (as opposed to mickle, meaning small). The second element -ley is almost certainly the A-S suffix meaning clearing. Muckle is related to the modern English word much.
large clearing where two major roads cross each other"
Old Fort TMS, RHS, OS, EM
Old Fort is a straightforward English descriptive name for the ancient fortification at Castle Hill, but the name might be much older than this would imply. When Dr Plott visited Stonnall in the late 1600s to examine the hill fort, a local informant, Mr Brown, told him that the fort's ancient name was Hen Castell, which translates from Welsh as Old Fort.
Pen Brook RHS
Pen Brook rises at a point between Castle Hill and Lazy Hill and then flows through Stonnall and Lynn to Shenstone where it meets Black Brook. Pen is a Welsh word that means end.
"The stream that flows from the end of the valley"
Pen Brook flowing through the district of Wall Heath on its way to Black Brook in Shenstone.
Quebb Brook/Lane/Meadow TMS, RHS, EM
Now fallen out of usage, Quebb is recorded in the Tithe Map survey, the Estate Map and by Rev Sanders. It means marsh and is an ancient descriptive name for the once-boggy area in Lynn and the district of Wall Heath. Quebb Brook has now virtually disappeared, but its course is still marked by a crooked boundary hedge in Mill Lane. Even after the marsh was drained, the name persisted as Quebb Meadow and Quebb Lane near Lynn Lane. The name must have been coined by some of the earliest Anglo-Saxon migrants into the Stonnall area. The word is still represented in several European languages in the Germanic area.
Shenstone TMS, RHS, OS, PR
There seems to have been two dialectal forms of this name. Of the two, possibly the oldest form Senestan has lost out to Shenstone, the form in contemporary usage. However, they both have the same meaning, which is shiny stone, possibly a reference to the reflective cobbles that are present in the soil.
"The place of shiny stones"
Shire Oak TMS, OS
The word shire indicates an administrative area, not necessarily corresponding to the contemporary usage of county. The tree once marked the boundary between the Parish of Shenstone and the Parish of Walsall and was located near Holly Lane on Walsall Road, Walsall Wood.
"The oak tree at the parish boundary"
Stonnall TMS, RHS, OS, PR, EM
There seems to have been two dialectal forms of this name. The first, spelled variously as Stonnall, Stonall, Stonnal, etc, has become the standard version, now rendered universally as Stonnall. The second, attested as a variant in the mediaeval records of local court proceedings, is recorded as Stonwall. It is this version that provides us with the key to understanding the name of the village. The first element ston- is a reference to the stony ground that is a left-over from glacial activity during the last Ice Age. The second element -wall is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word waelle, meaning a place where there is water, that is, a place liable to flooding and where there is semi-permanent standing water. These characteristics were common occurrences and features through to the 20th century and still manifest themselves from time to time in the present day. We can reconstruct the earliest form of the name as it was expressed in Anglo-Saxon as Stanigwaelle. See the related Wall Heath and Wallong.
"The stony place where there is a lot of water"
The traditional field names in central Stonnall, with the district of Wallong encompassing four fields.
The names have been appended to an early 20th century Ordnance Survey map.
Note Gorse Farm (lower left), taking its name from Stonnall Gorse.
Wall Heath TMS, RHS, OS, EM
Wall Heath was a district name applied to the names of six fields enclosed by Wall Heath Lane, Lynn Lane and the two Mill Lanes. Here we encounter the Anglo-Saxon word waelle yet again and we can infer that the name arose from the tendency of that area to produce flooding, semi-permanent standing water and marshes. Heath denotes uncultivated, a condition imposed by excessive and widespread waterlogging, no doubt.
"The uncultivated area where there is a lot of water"
Wallong TMS, RHS, EM
Wallong was a district name applied to four fields. These are now occupied by Westwick Close, Thornes Croft and St Peter's Close. The name is another plural form, waellen, of the Anglo-Saxon word waelle, with the meaning multiple sources of water or pools. In this case, the plural has been indicated with the terminating 'n'. The tendency for flooding in the area has persisted to recent times. Sometimes a pool would freeze over in winter and local residents would skate on it. Sometimes a pool would spill over into Main Street and cause flooding outside the school. Westwick Close has been flooded at least once since it was built in the early 1960s.
"The place where there are pools of water"
Flooding in Westwick Close, Stonnall. The area is built on part of a district once known as Wallong which, as this name implies, was once prone to regular and substantial watery incursions.
Watling Street RHS, OS
Watling is a slightly anglicised form of the Welsh word Gwyddelin, meaning foreign or more specifically Irish. Remembering that the road extends all the way from Holyhead to the south-east, it undoubtedly received this name because, for centuries, the road was used by Irish people en route to find seasonal work in Britain.
"The route that is used a lot by Irish people"
Well Piece TMS, EM
Here we encounter the Anglo-Saxon word waelle once again. Significantly, the field is next to the former Wallong enclosures and Pen Brook flows at its eastern boundary. Undoubtedly, the field was once susceptible to flooding. The name may have been reinforced by local residents who could have used the brook as a source of water before the days of domestic supplies. The enclosure is now the playing field for Stonnall.
"The place where there is water"