In a country like England with a long history, meanings change. The local historian has to be aware of them. Below are four words of this kind.
Up to modern times a 'field' was a large area of arable land near the village. Eventually, these open fields were divided into closes, usually by fences and hedges. Those closes we nowadays call 'fields' but such a use would have surprised our forefathers. A local historian, talking about fields in 17th century Coughton or Bidford is talking about the open fields, not the smaller closes of today.
Everyone knows what a 'town' is but it was different once. The Saxon word 'tun', from which 'town' derives, was an enclosure or settlement, even if that settlement had only a dozen houses. Kinwarton and Coughton still contain that element. Throughout the Middle Ages and right through to recent times all villages were called 'townships', thus retaining their Saxon meaning In the public estimation, and as the centuries passed, towns were those places of biggest population and the centres o~ trade: it was the lawyers and administrators who continued to call villages and hamlets 'townships'. The common people and their governors do not always keep abreast of each other.'
The Old English was 'straet', from which our word derives. The Anglo Saxon gave the name to the Roman roads which they discovered in their penetration of their new country. We are all familiar with Watling Street, Ermine Street, Ryknild Street. Since Saxon times, new highways tended to be called lanes or roads. It was not until the Industrial Revolution, with the burgeoning of towns and increased housing for the workers that the word 'street' was applied to the new urban roads. Incidentally, it is interesting to look at Ordnance Survey maps and notice any places called 'Street' or variations such as Streetley, Stretham, Stretford, Stretton: all were on Roman roads.
Autumn 1990 Index
© Alcester & District Local History Society 1990