Too-Goods, Long Richards and Bullocks’ Valley

Writer Anne Boileau wrote this delightful piece about ever-changing times in the tiny village of Colne Engaine on the Essex-Suffolk border. “I thought it might get people comparing their own villages and field names,” says Anne.

The people who lived in the village of Colne Engaine more than 100 years ago have left us no photographs or films or tapes to allow us to catch a glimpse of them and their way of life.
We can only imagine how they might have lived, the rich in their grand houses, the poor in thatched hovels, the tradesmen and farmers in between.  They would have known each other well, and were all in some way dependent on each other.
How did they speak and move? What did they sing? What stories did they tell in The Five Bells? How did they keep their spirits up in times of hunger, bereavement, cold and discomfort? But look at an old map of this village and you can hear their voices echo faintly down to us from the past in the names of the fields.
I have been looking at an old map of Colne Engaine from 1838: there were so many fields, and they all had names! I think we can divide them into about seven categories:

  1. The crop that was grown on that field (Great Perry, Old Turnip Field, Mustard Pieces, Hopground piece, Osier ground, Rush Mead, Oat Pightle)
  2. The livestock that were kept on them (Goat field, Calves’ Pasture, Bullocks’ Valley, Hackney Garth)
  3. A description (Thistley Field, Sour Field, Swamp Field, Stoney Field, The Wilderness, Shortens)
  4. The name of the person or institution who owned the land (Church Field, Glebelands, Bishop`s’ Field, Goldings, Pope’s Hatch, Mun’s Field, Arnold’s Field)
  5. Other uses, not agricultural: (Brickfield, Claypits, Gravel Pit and Burying Ground)
  6. A building or other feature on or beside a field, which gave it its name (Great Church Field, Barnfield, Stile Field, Red Gate Field, Well Field, Moat Field)
  7. And, finally, ones that are hard to fit into any category, but I’m sure someone reading this could shed light on their significance (Bandley, Black Bats, Diglets and Too-Goods?)

Of course these names would have been constantly changing with each new generation and changing circumstances. But village children would have had to know all field names to be able to take out lunch to their fathers, and for when they themselves had  to work on picking stones, picking peas or gleaning or singling.
Most of these names are lost in our common speech and recognition;  indeed many of the fields themselves have gone, since the massive destruction of hedgerows in the 1960s and ’70s. But echoes of them remain in street names and house names. Rainbow Way, Oddcroft, Shelcroft, Middle Gaynes and Hackney Garth are all taken from the name of the field that was either where they were built or very near to it.
So in a small way, the voices of our predecessors (or ancestors if you have a name like Pudney, Courtauld or Sewell) ring down to us faintly from the past. What would Mr Golding, or Mrs Mun, or Arnold or Mrs Pope think were they to visit us now? Would they recognise the village and be able to find their own fields? What would they think?
“Where are the horses, the labourers, the hay stacks and stooks? Why so few cattle, and hens and geese? Where are the brickworks, the sawpits, the hops and the orchards? Why is there no one working in my fields?  Where are my fields?”
However, there is still a pattern they could recognise: the roads are unchanged: Mill Lane, Pebmarsh Road, Green Farm Road and Lawshalls Hill still follow the same pattern of a thousand years ago. The church still stands. But the fields have forgotten their names.