Archiver > GEN-MEDIEVAL > 2007-02 > 1171115756

From: "Matt Tompkins" <>
Subject: Re: Bulkley Ancestors in Normandy 1050-1150
Date: 10 Feb 2007 05:55:56 -0800
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In-Reply-To: <>

On Feb 9, 9:11 pm, "taf" <> wrote:
> > On Feb 9, 12:29 pm, "Tony Hoskins" <> wrote:
> > The suffix "legh/ley" is so widespread and so demonstrably Anglo-Saxon -
> > meaning "field" - as to scarcely warrant discussion. The presence of a
> > bull on the family's coat of arms notwithstanding, a gut response to
> > this discussion would be to posit a quite prosaic origin for the name:
> > "the field in which bulls reside", for instance.
> This is, in fact, the general consensus for the origin of the name of
> Bulkeley - Bullock field.

It's slightly more complicated than that. Leah originally meant a
clearing in woodland (any sort of clearing - not necessarily a field
in the agricultural sense). However in areas where the landscape was
predominantly open leah developed a different and opposite meaning -
here it described an isolated piece of woodland in open country. Both
meanings were in use during the period when Anglo-Saxon place-names
were being formed (it is thought that most -leah names were formed
between c750 and c950 AD), so to determine which sense was being used
in any given place-name it is necessary to try and determine how open
the landscape was in that place during the relevant period - not
always easy! As a broad generalisation areas with many -leah names
may have been woodland while those with just a few isolated -leah
names may have been open country.

After about the mid-10th century the word changed its meaning again,
to 'pasture or meadow', so some late settlement names will incorporate
that meaning. This will also be the case with very minor place-names
- of fields rather than settlements - which tend to be Middle English
in origin.

I don't have anything to hand which would help in determining the
probable nature of the landscape around Bulkeley in the 8th-10th
centuries, but I see from maps that it is an area with many other -
leah names, so the 'clearing in woodland' meaning might be more likely
than the 'wood in open country' one. On the other hand, the specific
element 'bullock' would fit very well to a late 'pasture' derivation.

The two diametrically opposite meanings of leah in place-names were
first noted by Margaret Gelling, in a 1974 article on Warwickshire
place-names in Transactions of the Birmingham and Warwickshire
Archaeological Society. A summary of the current scholarship on leah
can be found in her most recent book 'The Landscape of Place-
names' (Stamford, 2000), at pp. 237-9.

I explained all this the last time Paul Bulkley raised his theories,
in May and June last year, in the two threads headed Boklerplaiers -


Matt Tompkins

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