Thursday, August 6, 2009

Crichley from the Common

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An interesting postcard appeared on eBay the other day and C-H-M snapped it up instantly. Taken from Birdlip looking across to Crickley, it probably dates from about 100 years ago as the stamp is Edward VII. To Miss E. M. Harvey. "Ivy House" Bentham Lane. Nr Cheltenham, S. J. L. writes: "Do you know where this is? I expect you do. This is not a very good view of it do you think? Yrs with Love XXXXXX S.J.L. XXXXXX Don't forget Friday."

I think S.J.L. may have been keen on her. She probably did know where it was as she lived hereabouts:

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What is also interesting is the spelling of Crichley on the front of the card.

My thanks as ever to PWD for permission to quote this abstract from Margaret Gelling in Crickley Hill: the Hillfort Defences (Dixon 1994):

"Crickley Hill is 'the hill belonging to the settlement called Crickley'.

For its main element Crickley has the Old English word leah, which means wood or clearing in a wood. The use of this term in place names in either sense indicates the presence in the middle Saxon period (c.750 - c.950) of woodland which the Anglo-Saxons recognised as ancient. What concerns us here is not such much the name as its first part, since this is believed to have been the original Old English name for the hill.

Early spellings for Crickley include Crekle 1237, Crekelege c.1240, Crykkeley c.1300 (Smith 1964, 115-6). Philologically these indicate that the first part of the name was a compound of two Old English words cryc and hyll. Thus CRICKLEY is the wood or clearing by the hill called Crychyll. In modern times Hill was added by people who could not know that the word hyll was already built into the name.

Old English hyll (modern 'hill') is not one of the commonest terms used in place-names for hills. Eminences with more sharply defined outlines are called by a variety of terms, such as beorg, dun, hrycg, ofer, hoh, which indicate their precise shape. When hyll is used, the point seems to be that the shape does not lend itself to precise categorisation. Something more definite is, however, conveyed by the first word in the compound, cryc. This is one of the few words which speakers of the Old English language borrowed from Welsh. In Welsh it means 'mound, heap'. The Anglo-Saxons used it for hills which make a particularly striking impression in the landscape, either because they are isolated (like Crouch Hill, near Banbury, Oxon) or because they have a particularly abrupt shape (like the headland which overlooks the town of Crich, Derbys). If, in addition to being a cryc because of this quality, the hill also had a shape which fitted into one of their categories, the Anglo-Saxons used the appropriate Old English word to gloss cryc. Thus for Crookbarrow Hill near Worcester and Creechbarrow near Taunton, which are smoothly rounded hills, the word used is beorg. For the hill at Crickley it is hyll.

It will be apparent from the few instances quoted of place-names containing cryc that the word assumes many forms in place names. It can also become Crutch. This variety arises mainly from the different dates at which the Welsh word was taken into Old English in different parts of the country. The vowel systems of Primitive Welsh and Old English were both in the process of developing a modified ü sound, but the developments were not synchronised and the sounds were never quite identical. The compound of cryc and hyll could become Crichel (as in Crichel Down, Dorset), or it could be rationalised to Churchhill. The closest parallel to the development in Crickley is probably Criggelstone, Yorks ('Crickeleston' in 12/13th centuries: Smith 1961, 101-2). Cricket, Som., offers another example in south-west England of a name from cryc in which -ck- has developed, but the -ch- of Crichel is more usual. For this reason, the derivation of Crickley from cryc-hyll-leah, though very likely, is not absolutely certain.

If, however, the place-name Crickley is in fact derived from cryc-hyll-leah, it is appropriate to ask whether the compound cryc-hyll suits the site. The answer is that it does if the hill is viewed from the road to Great Witcombe, from the valley edge to the north-east of the site. From here the beetling brow on the south-west side of the eminence presents a striking appearance on the sky-line, which is closely comparable to the appearance of a number of other hills for which the word cryc is used. It is, for example, very like the outline of the hill in Somerset on which Cricket St Thomas stands.

It may be no more than coincidence that this is the aspect seen from the site of the Witcombe villa, a large establishment whose territory presumably extended across the valley of the A417, and whose vista to the north is checked by the mass of Crickley Hill. The Witcombe villa was occupied late into the sub Roman period, and may have been the place from which came the settlers who occupied Crickley during the brief post-Roman phases of site Period 4."

I suspect that Margaret Gelling, who died only a few months ago (her obituary is here from The Guardian ), would have been interested to find the 'Crichley' spelling. It is the second time I have come across it in a couple of weeks: it appeared in Hansard in a question asked by Nicholas Ridley, MP for Cirencester and Tewkesbury: one begins to suspect that these may not be typographical errors. There may have been a time, in the surprisingly recent past, when 'Crickley' was spelled 'Crichley' by some.

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