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Kesteven moot site

When English counties were first created around the end of the tenth or early eleventh centuries typically a number of wapentakes (also known as 'hundreds') were combined to create each county. County boundaries typically followed pre-existing wapentake boundaries (although there were later changes, principally in the 1890s and 1974). However Lincolnshire was too extensive for this to work. Instead the county was originally split into three Parts: Lindsey, Kesteven and Holland. Subsequently these three Parts have been subdivided into the current administrative districts of Boston, Lincoln, South Holland, North Kesteven, South Kesteven, East Lindsey and West Lindsey.

Identifying moot sites

The administrative meetings for wapentakes and hundreds were usually known as 'moots' – a word which evolves into modern English 'meeting'. Until at least the thirteenth century these meetings took place outdoors at a suitable, usually central, location.

The moot site for Kesteven has not been located. But there are some clues and 'expectations'.

  1. Early spellings of Kesteven include Chetsteven (1086) and Ketstevene (1185). This indicates that the first part is the 'Celtic' word ceto meaning 'wood' (which evolves into the modern Welsh word coed). The second part is from the Scandinavian word stefna meaning 'meeting'. (Cameron 1998 p72) There's plenty of other Anglo-Saxon meeting places at woods – the nearest example is Framland Hundred (the precursor to Melton Borough Council) which historically met at Great Framlands Wood.
  2. Moot sites are likely to be central to the wapentake or Parts.
  3. Moot sites are almost always on the boundaries of two or more parishes, sometimes occupying a small area which remained extra-parochial until the 1890s.
  4. Moot sites are likely to be on Roman roads, frequently at a crossroads of two Roman roads, and – because such crossroads are rarely perpendicular – in the 'wedge' of one of the smaller angles.
  5. Moot sites may be near former Roman small towns.
  6. Moot sites are usually on high ground with (ignoring modern trees and hedges) a broad view of the surrounding landscape.
Examples of moot sites at the crossing of Roman roads include both Goscote Hundred and Gartree Hundred in Leicestershire. The precise location of the Gartree moot site has been proposed and is in one of the smaller 'wedges' of the road layout. Indeed the 'gar' may refer to a spear-shaped area (Old English did not have a direct counterpart to 'triangular'). The moot site for the Goscote Hundred is just over a mile south of the Roman small town of Vernemetum. It is also at the centre of a large plateau-like area (the Leicestershire Wolds) and, most probably, the Goscote moots took place at a site which was extra-parochial until the 1890s.

When the original Goscote Hundred split into East and West Goscote Hundreds (perhaps in the early thirteenth century) the moot site for the East Goscote Hundred was on a parish boundary. The location is marked by a five-sided standing stone inscribed with the words 'Moody Bush'. This stone is clearly the successor the the 'moot bush', with the word 'moot' corrupted to 'moody'. The local landowner still convened court leets at the stone in the late eighteenth century.

The views from the Moody Bush Stone extend beyond the edges of the Hundred in all directions except to the north; however by walking a couple of hundred yards northwards the view originally opened up (although a barn and modern hedges now make it difficult, though not impossible, to see northwards).



The Moody Bush Stone. Despite appearances, the name is not because cows come up to it and say 'moo'.
Middle: Looking east towards Billsdon Coplow.
Above: Looking south-west across the Soar valley with Charnwood Forest in the distance.

Kesteven moot site

So far as I am aware no one has proposed a location for the Kesteven moot site. However, there is a location in Kesteven which is central. And just south of a Roman town. And on the crossing of Roman roads. And in the smaller 'wedge' of the crossroads is woodland. The OS Grid Reference is SK979422.


Duke's Covert. Top: In the 1950s. Above: In the 1880s.

However the name, 'Duke's Covert', suggests the current woodland may only date from the late eighteenth century when fox hunting became fashionable. But the thin soils barely covering the limestone suggest that this land was of little agricultural use and likely to have been wooded in the past. A mid-twentieth century OS map suggests the area was not wooded at that time, so the modern trees are more recent than the 1950s.

Allowing for modern changes to the landscape – which include Barkston Heath RAF base to the south-west – and the inevitable modern trees and hedges then views away from Duke's Covert are extensive.

Duke's Covert is in Wilsford parish, right at the boundary with Ancaster parish. Indeed the parish boundary 'dog legs' to include Duke's Covert, rather than following the more obvious course of the southern boundary of the Covert (see 1880s map). Was Duke's Covert once extra-parochial?

The covert is located at the summit of a broad hill, known as Copper Hill. The limestone geology makes it most unlikely for this to be a place where copper was extracted. More realistically 'Copper' is a corruption of the Old Scandinavian word kaup which is usually translated as 'merchant' but has the original sense of 'to pay' – an activity which was likely to be part of the administrative activities at medieval moots. Kaup enters English as 'chapman' (a trader) and 'Cheapside' (a common name for rows of shops). Copper Hill would be ideal for seasonal fairs as well as for administrative moots. Indeed the two functions are far from mutually exclusive as those attending the moots would be 'well-heeled' and make excellent customers for 'chapmen'.

While there seems no way to 'prove' that Copper Hill was once the site of the Kesteven Moot, the available evidence presents a strong case with numerous parallels. I would be interested to hear from anyone who thinks there is better evidence for a different location.

How to find Duke's Covert

Follow the B6403 (a.k.a. High Dyke a.k.a. Ermine Street) towards Ancaster. Duke's Covert is immediately after RAF Barkston Heath, just before the disused tank advertising the paintball and outdoor activities centre.

Ancaster's Roman name

Ancaster has traditionally been identified as Causennis or CausennŠ, as this name appears as a town on the route of Iter V in the Antonine Itinerary. However the name Causennis more probably refers to either Salters Ford or Sapperton, both of which originated as Roman settlements. This means the Romans' name for Ancaster is not known.

Update May 2022

Mike Deakin kindly emailed to share his ongoing research into Winnibriggs and Threo wapentake.

He forwarded an extract from Impact and Change: assembly practices in the northern Danelaw, an online PhD thesis by Alexis Tudor Skinner. Skinner discusses Spellar Farm (and associated Park and Wood) in Honington (p404–6; p671–3). The name apparently derives from Old English spell hoh – literally 'speech hill', but spell implies a meeting place. Skinner, citing a T. Green, reports this to have thought to be the meeting place of the Threo Hundred. The location is indeed on the boundary of the hundred. But (in my opinion) this spell hoh is just as likely to be a candidate for the meeting place of Kesteven.

Update June 2022

Alexis Tudor Skinner recognises that assemble places may change over time (p102–3) although his study of Yorkshire hundreds and wapentakes provides no clear evidence.

However there is some indication that assemblies at places with spell in the name may predate hundreds and wapentakes (p257). This is consistent with Spellar Farm/Wood being a precursor to later meeting places of either the Threo moot site, or the Kesteven moot site.

If you think I've got something wrong – or can add additional information or photographs – then please email me:– bobtrubs@indigogroup.co.uk.

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