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Winnibriggs and Threo

In the Domesday book Barrowby is shown as one of the settlements in the combined wapentakes of Winnibriggs and Threo. The name continues in use until the nineteenth century, with Threo sometimes spelt 'Threw'.

In the 1830s the combined wapentake included part of the town of Grantham (but not the 'Soke of Grantham'), Allington, Barrowby, Boothby Pagnell, Braceby, Colsterworth, Great Ponton, Heydor, Honington, Humby, Little Humby, Little Ponton, North Stoke, Ropsley, Sapperton, Sedgebrook, Somerby, South Stoke, Spittlegate, Stoke, Stroxton, Syston, Welby, Wilsford, Woolsthorpe, and Wyville cum Hungerton (source). This is broadly consistent with the settlements listed as being in the combined wapentakes in the Domesday Book of 1086 – as discussed in this article.

Locating Winnibriggs

Nigel Jones has discovered a document which indicates that Winnibriggs refers to where the A607 crosses Mow Beck to the north-east of Harlaxton (NGR SK896339). The name probably derives from Old English (OE) winn ('meadow clearing') and OE brycg (which evolves into the modern word 'bridge' but originally had a much wider meaning, including describing causeways and maybe ferries).

Standing at the side of the A607 looking west towards Grantham.
In the middle distance is the site of Winnibriggs – from Old English
winn brycg 'meadow-clearing bridge'. After recent heavy rain in February 2022 the water in Mow Beck is backing up in the 'meadow clearing' trying to enter the culvert which superseded the earlier bridges.

On the 1887 OS map a stone is marked (here highlighted in red) almost due north of Winnibriggs (here highlighted in blue). Was this once the meeting place of the Winnibriggs wapentake? Many hundeds and wapentakes did meet at such landmarks.

The bridge sits near the centre of a 'ringed horizon'. I have explained the importance of such locations in this article which was originally published in 2019. Such topography is usually associated with Neolithic henges, Iron Age nemeta (sacred groves) and some Anglo-Saxon harrows. When sufficient archaeological investigation is possible there may well be evidence of even older seasonal gathering places in the Mesolithic.

I understand there is ongoing archaeological research in the vicinity of Winnibriggs. The Lincolnshire Historic Environment record has several relevant entries: Monument MLI33382; Monument MLI87755 and Monument MLI34886.

Plausibly there was once a Neolithic henge among these monuments as most henges are on the 'interfluves' of two or more watercourses so seemingly acted as seasonal meeting places for 'tribes'/clans who regarded a valley as their territory (Noble 2007; Trubshaw 2018).

Contour map of the hills surrounding Harlaxton. The appoximate centre of the prehistoric activity is highlighted in blue.

This prehistoric riverside setting with a ringed horizon is matched in Lincolnshire by a Neolithic henge near Horncastle. This is close to the River Bain to the north of the Lincolnshire Wolds and with hills on all sides. (Richard Waters; email August 2019).

Mow Beck just might have earlier been mor beck with the OE mor meaning 'moor' – but back then with the sense of somewhere marshy. 'Beck' is from the Old Scandinavian (OSc) word bekkr meaning 'stream', which is widely used for watercourses around Barrowby. However 'mow' could also derive from OE muga (the 'g' is pronounced more like a 'y') which means 'heap'.

Locating Threo

The name Threo is also fairly 'transparent' as it sounds like thri hoh which means 'three distinctively-shaped hills'. There is a close parallel in South Yorkshire with the place-name Thrybergh which combines OE thri with the OE and OSc berg 'hill'. Perhaps not coincidentally the next settlement to the north-east of Thrybergh is called Hooton Roberts, strongly suggesting a hoh.

Standing to the south of Sedgebrook and looking east three distinctive hills can be discerned among the uneven tree cover. To the south is Barrowby church, clearly on a rounded summit. To the north is the spire of Great Gonerby church, slightly hidden by the substantial hill on which it sits. And in between is the unnamed hill which has Rectory Farm on the summit. For anyone travelling from the west these three 'mound-shaped' hills would once have been a noteworthy landmark.

Panoramic view of the thri hohs from south of Sedgebrook.
Click here for higher resolution version.

Countor map of Great Gonerby (GG), Rectory Farm (RF) and Barrowby (By). The three summits are all at about 115 metres OD, which is about 60 metres higher than the land to the west.

If these three hills are the origin of the Threo name then presumably the toponym predates the creation of the wapentake as Great Gonerby is not in Winnibriggs and Threo. This is entirely plausible. There are sound (though not at this stage publishable) reasons to think that both Great Gonnerby and Barrowby were well-established estate centres which certainly went back to the later Roman period and just might be Iron Age in origin.

Threo could possibly derive from thri hlaw or thri haugr, both of which mean 'three burial mounds' as hoh, hlaw and haugr (prononouced 'howe') sound almost the same so confusion was inevitable. Hoh and hlaw are Old English while haugr is Old Scandinavian and synonymous with hlaw. Centuries of building, rebuilding, ironstone extraction and much else will have all-but levelled any one-time hlaws.

But I think the three hoh-shaped hills make hoh a more likely option than hlaw/haugr. And is entirely consistent with the Domesday Book spelling of 'Threo'.

An Anglo-Saxon wapentake or hundred was very likely to meet at a hoh or hlaw. Indeed there are examples of mounds seemingly erected specifically for use as such meeting places. If Mow Beck is from muga ('heap') then both Winnibriggs and Threo wapentakes were associated with mounds.

'Barrowby' could not have been coined until the late ninth century although the oldest record is not until the Domesday Book of 1086 when it is spelt Bergebi, which combines Scandinavian word for 'hill' (berg; pronounced 'bery') with the Danish word for 'settlement' (by). The 'e' between the two words suggests the plural form. So the literal sense of Barrowby was once 'settlement on the hills', entirely consistent with the previous (non-habitative) name having been thri hoh 'three distinctive hills'.

In the eleventh century Barrowby was the administrative centre for several nearby parishes: Casthorpe, Stenwith, Sedgebrook, Allington, Wilsford and Ingoldsby. These were almost certainly considered to make up a well-established estate. Fieldwalking finds consistent with a Roman villa indicate that Barrowby's administrative function extends back to the third century AD and plausibly into the Iron Age.

In addition around 1066–8 (and maybe for a much longer period) Barrowby was the administrative centre for another estate encompassing Burton Coggles, Bassingthorpe, Braceby, Sapperton, Barkston and Syston, even though many of these places are over ten miles away. This somewhat anomalous non-central arrangement is consistent with Barrowby being an important administrative centre or 'moot site'.

Disputed interpretations

I have argued elsewhere that hoh may denote a boundary shrine, perhaps combined with a look-out station. This is certainly not widely accepted but if the 'three hohs' are as suggested then the location – on the watershed between the Trent and the Witham – would be an entirely appropriate place for such boundary shrines. Bear in mind that the boundary between what is now Lincolnshire and Leicestershire follows the Sewstern Lane a mile or so to the west.

There is a possibility that Threo is from OE threap hoh which means 'disputed hoh'. This has the advantage over thri hoh in that there is no missing plural ending ('hohs'). The loss of the medial '-ap' is unsurprising. But in the absence of known documented forms prior to Domesday Book then threap hoh is overly-speculative. Though the land between Sewstern Lane and the Barrowby ridge may well have had contentious ownership at one time.

If this place-name analysis is correct then the 'three hills or mounds' acquired a settlement and become known as Bergebi, but the wapentake name retained its original non-habitative name of Threo. By 1086 it seems that all the administrative activities of Winnibriggs and Threo wapentake were based at Barrowby.

This is consistent with the Domesday Book stating that Barrowby was the administrative centre for many of the parishes in the wapentake (although not all, and also including some settlements in a different wapentake – all very typical of post-Conquest land allocations).

'Steven Gutter' as evidence of the moot site


The location of the Threo hundredal moot was most likely on the village green, to the south of the historic core of Barrowby. This green is shown on older maps as 'Steven Gutter' and only more recently as 'Stevens Gutter' or 'Steven's Gutter'. A photograph published as recently as 1979 is captioned 'Steven Gutter' (Cryer 1979 p33).

Most probably 'Steven Gutter' shares the etymology of 'Kesteven', the administrative district. Early spellings include Chetsteven (1086) and Ketstevene (1185). The first part of Kesteven is the 'Celtic' word ceto meaning 'wood' (and evolves into the modern Welsh word coed). The second is said to be 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. See Kesteven moot site for further details.

Possibly 'Steven' is from the Old English word stive (various spellings). This means 'tree stump place'. The 'n' is the Scandinavian dialect plural (as in 'ox' and 'oxen' or 'child' and 'children'). The 'i' would have been pronounced as in modern German, that is rather like a short 'e' (as in, for example 'oxen'). So phonetically 'stev‑en' rather than 'steev‑an'.

The possibility of Steven Gutter being derived from a personal name seems rather remote. L.R. Cryer, in his 1979 booklet, names nearly seven hundred people. Among them was a Michael Stevens listed as a publican in 1698. He did not remain in the trade, at least not in Barrowby. A Mary Stevens is named in 1842 and she – or her family – could possibly have owned (or rented?) land. If any documents predating the late seventeenth century are discovered which include a reference to Steven Gutter then the derivation from Old English would be all-but confirmed.

The gutter part of the name is quite simple – it was a drain to take away surface water. Cryer states that before the green was levelled to make it suitable as a playing field there was a dip across it.

Although stefna is Scandinavian and stive is Old English, the word 'gutter' originates in the late thirteenth century to refer to a 'watercourse, water drainage channel along the side of a street'. It derives from Anglo-French gotere, Old French guitere, goutiere, all meaning a 'spout' of water (cf. Modern French gouttière). The use of 'gutter' to refer to a 'trough under the eaves of a roof to carry off rainwater' is from the mid-fourteenth century. From the 1580s 'gutter' acquires the secondary meaning of a 'furrow made by running water'. Source

So 'stefna gotere' is a plausible etymology. The corruption from 'Steven Gutter' to 'Stevens Gutter' would follow quite naturally. But spelling it as 'Steven's Gutter' is wrong whether the origin is with a personal name or from stefna or stiven!


Recognition of hoh as a distinctive hill-shape originates with the work of Margaret Gelling (Gelling 1984; Gelling and Cole 2000). Subsequently Terhi Nurminen has demonstrated that the term hoh refers also to hill-spurs which occupy a triangular area of land, and even to low ridges which do not otherwise conform to these specific shapes (Nurminen 2011: 70–1).

Barrie Cox's extensive work on Leicestershire place-names has established that in this region neither eleventh century or modern spellings distinguish reliably the three words hoh, hlaw and haugr (often spelt 'howe') (Cox 2014: 233; 366).

  • Cox, Barrie, 2014, The Place-names of Leicestershire: Part Six Sparkenhoe Hundred, English Place-Name Society.
  • Gelling, Margaret, 1984, Place-Names in the Landscape: The Geographical Roots of Britain's Place-names, Dent.
  • Gelling, Margaret and Ann Cole, 2000, The Landscape of Place-names, Shaun Tyas.
  • Nurminen, Terhi, 2011, 'Testing the Gelling hypothesis: Old English hillterms in the place-names of Northumberland and County Durham', Nomina Vol.34, p51–90.

Update May 2022

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

Firstly he drew my attention to Monument record MLI81189 in the Lincolnshire Historic Environment Record which is the 'Possible site of an assembly place in Harlaxton'. The source for this listing is Dr Aliki Pantos's research into Lincolnshire assembly-places completed in 2000.

Secondly 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; 671–3). 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.

Mike is still continuing his researches and I look forward to further insights in due course.

Update June 2022

Alexis Tudor Skinner's thesis includes a discussion of hundred and wapentake assembly places adjacent to settlements (p220ff especially p223–4; 226; 271–2). His thesis is principally about Yorkshire so he does not consider Lincolnshire examples.

He also 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.

Update January 2023

I've created a YouTube video about the Winnibriggs and Threo Wapentake meeting places.

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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