THE HISTORY OF OUR PLACE NAMES
All place names have a meaning, which can usually be established from the earliest records. Most names are based on one of two things - either landscape features such as plants and animals, or people's names - the owner of the land at some time.
Despite appearances, Hesters Way undoubtedly is of the first type and has nothing to do with a person called Hester. This doesn't invalidate any old legends about who Hester might be, as the stories have a history and significance of their own. It is an intriguing name - let's come back to it later.
Arle is the most ancient name recorded locally and signifies "alders", i.e. a place where alder trees grow. It was also a name given to the River Chelt.
Alstone is derived from a person's name "Alf's Town" in effect. Ton/tone in local names indicates a village with a manor house.
Redgrove simply means "red wood" probably. Redgrove was another manor in the Harthurstfield area around the 1100s to 1500s. The name has been resurrected for some road names more recently.
In Benhall the Ben may be a person's name or may refer to beans which were grown here. Hall indicates a hollow, a secluded corner of land between two streams.
Swindon translates as "swine-down", i.e. a hill where pigs were kept.
Harthurstfield translates simply: harts are male deer, hurst means woodland.
Regarding Fiddlers Green, a group of fields seems to have been called "Fiddlers" and was presumably the estate of someone named Fiddler, probably because that had been his profession."Green" probably denotes a swampy area rather than a village green.
Likewise Monks Croft was land belonging to a man called Monk, or who was a monk, or both. "Croft" indicates a smallholding (though not necessarily with a house on it).
Springbank is named after a cottage built around 1880 on a bank above a spring of water.
St. Mark's is named after the church dedicated to Mark the Gospel writer. The parish was created in 1860 and the church was built in 1862.
So back to Hesters Way, which means "the way leading to the ashtree". It would seem to refer to a single ashtree, perhaps an unusual or ancient specimen, and one which marked a local meeting place. (Saxon aesctre = ashtree, as compared to aesc = ashtrees) The farmhouse nearby would have been called after the lane known as Ashtree's Way, later Hesters Way; and then in the 1940's the new housing estate was named after the farm.
These are the earliest recorded forms of the names found so far. The best source of information on this is Smiths's "Place Names of Gloucestershire" Volume 2 (PNG).
ARLE Alre 735-757 "Cheltenham Local History Society Journal" Vol 2 p7, Alre 862 PNG p. 104
ALSTONE Aluest'/Alurstune 1200-1233 Cartulary of Cirencester Abbey p. 429/431
REDGROVE Redgrove 1540 PNG p. 106
BENHALL Benhale 1230 PNG p. 104
SWINDON Svindone 1086 Domesday Book
HARTHURSTFIELD Herthurst 1287 PNG p. 104
FIDDLERS GREEN Fythelers 1430 PNG p. 106
MONKS CROFT Monkslaynes 1605 PNG p.108
HESTERS WAY Aysters Way 1787 Hodsdon's "Historical Gazetteer of Cheltenham", Ashters Way 1828 Ordnance Survey map
There are many other ancient minor names within the area. It shouldn't be assumed that the relevant areas were uninhabited before these dates: far from it.
Who Was Hester?
As stated, there are existing stories of who Hester could have been. The Edwardians loved romantic fireside tales and probably originated these. The "Hester the Witch" story is perhaps inspired by the Saxon word for witch being "Haetsa". Having been decapitated as she fell down a well, she is now supposed to haunt a certain drain in Fiddlers Green. A less gruesome version of the story says the well became a wishing well, bringing good luck to those who drank from it. Hester was in previous centuries a common enough name - a variant of Esther - and there were many Hesters in the Greville family who were the local gentry at one time.
Another local story says that Arle was the name of the miller who owned land here. Ghost stories also exist relating to Arle Court House (in Kingsmead Road) and to Gloucester Road (at Benhall Gardens).
However, anyone with a romantic train of thought could compose similarly an account, poem or song concerning Hester, or other local "characters". For example, who were the Fiddler and the Monk? There are plenty of evocative names around which a myth could be invented. Although the name of Princess Elizabeth Way relates specifically to 1951, she and her coronation could be transferred to any century the storyteller chooses. If this seems to have nothing to do with "real history", try it and see.
On a related subject, "Fiddler's Green" is also the name of a folk song (actually written by John Conolly in 1966), in which an old fisherman sings: "Fiddler's Green is a place I've heard tell
Where fishermen go if they don't go to hell…."
Fiddler's Green is a term for sailorland, the district in a city-port that catered for sailors' needs. By extension it signifies the sailor's ideal world or paradise. The name must contain a pun or word-play of forgotten significance. There are other hamlets of the same name in England - in Cornwall, Herefordshire and Norfolk
Some Easy-To-Find Archaeology
The manorial method of land-management seems clumsy now, but worked well enough at the time. Arable land was divided into narrow strips, five and a half yards (5 metres) wide and 220 yards (200 metres) long, giving an area of a quarter of an acre (0.1 ha). Where these strips have not been ploughed up or built over, they have left their mark on the landscape as a series of ridges and furrows. This ridge and furrow effect is more easily seen at some times of the year than at others. Within the area of Arle Manor there are three places where you can still see these ridges which were last ploughed in about 1830:
- In 'Lower Mead', east of the driveway to Fiddlers Green Farm, off Pheasant Lane;
- In 'Heyden Hill Piece', on the footpath from Somergate Road, behind Hope Farm;
- In 'Pilgrove', by Old Gloucester Road, northwest of Pilgrove Bridge.
It may not be widely realised that all fields used to have names. The three above are examples and more have been mentioned in Volume 1. Each name has a history too, which it would be possible to describe in a longer study in another volume.
Field names have a kind of poetry of their own. Here are a few more from our locality:- Bedlam Meadow; Ducks Leys; Gotheridge; Benksons; Sitch; Dandy Close; Pighay Meadow; Townsend; Rump of Beef; The Shallows; Brandy Piece; Shoulder of Mutton; Clay Pit Field; Snipes Piece; Sandford's Corner; Toghill; Foxes Close; Thick Thorn; High Croft; Starve Acre; Sturmers Piece; Brocks Piece; Barrows Slads; Calf Close; Brints Leaze; Pease Hill Plock; Little Meadow Platt; Nine Lands.