Siddington in Cheshire
PUBLISHED: 20:33 01 December 2009 | UPDATED: 14:35 20 February 2013
THE place was Siddington All Saints'. The occasion was a harvest festival, when the church was packed to the rafters with corn dollies and Christians, all ploughing the fields and scattering at the tops of their voices.
THE place was Siddington All Saints'. The occasion was a harvest festival, when the church was packed to the rafters with corn dollies and Christians, all ploughing the fields and scattering at the tops of their voices. Well, maybe the corn dollies weren't precisely vocal, but you get the general idea.
As the hymn drew to a close all those decades ago, the late Sir Walter Bromley Davenport turned round and said something surprising to the woman behind him.
'A lot of people who can sing look like the back end of a horse, but I must say you're pretty easy on the eyeball.'
To its recipient (my mum) the inelegant sincerity of that unexpected compliment was memorable, pleasing and utterly unique. In short, not a bad description of Siddington itself.
The village has been in existence since Anglo-Saxon times. Its name is derived from the Old English words suthan and dun, denoting a place 'south of the hill'. By the time The Domesday Book was compiled in 1086, the sobriquet had become Sudendune. Over the centuries it took on a variety of forms, the 1383 version of Siddington ultimately becoming the norm.
In the midst of undulating countryside, the precise hill referred to in the place name cannot be identified, but there is little doubt that in essence the settlement remains what it always was: a farming community. Indeed, many of the farms and byways still in existence provide vital clues to the appearance of Siddington in times past.
The terrain could be boggy and moss-covered, judging from Carditch ('marsh ditch'), Crabtreemoss, Mere Moss and Siddington Moss; or open and scrubby, as at Siddington Heath. There were also plenty of trees around to provide timber and fuel.
The Domesday Book mentions woodland 'one league long and half a league wide' (a league was roughly three miles), and Ordnance Survey maps still record locations such as Horse Wood, Simonswood and Northwood Farm. Thorn trees proliferated at Thornycroft Hall, Pyethorne ('magpie thorn') Wood, and Turnock ('thorny place') Farm. There were ash trees in Heskey (aesc haeg) Wood, hazels in Hazelwall ('hazel spring') Wood and rowans (cwicen) at Wickenhall.
All the shade provided an ideal habitat for ferns to flourish along Fanshawe ('ferny wood') Lane. Perhaps most intriguing of all, Colshaw ('charcoal copse') Wood may have harboured a charcoal burner, painstakingly firing conical piles of wood under a seal of turf or clay to yield blackish carbon.
This would have been valued as a constituent of all sorts of substances, from gunpowder to indigestion remedies, but any made in Siddington probably went straight to the smithy, where generations of craftsmen wrought elemental magic with semi-molten metal. Thanks to the current smith, Peter Robinson, the creative tradition still thrives at the flowerdecked forge.
Over to the east, Henshaw Hall Farm occupies a place formerly known as Henneschae ('hens' copse'). When the term 'hen' was originally coined, it was frequently applied to wild birds, such as pigeons, woodcocks or waterfowl, rather than domestic poultry, so the copse was probably a good venue for bagging game until an aspiring farmer decided to convert it to agricultural use.
On the opposite side of the village, the Whisterfield area straddles Siddington and the neighbouring township of Lower Withington. Since its name is a corruption of hwit, stanes, feld, 'open land near a white stone', it may have boasted a boundary stone in the Middle Ages. Boundary
Farm similarly grew up on the edge of the township, while Blake House Farm must have had a somewhat sombre appearance in 1638, when it was known as 'the Black house'.