Sunday, 19 June 2016

Farm-related words in Sixteenth century Essex

Continuing my posts on the vocabulary of the Essex Wills and its place in English lexical history, an introduction to which can be found here.

The Essex Wills are naturally full of words for household and farm goods. The majority are words that are still used, though the things to which they are applied may now be different in design or appearance. A large majority are words, or meanings of words, that are no longer used, but are carefully recorded in dictionaries, and especially in the Oxford English Dictionary. But a significant number have escaped notice by lexicographers and yet can be found, often in large numbers, in wills, inventories, and other non-literary documents of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (and sometimes in earlier and later documents). Please note that I record the absence of terms from Early English Books Online not in order to criticize that inestimable resource but to highlight the gap between the language we find in non-literary texts and that of the printed book, especially the literary text.

grey wheat

OED’s grey adj. has been revised, but it does not seem to cover grey wheat, which occurs quite often in the Essex Wills:

1559 (VIII. 149) 2 seam white wheat and 2 seam grey wheat

1563 (I. 176) grey wheat

1567 (II.  51) grey wheat

1570 (II.  235) grey wheat

1574 (III. 128) grey wheat

1581 (X. 213) grey wheat

It is also common in later works on agriculture, including a mention by Johnson, and in recent historical discussions:

1658 G. Atwell Faithfull Surveyor [Wing A4163] vii. 132 I have seen a sack of fine seed, white wheat, sold for ten shillings a bushel, another of  grey wheat at seven, sold the same day all to one man: yet he had no more measure of the course grey, then of the fine wheat.

1666 Philos. Trans. 1665–6 1 93 There being many sorts of Wheat, as the White or Red Lammas, the bearded Kentish Wheat, the gray Wheat, the red or gray Pollard, the Ducks-bill Wheat, the red-eared-bearded Wheat. &c.

1716 J. Worlidge Compl. Syst. Husbandry & Gardening iv. 63 We find many sorts of Wheat, mentioned in our Rustick Authors, as Whole Straw Wheat, Red Straw Wheat, Rivet Wheat, white and red; Pollard Wheat, white and red, great and small; Turkey Wheat, Pur key meat, Grey Wheat, Flaxen Wheat.

1773 Johnson at Wheat, 6. Grey wheat, and in some places duck-bill wheat and grey pollard.

1834 D. Low Elem. Pract. Agric. vii. iii. 334 In the next species, Triticum turgidum, Turgid wheat, the corolla is awned, but not the calyx, the spikes are covered with soft hairs, and in some varieties change to a dark colour, and the awns drop off as the seeds become ripe; in which respects it differs from summer-wheat. It is termed with us Grey-wheat, Duck-bill-wheat, Grey Polard, Rivet, Pole-Rivet, Cone, Pendulum, &c.

1870 St Paul’s 5 340 [In 1550] White wheat of the best sort was to be sold at 13s. 4d. a quarter; white wheat of the second sort and red wheat of the best sort at l1s. a quarter; grey wheat of the best sort at 10s. a quarter; and all other descriptions at 8s.

1984 D. Hey in J. Thirsk Agrarian Hist. Eng. & Wales V. iii. 59 Barley, oats, rye, and grey wheat were grown on the better soils.

From the the 1834 quotation, which seems more reliable than some of the earlier lists, it would seem to be a variety of Triticum turgidum.

bullock, cow bullock

In the Essex Wills, cow bullock occurs at least 9 times and bullock alone at least 5 times with reference to a female bovine, e.g. 

1559 (I. 59) a bullock with a calf..the other bullock that hath no calf

1560 (I. 49) 2 bullocks that shall be milch and give milk

1589 (XI. 173) my little milch bullock

1598 (XII. 171) 5 bullocks with calves.

1559 (I. 39), 1559 (I. 64) cow bullock

1561 (I. 116) 1 cow bullock of 2 years [several]

1571 (III. 261) cow bullock

1573 (III. 100) a cow bullock of 2 years

1581 (X. 17), 1582 (X. 120), 1584 (V. 185), 1590 (XI. 64) cow bullock


B. Trinder in T. Arkell, N. Evans, & N. Goose When Death do us Part (2000) xiv. 274 Another inventory from Moor taken in 1710 is one of several in which the word bullock appears to describe female cattle. 

English Dialect Dictionary gives bullock sb. 1, ‘horned cattle of either sex’ (although the examples imply individual ‘bovine animal’ not collective ‘cattle’) from many parts of England, and not specifically Essex.

There is no evidence of cow bullock on Early English Books Online . 

ox(en) hog

Apparently a term for a pig, but not, if 1590 is to be believed, a male pig.

1581 (X. 157) my oxen hog, my poultry, and my acorns

1590 (V. 150) 1 ox hog called a sow

[1558–65] (I. 29) oxen hog

No evidence is forthcoming from Early English Books Online, English Dialect Dictionary, or other sources.

grimble, grimbled

In the Essex Wills there are at least 7 examples of grimble, 5 applied to a cow, e.g.:

1560 (VIII. 13)  my grimble cow and my 3rd bed

1563 (I. 179) the ‘grimbell’ cow

1563 (I. 179) the ‘grymble’ cow that hath a calf

1569 (VIII. 216) a black grimble cow

1572 (III. 88)  my young grimble cow

and one to a bullock (probably a female bovine: see bullock above):

1574 (III. 129) To my man Richard my grimble bullock.

and one applied to a cow’s face:

1583 (V. 20) 1 brown cow with a grimble face

There are 8 examples of grimbled, 3 applied to a cow, 3 to a bullock, and one to a ‘beast’:

1558 (VIII. 45) a black grimbled bullock

1559 (VIII. 10) my red grimbled bullock calf

1560 (I. 110) gryn bellide (cow)

1565 (II. 2) a red ‘gryembled’ and a dun ‘howed’ (beast)

1572 (III. 108) a red grimbled cow

1582 (IV. 143)  a grimbled bullock of 2 years

1591 (XI. 150)  my grimbled cow

1582 (X. 82) my grimbled cow

There is also one example of grindled, probably a variant:

1599 (VII. 9) a brown cow with a grindled face

The only readily traceable similar word occurs in:

1701 Fable of Cuckoo 7 As th’ Apron’d Cuckold with his grimbled Phiz’, Fondles the Todpole-Bratt, he thinks is his.

1830 Robert Forby Vocabulary of East Anglia II. 141 Grimble, v. to begrime. A dimin. Ex. ‘The child’s face is grimbled with collar.’ Grumbled in the same sense is stronger, implying a thicker coat of dirt. 

In the 1830 quotation, the word collar = collow ‘soot, smut, coal dust’. In both the animal cases and the later human ones, the location of the marking is the face. In the 1830 example it seems to be suggested that the word is related to grime. Possibly the animal name Crockyface ‘sooty-face’ (Essex Wills 1599 XII. 44) lends support to this etymology.


An immensely common term in the Essex Wills relating to the appearance of cattle:

1558 (I. 4) howed wennel

1559 (I. 95) a brown ‘hoodde’ cow

1559 (I. 274) a dun ‘hewed’ bullock

1559 (I. 274) a black ‘howed’ bullock

1559 (VIII. 8) 1 brown howed cow

1559 (VIII. 10) howed cow

1559 (VIII. 15) a black howed cow

1561 (I. 43) howed cow

1561 (I. 46) howed bullock

1561 (I. 101) a brown and a black ‘howed’.

1561 (I. 116) 7 beasts..the black ‘howyde’ and the brown ‘howede’

1561 (I. 116) 6 beasts..the black ‘howyde’ and the brown ‘howede’

1563 (I. 179) the black ‘howed’ bullock

1563 (I. 220) howed cow

1565 (II. 2) 2 beasts..a red ‘howed’ and a garled

1566 (II. 44) 1 black ‘howed’ cow

1567 (II. 149) a black ‘howde’ cow

1568 (II. 61) red howed cow

1569 (VIII. 217) 1 bullock being red howed

1570 (IX. 202) my yellow howed bullock

1571 (IX. 68) the youngest cow ‘fallacke’ [perhaps error for bullock] howed

1571 (IX. 68) 1 brown cow howed

1575 (III. 357) howd cow

1581 (X. 58) red howed cow

1584 (X. 121) red howed steer

1586 (V. 303) the brown cow with a ‘howde’ face

1589 (XI. 118) red howed bullock

1590 (V. 214) 1 cow in colour red howed

1590 (XI. 95) red ‘houd’ cow

1596 (XI. 54) red howed bullock

[no date] (III. 28) howede

The word is applied to a cow 14 times, a ‘bullock’ 6 times, a ‘beast’ 3 times, a wennel once. The following forms occur: howed (which may show spelling normalized by the Editor in some cases) 17 times (of which 5 are shown by quote marks to be the actual spelling); howd once, howde twice, howede three times, howyde twice, hewed (apparently the actual spelling) once, and hoodde once. Brown, black, dun, ‘red’, and ‘yellow’ beasts can all be howed, which suggests a marking, contrasted in one case with garled, which means ‘spotted, speckled’ (OED garled adj.) A beast’s face can be howed (as it can be grimbled). 

Also, garled, grimbled, and howed can all be combined with colour terms:

1558 (I. 252) red garled weaning pig

1559 (I. 204) her calf black garled

1558 (I. 65) black ‘howed’

1559 (I. 71) black ‘howed’

1560 (I. 301) brown-hued

1582 (X. 81) black garled

1589 (XI. 118) black howed

1592 (XI. 211) brown howed

1593 (XI. 170) black grimbled

1593 (XI. 241) black howed

1594 (XI. 214) dun howed
1591 in F. G. Emmison Elizabethan Life: Essex Gentry’s Wills (1978) 252 a white garled cow

Two examples (earlier, and also from eastern England) have been found outside EW (no evidence on EEBO):

1510 Duchy of Cornwall Record Office. Court Rolls. Hertfordshire. Hemel Hempstead Court Book 1418-1529.  (Court of John Rector of Asshrugg held there 21st day of January in the first year of the reign of Henry VIII) folio 75r, Item they say that William How of Pykes has died since the last court who held of the lord certain land and tenements and there falls due to the lord after his death one cow coloured red brown howed price 6s 8d in the name of a heriott. 
1530 Will of Robt. Rande 7 Dec. in E. Hailstone Hist. & Antiq. Parish Bottisham in Cambs. (Camb. Antiquarian Soc.) (1873) App. II. 146 To my son Joh’. a young Howed cow, and 6 shepe. (This is explained by the editor as ‘? = Housed’.)

A possible etymon is houve | hoove n. ‘a covering for the head,..a coif, a cap’, which itself occurs in Essex Wills:

1589 (XI. 184) my ‘houve’ and my best hat.

The likelihood of this is suggested by the use of howe as a name for a cow in the Essex Wills:

1571 (IX. 112) Northern Welman, Brown Howe, Brown Harvie and old Brown Wealde

A form ho(u)we is recorded in Chaucer MSS and a form howe in Promptorium Parvulorum, both given in the OED. The meaning of howed would be ‘having a marking like a cap or coif on the head’.


1602 (XII. 129) a black bullock that goeth ‘kneebanded’

kneeband is in the OED with no quotations, but is well established in the literature. The derivative kneebanded is not in the OED, but compare these later examples:

1769 Pennsylvania Gaz. 2 Nov. in NJ Archives XXVI. 369 A chestnut sorrel mare..has a mark round her near leg, above the knee, made with a rope by going knee banded.

1862 G. F. Playter Hist. Methodism in Canada i. 72 Keeler preaching in Thurlow one night, lost his horse. He was knee-banded, for pasture, perhaps with no enclosure.

Nothing found on Early English Books Online.

northern, western

These are terms describing cattle, perhaps referring to the provenance of the individual animals, or, more likely, to the provenance of the breed.

1558 (VIII. 45) norden cow

1559 (II.  112) the best Northern cow

1561 (I. 213) a black Northern cow

1584 (X. 4) 5 Northern bullocks

1588 (V. 102) my northern black cow

1588 (XI. 13) the Northern heifer

1592 (XI. 264) my Northern bullock

1594 (XI. 100) my little Northern cow

?a1567 (VIII. 125) 1 bullock of the Northern kind

1591 (XI. 67) my black western cow

1594 (XI. 86) my western cow


1598 in F. G. Emmison Elizabethan Life: Essex Gentry’s Wills (1978) 164 the northern white gelding.

No evidence is available on Early English Books Online.


This is another adjective used to describe animals, in this case horses.

1558 (VIII. 154)  ronded mare

1559 (I. 74) raundyde mare

1573 (IX. 60)  the ronded mare

1578 (IV. 16)  my ‘ronded’ colt

1578 (IV. 20)  my young ‘ronded’ gelding

1585 (X. 29) ronded mare

1587 (X. 36) ronded mare

1588 (V. 73) my ronded colt

1590 (XI. 186) 1 ronded bald mare colt

1598 (XII. 217)  ronded gelding


1574 in F. G. Emmison Elizabethan Life: Essex Gentry’s Wills (1978) 183 a ronded wort carthorse.

1602 in F. G. Emmison Elizabethan Life: Essex Gentry’s Wills (1978) 117 my pied stone horse, my ronded mare and her colt.

One other example has been found outside the Essex Wills:

1572 in Calendar of State Papers, Foreign Series, of the Reign of Elizabeth: Preserved in the Public Record Office (1913) XVII. 473, I am very sorry you did not send for my  ‘ronded’ gelding sooner. If the weather were as cold and as full of snow with you, as it was here all February, I am afraid Walter shall find him there dead for hunger. I were better to have lost 10l.”—Blois.

The word rand n. could supply the etymology and meaning. Common to most of its senses is the notion of a strip: in sense 1a and b, of land, in sense 2 of meat or fish, and in sense 3 of leather or iron. Several senses are specifically evidenced in East Anglia, and sense 2b, denoting a strip of marshy land, is chiefly East Anglian and usually in the form rond. If ronded is a derivative of this word, it would mean ‘characterized by strips’ (presumably of colour).

Another possibility that presents itself is randed:

1854 A. E. Baker Gloss. Northamptonshire Words & Phrases II. 158 Randed, specked, grub-eaten on the outer coat or skin, and not penetrating beyond. The term is particularly applied to potatoes, and presents a curious instance of limited locality; though very current in Northampton market, it is not recognised beyond the immediate vicinity. I have never met with any printed authority for the word, and am not aware that it is known out of the county. Fruit that is bruised by hail is also said to be randed.

This word would also offer a term relating to the outside of an animal, though neither the phonology nor the location (nor the limited use of the word at least by the mid nineteenth century) entirely favour this derivation. This objection is partially overcome by the fact that Baker also gives rand in OED’s senses 2a and 3a.

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