Friday 22 January 2021

Why 'Cousin Jack'? The origins of the nickname of the Cornish overseas

The following draft is concerned with the curious use of the nickname 'Cousin Jack' for the Cornish in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The 'Great Emigration' of the Cornish between around 1815 and the First World War saw what has been termed the 'wholescale scattering' of the Cornish to the new mining frontiers of North and South America, Australia and South Africa. From at least the mid-nineteenth century, these emigrants were known as 'Cousin Jacks', but the origin of this term seems rather obscure. The aim of the following note is to investigate the evidence for the early usage of the term 'Cousin Jack' and make some suggestions as to its origins in light of this evidence. 

The cover of Oswald Pryor's Cousin Jack Cartoons (Sydney, 1945); Pryor was the son of Cornish parents and born at Moonta, South Australia. The books says the following of the front cover image: 'The cover design suggests a miner who has knocked off early, and has come up a ladderway remote from the main shaft in order to avoid running into the boss. Unfortunately he has run into the trouble he meant to avoid. This situation will be, obvious to all who know the Moonta scene. —The miner's hat here depicted is made of hard compressed pulp and colored a deep maroon when new. The candle is stuck on the front of the hat with a lump of wet red clay. This was the practice of old Cornish miners for generations.' (Image: State Library of Victoria)

The 'Great Emigration' of the Cornish in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries seems to have occurred on a quite remarkable scale. Margaret James-Korany has, for example, identified 42,000 individual emigrants sailing from the principal ports of Cornwall for Canada between 1831 and 1860, with some 6,200 leaving from Padstow alone in that period, and this outflow continued long after 1860 too. Thus the Cornish Telegraph for 5 September 1866 published a piece regretting 'the rage for emigration' in recent years, noting that 'the rush for Australia and America has been very great', and recent calculations suggest that at least 240,000 Cornish went overseas between 1860 and 1900, with a similar number leaving for England and Wales, with the result that Cornwall lost around a third of its population across the period. This depopulation was particularly marked amongst the youngest age-groups. Philip Payton observes that 44.8% of the Cornish male population aged fifteen to twenty-four left for overseas between 1861 and 1900, along with 26.2% of the female population in the same age group, and another 30% and 35.5% respectively left for other counties within Britain as well.(1)

The use of the term 'Cousin Jack' for the Cornish, particularly miners and especially emigrant miners, along with its companion-term 'Cousin Jenny', is well-evidenced from the second half of the nineteenth century onwards. John H. Forster's account of 'Life in the copper mines of Lake Superior', given to the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society in 1887, contains the following illustrative passage:

The Cornishman, or "cousin Jack," is a native of the duchy of Cornwall, England... The Cornishman of the present day, like his father, is of a roving disposition. His footsteps may be traced around the globe. There is no prominent mining field in the world wherein you will not find "Cousin Jack." He is in Alaska, California, the Rocky Mountains, Mexico, Central and South America, in Australia, India and Lake Superior. He is a first rate miner and possesses a certain sturdiness of frame and disposition that commends him to the observer. He works hard, eats well and fights bravely. He is, numerically, very strong in our northern mines, and, being, as a rule, steady, conservative and skillful, he finds ready employment. He likes mining; esteems his vocation among the most honorable, if not aristocratic. He despises the duties of an ordinary day laborer. In short, he is a born miner and nothing else... But "Cousin Jack's" language attracts most attention. His dialect, pure and simple, is unique. He uses many English words with a strange twist, while other words of his you would look for in vain in Webster's unabridged... But we find in the mines many gentlemen of Cornish birth who are well educated and efficient, occupying positions of trust and responsibility. Many of the captains and agents are Cornishmen.(2)

Quite when and where these Cornish emigrants started to be known as 'Cousin Jacks' is not wholly clear, unfortunately, and various theories have been proposed over the years, most of which locate the genesis of the term overseas in America, Australia or other places where Cornish miners emigrated to in the nineteenth century. The Cornubian and Redruth Times in 1908, for example, carried a piece suggesting that the term 'Cousin Jack' was first used in the California mining districts in the very late 1840s and spread out from there, with the additional claim that 'twenty years ago the term in Cornwall was unknown'; however, as we shall see, neither claim stands up to scrutiny, and the reality is perhaps even more interesting.(3)

An Australian Cousin Jack cartoon by Oswald Pryor from 1915; the caption reads 'Cousin Jack miner:- "Call isself Cap'n 'e do; and I 'spoase ef the truth ez known, 'e never did a day's work underground in all 'ez life."' (Image: Trove)

Looking at the documentary evidence for the usage of the term, a traditional place to start is with the Oxford English Dictionary, which cites a number of examples of the use of Cousin Jack under their Cousin, n. and Jack, n.¹ entries. One, from Rolf Boldrewood's Australian novel Miner's Right of 1890, describes 'a short man, whose blue-black curly hair and deep-set eyes betrayed the Cousin Jack',(4) whilst the earliest given is from The Star newspaper of Ballarat, Victoria (Australia) on the 19 March 1857, which runs as follows:

They were ‘Tips’, and ‘Geordies’, and ‘Cousin Jacks’, altogether, and I did as well as I could.(5

The fact that both of the early citations are from Australia has sometimes been taken to suggest that the term could have emerged there, and it is certainly treated as such by the English Dialect Dictionary under its entry for Cousin.(6) In addition to these entries, the OED also records what it treats as a variant of Cousin Jack, Cousin Jacky. This is said to be documented first in the South Australian Register, from Adelaide, for 2 June 1854, via the following passage: 'John O'Connell then said to him, ‘You're a b——, Cousin Jacky, an't you?'', although the term also occurs in dialogue from Australian court reports of the 1840s too, e.g. 'I don't like you cousin Jackies, keep your own company, and I'll keep mine', which appeared in the South Australian, 30 May 1848.(7) However, 'Cousin Jacky' is not only documented in Australian contexts; it also appears in, for example, Thomas Quiller Couch's East Cornwall Words, published by the English Dialect Society in 1880, where it is treated as an East Cornwall term for a miner from West Cornwall:

There is a marked difference between the speech of East and West Cornwall... At the beginning of the present century mining adventure, especially in the search for copper, became a furor in East Cornwall, and a passionate enthusiasm brought hither the skilled miners of the West, who flocked to the banks of Tywardreath Bay, and further east to the central granite ridge about the tors of Caradon. These immigrants brought with them and have left an infusion of their language, especially its technical portion, but I remember when it was a great mimetic feat, and productive of much mirth amongst us, to be able to imitate the talk of Cousin Jacky from Redruth or St. Just.(8)

T. Q. Couch of Bodmin, the father of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (aka Q), was born in 1826 at Lansallos near Fowey, and seems to be here recounting a usage known to him in his youth, and is clearly referring to someone from West Cornwall, not a Cornish emigrant overseas. Likewise, in a letter printed in the West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser for 28 March 1862, Christopher Childs of Liskeard uses 'Cousin Jacky' in passing as a seemingly well-known, common and friendly term traditionally used between Cornish miners:

The very motto of the Cornish miners, "One and All," at once bespeaks our favour, and indicates that [Cornish miners] are not naturally selfish, but on the contrary, are kindly disposed one toward another. If any one doubt this, let him attend the funeral of a miner, and observe how they congregate to pay the last sad tribute of respect, and drop a tear over the grave of their departed comrade... How forcibly does the familiar name "comrade," and the expression of "Com'se along Cousin Jacky," speak in favour of his friendly and social disposition.(9)

In contrast, in Margaret Ann Courtney's West Cornwall Words (which was bound together with Couch's East Cornwall Words of 1880), 'Cousin Jacky' features as a local dialect term meaning 'a foolish person, a coward', with 'Cousin Jan' instead being given as the name for Cornishman—the latter variant is discussed further below, as is the former definition for Cousin Jacky.(10

The first two pages of Elfin's A Cornish Ghost Story, first published at Truro sometime before 1862; these two pages are taken from an 1868 edition of the text in Cornish Tales in Prose and Verse (Truro: Netherton, 1868), pp. 378 (image: Internet Archive).

Needless to say, the above references do seem to cast serious doubt upon the implication of the report in the Cornubian and Redruth Times in 1908 that the term 'Cousin Jack' and similar was unknown in Cornwall in the late 1880s, and in this light it is worth noting that Sharron Schwartz has, in fact, suggested that the 'evidence seems to point to the mines of Devonshire in the eighteenth century' as the place where the term Cousin Jack originated, via migrant Cornish miners seeking work in Devon rather than overseas.(11) Although she unfortunately offers no citation to support this, this suggestion certainly would seem to accord reasonably well with the apparent mid-nineteenth-century Cornish usage of 'Cousin Jacky' for a miner from West Cornwall discussed above. Some further evidence that supports such an early usage in Britain, rather than just overseas, for 'Cousin Jack'/'Cousin Jacky' might be sought in the following three publications. The first is A Cornish Ghost Story, by Georgina Verrall writing as "Elfin", of which only the second edition survives, which was printed at Lemon Street, Truro, in 1862, priced 3d. Quite when the first edition was printed is unfortunately unrecorded, although a notional date of c. 1860 has sometimes been supplied; this poem starts as follows:

One foggy night, a year ago
Ere yet had fallen December's snow,
A Cornish miner half afraid,
Stroll'd down Tremaine to meet his maid...
Poor Cousin Jack felt ill at ease,
And totter'd on with trembling knees,
In short, dear reader, you may see,
Jack had his failings,—so have we...
Now cousin Jacky was, no doubt,
A comely youth when "oal trick'd out;"
To use his own expression, he
A "clain-off man" was said to be,
And many a maiden inly sighed
To be the handsome miner's bride;...(12)

It then continues with long passages written to reflect Cornish dialect, relating the meeting of the miner 'Cousin Jack/Jacky' with his maid, Mary, and their subsequent talk and deeds. Needless to say, this passage would seem to provide evidence for a Cornish usage of 'Cousin Jack/Jacky' for a miner still living in Cornwall sometime in the 1850s or very early 1860s. Interestingly, the same pamphlet also offers evidence for 'Cousin Jan' and perhaps Jenny—both Jan and Jenny occur for other characters in the text of the poem, suggesting they too were seen as conventional names for Cornish characters, and 'Cousin Jan' moreover recurs in the titles of two further pamphlets that are advertised on the rear of A Cornish Ghost Story, namely The Bâl, or, 'Tes a Bra' Keenly Lode, Cousin Jan's Story (first published at Helston in 1850) and its sequel Cousin Jan's Courtship and Marriage (first published at Truro in 1859), both by William Bentinck Forfar. The earliest of these, published three years before the first reference in the OED reference to Cousin Jan (which is, in fact, taken from a newspaper advert for this pamphlet from 1853, although the OED doesn't mention this), includes the following passage:

If you'll listen to me for a moment, you shall
Hear all about trying and working a Bâl;
How the Lode is discovered by a small hazel twig,
Carried over the ground by some knowing old prig...
When the knowing old Dowzer this discovery's made
He marks out the spot and then calls his comrade,
Saying, "Hallo! Cozen Jan, d'ee come 'long wi' me,
'Tes the keenliest gozan thee ever ded'st see...(13)

Cousin Jan in the narrative then takes a sample of the ore to a Captain Polglaze, 'a Purser, well known, Who quickly, by mining, a rich man had grown'. He declares that they must go to London to raise funds ('The went up to Bristol by a steamer from Hayle, And proceeded from Bristol to London by rail'), and their adventure is then recounted in Cornish dialect by Cousin Jan. Subsequently, the form 'Cousin Jan' is found in a handful of Cornish newspaper articles from the 1860s to the 1890s as the name of a Cornish 'everyman' or as a general name for Cornishmen/Cornish miner, i.e. it seems to have functioned as a variant form of 'Cousin Jack'/'Cousin Jacky'. This is supported by the fact that 'Cozen Jan' first appears in Forfar's poem as part of a phrase that seems essentially identical to Christopher Child's traditional Cornish miner's phrase "Com'se along Cousin Jacky".

The second publication that further illustrates an early usage of 'Cousin Jack' and similar in Britain, without obvious reference to Cornish emigrants, is a report in The Cornish Telegraph for 27 September 1854. This briefly recounted the exhumation of a miner who fell down the shaft of Pednandrea Mine, Redruth in the 1820s. The rediscovery of his remains apparently prompted 'great excitement' and his funeral procession on Sunday, 17 September 1854, was attended by four thousand people, equal to around half of the population of Redruth at that time. What is particularly striking is that, although his real name is given as John Stephens, the newspaper notes that in life he was 'better known as "Cousin Jack Cobbler,"'(14) something that obviously suggests the use of the nickname 'Cousin Jack' in Cornwall as far back as the 1820s. The status of Stephens' alternative name as a nickname is confirmed by the report on the inquest published the previous week in the Royal Cornwall Gazette:

On Saturday the 16th instant, an inquest was held... on the body of John Stephens, aged 25 years. According to the evidence of William Thomas, miner, it appeared that as long ago as the 9th of August, 1828, the deceased and his brother were employed in stripping the shaft, and drawing up the materials in the Pednandrea Mine, near Redruth... The deceased and witness both fell into the shaft together... Deceased was well known in the neighbourhood by the nickname of "Cousin Jack Cobbler."(15)

A mid-nineteenth-century advert for H. J. Daniel's The Cornish Thalia, published c. 1860 at Devonport, which included two poems with 'Cousin Jack' in the title (image: Internet Archive).

The third interesting early publication from Cornwall to refer to Cousin Jack is the collection of comic poems by Henry John Daniel's published as The Cornish Thalia, Being Original Cornish Poems, Illustrative of the Cornish Dialect. Although this was published at Devonport without date, it is advertised in the rear of a pamphlet published in 1859 and advertised in the Cornish Times on 28 July 1860, so was presumably written in the 1850s and in print by either the end of that decade or 1860.(16) This volume included poems with the titles 'Cousin Jack and the London barber' and 'Cousin Jack's song for the volunteers', and H. J. Daniel followed it up in 1862 and 1863 with new books of poems entitled Mirth for "One and All;" or, Comic Tales and Sketches and Mary Anne's Career (continued) and Cousin Jack's Adventures, which included items with the titles 'Cousin Jack and the sun-dial', 'Cousin Jack at Summercourt Fair', 'Cousin Jack and the Piskies', and 'Cousin Jack and the Gipsy'.(17) In the front of The Cornish Thalia, Daniel has the following to say, which suggests that 'Cousin Jack' was being used by him at least partly in the West Cornwall sense of 'a fool', as documented by M. A. Courtney in 1880 for 'Cousin Jacky', in addition to being a commonplace term for a Cornish miner: 

In the following pages, merely to illustrate the mode of thought and expression amongst a certain class of the mining population of Cornwall. Whatever surprise the uninitiated reader may experience from the exaggerated and bizarre observations of Cousin Jack, they are strictly in accordance with fact. This arises from an ignorance of the world at large; at the same time there is no race of men possessed of better natural abilities. Shrewd, quick, and discriminating, they may be deceived once, but seldom twice; besides this, a rich vein of originality frequently runs through their remarks, which affords considerable amusement.(18)

This sense is confirmed by Daniel's first poem in The Cornish Thalia, 'Cousin Jack and the London barber', which begins thus:

About a dozen years or so
A Cornish Miner (let the truth be written)
Was walking through the streets with wonder smitten—
His eyes wide open, staring at the shops. 

Subsequently, Cousin Jack, as he wanders around London, spies a barber's shop and declares 'There's nething down to Camebourne like this here' and goes in for a shave. He then becomes confused by a bar of soap and a basin of suds and water ('What es it here?'); taking it for broth with potatoes in, Jack consumes it entirely to the shock of the London barber, declaring that he:

lapp'd it in a moment like a cat...
I dedden mind for spoons, or sives [=herbs], or bread;
I liked your brath oncommon well I ded...
[but] I cudden bear the tetties[=lumps of soap], no my dear!(19)

Needless to say, the poem seems rather mean-spirited, but it does at least once more add weight to the case for 'Cousin Jack' being a well-understood phrase in 1850s Cornwall, and one that Daniel, a Cornishman born at Lostwithiel in 1818, could freely use both as a generalised term for a Cornish miner and to make a mock of such men without worrying that it would need explaining. In this context, it is worth pointing out that the similar use of 'Cousin Jacky' as a name for both a miner and a fool seems to underlie the following passage on a mine captain from T. R. Higham's A Dialogue Between Tom Thomas and Bill Bilkey, Two Cornish Miners, printed at Truro in 1866: 

Tom: "What soort of Cappen es he down to thy Bâl, Bill" 
Bill: "Well, I b'lieve he's so good a heart as ever took a mug in hand; but we dooan't knaw what to maake of un sometimes, caase he do git 'pon his jokes so often; he do think we are oall Cousin Jackies, but we arn't so bad fools as he do think we be, for we do knaw a passel moore 'bout copper an' tin than he do..."'(20)

John Tabois Tregellas, a Cornishman born in St Agnes in 1792, seems to use 'Cousin Jacky' in this manner too in his The St Agnes Bear Hunt, published at some point in the 1840s, a tale concerning a group of St Agnes miners taken in by a hoax about a yellow bear loose in the countryside: 

So off to Dirtypool the throng
Of Cousin Jackies went,
Up to Wheal Kitty, where they stopped,
As if by one consent.(21

 Cousin Jack and the London barber, from Henry John Daniel's The Cornish Thalia, published in the late 1850s or 1860; Cousin Jack has just drunk the barber's bowl of soap-suds and soap, thinking it broth and potatoes (image: Internet Archive).

If the date by which Cornish miners started to be known as Cousin Jacks/Jackies is somewhat uncertain (although the term would certainly seem to have been in use in Cornwall by the 1820s and Australia by the 1840s, if not before), the same is true for the question of quite why they were called this. Much of the literature on 'Cousin Jacks' and the Great Emigration seems to pass over these questions or address them only briefly, frequently suggesting that it may result from the oft-cited 'clannishness' of the Cornish emigrants. For example:

The term “Cousin Jack” is believed to have originated from the fact that Cornish miners were clannish. It was very typical for a miner to assist his skilled countrymen in finding work in the mines of Grass Valley [California]. The tight relationships that formed amongst the Cornish led to criticism by outsiders that they all seemed to have a cousin named “Jack” with whom they were willing to work to the exclusion of everyone else.(22)

‘Cousin Jack’ is an informal term for a Cornishman, apparently originating with regard to labour migration during the 19th century. Several theories as to its development exist, but the most popular suggests that upon gaining employment at a mine, Cornish miners would lobby the management for the employment of fellow Cornish miners, stating that a newcomer was his ‘cousin Jack’.(23)

In the early days “Cousin Jack” evoked envy, jealousy and even hatred, for it seemed that every position in the mine was reserved for yet another “Cousin” from Cornwall.(24

Certainly, the 'clannish' Cornish miners seem to have often been commented upon in contemporary and near-contemporary reports. For example, in an article entitled 'Cornishmen on the Rand' about South African mining, published in the West Briton and Cornish Advertiser for 14 May 1908, the following passage occurs: 

The Witwatersrand has proved a happy hunting ground for large numbers of Cornish miners, and at one time there were large mines here that employed only Cornishmen as skilled labourers... Often the manager was neither a Cornishman nor a mining man, and he found the Cousin Jack mine captain indispensable. A Cornish mine captain invariably meant Cornish shift bosses, and that, in turn, means Cornish workmen.(25)

A view of Cornish Town, also known as Cousin Jack Town, Inangahua County, New Zealand, with working men's huts, a narrow railway line running through the centre, and native forest behind; photograph taken by William Archer Price c. 1910s (image: Flickr/National Library NZ).

Whilst there is thus clear evidence that the Cornish miners in South Africa, Australia and America were indeed perceived as 'clannish' and could dominate mines in the manner suggested above, the idea that Cornish miners overseas suggesting their mine managers employ their supposed relatives could offer a full explanation for the origins of the term 'Cousin Jack' is certainly open to question. Not only does such an 'origin story' have the distinct feel of folk-etymology about it, but it is worth noting that whilst 'cousin' nowadays usually carries with it some sense of a claimed direct kin relationship, in the past it could also be used 'as a familiar and friendly term of address among non-kin', and it was apparently especially so used in this manner in Cornwall.(26) Perhaps most importantly, such a scenario also seems out of accord with the fact that the terms 'Cousin Jack' and 'Cousin Jacky' were not restricted in use to Cornish miners overseas, but were also known and used in the same period in Cornwall too, back at least as far as the 1820s, as discussed above. This is not to say that the 'clannishness' of the Cornish miners overseas might not have played a very large role in popularizing the wider usage and longevity of this phrase, but the idea that the term 'Cousin Jack' actually had its origins in Cornish miners overseas claiming to have a supposed 'cousin named “Jack” with whom they were willing to work to the exclusion of everyone else' seems unlikely to be strictly true in light of the evidence we have.

How, then, might the names 'Cousin Jack' and 'Cousin Jacky' be explained? A potentially more plausible scenario may be that the term 'Cousin Jack' or 'Cousin Jacky' actually had its roots in England, not overseas, as Sharron Schwartz has indeed suggested, perhaps being used originally of Cornish miners from West Cornwall working in Devon and/or East Cornwall in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Some of the Cornish references would certainly suggest that it was a familiar and well-known local nickname for a Cornish miner by the mid-nineteenth century, with no obvious indication that it meant someone who had been overseas. Of particular interest here may be the apparent 'mocking' tone of some—though by no means all—of the references: this is explicit in Daniel's Cornish Thalia and related poems of the late 1850s/1860s, and probably also underlies Thomas Quiller Couch (18261884) of Lansallos and Bodmin's apparent youthful memory of the fun to be had by mimicking 'the talk of Cousin Jacky from Redruth or St. Just'. The negative connotations are made particularly clear in Margaret Ann Courtney's West Cornwall Words, where 'Cousin Jacky' is defined as a local dialect word for a fool, the same sense as it clearly has in Higham's A Dialogue Between Tom Thomas and Bill Bilkey, Two Cornish Miners. Moreover, another dialogue of Higham's—entitled The Billy Goat and the Pepper Mine, published prior to 1870—makes it clear that 'Cousin Jacky' was considered to be a word used by people in England of Cornish miners:

Good hevening to 'ee, Zur... you'm a Straanyer en these here paarts, I blaw, by yer ways of spaikin'!... you cudn't 'ave cum'd to a keenlier boddy fur to tell 'ee oal 'bout we "Cousin Jacky's," as you Lunnoners [=Londoners] do caal us! S'pose you'm a Doctur, maakin' so bould? How ded I come fur to thenk like that theere? Why, Zur, ef we been Cousin Jacky's we do kaip out gunnin' eye opun, an' we do knaw Tin an' no mistaake!(27)

All of the above suggests that the name may not have been entirely appreciated by some Cornish miners, at least at first, and may well have originated from outside of the Cornish mining communities, i.e. it was applied to them by those whom they encountered outside of West Cornwall (the use of 'Cousin' could be a further element in this, referencing and/or mocking the apparently particularly West Cornish usage of 'cousin' as a term of friendly endearment for non-kin).(28) In this light, it is interesting to note that two of the handful of other compounds of the form 'Cousin X' in English are also negative in tone. Thus, Cousin Betty and Cousin Betties occur from at least the first half of the eighteenth century as a generic name for one or more female beggars or itinerant prostitutes, whilst Cousin Tom occurs from the 1740s as a name for a male beggar. Be this as it may, the name 'Cousin Jack' or 'Cousin Jacky' seems subsequently to have been 'reclaimed' and adopted by the Cornish miners both at home and, especially and increasingly, abroad, losing its negative/mocking connotations. As Sharron Schwartz notes, the term “Cousin Jack” became one 'used to express an “otherness”', with the Cornish overseas particularly leveraging it to promote their claimed identity as a 'distinct people with specific mining skills that they jealously guarded'.(29) Certainly, by the mid- to late nineteenth century it was being used as a self-designation by Cornishmen both at home and abroad, with people signing letters to newspapers in this era as either 'Cousin Jack' or 'Cousin Jacky'.(30

Nonetheless, all of this does still leave open the question of why, specifically, 'Cousin Jack' came to be a nickname applied to Cornish miners and used by them, and not some other name. There is no sense that 'Jack' is a specifically or typically Cornish name, being rather a common English personal name (a by-name for John), despite occasional claims to the contrary. Jack might, of course, be being used in 'Cousin Jack' simply as a word for an 'everyman'. The OED 2 notes under Jack, n.¹ that 'Jack' was generally used in English as a term 'for any representative of the common people' or for any 'lad, fellow, chap; esp. a low-bred or ill-mannered fellow' back to at least the sixteenth century, if not before, so this is not an implausible suggestion.(31) Yet such a case would still not tell us why this specific nickname became so exclusively associated with the Cornish miners, initially perhaps being used of them by people outside of these communities who felt threatened by them and/or were mocking them before being adopted as a badge of ethnic identity and pride. There may, however, be a potential answer to this in the name and story of one of the most popular fictional Cornishmen of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, namely Jack the Giant-Killer.

A woodcut of Jack killing the giant of St Michael's Mount, Cormilan (aka Cormilion/Cormelian/Cormoran), from a chapbook version of The History of Jack the Giant Killer published in c. 1820 (image: Wikimedia Commons). Jack, a farmer's son from the Lands End district, dug a pit 24 foot deep in a single night with a shovel and pick-axe, into which he tricked the giant the next morning, whereupon Jack finished him off with his pick-axe.

The History of Jack and the Giants seems to have been first published in the early eighteenth century, with the earliest reference to it being sold coming from 1708 and the earliest surviving text having been published in 1711.(32) The tale proved to be incredibly popular and went through multiple print-runs, adaptations and revisions over the next century and a half, and Jack's origins in far west of Cornwall remain a strong thread throughout these. The chapbook tale begins as follows:

In the reign of King Arthur, near the Lands-End of England, namely, the county of Cornwall, there lived a wealthy Farmer, who had one only Son, commonly known by the name of Jack the Giantkiller.(33)

Jack's initial enemy is the giant Cormilan who lived at St Michael's Mount, Cornwall, and who Jack tricks by digging and disguising a hole, then rousing the giant and finishing him off with a pick-axe when he falls into the trap. Jack's reward is the giant’s treasure and he is named by the worthies of Marazion "the Giant Killer," a title that carries with it a sword and an embroidered belt, which read: 

Here’s the right valiant Cornish Man, Who slew the Giant Cormilan.(34)

Jack subsequently leaves Cornwall for overseas, in this case Wales, where he encounters further giants in need of his special skills. In one encounter, he holds the following important conversation and so tricks a Welsh giant into hiding in his dungeon whilst Jack and King Arthur's son feast in the monster's hall:

Jack rides full speed, when coming to the Gates of the castle, he knock’d with such force, that he made all the neighbouring hills resound. The Giant with a voice like thunder, roared out; who’s there? He answered, none but your poor cousin Jack quoth he, what news with my poor cousin Jack? He replied, dear uncle, heavy news; God wot prithee what heavy news can come to me? I am a Giant, with three heads; and besides thou knows I can fight five hundred men in Armour and make them fly like chaff before the wind. Oh! but (quoth Jack) here’s the King’s Son coming with a thousand men in Armour to kill you, and so to destroy all that you have. Oh! Cousin Jack, this is heavy news indeed; I have a large vault under the ground, where I will immediately hide myself, and thou shalt lock, bolt and bar me in, and keep the keys till the King’s Son is gone.(35)

Jack the Giant Killer gives the finishing blow to the giant of St Michael's Mount, Cornwall, from J. Corner, Favourite Fairy Tales (Edinburgh, 1861), p. 79 (image: Internet Archive).

Needless to say, this is arresting. We have here a very well-known hero of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century popular tales who was named Jack, who grew up in West Cornwall, who achieved fame through the excavation of the Earth (digging a hole which the giant Cormilan could fall into and be finished off with a pick-axe), who travelled overseas—here Wales—to pursue his calling, and who, whilst there, was at least on occasion known by the name 'Cousin Jack'. This tale was adapted variously and frequently as, for example, a farce, a ‘musical entertainment’, a ballet, a 'burlesque extravaganza', and multiple times as a 'favourite Serio-Comic Pantomime' and similar.(36) It also became a popular nursery and children's tale, being issued variously with lurid woodcuts, tinted pictures, or grouped in collections with Jack and the Beanstalk (itself arguably a variant of Jack the Giant-Killer), Sleeping Beauty, and Little Red Riding Hood.(37) As The Illustrated London News opined in 1848, Jack the Giant-Killer was:

the hero dear to all boys who have a particle of generosity and imagination in their souls. Does there exist a man who never envied Jack his seven-league boots and his invisible coat, and who never laughed at that inimitable trick by which he made the gluttonous, false-hearted Welsh giant commit suicide? If there do exist such a man, he is like the man who hath no music in his soul... Let no such man be trusted... The man who did not, when a boy, admire Jack the Giant-Killer... is a hard, dry man, with no poetry in his composition; and does not deserve to see Jack reproduced even in a magic lantern.(38)

In other words, the immensely popular eighteenth- and nineteenth-century fictional Cornish hero Jack, aka 'Cousin Jack', would clearly be a natural reference point for anyone encountering a person from West Cornwall. In such circumstances, it seems quite credible that the widespread knowledge of Jack's adventures might have led to people from West Cornwall, especially those who dug holes(!), being jokingly—and perhaps somewhat mockingly—nicknamed 'Cousin Jack' after him in the manner hypothesised above, with the nickname being subsequently reclaimed and adopted as a badge of ethnic identity and pride by the Cornish, particularly those living overseas. Certainly, such a scenario seems to offer the only really plausible explanation thus far advanced for why miners from West Cornwall were specifically nicknamed 'Cousin Jack', rather than any other name.

In conclusion, although the nickname 'Cousin Jack' is often thought to have emerged overseas and to reflect the 'clannishness' of the Cornish emigrant mining communities and their desire to have mine-owners employ only other Cornish emigrants, claiming them to be their supposed 'Cousin Jacks', the evidence does not really support this. Instead, the term seems to have been used from at least as early in Britain too, if not earlier, and it appears to have additionally been thought by the nineteenth-century Cornish to have had some sort of mocking connotations. One potential explanation for this situation is that 'Cousin Jack' was originally a joking or mocking nickname applied to miners from West Cornwall by those outside of this community who encountered them, perhaps initially in Devon or East Cornwall in the eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. This name is most plausibly explained as a jovial reference to the immensely popular eighteenth- and nineteenth-century hero Jack the Giant-Killer, whose tale tells how he came from West Cornwall, killed a giant by excavating a large hole into which he fell, and was known on occasion as 'Cousin Jack' when away from home. At first, the nickname would seem to have been seen with some ambivalence by Cornish miners, but it would subsequently appear that 'Cousin Jack' was reclaimed and adopted by the Cornish, especially by those taking part in the 'Great Emigration', who used it to express their 'otherness' and promote their own distinctive identity.

An Australian Cousin Jack cartoon by Oswald Pryor, 1945; the caption reads '"An' what part do 'ee com' from, Maister?" "Gahd's own country, Boy." "Well, tha's funny, I should NEVER 'ave tak'd 'ee for a Cornishman." (Image: The Wonderment of Illustration).


1.     See especially P. Payton, The Cornish Overseas: A History of Cornwall's 'Great Emigration' (Fowey, 2005), and P. Payton, Cornwall, A History (Fowey, 2004), chapter 10. For earlier scholarship see, for example, A. L. Rowse, The Cousin Jacks: the Cornish in America (New York, 1969).

2.     John H. Forster, 'Life in the copper mines of Lake Superior', Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections, 9 (1888), 175–86 at pp. 183–4.

3.     '"Cousin Jack" and "Cussing Jack"', Cornubian and Redruth Times, 4 June 1908, p. 3.

4.     Oxford English Dictionary (Second Edition, 1989), s.v. Jack, n.¹, sense I.1.c.

5.     'Court of General Sessions for the District of Buninyong and Ballarat', report, The Star (Ballarat, Victoria), 19 March 1857, p. 2; Oxford English Dictionary (Third Edition, December 2019), s.v. Cousin, n.

6.     J. Wright (ed.), The English Dialect Dictionary (London, 1898), vol. 1, s.v. Cousin, 5.2, p. 750; J. Ruano-García, 'On the colonial element in Joseph Wright's English Dialect Dictionary', International Journal of Lexicography, 32 (2019), 38–57 at p. 43. 

7.     'Coroner's inquest.—manslaughter', South Australian (Adelaide), 30 May 1848, p. 2.

8.     T. Q. Couch, East Cornwall Words, in Glossary of Words in Use in Cornwall (London: English Dialect Society, 1880), pp. 70–1.

9.     C. Childs, 'The social and moral improvement of the working miners of Cornwall and Devon', West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser, 28 March 1862, p. 8.  

10.     M. A. Courtney, West Cornwall Words, in Glossary of Words in Use in Cornwall (London: English Dialect Society, 1880), pp. 14–15.

11.     S. P. Schwartz, ‘Creating the cult of “Cousin Jack”: Cornish miners in Latin America 1812–1848 and the development of an international mining labour market’, The Cornish in Latin America Project, online paper, p. 33.

12.     G. Verrall, writing as Elfin, A Cornish Ghost Story, a Night's Adventures at the Devil's Stile, or, Jack Trevose and Mary Trevean, 2nd edn (Truro, 1862), pp. 3–5.

13.     W. B. Forfar, The Bâl, or, 'Tes a Bra' Keenly Lode, Cousin Jan's Story (Helston, 1850), reprinted in Cornish Tales, in Prose and Verse, by Various Authors, With a Glossary (Truro, 1867), pp. 55–6, and see OED 3, s.v. Cousin, n., under 'Cousin Jan'. This collection includes a number of other tales of Cousin Jan, including Cousin Jan's Courtship and Marriage (Truro, 1859); for the original publication dates, see W. W. Skeat (ed.), A bibliographical list of the works that have been published, or are known to exist in MS., illustrative of the various dialects of English. Compiled by members of the English Dialect Society (London, 1873), pp. 21–2. Note, 'Cousin Jenny' isn't treated further here; Rowse, The Cousin Jacks, p. 9, suggests it is a 'later addition', and the newspaper records seem to confirm this, the first instance I have come across coming from 1868 in The Brisbane Courier, 25 July 1868, p. 5: 'Cousin Jacks and Cousin Jennies (a nick-name given to miners and their wives coming from the Burra Burra mine, being mostly Cornish) have a barbarian custom belonging to an unenlightened era...'.

14.     'Local Intelligence: exhumation of a miner', The Cornish Telegraph, 27 September 1854, p. 3.

15.     'Inquest on a body, twenty six years dead', Royal Cornwall Gazette, 22 September 1854, p. 5.

16.      H. J. Daniel, The Cornish Thalia, Being Original Cornish Poems, Illustrative of the Cornish Dialect (Devonport: W. Wood, n.d.). This was advertised in the rear of C. Mansfield Ingleby's The Shakespeare Fabrication (London: John Russell Smith, 1859), p. 32 of the 'Catalogue of books published or sold by John Russell Smith' appended to the volume, and is mentioned in an advert from 28 July 1860 in the Cornish Times, when it was described as 'just published'; as such the notional date of '1870?' assigned to it in J. Milroy & L. Milroy (eds), Real English: The Grammar of English Dialects in the British Isles (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 326, can be disregarded. 

17.     H. J. Daniel, Mirth for "One and All;" or, Comic Tales and Sketches (Devonport: W. Wood, n.d.), advertised in the West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser, 7 February 1862, p. 8, and H. J. Daniel, Mary Anne's Career (continued) and Cousin Jack's Adventures (Devonport: W. Wood, n.d.), advertised in the Cornish Times, 13 June 1863, p. 1.

18.     Daniel, The Cornish Thalia, p. 3.

19.      Daniel, The Cornish Thalia, pp. 20–2.

20.      T. R. Higham, A Dialogue Between Tom Thomas and Bill Bilkey, Two Cornish Miners (Truro, 1866), reprinted in Cornish Tales, in Prose and Verse, in the Cornish Dialect (Truro, 1890), pp. 51–2.

21.     J. T. Tregellas, Tremuan; and the St Agnes Bear Hunt. Two Cornish Tales (Truro, n.d.), published at some point in the 1840s—see Skeat (ed.), A bibliographical list, p. 25, for the date—and reprinted in I. T. Tregallas, Cornish Tales, in Prose and Verse (Truro, c. 1870), p. 17, from which this quotation is taken. Note, 'Cousin Jackies' is footnoted as a 'Local term of derision' in some editions e.g. I. T. Tregallas, The Adventures of Rozzy Paul and Zacky Martin; the St. Agnes Bear Hunt; and the Perran Cherrybeam: Three Comic Cornish poems (Truro, 1856), p. 28, although not in the c. 1870 edition.

22.     F. G. Wolf, B. Finnie & L. Gibson, 'Cornish miners in California: 150 years of a unique sociotechnical system', Journal of Management History, 14 (2008), 144–60 at p. 150. 

23.     E. K. Neale, Cornish Carols: Heritage in California and South Australia (University of Exeter and Cardiff University PhD Thesis, 2018), p. 37. See also, for example, Rowse, The Cousin Jacks, p. 9, who says 'When men were wanted for the mines, or a job was going, they always knew somebody at home for it: Cousin Jack. So they became known all over the world as "Cousin Jacks"; "Cousin Jennies" for the womenfolk seems to be a later addition'. J. Rowe, in The Hard-Rock Men: Cornish Immigrants and the North American Mining Frontier (Liverpool, 1974), p. vi, similarly comments that "The most common explanation is that when a job fell vacant there would be a Cornish worker ready to tell the boss or foreman that he would send home for his "Cousin Jack" to fill it', although he also notes a Northern Michigan theory that, due to the profanity of the Cornish miners, they were called 'cussin' Jacks'! The same 'folk-etymology' for the name Cousin Jack has also been, interestingly, attributed to a Californian context, as follows:

A Cornishman who was familiarly known as Jack, reached a mining camp in the western state in 1848, and being profuse in his use of profanity, soon won himself the name of "Cussing Jack." In time other Cornishmen arrived in the Californian camp and naturally they associated themselves with their erstwhile countryman, "Cussing Jack." The cosmopolitan mining population, not knowing the names of the newer arrivals, dubbed them all "Cussing Jacks," which was soon changed to "Cousin Jacks." ('"Cousin Jack" and "Cussing Jack"', Cornubian and Redruth Times, 4 June 1908, p. 3)

24.     Payton, Cornish Overseas, p. 225.

25.     'Cornishmen on the Rand: the past and the future', West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser, 14 May 1908, p. 8.

26.     N. Tadmor, Family and Friends in Eighteenth-Century England: Household, Kinship, and Patronage (Cambridge, 2001), p. 160; OED 3, s.v. Cousin, n..

27.     T. R. Higham, The Billy Goat, and the Pepper Mine (Truro, n.d.), which is advertised in the rear of the British Library's copy of Tregellas's Cornish Tales, dated c. 1870 (General Reference Collection DRT Digital Store X.907/2143), and is reprinted in The Billy Goat and the Pepper Mine, and Six Other Cornish Tales (Truro, 1882), p. 3.

28.     Courtney, West Cornwall Words, p. 14; Tadmor, Household, Kinship, and Patronage, p. 160 n. 285; OED, s.v. Cousin, n., sense 2a.

29.     Schwartz, ‘Creating the cult of “Cousin Jack”’, p. 33. 

30.     To give some examples, a Cornish correspondent signed a letter critical of a local Cornwall MP in the Western Morning News in 1884 that was reprinted in the Royal Cornwall Gazette on 3 October 1884, p. 8, with a follow-up letter written under the same pseudonym to the Royal Cornwall Gazette being printed on 10 October 1884, p. 5. Likewise, someone signing himself 'Cousin Jack' wrote a letter about how well the men of Newlyn were doing in terms of joining up to fight the First World War in the Daily Mirror for 7 May 1915 (p. 5), and another correspondent, commenting on mine policies at the Providence Mines, Carbis Bay, wrote to the The Cornish Telegraph in December 1869 and had their comments summarized in the 22 December 1869 issue on p. 2. Overseas, a correspondent signing as COUSIN JACK is mentioned in The South Australian Advertiser, 21 February 1860, p. 2, whilst a letter signed by COUSIN JACK entitled 'A hint to mining managers' was printed in the Mount Alexander Mail (Victoria, Australia), 28 December 1860, p. 5, and the West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser carried a letter signed by A COUSIN JACKY from British Columbia on 26 September 1862 (p. 6).

31.     OED 2, s.v. Jack, n.¹, senses I.1.a and I.2.a, For the suggestion that it was a peculiarly Cornish name, see for example 'Why are the Cornish "Cousin Jackies"?', Western Morning News, 13 April 1939, p. 3.

32.     C. Green, 'Tom Thumb and Jack the Giant-Killer: two Arthurian fairy tales?', Folklore, 118.2 (2007), pp. 123–40 at pp. 129–35; C. Green, Arthuriana: Early Arthurian Tradition and the Origins of the Legend (Louth, 2021), pp. 143–4.

33.     I. Opie & P. Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales (Oxford, 1974), p. 64.

34.     Opie & Opie, Classic Fairy Tales, p. 66.

35.     Quotation taken from the 1787 chapbook printed in Falkirk and housed in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, transcribed in Green, Arthuriana, pp. 148–65 at p. 156, my emphasis; the text is almost identical, albeit slightly modernized, in the 1711 text published by James Halliwell and included in Green, Arthuriana, at pp. 170–1.

36.     For example, Jack the Gyant-Killer: A Comi-Tragical Farce of One Act (London: J. Roberts, 1730); An English Musical Entertainment, called Galligantus (London, 1758); the 'New Grand Mock-Heroic Serio-Comic Ballet of Action, called Jack the Giant-Killer', advertised in The British Press, 14 August 1810, p. 2; H. Byron, Jack the Giant Killer; or, Harlequin King Arthur, and Ye Knights of Ye Round Table: A Burlesque Extravaganza (London, n.d., first performed 1859); and the 'favourite Serio-Comic Pantomime of Jack the Giant-Killer', as advertised in The British Press, 27 June 1803, p. 1. Other instances of The History of Jack and the Giants being adapted into a pantomime are advertised or reviewed in, for example, the Caledonian Mercury, 8 March 1800, p. 1, and the Morning Advertiser, 14 January 1829, p. 2 ('a splendid Comic Pantomime, called Harlequin and Jack the Giant-Killer'), and the Morning Post of 31 December 1831, p. 3 ('The new Christmas pantomime, Jack the Giant-Killer promises to have a run... through the holidays. Some of the tricks and scenery are very good. To-morrow evening the performances will be honoured with the immediate patronage of Prince George of Cambridge').

37.     As advertised as a series in, for example, the Illustrated London News, 10 January 1846, p. 15, or a separate series in the London Daily News, 30 May 1846, p. 7.

38.     Uncle Tom, 'Christmas sports', Illustrated London News, 23 December 1848, p. 22.

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2021, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.

Saturday 2 January 2021

Lissingleys, the meeting-place of Anglo-Saxon & Anglo-Scandinavian Lindsey, and the antiquity of Ogilby's 1675 road from Lincoln to Grimsby

The focus of this post is on two important yet lost elements of the pre-modern landscape of Lincolnshire, namely a large area of common land named Lissingleys—very probably the meeting-place for the whole of Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Scandinavian Lindsey—and the road running north-eastwards from Lincoln to the coast at Grimsby. The latter routeway is first recorded in 1675, but is believed to have originally run along the northern border of this common pasturage and meeting-site, and other place- and field-name evidence suggests that this road may well be of a similar antiquity to the meeting-place itself.

(a) Lissingleys in 1820, before its enclosure in 1851, as depicted in Henry Stevens' drawing for the Ordnance Survey (image: Wikimedia Commons); (b) A map of the three ridings of Lindsey set against the pre-Viking landscape of the region, showing the location of Lissingleys at the point at which the three ridings met (image: Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons, fig. 27). Click here for a larger version of both maps.

The common pasturage known as Lissingleys, located approximately ten miles to the north-east of Lincoln, is interesting for several reasons. First, it was an extraparochial area that was considered to lie outside any single ecclesiastical or civil parish until its enclosure in 1851, with the rights of intercommoning here being shared between eight surrounding parishes. Second, there was a concentration of multiple important estates belonging to key landholders within Anglo-Scandinavian Lindsey surrounding the site in 1066, implying that access to it was of some importance, although this centrality seems to have evaporated by 1086, when a similar pattern is conspicuous by its absence. And third and most importantly, the land itself lay at the exact point where the boundaries of the three ridings of Viking-era Lindsey met. Indeed, the eight vills that had common rights in Lissingleys were distributed across all three ridings, and the boundaries of these three ridings and their constituent wapentakes moreover look like they have been deliberately adjusted to meet at Lissingleys, suggesting that the site was important even prior to the creation of the ridings (which were probably in existence by c. 900, if not before). All of this strongly suggests that Lissingleys was a place of considerable importance to the organisation of Anglo-Scandinavian Lindsey and probably pre-Viking Lindsey too, and it has been credibly identified as the meeting-place for the whole community of Anglian and Anglo-Scandinavian Lindsey. Support for this conclusion is offered by both the archaeology of the immediately surrounding area and the name Lissingleys itself, as I have argued at length elsewhere. In particular, a strong case can be made for this rural meeting-site having been an important focus in both the Early Anglo-Saxon and Romano-British periods too, with the name arguably containing Late British/Archaic Welsh *liss-, the root of Welsh llys, meaning ‘court, hall’ or ‘parliament, gathering of nobles’ (compare the name Liss, Lis/Lissa, in Hampshire, which also derives from this element).(1)

Two maps showing the parish (red lines), hundred (green line) and riding-and-hundred boundaries (yellow lines) in the immediate area around Lissingleys extraparochial area, shown in purple. The first map shows the villages with rights of common at Lissingleys and the second shows the web of manors and sokes held by key lords around Lissingleys in 1066, both being based on Roffe 2000 and using a base-map from the Historic Parishes of England and Wales: an Electronic Map of Boundaries before 1850 projectClick here for a larger version of these maps.

Looking at the site itself, when it was mapped in 1820—prior to its enclosure in 1851—it covered around 1.58 km² or 390 acres and was criss-crossed by a number of paths with a stream running through its centre. Whether it was always this size or perhaps slightly larger in extent is open to debate; Henry Stevens' draft map for the Ordnance Survey shows a number of old enclosures immediately to the north and south of Lissingleys which might conceivably have originally been parts of it that were lost after its apparent decline in centrality/importance post-1066—if so, then the total original area of Lissingleys could have been up to around 3.1 km² or 765 acres. It is perhaps worth noting in this context that the extent of Lissingleys as mapped by the Historic Parishes of England and Wales: an Electronic Map of Boundaries before 1850 project, based on the 1851 enclosure map, seems to be missing an area on the eastern side that is depicted as a definite part of Lissingleys on the 1820 map, so there were clearly alterations to its borders taking place in the modern era. Furthermore, in 1807 Lissingleys was described as comprising 'between five and six hundred acres of very wet land', suggesting that even greater losses of land from Lissingleys may have taken place in the late eightheenth to early nineteenth centuries.(2) As to what occurred here, such meeting-sites as this were a fundamental element of government and society in Anglo-Saxon England, where the free men from across the region (here the three ridings of Lindsey) met to discuss, arrange and decide the judicial, administrative, financial and other business of the region, hence the apparent importance of access to this site that is implied by the clustering of manors of key figures within the region around Lissingleys in 1066. They also frequently became sites of fairs and occasional markets, sometimes associated with scatters of metal-detected material, and in this context it is worth noting that there is indeed a very extensive multi-period scatter of material found immediately to the south of Lissingleys. 

Another notable characteristic of Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Scandinavian meeting sites is an association with major routeways, reflecting the need for the site to be accessible to all who had to attend it. Unfortunately, Lissingleys nowadays lies away from the major roads of the region. However, there are good reasons for thinking that one of the key highways of pre-modern Lincolnshire actually ran either immediately next to or even across the northern edge of Lissingleys, prior to the remaking of the medieval Lincolnshire landscape by enclosure and the turnpike acts. The road itself, which ran from Lincoln to Grimsby, is first attested by John Ogilby in his 1675 Britannia road atlas, where it was one of 100 major British routeways drawn by Ogilby as strip-maps at a scale of 1 inch to the mile:

A coloured version of John Ogilby's 1675 strip-map of the route from Lincoln to Grimsby, on the right side of the page; click here for a larger version of this map (image: John Ogilby, Britannia, 1675, Public Domain).

Ogilby's road follows the current Lincoln–Market Rasen road, the A46, north-east from Lincoln for a couple of miles, crossing a 'rill' (Nettleham Beck), a cross-roads with the Old Drovers' Road from Horncastle to Doncaster (mentioned in the early fourteenth century and mapped in the eighteenth), and a heath (Nettleham and Scothern Heath); however, at the point that the present A46 turns eastwards to Dunholme, Ogilby's 1675 road carried on into Welton before turning east and running through the hamlet of Ryland. From here it runs east before rejoining the A46 to cross Snarford Bridge (originally a ford, to judge from the place-name), passing the now-demolished Snarford Hall and Snarford Park, and then runs north-east to Faldingworth Ings and Shaft Wood. At the point the A46 turns north and runs into Faldingworth village, with a minor road running south to Friesthorpe, Ogilby's road then seems to have instead crossed the fields of the southern part of Faldingworth parish directly to Buslingthorpe parish (as the road is indeed depicted as doing on Armstrong's map of 1779 and Cary's map of 1787). After this, its route is open to some question; it may have turned north just around the north-west corner of Lissingleys and gone via Buslingthorpe along the bridleway to meet up briefly with the A46, before continuing along the Green Lane and then across what are now fields to join up with a footpath running south from Market Rasen at the time of its enclosure, something that might fit Ogilby's route measurements and turns quite well. Alternatively, both O. G. S. Crawford and Brian K. Roberts consider that Ogilby's road instead continued to run to the south of Buslingthorpe village and effectively across the northern boundary of the Lissingleys meeting-site and common pasture, separated from it only by the c. 200 metre wide old enclosures mentioned above. At the eastern end of Lissingleys, the seventeenth-century road would then have turned north and run along the present-day minor route to Middle Rasen (which is present on early mapping), before turning eastwards onto a 'Green Lane' and across what are now the fields south of Market Rasen to join Mill Road and thus enter the town proper.(3

A map of the first half of Ogilby's 1675 road from Lincoln to Grimsby as far as Market Rasen, after O. G. S. Crawford and Brian K. Roberts, showing the proximity of Lissingleys to the road; note, it deviates from the current A46 in two places, first when it goes through Welton and Ryland before returning to the A46 route just before Snarford Bridge, and second just before Faldingworth, when it carried on across the old open fields to run just to the north of Lissingleys before turning sharply north along a present-day minor road—it carried on along this until just before Middle Rasen, when it turned right along a 'Green Lane' and then across present-day fields to meet Mill Road, Market Rasen. Click here for a larger version of this map; note, the extent of Lissingleys in 1820 is mapped by the thick dark purple line and hashing, whilst the old enclosures mentioned above to the north and south of Lissingleys are depicted with dotted lines and stippling (image: Caitlin Green, drawn on a base-map from OpenStreetMap).

For the second half from Market Rasen to Grimsby, the route deviates completely from the current A46 main road. Leaving Market Rasen north of the River Rase (here named 'Ankam', i.e. the Ancholme, of which the Rase is a tributary), it crosses Tealby Moor eastwards to the south of Hamilton Hill before crossing a brook to enter Tealby village. There is no single road following this route nowadays, but there are footpaths and tracks on this route are thought to represent it, although which water-mill is the one mentioned by Ogilby is uncertain. Passing through Tealby with the church on the right, the seventeenth-century main road then followed Caistor Lane through Tealby Vale, but rather than continuing that road as it nowadays turns left, it instead carried on north-eastwards along what is now a track and then a footpath up to and across the ancient (probably pre-Roman) Caistor High Street before meeting up with the modern road to Stainton le Vale. Passing through Stainton le Vale via both the modern road and a former track, it then continued north-eastwards along another track/road to Thorganby—the latter half of this route is is depicted on maps through to the 1940s, but has since been erased by RAF Binbrook. From Thorganby, Ogilby's 1675 road is believed to have largely followed the line of the modern B1203 and the late eighteenth-century turnpike road through East Ravendale to Ashby, crossing the prehistoric Barton Street, and then to Brigsley, Waltham (with the church on the left), Scartho and finally Grimsby.

A map of the second half of Ogilby's 1675 road from Lincoln to Grimsby, from Market Rasen onwards; note, it deviates completely from the current A46 road from Market Rasen to Grimsby and only follows the B1203 minor route in its second half, which much of its route from Market Rasen to Thorganby being either no longer passable or preserved only as tracks or footpaths. Click here for a larger version of this map (image: Caitlin Green, drawn on a base-map from OpenStreetMap).

Having established the probable route of the 1675 road from Lincoln to Grimsby, what then can be said of its antiquity? The proximity of this route to the meeting-site at Lissingleys, whatever its exact route from Lissingleys to Market Rasen, is certainly suggestive of its existence prior to 1066, given that the political import of the site seems to have declined after this, but it is not the only such indication. For the southern half of the route, one can also note the following. First, the local name Rennestihge occurs in the twelfth century in Dunholme parish. This is a Scandinavian compound *rennstígr meaning 'a supraregional road used for rapid travel, usually by horse'. The medieval 'Old Drovers' Road' ran to the south of Dunholme parish based on the historic parish bounds and its route as mapped by Andrew Armstrong in the eighteenth century (the earliest detailed county map), so isn't what is meant here, and no other major routeways that we know of ran or run through Dunholme parish other than the Lincoln to Market Rasen road.(4) As such, this name can be credibly associated with the 1675 route described by Ogilby and strongly suggests that at least the initial parts of the route were in existence in the Anglo-Scandinavian period (the later ninth to eleventh centuries) and were recognised then as a key cross-regional routeway, which is a point of considerable interest. 

Second, after travelling through Welton and Ryland, the 1675 route then passes across Snarford Bridge into Snarford parish. The bridge here is first mentioned in 1316, but there must have been a ford here prior to its construction to explain the parish name, and there is no other likely location for this ford aside from where the Lincoln to Market Rasen road crosses the Barlings Eau river. As such, the name evidence again would seem to suggest considerable antiquity and importance for this routeway, such that it would give its name to a pre-Norman parish. Certainly, the name Snarford is first recorded in 1086 as Snerteforde and similar, and this is a compound of the Old Norse personal name Snǫrtr with the Old English place-name element ford, indicating that the current name was once again coined in the Anglo-Scandinavian era and could, moreover, represent a renaming of a pre-Viking crossing site. Indeed, Arthur Owen has suggested that this name indicates that the roadway passing across the ford and later bridge at Snarford must have been 'an ancient line of communication between the Lincoln area and the Wolds'.(5

A topographic map of the Dunholme and Snarford area, showing how Ogilby's 1675 road (the purple dashed line) follows the most credible landscape route across the Barlings Eau valley, keeping to the higher ground except for the ancient crossing at Snarford. Note, the rivers are based partly on the modern river routes and partly on the 1820 and 1880s OS maps for now-lost channels. Click here for a larger version of this map (image: Caitlin Green, drawn on a topographic base-map). 

Third, the name Stret'deyl, 'share of land by a strǣt, a paved road', is recorded in the southern field of Faldingworth parish in c. 1300. The name-element strǣt in Lincolnshire is usually only used in the medieval period for major roads and, as such, its appearance in the southern fields of Faldingworth parish is notable, particularly as the route of Ogilby's road crossed the southern fields of that parish on its way to Buslingthorpe and Lissingleys. Moreover, another reference in the same document relating to Faldingworth's southern field mentions land in the south near to the king's highway (ex parte australi iuxta regiam viam de Faldingwrth'). As Arthur Owen points out, the term via regia had a legal implication, being the king's highway where the king's peace held good, and its appearance here again indicates that there was an important road in the southern part of Faldingworth parish, presumably the routeway under consideration here, given that no other significant routeways are known in this area.(6

In sum, when taken together, the above names all suggest that the portion of Ogilby's road from Lincoln through to Lissingleys was indeed an ancient route, as its proximity to the probably meeting-place of the whole of pre-Norman Lindsey might imply. It was very probably a 'king's highway' in the medieval period and a *rennstígr, 'a supraregional road used for rapid travel', in the Anglo-Scandinavian era, with its origins going back at least as far as the ninth to eleventh centuries, if not before, in light of the name Snarford and the likely antiquity of the meeting-site at Lissingleys.

Herman Moll's 1724 map of northern Lincolnshire that depicts Ogilby's 1675 road from Lincoln to Grimsby, highlighted here in purple, from Moll's A New Description of England and Wales (London, 1724). Click here for a larger version of this map (image: David Rumsey).

North of Lissingleys there is less direct evidence for the antiquity of Ogilby's route to Grimsby. The name 'Rasen' does not derive from the River Rase, but instead probably derives from Old English æt Ræsnum, 'at the planks', in reference to a plank bridge across the tributary of the River Ancholme here, with this tributary then receiving the name Rase as a back-formation from the bridge-/place-name 'Rasen'.(7) Unfortunately, whilst the name Rasen is first recorded in the late tenth century, it is unclear as to where this plank bridge was actually located—in particular, three modern parishes now include Rasen in their name (West Rasen, Middle Rasen and Market Rasen) and there are multiple potential river crossing points that might have been where this obviously important plank bridge was located. It could well have been at Market Rasen, as Kenneth Cameron suggests, and so imply an Anglo-Scandinavian or probably pre-Viking origin for this part of Ogilby's route, but it has to be admitted that it might not have been. 

More certain is the name that occurs at the opposite end of the 1675 road at Brigsley, Brigeslai in 1086. This is an Old English name brycges-lēah, meaning 'the wood/glade of the bridge', with a Scandinavianised first element; as Kenneth Cameron points out, the only really plausible place for this bridge is the crossing-point of the Waithe Beck in this parish, where Ogilby's 1675 road—preserved here by the B1203—comes down off the Wolds and heads on through Brigsley to Waltham.(8) Needless to say, this suggests that at least this section of the route was in existence in the pre-Viking period and had a bridge by that point that was significant enough to give rise to a parish name, all of which implies that it was then a route of some importance. Indeed, in this context, it is may also be worth noting that the parish immediately to the north on this road is Waltham, which has been considered a major and early Anglo-Saxon royal estate centre with authority over part of the Lincolnshire Wolds.(9

Captain Andrew Armstrong's map of Lincolnshire, published 1779, the first truly detailed county map; click here for a larger version of this map (image: British Library).

If the road from Lincoln to Lissingleys seems almost certainly to have been an ancient and important route, and the remainder of the road from Lissingleys through to Grimsby was potentially so too, what then of the decline of this routeway? With respect to this, Ogilby's route seems still to have been current in 1724, when it was mapped by Herman Moll, and it was repeated by William Morgan in his Pocket-Book of the Roads published in 1732 and by John Senex in his Ogilby's Survey Revised of 1759.(10) On the other hand, whilst the majority of the Lincoln to Grimsby route depicted on Emanuel Bowen's map of Lincolnshire from 1751 seems to be broadly the same as Ogilby's, his road doesn't seem to go through Welton by Lincoln, instead being drawn between that village and Dunholme, and looks to have gone via Faldingworth village rather than passing it to the south, although neither point is entirely clear. However, by the time of the first truly detailed map of Lincolnshire, published by Andrew Armstrong in 1779, there do seem to have been notable changes to the perceived main road routes from Lincoln to Market Rasen and Market Rasen to Grimsby.(11

For example, Armstrong shows multiple routes between Lincoln and Snarford, and two major routes through to Buslingthorpe. One of these is the route via Snarford shown by Ogilby, but the other is more northerly, going north from Welton to Cold Hanworth, Oldfield (Faldingworth Grange), Faldingworth village and finally Buslingthorpe. Armstrong also shows a different route from Buslingthorpe to Market Rasen to that of Ogilby as reconstructed by Crawford and Roberts, which turns north at Lissingleys to go through Buslingthorpe itself and thereafter following what is now a track north past Buslingthorpe Grange to meet the modern A46, although this is the same as the alternative Ogilby route mentioned previously. Beyond Market Rasen there are significant alterations—the route south of Hamilton Hill to Tealby is not shown at all, and there is instead a route through to Stainton le Vale that is probably that which survives today as the Market Rasen to Stainton le Vale via Walesby road (although Armstrong doesn't show the slight diversion along the Caistor High Street that is required). The road from Stainton le Vale to Thorganby across the modern RAF Binbrook is certainly shown, but from there the road is shown as going via Hatcliffe to Barnoldby le Beck in order to reach Waltham, and no road is shown joining Thorganby to the newly established turnpike from Wold Newton/Ravendale to Grimsby that seems to have preserved the last part of Ogilby's route. Perhaps most importantly, Armstrong also shows what seems to be a version of the modern A46 going north from Market Rasen to Caistor and then across to Grimsby, although the latter stages beyond Caistor are different. 

John Cary's 1806 map of Lincolnshire, showing that the primary road from Market Rasen to Grimsby followed its modern route by this point, whilst the main route from Lincoln to Market Rasen now avoided Snarford; click here for a larger version of this map.

These changes seem to be confirmed by John Cary's maps from the 1790s and 1800s. His detailed 1794 New Map of England and Wales depicts Armstrong's multiple routes almost exactly, whilst his smaller scale county maps from 1792 and 1806 show only the perceived major routes indicate that the apparently ancient Ogilby route had been largely replaced as the major Lincoln to Grimsby road by this point.(12) In particular, Cary's county maps show that the current A46 main road route from Market Rasen to Grimsby via Caistor and Laceby was apparently already in existence and the major route between these places then, something that makes sense given that the latter part of this was an eighteenth-century turnpike route established in 1765. Furthermore, between Lincoln and Market Rasen, the only road shown now avoids Snarford and instead goes via Welton, Cold Hanworth and then Oldfield (Faldingworth Grange), before following what looks like Armstrong's route from Buslingthorpe to Market Rasen. Subsequently, the primary Lincoln to Market Rasen route seems to change again. For example, in Samuel Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of England of 1835 the main route north-eastwards follows the old Roman road to Langworth before turning north via Wickenby and Lissington. Likewise, on Henry Stevens' 1820 draft Ordnance Survey map, the only main routes shown (tinted yellow) are the modern A15 Ermine Street north to Caenby Corner and the A631 from Caenby Corner to Market Rasen, although all the modern roads that make up the current A46, including the diversion through Faldingworth village (the old Ogilby 'king's highway' across Faldingworth's southern fields to Buslingthorpe seems to have been removed at or by Faldingworth's enclosure in 1795), appear there for the first time.(13) Interestingly, both Lewis's and Stevens' main road routes continued to be marked as the primary routes through to Market Rasen into the early twentieth century, when both are depicted as such on the relevant sheet of Bartholomew's Half Inch Maps of England and Wales of 1902, with the modern A46—which borrows significant elements from Ogilby's 1675 road—only being definitively established as a 'main road' in 1922–3, when it became Class I road number 46.(14)

The various main routeways from Lincoln to Market Rasen and beyond indicated by cartographers from Ogilby (1675) through to Lewis (1835), mapped against the modern road network, including the A46 from Lincoln to Market Rasen that was established in 1922; click here for a larger version of this map. Note, only the major modifications of the routes are shown, so the deviations from Ogilby's route (as reconstructed by Crawford and Roberts) in Armstrong 1779 are mapped in blue, whilst Cary's route appears in green where it differs from the Armstrong/Ogilby route, i.e. the diversions through Cold Hanworth and Faldingworth south of Market Rasen and a new 'primary' route northwards to Grimsby via Caistor; Stevens' and Lewis's routes follow the Cary green route to Grimsby via Caistor beyond Market Rasen (image: Caitlin Green, drawn on a base-map from OpenStreetMap).

In conclusion, there is a good case to be made for the rural meeting-place of the three ridings of Anglian and Anglo-Scandinavian Lindsey having been located at Lissingleys, with this meeting-site probably having even earlier roots that this too. Although no modern major roadway passes close to this important element in the early medieval administrative landscape of the region, it is notable that the Lincoln to Grimsby road mapped by Ogilby in 1675 did do so. An investigation of this route suggests that it was probably a major road of some antiquity, perhaps originating as far back as the Anglo-Scandinavian period or even earlier, and the fact that it seems to have gone close to or skirted the northern boundary of Lissingleys is thus unlikely to be a coincidence. This routeway appears to have remained important right through to the middle of the eighteenth century, but after that it rapidly declined in significance and alternative routes began to supersede various elements of it, in some cases only temporarily but in others permanently, especially between Market Rasen and Grimsby. Maps from the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries suggest that there was considerable variation in the perceived main route between Lincoln and Market Rasen in this era prior to the establishment of the modern A46 in 1922–3, which reinstated large elements of the Ogilby route as a primary cross-county road. 


1.     See further on all of this C. Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons: Lincolnshire AD 400–650, 2nd edn (Lincoln: History of Lincolnshire Committee, 2020), pp. 140–5, and D. Roffe, 'Lissingleys and the Meeting Place of Lindsey' (2000), available at the author's website,
2.     For the quotation, see J. Britton, The Beauties of England and Wales; or, Original Delineations, Topographical, Historical, and Descriptive, of Each County (London, 1807), vol. 9, p. 694. For Henry Stevens' draft 1820 map of the Hackthorn district for the Ordnance Survey, see British Library OSD 282, digitised here, and for the boundaries at enclosure see R. J. P. Kain & R. R. Oliver, Historic Parishes of England and Wales: an Electronic Map of Boundaries before 1850 with a Gazetteer and Metadata, data collection, UK Data Service, first published 17 May 2001, updated 24 April 2020, and accessed 30 December 2020,
3.     The exact route described here is essentially that of O. G. S. Crawford, A Map of XVII Century England (Southampton: Ordnance Survey, 1930), who traced and plotted the routes of John Ogilby's 100 road-maps published in his Britannia, Volume the First: or an Illustration of the Kingdom of England and Dominion of Wales: By a Geographical and Historical Description of the Principal Roads thereof (London, 1675) onto a modern OS map, with this map being then scanned and georeferenced by me so that Crawford's proposed route can be followed in detail; Crawford's plotted roads have also been used by the Creating a GIS of Ogilby's "principal roads" of England and Wales c. 1675 project at the University of Cambridge, which shows the same route as described here (from plate 78 of Ogilby's volume). Brian K. Roberts also shows this route in B. K. Roberts, 'Woods, fens and roads: where are the Fens?', in Through Wet and Dry: Essays in Honour of David Hall, ed. T. Lane & J. Coles (Heckington, 2002), pp. 78–86 at p. 83 (once again scanned and georeference by me). The alternative route, that turns north at Buslingthorpe along the bridleway, would arguably fit Ogilby's measurements better, and is essentially what Captain Andrew Armstrong seems to show in 1779, see below, but the entry into Market Rasen may well fit Crawford and Roberts's route better, see the Historic Urban Character Types Map no. 3 from N. Grayson, Lincolnshire Extensive Urban Survey: Market Rasen, Historic England/LCC Project Number 2897 (Lincoln, 2020); my thanks are due to Max Satchell for discussing all of this with me. Note, the presence of a ford before the church at Market Rasen may be a mistake on Ogilby's part, but it need not be—it may well rather reflect the former stream that ran to the south of the church and along the line of Dear Street, see Grayson, Market Rasen, pp. 5, 6. For the 'Old Drovers' Road', see F. M. Stenton, 'The road system of medieval England', Economic History Review, 7 (1936), 1–21 at p. 18.
4.     K. Cameron, J. Insley & J. Cameron, The Place-Names of Lincolnshire: Part Seven, Lawress Wapentake, Survey of English Place-Names LXXXV (Nottingham: English Place-Name Society, 2010), pp. 45–6; A. Armstrong, Map of Lincolnshire, published 20 January 1779, British Library Maps K.Top.19.19.5 tab.end; R. J. P. Kain & R. R. Oliver, Historic Parishes of England and Wales: an Electronic Map of Boundaries before 1850 with a Gazetteer and Metadata, data collection, UK Data Service, first published 17 May 2001, updated 24 April 2020, and accessed 30 December 2020,
5.     A. E. B. Owen, ‘Roads and Romans in south-east Lindsey’ in A. R. Rumble & A. D. Mills (eds), Names, Places and People (Stamford: Paul Watkins, 1997), pp. 254–68 at p. 265, supported by Cameron, Insley & Cameron, Place-Names of Lincolnshire 7, pp. 109–10, and K. Cameron, A Dictionary of Lincolnshire Place-Names (Nottingham: English Place-Name Society, 1998), p. 112.
6.     C. W. Foster (ed.), The Registrum Antiquissimum of the Cathedral Church of Lincoln, Volume III, Lincoln Record Society vol. 29 (Lincoln: Lincoln Record Society, 1932), pp. 381–2; Cameron, Insley & Cameron, Place-Names of Lincolnshire 7, pp. 51–2; Owen, 'Roads and Romans in south-east Lindsey', p. 259.
7.     K. Cameron, J. Field & J. Insley, The Place-Names of Lincolnshire: Part Three, The Wapentake of Walshcroft, Survey of English Place-Names LXVI (Nottingham: English Place-Name Society, 1992), pp. 94–6; Cameron, Dictionary, p. 100.
8.     K. Cameron, J. Field & J. Insley, The Place-Names of Lincolnshire: Part Four, The Wapentakes of Ludborough and Haverstoe, Survey of English Place-Names LXXI (Nottingham: English Place-Names Society, 1996), pp. 60–2; Cameron, Dictionary, p. 21.
9.     Cameron, Field & Insley, Place-Names of Lincolnshire 4, p. 183; Cameron, Dictionary, pp. 134–5; D. Hooke, 'Old English wald, weald in place-names', Landscape History, 34 (2013), 33–49 at pp. 39–40; R. Huggins, 'The significance of the place-name wealdhám', Medieval Archaeology, 19 (1975), 198–201.
10.     H. Moll, A Set of Fifty New and Correct Maps of England and Wales, &c. with the Great Roads and Principal Cross-Roads, &c. (London, 1724), p. 28; W. Morgan, Ogilby's and Morgan's Pocket-Book of the Roads, 7th edn. (London, 1732), p. 34; J. Senex, The Roads Through England Delineated, or Ogilby's Survey Revised, Improved, and Reduced to a Size Portable for the Pocket (London, 1759), p. 86.
11.     E. Bowen, An Accurate Map of Lincolnshire; Divided into its Wapontakes. Laid down from the best Authorities, and most approved Maps & Charts, with various additional Improvements (London, 1751), British Library Maps K.Top.19.18; Armstrong, Map of Lincolnshire, 1779.
12.     J. Cary, Cary's New Map of England and Wales (London, 1794), pp. 43, 52; J. Carey, Cary's Traveller's Companion, or, a Delineation of the Turnpike Roads of England and Wales (London, 1792), Map of Lincolnshire; J. Cary, Cary's Traveller's Companion (London, 1806), Map of Lincolnshire.
13.     For Faldingworth's enclosure map, see E. Russell and R. Russell, Making New Landscapes in Lincolnshire: the Enclosure of Thirty-Four Parishes in Mid-Lindsey, Lincolnshire History Series No. 5 (Lincoln: Lincolnshire Recreational Services, 1983), pp. 44–7. For Samuel Lewis's map, see S. Lewis, A Topographical Dictionary of England (London, 1835), p. 93, digitised by the British Library here; for Henry Stevens' draft 1820 map of the Hackthorn district for the Ordnance Survey, see British Library OSD 282, digitised here. Another mapped route from the early nineteenth century is that of William Faden from 1801, which follows the Langworth road through to Snelland, then seems to turn north to Buslingthorpe (via the road to Friesthorpe shown by Armstrong and Cary) and then to Middle Rasen before turning east to Market Rasen: W. Faden, A map of England, Wales & Scotland, describing all the direct and principal cross roads in Great Britain, drawn 1801 and published 1811, digitised here.
14.     Bartholomew's Half Inch Maps of England and Wales, sheet 10, 'Lincoln Wolds' (1902), digitised here; Ordnance Survey, Ministry of Transport Road Map (1923), digitised here

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