On the Maze, or Mizmaze, at Leigh, Dorset

Pimperne Maze

How the Pimperne Maze looked before it was destroyed in 1730 © DCM

Here is an article written by Rev. William Barnes from the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 4,  1881 entitled ‘On the Maze, or Mizmaze, at Leigh, Dorset’

Coker, in his History of Dorset, says of the Maze at Leigh, that ” formerly the young men of the village were wont, once a year, to go out and make it good; and the day was a day of merrymaking.” Not, we may believe, a day of merrymaking because they had made the maze good by righting up of the banks, which edged the paths; but that the maze was made good for the day of merry-making, which might have been that of the village wake, or the old May-day.

That the young and not the old men were most interested in the maze, would go to show that it was for their games, and not for any heathenish or other ceremony of their elders.

Phillips, in his “New World of Words,” A.D. 1706, speaks of mazes as in his time made in gardens. He says: — “Maze, in a garden, a place artificially made with many turnings and windings.” The maze seems to have had formerly, all over England, its day of favor among friendly gatherings at great halls, and at some of the village feasts, as had the old game of Pall Mall, and its later form under the name of Croquet, though the pleasure of the maze (a puzzle), was akin to that of other puzzles which are now put forth among friends in the house, or in the open air. The maze was formed of a cunningly drawn maze of winding paths, which any one who would try his skill was to thread so as to find his way out again in the shortest time, and the mirth of it was, I suppose, that of the outsiders who might see a bewildered wayfarer misgoing into passages that led to nothing but others of the same kind, and the glory of a walker who, knowing the clue, came out with a laugh against the others.

There was formerly at Pimperne a cleverly-shapen maze, which is figured in Shipp’s and Hutchins’ History of Dorset. The maze paths were sundered by banks, and overspread nearly an acre of ground; but it was entirely destroyed by the plough about 1780, and it speaks of one at Hilton, Hunts, of which the path is steined with pebbles, and gives Aubray as saying that there were many mazes in England ere the civil wars, which let in the Puritans as lawgivers, who gave little freedom to games and gambols, and whose laws once punished a boy at Dorchester for riding on a gate on a Sabbath.( Borough Records) A fine sample of a maze still kept up, and I believe often threaded by sightseers, is the one at Hampton Court, of which the maze path is edged by a hedge [of shrubs, as, I believe, were the paths of most of the broad mazes of the olden time, with fences of some thick shrubs, whether box. privet, yew, or hornbeam, or other such-like ones. Another maze, of which Londoners seek a merry use, is in the Rosherville Gardens, near Gravesend, and one has, I believe, been made in the grounds of the Crystal Palace. The Athenaeum, July 2, 1881, speaks of ” The St. Anne’s maze,” near Nottingham, as one of the most elaborate examples of which we have any account, though in 1797 it was ploughed up.

The History of Pimperne quotes Stukely, who writes of such mazes in Wales, under the name of “Caertroi.” ” Winding Castle,” the mazes of which are trodden by walking on the banks.

This old British name for a maze, “caertroi,” has, from want of a knowledge of Welsh, led to a mistake that the word “troi” meant Homer’s Troy, and that caertroi, a maze, meant “Troy-town,” whereas ” troi” means simply a turning or winding.

Witches’ Corner, Leigh Common.

Many years ago I was told by a man of this neighbourhood that a corner of Leigh Common was called “Witches’ Corner,” and long again after that a friend gave me some old depositions on witchcraft, taken before Somerset magistrates from about the years 1650 to 1064. The cases were of Somerset, and touched in some points Dorsetshire, and one of the witches’ sisterhood said that they sometimes met in Leigh Common. This proof of the meeting of witches in Leigh Common as the ground of the traditional name of witches corner is interesting as a token of truth in tradition.

Totnell and Chetnole.

I suppose Chetnole is mostly pronounced Chetnel. Totnell is the name of the hill or knoll or knowl, and means Toutknoll, or Spynell, or Outlook-hill, as being in times of trouble a spot taken by outspiers or outlookers. There are in Dorset several touts or spy heights, and the word to tout, to look out for customers is still well-known. That knoll would wear into nell is shown by the name of “Punk-knowl,” which in running talk is called “Punnell.” Tout was formerly tote, and has been shortened in names of other places, as Totton, Totcombe, in the hundred of Totcombe and Modbury. The spelling of names of places is not a trustworthy guide to their meaning or early forms. Nell in Totnell is, I believe, a narrowing of the sound noil, as i in Huntsmin for huntsman. Such a narrowing is common in Latin, as Desilio for Desalio, and so it is in Welsh. Tot is the head of many other place names.

Chetnole

Is, I believe, Chetknoll, but Chet must have been in Saxon of some such form as Cet or Cete. Cete would mean a cabin, cottage, or cell. Was there ever a hermit’s cell there, as at Hermitage ?

Haydon.

Hay is the Saxon Haeg – (1) a hedge, and (2) a hedged ground.    Hay dun would mean the down with a hedged field or fields on it, one not all open.

Winterhay.

The winter inclosure for cattle, but Winterhays, I believe, took its name from a family of Winterhay, and as being Winter-hay’s inclosures, but then they took their name from some Winter-hay.

Calehay, by Leigh.

The Calf or Heifer inclosure, used much as a run for young stock.

Rouch Hay.

Enclosure of rough ground or grass.

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2 thoughts on “On the Maze, or Mizmaze, at Leigh, Dorset

  1. Pingback: A British Earthwork by Rev. William Barnes | Dorset County Museum

  2. Pingback: Mazes and Mizmazes – Amisfield Walled Garden

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