White Ox Mead

Every time we drive to Bath, I spot an old rust-stained fingerpost pointing down a country lane to White Ox Mead. One of those white cast iron signs with raised black capital lettering. And I muse on the fact that once upon a time in the dim and distant past, the place was probably named for a meadow with a white ox in it – and the name has persisted all this time. Oxen are a rarity these days – they are steers (bullocks) used as draft animals, so, trained to harness.

As you may imagine, I was pleased to discover that ‘Witochesmede’ is recorded in the Domesday book, so the name dates from 1086 at the latest – that’s at least 936 years, which I think is fascinating – a little fossil of agricultural practice. At that time, the place was a hamlet of a few smallholdings, but today, there are several farms, and scattered houses with gardens, a tennis court and swimming pool – luxuries unknown to the original peasants of course.

Domesday page mentioning Witochesmede in Somerset:
reproduced by courtesy of Professor John Palmer, George Slater and opendomesday.org

And then I mused that ‘oxen’ is one of those old-fashioned English plurals not taking an ‘S’ (oxes, anyone? Foxes and boxes are OK though). And so is ‘children’ – which is in fact a double plural, as ‘childre’ would do alone. By this time, I was in danger of disappearing down an etymological wormhole, so – time to stop!

(About the picture at the top – detail from a drawing of yoked oxen in Tuscany, by Walter Shirlaw, dated in the 1870s. In the collection of the Smithsonian, reproduced under the terms of CC0.)

White Ox Mead, Wellow, Bath and North East Somerset, BA2 8PN, United Kingdom