Chapter 3
The name and the place

The name Titchener is a very old one, and is today widely distributed in the south and west of England, and even further afield. There are many variants of it.

Cottle in “The Penguin Dictionary of Surnames” (Penguin, 1967) records: “Titchener (and rarely Tichner) ‘dweller at the crossroads’ ” and refers the reader to “Twitchen” as a variant. This entry reads: “Twitchen, Twitchin, Twitching(s) ‘road fork, cross-roads’ the -s probably denoting ‘of (i.e. at)’. Common Devon place-name element. But Guppy found -chin only in Hants.”


Figure 3.1: Bishopstone parish church.

Under “Titchener” Cottle notes in parentheses: “Yet the Chichester origin of one family tempts one to associate the surname with ‘at Itchenor’ nearby - ‘Ycca’s landing place’ ”.

Reaney in “A Dictionary of British Surnames” (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958) under “Titchener” refers on to “Twitchen”, where he lists many variants of both forms. He records the earliest mention of the name as Thomas de la Twichene in the year 1275. The only meaning he gives is “dweller at the place where two roads meet”, noting, like Cottle, that it is particularly common in Devon as Twitchen.

Whatever the meaning assigned to the name it is clearly of early origin. In and around Swindon and the nearby village of Bishopstone, which is where Eli was born, it is still fairly common, although in Bishopstone itself it has died out. In fact it was a Bishopstone name only for a little over 200 years.

Bishopstone lies on the northern edge of the Wiltshire downs above the Vale of the White Horse. Although not specifically mentioned in the Domesday Book covering Wiltshire (“Domesday Book Vol. 6 Wiltshire”, Gen. Ed. J. Morris: Eds of Vol. 6, C. and F. Thorn), it is a very old settlement. It was part of the Saxon hundred of Ramsbury, which was presented to the church by Offa, King of Mercia in the middle of the 8th century, as is noted in “An Introduction to the History of Bishopstone” by G. I. Parker (1985) of which I have a copy. Ramsbury became the property of the Bishop of Sarum (Salisbury). The great cathedral of Old Sarum was consecrated in 1092, but Old Sarum, too windswept and lacking a water supply, was abandoned in 1227, the new cathedral and city being founded at the site of the Salisbury of today on the banks of the River Avon. However, the gaol of Old Sarum continued in use for a time, and Parker records that “in 1227 Richard, Stureaward of Bishop’s Bissopeston, was taken there for stealing wool”.

Although there is evidence of Roman, Iron Age, and even Bronze Age settlers, the present Bishopstone “is typical of the Saxon custom of settling near springs and gradually cultivating the land above and below the settlement,” writes Parker, “with water always available for the oxen which were a necessary part of their culture. Its shape [points] to its having been a town, the roads being more in the form of a square than the long straggling lines usually associated with a village”. The chief link with Saxon times is the remnants of the open-field or strip system of cultivation. This was largely lost in the “enclosures” of the early 19th century. The main surviving evidence of Saxon cultivation is the lynchetts at the head of the little valley in which Bishopstone lies and on the sides of the valley that begins just below the Ridgeway. The present village takes its essential form from the Parliamentary Enclosures and later the actions of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

The village of today comprises a cluster of cottages, mostly quite old, whitewashed and thatched, grouped round a small millpond and spreading up and down the millstream and out along a small network of lanes. At the extremities of the village are newer cottages - many of them council houses.

Standing in one of the lanes, to our excitement when we first visited Bishopstone in 1973, was a largish cottage on the wall of which was mounted a well-polished brass plate that read “Titchener’s Cottage”. Bolder than I, Margaret opened the gate, walked to the door, and knocked. To the young woman who opened she explained our interest. She welcomed us in and showed us round, although in the middle of preparing a small dinner party. The cottage was beautifully restored. She told us that it dated from the 16th century. Proudly she showed us its most striking feature, uncovered during their restorations. It was a large baker’s oven about 6 ft long, 2 ft wide, 18 in. high, that stretched through a wall, itself 6 ft thick, from one room to another. She did not know why the cottage was called Titchener’s Cottage, nor who the Titchener was. Mrs Parker, who wrote the history of Bishopstone already referred to, could not enlighten us when I called on her in 1986. The only Titchener mentioned in her history is a William Titchener, who was the miller from 1752 until at least 1758. It is not clear where this William Titchener came from. His name does not appear in Bishopstone parish registers. It does not seem, either, that he came from Coleshill [T.1].

There is no longer a mill, but the millpond retains its beauty. There are ducks, and a pathway encircles the pond. Standing back some distance on a slight rise stands the village church. It is a substantial building of grey stone encircled by a walled graveyard. Rising behind the village are fields of wheat that stretch up to and beyond the Ridgeway, that ancient route of Stone Age travellers. Not far along the Ridgeway from its intersection with the road that connects Bishopstone with Lambourn lies the great stone barrow of Wayland Smith. While exploring Bishopstone and the surrounding area in 1986 we camped on the Ridgeway at this intersection.