English Place-name Society

Survey of English Place-Names

A county-by-county guide to the linguistic origins of England’s place-names – a project of the English Place-Name Society, founded 1923.

Gartree Hundred

Hundred in the County of Leicestershire

Historical Forms

  • Geretrev 1086 DB
  • Geretre 1186,1187,1188,1190 P
  • Geretrevves 1086 DB
  • Gertrev 1086 DB
  • Gertre c.1130 LeicSurv 1175 P 1177 ChancR e.14 BelCartA 1227 Fees 1413 Pat 1428 FA
  • Gertree 1260 Ass 1279 Fine 1316 FA 1336 Inqaqd
  • Gertrie 1166,1195 P 1202 ib et passim
  • Gertru 1176 ChancR 1177,1178,1180 P
  • Gairtrie 1203 P
  • Gayretre 1247 Fees
  • Gartre 1285 Cl c.1291 Tax 1330 Fine 1443 Pat 1576 LibCl
  • Gartrey 1601 1604 SR 1610 Speed
  • wapentac, wapentak, wapentaco, wapentacum, wapentagio 1086 DB c.1130 LeicSurv 1166 P 1227 Fees
  • hundred, hundredo, hundredum c.1130 LeicSurv 1186 P 1247 Fees
  • Mathelou l.13 ShR
  • Gartre hill 1477 (e.16) Charyte

Etymology

v. vápnatak , hundred .

John Nichols in his History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester , Vol. 2, Part 2, s. n. Shangton, states that the county courts used to be held at Gartree Bush and gives a detailed description of the site which was on the Roman Via Devana (now Gartree Road), about a half mile north of Shangton village. No doubt this was originally the moot-site of the Gartree Wapentake or Hundred. The earliest record of the moot-site is Mathelou l.13ShR , and later Gartre hill 1477 (e.16) Charyte . There was also a Gartree Wapentake in Lincolnshire in the South Riding of Lindsey, but its moot-site is unknown (v. DLPN 49).

The name common to both these wapentakes is an ON  compound geirtré . In Scandinavia, the word appears in place-names only in Sweden, such as Gertre in the parish of Kärnbo, Selebo Hundred and Gärtre in the parish of Kloster, Eskilstuna. The precise meaning of the compound is uncertain.

H. Lindkvist, Middle English Place -Names of Scandinavian Origin , 49, relates the first element of geirtré partly to OIcel  geirr 'a spear' and partly to its derivative geiri 'a wedge-shaped piece' (as of a spear-head) but offers no opinions as to its meaning. O. S. Anderson, The English Hundred Names , 53, points to the occurrence of the first element with a word for 'pole' twice and with one for 'tree' twice, suggesting that 'these compounds may have had some technical sense now lost'.

The Icelandic Ragnarssaga loðbroks contains a documented instance of geirtré in a skaldic verse:

gret eigi mik modir

menn ok eptir avaldrekka

ok geir tré i gegnum

geirr latið mic standa

This may be translated: 'No mother will weep for me. I am ready to die

fighting at the last. Let the spear-shafts pierce me.' Here geirtré

specifically images the spear-head with wooden shaft, but in this context

it is perhaps a skaldic nonce-word.

Gösta Franzén, 'Svensk Gertre och Engelsk Gartree', Orter och Namn , Festskrift till Valter Jansson (1967), 175, suggests that geirtré referred to trees that particularly functioned as landmarks and believes that the compound is based on geiri 'a wedge-shaped piece' (cf. OE gāra 'a piece of ground shaped like the head of a spear, a gore' and Swed dial. gere 'something wedge-shaped'). He points out that Ivar Aarsen, Norsk Ordbog , 213, notes that in Telemark the word geire is used to mean 'a longish patch on a tree as of incipient decay' and that in the Norwegian Dictionary collection, geire is also recorded as meaning 'the wood along an overgrown gash in a birch stem'. Franzén concludes that a geirtré was 'a tree with a barked and subsequently overgrown gash in the stem'. He comments that 'a tree with an obvious defect of this kind would clearly be an excellent landmark'.

The Leicestershire Gartree Wapentake or Hundred (with its Gartre hill ) and that in Lincolnshire confirm that in these counties at least the geirtré indeed functioned as a landmark for travellers to a moot. The tree was in some way associated with the spear, perhaps either having overall the wedge-like shape of a spear-head (such as the Lombardy Poplar has) or bearing a wedge-shaped scar, maybe the result of the loss of a branch, or with a trunk barked distinctively and deliberately with a wedge-shaped gash for the purpose of providing a landmark. Whether such a gash would have been obviously visible to the uninitiated traveller to the moot-site is, however, problematical. A further possibility is that a geirtré was such a tree as the distinctive and stately ash, the wood of which we know from Old English poetry was regularly used for the shafts of spears, v. geirr , geiri , tré .