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At the Edge / Bob Trubshaw /

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Toot Hills

Penny Drayton

What is about Alfred Watkin's The old straight track that still beckons, nearly seventy years on? His ideas were often shakey - he himself retracted or greatly modified many of them in later years - yet detailed re-examination often proves that he was closer to the scent than many subsequent 'reductionists'. My short re-examination of black place-names is a case in point; here I would like to re- open the case on another contentious suggestion.

Watkins noted that hill tops with the element 'tot' or 'toot', sometimes changed to 'dod', occurred uncommonly frequently along his leys. On the one hand he thought this was an earlier name for beacon hills, but he further speculated that the men who laid out the leys may have been known as 'dod men' and carried their primitive but effective surveying equipment - two straight sticks. Hill tops with good views would have been important places in the laying out of leys - and toot hills invariably had such excellent vistas.

In some parts of the country snails are affectionally known as 'doddies', and Watkins remarked on the distinctive pair of protubances on their heads which fitted his claim. This link has been perpetrated in the cartoon snail character, Dod, who frequents the pages of The Ley Hunter magazine. As an example of these parallels with 'dod' or 'tut' names it has been noted that the traditional annual ceremony at Hungerford involves 'tuttimen' carrying six-foot staves.

In recent years the place-name elements 'toot' and 'tut' have been looked at by a number of investigators. The general consensus is that it denotes a 'a hill of observation', a look-out place. The word derives from the Old English totian, 'to peep, look out, spy', or Middle English toten, 'to project, stick out'. But 'to tote' in Middle English is 'to watch, to look out'. The word has also evolved into modern English 'tout', which (until recently, at least) meant a spy or lookout man.

Wyckliffe, in his translation of the Bible, applies the word 'tot' to the reference to Mount Zion in Samuel ii 7-9 and in Isaiah xxi b, 'Up on the toothil of the Lord I am stondethe . . .', which the King James version renders 'watchtower'.

It would seem that at least some of these toot hills were articifical mounds, perhaps surmounted by watch towers. This links to a whole group of Germanic words which can be traced back to the Old High German word tutta or tuta, meaning 'nipple'. In Old Norse tuta extends its meaning to 'a teat-like prominence'. Medieval Dutch tote means 'apex, point' (giving the modern Dutch tuit, 'spout or nozzle'). Likewise, modern German tute means a 'cone-shaped container' (although the sense has widened in recent years to include the ubiquitous carrier bags!) [1].

Tot Hill, Westminster

Arguably the most auspicious toot hill is the one at Westminster, London. Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament are the most-recent of a succession of palaces and churches which date back to the post-Roman period. Indeed, the first church here, dating to the seventh century, may have taken advantage of the copious remains of Roman buildings. The locality was known for many centuries as Thorney Island, being an area of relatively solid ground amid the marshes bordering the Thames. Additionally, there was an artifical mound, known as Tot Hill.

Tot Hill still stood in Queen Elizabth I's time, as Nordon, the topographer of Westminster, wrote 'Tootehill Street, lying in the west part of the city, takes the name of a hill near it which is called Toote Hill, in the great field near the street.' [2] Toot Hill is indeed shown on a 1746 map by Rocques by a bend in Horseferry Road roughley where Regency Palace now stands (TQ 298795). The name survived in Tothill Fields, the old tournament ground now part of of the playing field for Westminster School in Vincent Square, and Tothill Street, which aligns with the northern transcept of Westminster Abbey. Alfred Watkins discovered and described a pair of leys, one running down the middle of Tothill Street, although his claims that the two alignments crossed at Tot Hill does not match Rocques' map, although there is no certainty that his cartography was reliable [3].

Jeff Saward has recorded that there was a maze on Tot Hill, which was recorded as restored in 1672 and traditionally a site for various games of skill and agility [4], and a so-called Troy Game (played every Sunday in Lent by knights on horseback) may be first recorded in the sixth century [5].

Sir Thomas Mallory, in the fifteenth century, has Queen Guenevere inviting the Knights of the Round Table to ride out early one morning in May into the woods and fields beside Westminster. Such specualtion about earlier activities here was kept alive throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century by persistent specualtion of Tot Hill being a Druidic site, although the origins of this fable have been lost in the proverbial mists.

Other examples

Totley, six miles south of Sheffield has commanding views of the frontier between Mercia and Northumbria.

Tettenhall, Wolverhampton. Early forms of the place-name suggest 'toot hill in the meadow'. Indeed, the nineteenth century topography is of village in a meadow ascending a lofty sandstone ridge which has extensive views.

Tutbury, Staffs. The well-known castle and church stand on a lofty mound with excellent views over Dove valley over Staffordshire and south Derbyshire.

Toot Hill, Alton, Derbyshire - overlooking the Churnet valley, not far from the confluence with the Dove.

Tutnell or Totenhull in Tardebigge, Warkwickshire. Although not recorded before C16, this seems to be a reliable survival of the Old English.

Toot Hill is shown on OS maps just outside Bingham, Nottinghamshire

Tottenhoe, Bedfordshire - the name means 'hill-spur near the lok-out', perhaps a reference to the hill fort known as Maiden Bower, west of Dunstable.

Totterdown occurs as an early field name in Bucklebury, Berkshire and an air photograph has revealed an enclosed earthwork.

Totterdown, near Chieveley, also in Berkshire, is near Bussock hill fort.

Totters Bank can be found at Chesterton, near Worfield, Shropshire, again close to a hill fort (known as The Walls).

Tuters Hill on the outskirts of Pattingham is close to Totters bank (although in Staffordshire) and close to a ploughed-out hillfort.

Totterton Hall near Lydbury North in Shropshire is overlooked by a hillfort called Billings Ring.

Old and New Totterdown to the north-west of Malborough in Wiltshire lie at the end of a ridge which appears to have an ancient earthwork on the crest.

Tatteredge Hill (shown as Totteredge Hill on early OS maps) is south-east of Leintwardine in Herefordshire. It could be the location of a lost hill fort too.

Tot Hill survives as the name of a lane off the A34 near Highclere, Buckinghamshire.

Tetbury - may be a corruption of 'totbury'.

Teterton, Clee - may also be a corrupt form.

Doddington Wood, Salop - a 122 feet high hill.

Wimble Toot is the name of a tumulus near Babcary in Somerset. For those interested in such matters, it is on the breast of Glastonbury zodiac Virgo effigy.

Toot field, Sapcote, Leicestershire. This is the site of a Norman castle and has good views.

Toothill, Loughborough, Leicestershire. Toothill survives as a street name near the church and may have been site of beacon. The town's name may possibly derive from 'Luhhede's bury'; there is a strong possibility that 'toothill' is a later appelation for the same mound.

Toot Hill, Groby, Leicestershire. Shown to the west of Groby on old OS maps.


Other possibilities.

In an attempt to survey the subject, Angus McGeoch [7] listed the following places:

Toot Baldon, Oxfordshire
Toot Farm, Oxfordshire,
Tote Hill, Hampshire and Sussex
Tothill, Lincolnshire
Totland, Isle of Wight
Totnes, Devon
Totten, Hampshire
Todber, Dorset
Todhills, Durham and Cumbria
Toddington, Bedforshire, Glocestershire, Sussex
Todhead Point, Grampian
Todmore, West Yorkshire
Todwick, South Yorkshire
Tudhoe, Durham
Tudhope Hill, Dumfries
Tud River, Norfolk
Tuddenham, Suffolk
Tudweiliog, Gwynnedd
Tudworth Green, Yorkshire
Tutnall, Hereford and Worcestershire
Tutshill, Gloucestershire
Tutthill, Kent
Tuttington, Norfolk
Tutts Clump, Berkshire
Twt Hill, Clwyd
Tydd Gate, Lincolnshire
Tydd St Giles, Cambridgeshire
Tydd St Mary, Norfolk
Totman's Low, Derbyshire
Tutman's Hole, Cumbria

These need treating with caution. As McGeogh gives no locations for the minor place-names it is not possible to quickly establish if there are possible look-out mounds or hills. It would be well worth checking the earliest recorded forms of all these place-names, to establish if the 'toot' derivation is reliable. As this would be a substantial effort, I have not done so, and reproduce this list as a stimulus to others willing to do such legwork!

McGeogh also follows up Alfred Watkins assertion that 'tut' and 'dod' place-names were closely related and provides thirteen examples of 'dod-' and 'dud-' elements, and considerable linguistic speculation on the links between the meanings of 'tut', 'toot' and 'dod' which lead to the suggestion that these 'look out hills' were less important as military observation points than as originating as ritual sites for observing the surrounding alignments of ancient sites. Whether this is best seen as a factor of early 1980s ley hunting or an insight into wider ritual activities is perhaps best left to another time and another place.

If any Mercian Mysteries readers can shed further light on any of these places, or add further examples of their own then please e-mail the editor.


1: A. McGeoch, 'Tut revisited', The ley hunter, No.97, early 1980s
2: E.O. Gordon, Prehistoric London, Covenant, 1925.
3: P. Devereux, Secrets of ancient and sacred places, Blandford, 1992.
4: J. Saward, The Caerdroia Fieldguide, Caerdroia, 1987.
5: E. Pepper and J. Wilcock, Magical and mystical sites, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976.
6: A number of these examples, especially those linked to hill forts, are taken from M. Gelling, Signposts to the past, Phillimore, 2nd edn 1988.
7: ibid.

Originally published in Mercian Mysteries No.21 November 1994.

Additions received via email:

There's Toothill Farm near Hathersage, Derbyshire and Toot Hill at Macclesfield Forest, Cheshire which has earthworks on the top – supposedly a Roman camp or lookout post.
Alix Otten

Toot Rock, Pett Level, East Sussex TN35 4EW (OSGR TQ893138) is an outlier of the sandstone ridge which runs through Pett. It stands out on the marsh and was formerly an island. Its lookout status has persisted into recent times with the construction of Coastguard Cottages there in 1900 and watchtowers/gun emplacements in 1940.
Cliff Dean

See Graham Gower's article 'A suggested Anglo-Saxon signalling system between Chichester and London' in London Archaeologist No.10 (2002) p59-63 for details of a line of toot hill place-names along the line of Stane Street.
Bob Trubshaw

I have lived in Southampton all my life and can assure you there is no Totten in Hampshire. There is a town just south of Southampton called Totton with an 'o', which I assume is what was intended. But the biggest surprise was that 'our' Toothill at North Baddesley, complete with hillfort, has not had a mention! It's rather close to Telegraph Wood, and can be found readily on an OS map.
Marion Croucher

First, at Oldbury-Upon-Severn, next to the River Severn, the iron age fort there is locally called 'Oldbury Toot'. However, it's on very low lying ground next to the river, although it does stand a little higher than the lowest ground, a small island during floods of old by the looks of it. There's a much more obvious spot for a Toot half a mile away on top of a hill with an artificial mound, but it's the low lying fort on the flood plain that gets the Toot name there.

Second, down in Somerset, there's Cleeve Toot, an iron age hillfort, this time very definitely on a good lookout point. Although the camp itself is slightly below the crest of the ridge, rather than right on top. There's a wikipedia article on it here -
Gez Smith

The place-name 'toot' has always fascinated me as I've seen it once or twice and always wondered what it meant. Two places I know of are..

Toot Hill Close
Shenley Church End
Milton Keynes

This area of Milton Keynes has been settled for at least two thousand years [...]

Toot Hill Butts

This is a commanding hill above Oxford where there is now a major roundabout – incidentally about 5 or 6 miles from Toot Baldon.
Alan Biggins

I was directed to an article on your site regarding various Toot hills, did you know there is one in Grimsby? if you wanted to find out more have a look at blog , there are several references and some old maps and accounts of it.
[The links are:
Toot Hill at Healing Near Grimsby and Great Coates in Lincolnshire
The Toothill area of Grimsby ]
Paul Greenwood

I came across your website when looking up Toot Hill as I found one on the OS map where a motte and bailey stands at Pirton in Bedfordshire. I was struck by the name after living in West Swindon where there is also a Toot Hill.
Kevin Shelton-Smith

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