Articles from the Thoroton Society Newsletter

Hob in the hedgerow : the supernatural in Nottinghamshire’s place-names?

By Nick Molyneux

The Name Hob

One of the mischievous - and possibly malignant - sprites of the countryside was Hob, sometimes combined with “goblin” for added emphasis, to give us the Hobgoblin.

The Online Etymology Dictionary helpfully provides some pointers as to the origin of the name. Goblin, with the meaning “a devil, incubus, mischievous and ugly fairy” is established by the early C14 in English. However, it appears to have come to us via the Norman French gobelin but first appearing in mediaeval latin in C12 as Gobelinus, the name of a sprite haunting the area around Evreux in Normandy, as evidenced in the writing of the English monk Orderic Vitalis (1075 - c1142). The Dictionary also gives a wonderful example of the use of the term “goblin” from Wycliffe’s later bible (late C14) as ’Thou schalt not drede of an arrow flying in the dai, of a goblin going in darkness Psalms x.5 (1).

The element Hob, with the meaning “elf”, is explained as being short for Robert (c1300 as Hobbe) or Robin, and specifically the folklore entity Robin Goodfellow. The combined term Hobgoblin is attested in the 1520s. Some helpful dated examples of later use include the Hobgoblin as a mischievous sprite, “something that causes fear or disquite” (1709) and a Hob being a clown or a prankster as in “ to play (the) hob” (1834), meaning to make mischief (2). So, we seem to have an entity somewhere between a genius loci and the devil, rising at some time after the Norman Conquest and before the Reformation.

To what extent this identity replaced earlierAnglo-Saxon, Anglo-Scandinavian and British Hob-equivalents, or became a part of them, is a moot point.

Personal Names

From a place-name perspective we also have the added complication that Hob is a diminutive form of the popular mediaeval names Robert and Robin. The surnames Hobbe, Hobbes and Hobson are also associated with these given names. Within Nottinghamshire, we also have Dob, another diminutive of Robert or Robin, which is a Nottinghamshire surname, giving rise to the Dob Parks in Basford and Hucknall. The name Dob is also associated with the supernatural.(3)

Rough, Tussocky Grassland

There is also another possibility, which is that ‘hobb’ also has a meaning of rough, tussocky land from the Anglo-Saxon *hobb(e).(4) There may be a connection with such ground, especially if wet and difficult to cultivate and the sort of creature perceived to live in such places. A similar connection may well exist between the name of Beowulf’s marsh-dwelling enemy Grendel and the dialect name “grindle” for streams and ditches in parts of England.

Hob in Nottinghamshire

Perhaps disappointingly, surviving place-name evidence as published by the English Place-name Society (EPNS) gives only five examples of Hob and Hobgoblin in minor place-names in Nottinghamshire. Four of these appear in two “clusters” of sites close to each other.

In comparison, Hob place-names abound in neighbouring counties: Lincolnshire (18), Leicestershire (38), Derbyshire (51) and the West Riding of Yorkshire (25). Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible on the day I used the On-line Survey website to analyse all these to assess which were likely to be supernatural references (5). It seems the EPNS website has a Hobgoblin of its own which sometimes makes some minor names invisible to the site’s search engine!

Three of these are in the far west of the county, raising the possibility that these may be outliers of Derbyshire and Leicestershire traditions rather than a Nottinghamshire one.

The other two are both found in the South Clay Division of Bassetlaw. Given the lack of surviving Hob-names elsewhere in the county, the two names in central Nottinghamshire stand out. We have Hobwong (vangr = field) in Tuxford and Hobb Hern (hyrne = corner) in Eakring.

It is also worth noting that Selston has a Dob Syke, probably to be associated with an earlier Dobbe pyngyll, from the Middle English pingel = small enclosure.

Parish Name Earliest Attested Source
Selston Hobsic Hobsitch (1825) O.S.
Selston Dob Syke Dobbe pyngyll (C13) Tithe Award
Brinsley Hobsick Hobsick (1825) O.S.
Tuxford Hobwong Hobwong (1776) Survey
Eakring Hobb Hern Hobbherne (1690) Thoresby
Sutton Bonington Hobgoblins - -

From: The Place-names of Nottinghamshire, Gover, Mawer & Stenton (1940), EPNS

Hobsic, Hobsick and Dob Syke

The first of these is a surviving settlement called Hobsic Farm on top of a hill overlooking Pinxton Wharf on the Pinxton Canal to the north of Hobsic. The Erewash flows around the foot of the hill, whilst the map shows a stream rising in rough pastureland to the south east of the farm, which flows westwardly down the hill to meet the Erewash just behind what was, in 1917, the Old House at Home Beer House on the Pinxton Canal towpath.(6)

Given the close proximity of Selston and Brinsley, it might have been thought that the two Hobsic streams were somehow connected, or even one and the same, but it appears not. The second Hobsick was a small hamlet immediately to the east of Brinsley Gin and to the north of Brinsley Moor, on the western edge of what is now New Brinsley. There were several streams and ditches passing by this Hobsick hamlet, which generally drain westwards towards the Erewash.(7)

Quite why these two places just a couple of miles apart should hold the same name is curious and it seems likely that the first to be so named gave local inspiration for the second. Both sites are similar, being on wetter high ground giving rise to small watercourses feeding into the Erewash to the west. Both are also early C19 attestations from the Ordnance Survey. Could the Selston Dob Syke / Dob Pingle stream be one and the same as the Selson Hobsic? EPNS doesn’t think so and suggests that in this case, Dob is a personal name. If neither of the Hobs giving rise to these place-names was a personal name, it would seem that these Hobs were spirits of marshy, moorland streams.

The “South Clay Cluster”

The examples from the South Clay Division of Bassetlaw might easily refer to tussocky grass, a spirit or a personal name. Tuxford’s Hobwong (1776) may suggest a field of rough pasture but the Eakring example Hobbherne (1690) is in a village with several other supernatural names and so might be more likely to be a reference to a haunted place.

I’m grateful to Dr. Paul Cavill of the EPNS for pointing out that the Hob / Hobb place-name references are often associated with a general sense of unpleasant places.

The Hobgoblins

The fifth location is in some ways even more curious. The Hobgoblins (8) in Sutton Bonington is a C16 farmhouse, now converted into two cottages but originally built as part of a grange farm for Repton Priory, then known as Rependon Grange.(9) An engraving from 1813 shows Rependon Grange as a simple, rectangular-shaped mediaeval gatehouse being used as a barn (10) and there is an interesting photograph from Inspires on-line collection dating from 1979 showing the surviving farmhouse cottages.(11) The building was considered in the Thoroton Society’s Transactions (Vol. 29,1925) in an article by the rector of St. Anne’s church. The Rev. W.E. Buckland’s “Notes and Jottings about Sutton Bonington” (12), gives a brief description of the grange and notes that the barn had gone and the surviving farmhouse was by then two cottages. There was also a field called Hobgoblin Close in a deed of 1682 relating to property in the Leicestershire village of Laughton (Gartree Hundred) outside Market Harborough, which must surely be a local supernatural association?

Why and When the name Hobgoblins?

The first date the EPNS records the two Hobsick names above is 1826, which is quite late and may suggest the names are modern rather than mediaeval. Whilst this may seem counterintuitive the earliest record for the Hobgoblins I’ve been able to find so far is also comparatively recent. White’s Directory of Nottinghamshire of 1853 notes:

At the top of the village is an ancient house called Hobgoblins, which was once an extensive building, as appears from the numerous foundations which are still visible, and formerly had a chapel attached to it.(13)

It seems clear a supernatural reference is intended but when was it coined? In 1811, James Storer and John Grieg wrote a brief passage on the old Rependon grange noting that:

This building, notwithstanding the rude treatment which it has received from the bad taste of those under whose protection it has fallen, retains some vestiges of its former respectability. The entrance is under a lofty pointed arch of the age of Henry VII over which is a row of blank shields, suspended from a moulded cornice by foliage of rich workmanship; on the sides are buttresses, and windows now stopped up. The interior is without decoration, and is at present used as a barn.(14)

However, there is no mention of the place being known as Hobgoblins. In the absence of any other folklore references, it seems as if the decaying stonework acquired a reputation as a place haunted by the local Hobgoblin. Or at least perhaps a whimsical association with one in the age of Sir Walter Scott and the Romantic Movement.

Scott’s highly popular 1808 poem Marmion seems a suitably dated and plausible contender as the inspiration for the name Hobgoblins:

The same, whom ancient records call
The founder of the Goblin Hall.

I would, Sir Knight, your longer stay
Gave you that cavern to survey.

Of lofty roof, and ample size.(15)

There are a couple of other speculative possibilities. Given that the terms Hob and Hobgoblin appear to be generally well attested by the early C16, is it possible that the name Hobgoblins was acquired in C16 or C17 by a ruinous monastic grange slighted during the Reformation or Commonwealth? Could the phrase have been used as some popular expression of satire or disgust at a particular religious viewpoint in that period? A slightly more tenuous possibility is Repton Priory itself, which had a shrine to St. Guthlac. Guthlac was a Mercian warrior-saint who was said to have been tormented by British-speaking demons in the early C8 at Croyland in the fens. Would the transfer of such tales be enough to encourage a post-Reformation, post-Commonwealth farm name of Hobgoblins?.(16) Or, might there have been some prominent surviving gargoyles, grotesques or other faces from folklore peeping out from the vegetation carved on the old cornice, giving rise to a popular local nickname?


(1) Hob; website; 14/02/2023;

(2) Hob; website; 14/02/2023;

(3) Mob, Dob, Lob & Bobbitt: Supernatural Personal Names and Place-names in Dialect and Folklore; Simon Young; Transactions of the Yorkshire Dialect Society 23 (2022) 50 - 82;

(4) A New Dictionary of English Field-names; Paul Cavill (2018); EPNS;

(5) EPNS Survey; hob; website; 14/02/2023;

(6) Hobsick: OS 25 inch Derbyshire XLI.1; Revised 1913 to 1914, Published 1917 and Derbyshire XXXVI.13; Revised 1898; Published 1900. National Library of Scotland website;

(7) Hobsick; OS 25 inch Nottinghamshire XXXII.9 Surveyed 1877 to 1879; Published 1881. National Library of Scotland website;

(8) The Hobgoblins; OS 25 inch NottinghamshireXLIX.11; surveyed 1882; published 1884;

(9) Hobgoblins; Historic England Research Record ; Uid 317501 Heritage Gateway; 14/02/2023;

(10)   Engraving of Rependon Grange, Sutton Bonington from A topographical and historical description of the county of Nottingham by J. Hodgson and F.C. Laird (1813). Ref: EMSC Not 1.D28 BEA. University of Nottingham Blogs;

(11) The Hobgoblins, south end of Main Street, Sutton Bonington, Image 18246; Nottinghamshire Archives; website;

(12)Notes and Jottings about Sutton Bonington; Rev W.E. Buckland, Transactions of the Thoroton Society XXIX (1925); Nottinghamshire History website (;

(13)    White’s Directory of Nottinghamshire (1853); website;

(14) The Antiquarian and Topographical Cabinet, Vol. IX; James Storer and John Greig 1811; W. Clarke, New Bond Street;

(15) Marmion, XIX - The Host's Tale; Sir Walter Scott (1808);

(16) Guthlac, Mercia and Anglo-Saxon Colonialism.; Jeffrey Cohen; 14th April 2006; website. 16/02/2023.