Articles from the Thoroton Society Newsletter

The Oak Ring

Do the place-names associated with a Nottinghamshire village reflect a once strong belief in the supernatural?

By Nick Molyneux

The village of Eakring in the old South Clay Division of Bassetlaw Wapentake has three minor place-names which may be associated with supernatural entities. In terms of the English Place-name Society’s (EPNS) 1940 volume and its Online Survey, this makes Eakring one of the most “supernatural” villages in Nottinghamshire.

Elf Lands (Elflandes C13) (1.1):
According to the etymology provided by the Online Etymology Dictionary website, the Anglo-Saxon aelf is probably related to the Proto-Indo-European word *albho-, meaning "white” (2.1). The elflandes seems to be the only direct reference to elves in Nottinghamshire place-names so far recorded.

Hobb Hern (Hobherne 1690) (1.2):
The hyrne element gives the meaning Hobb Corner, though the "Hob” could be a personal name or tussocky grass (hobb). Given the other supernatural names it seems reasonable to conclude that this Hob is probably a goblin-like sprite.

Thruss Pits (Thrussepittes 1520) (1.3):
The “giant’s pits” from the Anglo-Saxon thyrs meaning "giant” or "demon”. A similar example probably exists at Hoveringham in the South Division of Thurgarton Wapentake (Rush Pools = Thirsepol c 1275, Thryspole 1548, Thruspole 1565, Thrushpulle 1577) (1.4).

It is quite remarkable that these three names should be found together in Eakring over what appears to be a five hundred year period, particularly when the survival of similar names across the county is patchy at best. It is not impossible that these names might refer to one single area in the village with a changing description over time. Even so, it speaks of a long-standing local folk-belief.

The place-name Eakring may also be indicative of a now lost "supernatural” or religious significance. The name means "Oak Ring” or “Ring of Oaks” in Old Norse, as a compound of eik = oak and hringr = ring (1-5). Do oak trees naturally form a circle or ring? It is certainly possible to create a ring as a deliberate policy of planting or felling.

The Iron Age and Early Mediaeval peoples of North Western Europe lived in a world in which the great oak forests were a real and vivid feature. The Germanic thunder god Donar, the Celtic Taranos and the Baltic Perkuno all had a connection with the oak (3.1). Perkuno may be derived from the presumed Proto-Indo-European word *perkus meaning oak, the same root as gives the Latin quercus from a Proto-Italic word *kwerkus (2.2). Quite why the sky god should be associated with oak is interesting and it has been suggested that the sight of a lightning-struck oak in flame was so spectacular that the connection was almost inevitable. A perpetual fire was maintained in the temple of the Old Prussians thunder god, which lay within an oak tree sanctuary. The Romans thought of the northern sky and thunder gods as the equivalent of their own Jupiter, whose sacred day was the fourth of the week, dies lovis, the Anglo-Saxon Thunresdaeg and the German Donnerstag (3.2).

On the continent, Christian missionaries such as the Anglo-Saxon St. Boniface are recorded destroying pagan shrines at places described as Jupiter's or Donar's Oak. Here in England we have a number of place-names which connect the name of the Anglo-Saxon thunder god Thunor and thunder, with forest clearings in the form thunre leah, such as Thundersley in Essex (3.3). The oak was a tree holy to the Danish sky and thunder god, Thor. In late 999 AD, the King of Munster, Brian Boru, set about destroying the sacred Forest of Thor outside Viking Dublin (4).

It may be circumstantial evidence at best but might a ring of trees of a type sacred to Thor and the place-names referring to demons, giants and elves, make Eakring a likely candidate for a holy site associated with Thor?

Nick Molyneux

If any reader familiar with Eakring knows of the location of any of the features discussed above, please contact Nick on

(1) The Place-names of Nottinghamshire; J.E.B. Gover, Allen Mawr and F.M. Stenton (1940), The English Place-name Society Volume XVII; Nottingham. Reprinted 1999. (1.1) Elflandes pg. 298; (1.2) Hobb Herne pg. 298; (1.3) Thruss Pits pg. 298; (1.4) Rush Pools pg. 312; (1.5) Eakring pg. 49.
(2) Online Etymology Dictionary; etymonline/ (2.1) elf; (2.2) quercus.
(3) Gods and Myths of Northern Europe; H. R. Ellis Davidson, 1964 (reprint 1982), Penguin Books. (3.1) pg 86; (3.2) pg 86 ; (3.3) pg 87.
(4) Thor's Wood - a Sacred Grove near Viking Age Dublin?; Colm, 12th July 2013; website.