Saturday, May 16, 2009

The name "TOFT".

This is the earliest photograph in our family that has me included. The photo is of a VE Day celebration by all the people that lived on Toll Street, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, England. Somewhere in this mass of people is one of my sisters holding me and my second sister holding my twin brother. My Grandmother lived on Toll Street which has since disappeared in slum clearances. (VE Day: Victory in Europe Day, celebrating the end of the war in Europe in 1945.)

The name "Toft" has two long, storied histories. As a name of Viking or Scandanavian origin, it apparently means town. Many people of Norwegian or Danish origin have the name Toft. The Eastern parts of England, those parts most often raided by the Vikings, have several towns that end in Toft, such as Lowestoft.

The second origin, and one from which my Toft line probably sprang, is as an old English term for the land that belonged to a serf. A "Maison" was land that belonged to the Lord of the Manor, the "Glebe" was the land that belonged to the church while the "Toft" was the serf's own land.

A "Toft" traditionally had specific dimensions. It was a chain (22yards wide) and a furlong long (220yards). A chain was the distance from front to back of a chain (team) of oxen. A furlong, a furrow long, was the distance a team of oxen could plow before needing a rest.

We have friends who live in an unspoiled English village near Cambridge in a house called "St. Francis Toft". Their home sits on the edge of the village green to which they still retain and jealously guard grazing rights. The land of their home is that traditional Toft in dimensions. Their riding stables sit on this land.

Family legend points to an Irish origin too, but so far we have not been able to substantiate that link. Some Irish Tofts are alledged to have come to Stoke-on-Trent during the construction of the Trent and Mersey Canal (1760) and settled there. In the family oral history, these navies were "puddlers" who trod down the clay lining of the canal bottom and sides during construction.

(Readers of "History Mystery" novels set in the middle-ages will often see the name Toft in the glossery too.)

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