Unique Levels Lingo
The landscape has its own fascinating local ‘Levels Lingo’ or vocabulary that provides an insight into the origins of the landscape over 1800 years ago and how it continues to be managed today
In preparation for the Living Levels project, a scoping survey of the local and national archive collections relevant to the Gwent Levels has been made by Historian and Archaeologist Rick Turner. Rick documented for the first time a glossary of ‘Levels Lingo’ that attempts to define the meaning of all the words and phrases used in the Gwent Levels historically and today, with additions of words which are also used in the Gloucestershire and Somerset Levels.
Some examples of this unique watery lexicon are included below.
A small or open furrow or ditch for carrying water off. Grips are a system of surface draining where a rectangular pattern of shallow furrows are cast, leading the surface water to the headland and so into the adjacent field ditch.
From the Welsh ‘rhewyn’, reens is the local word for the watery ditches that criss-cross the landscape like arteries, the primary feature of a complex drainage system that was dug over centuries, and which included a subtle variety of components, from parallel field depressions to shallow surface grooves called ‘grips’. On the Levels, it was the responsibility of those along its banks to maintain it annually or face action from the Court of Sewers.
Pill, Pil or Pwl
Pill may be derived from the Welsh ‘pwll’ meaning pool. In the Gwent Levels it originally meant the whole course of the main rivers but is now used to mean the tidal creek below a gout.
Earthing, turfing and heading
Earthing, turfing and heading are the processes to repair and raise the height of a sea wall.
The gout is a simple tidal flap system similar to that used by the Romans nearly 2000 years ago. Fresh water from the ditches and reens goes through the sea wall at low tide via a flap and out to the sea. When the tide comes in, the incoming seawater pushes against the flap and closes it. The fresh water on the other side of the wall builds up temporarily in the reens until the tide turns and goes back out. The weight of the fresh water then pushes the flap open again – draining out to the sea until the next high tide.
The word “Gout” comes from the Old English word “gota”, and Middle English “gote”, meaning watercourse, channel, drain or stream. The same word can be seen in Goyt, Cheshire and Gut in various places in Britain.
Noghole, noggor or noggle
A wooden peg in the planks in the bottom of a pill over a gout which can be lifted to allow water into a local reen system. These structures have only been recorded and survive on Monksditch.
Stanks are ponds but in the Gwent Levels the word has come to apply to the temporary dam or weir which held the water back –the local name for a moorhen ‘stankhen’ derives from ‘stank’.
Reaping and Scouring
Reaping and scouring refers to the twice-yearly reen maintenance tasks, which involved cutting down the riparian vegetation and cleaning out the watercourse of vegetation and debris.
A person who owns land on one side of a reen, wall or pill and is responsible for its maintenance – derived from “Brinker”, a person living on the brink or border.
A perch is a commonly used unit of length and area measurements for allotments. It is used in the Levels for measuring land, fences and walls, varying locally but was later standardized at 5½ yards.
Putcher or Putcheon
A funnel shaped basket traditionally made from hazel rods and willow plait for catching salmon and eels in the River Severn and tributaries.
Reen vaulting was a popular local sport once practised by people in the Gwent Levels.