Petersfinger Road runs from Milford to the Southampton Road, on the west side of Salisbury.
The derivation of ‘Petersfinger’
Petersfinger is a corruption of Peter ad Vincula(), which is Latin for Saint Peter in Chains.
Peter ad Vincula refers I think both to the legend of Saint Peter’s martyrdom and to the chains themselves.
The traditional story is that Saint Peter was in prison in Rome. He somehow escaped, but on leaving the city met Jesus going in the other direction. When Peter asked Jesus where he was going Jesus said that he was going to share the martyrdom of his followers. Peter turned back to Rome, where he was re-imprisoned and crucified ().
The two separate sets of chains that Peter wore were not kept together. One set remained in Rome, the other set was taken to Constantinople. However at some stage both chains were brought to a church in Rome which had become known as ‘Saint Peter in Chains’. The two chains miraculously fused together.
The Chapel of Saint Peter ad Vincula
There are at least two famous churches dedicated to Saint Peter ad Vincula.
- San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome, where the chains themeselves are housed
- The Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula, at the Tower of London
The Chapel of Saint Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London is famous, or infamous, as a burial place for people who had been executed in the Tower.
Queens of England Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard as well as Saint Thomas More, all victims of Henry VIII, were buried in unmarked graves in the Chapel ()
Why ‘Petersfinger Road’?
So why is the narrow country lane that links Milford to the Southampton Road named in reference to the chains of Saint Peter?
The short answer is that I don’t know.
There was a Saint Peter’s Church in Wilton, and also one at ‘Old Salisbury’, which, as I understand it, means Old Sarum and its immediate surroundings, but I’ve not found any references to chapels or churches dedicated to Saint Peter in Laverstock or Milford.
Perhaps, given that the road leads away from Salisbury, there is or was a Saint Peter ad Vincula chapel, or more likely, church at some distance from Salisbury – perhaps at Clarendon or somewhere on the road to Southampton.
Another possibility is that there was some association with the road and the feast of Saint Peter in Chains. Coincidentally, I found a passing reference to the feast-day of Vincula-Petri in 1912 book by Charles Haskins, ‘The Ancient Trade Guilds and Companies of Salisbury’
These officials [of the Salisbury Company of Merchants] were to be elected on the Wednesday before the feast of St. Bartholomew, and the annual feast was to be held on the Wednesday after the feast of Vincula-Petri, or Lammas-day. The brethren were to appoint one or two of the ” antient and most discreet of every trade of the Companye,” ()
Update: The answer?
I think I might have found the answer to why the road is called Petersfinger.
The clue is in the last quote – ‘the feast of Vincula-Petri, or Lammas-day’. The feast of Vincula-Petri (presumably another form of Peter ad Vincula) and the festival of Lammas fall on the same date – August 1st or August 12th, depending which calendar you use ().
I ran a search on ‘Lammas’ and ‘Salisbury’ and ‘Wiltshire’(), and found this extract:
S.W. from Salisbury) is in 89 WILTSHIRE the heart of the Vale of Chalk or Ebele ….. (corruption of St Peter ad Vincula), where were certain Lammas lands. …
…which is from a book called ‘Wiltshire’ by Frank R Heath, probably in a 1919 edition. The interesting sentence, from this point of view, reads:
The ancient forest of Clarendon was of great extent, and was doubtless the chief attraction. The boundary was at Peter’s Finger (corruption of St Peter ad Vincula), where were certain Lammas lands. ()
Mr Heath doesn’t explain what ‘Lammas Lands’ are – perhaps in 1919 he could reasonably assume that his readers would have known.
Anyway, ‘Lammas Lands’ are a sort of common land. My understanding is that the land was in private use through the spring and most of the summer, but were then available for common grazing in the autumn and winter. The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica says that:
A relic of the old “open-field” system of agriculture survives in the so-called “Lammas Lands.” These were lands enclosed … during the growing of corn and grass and thrown open to pasturage during the rest of the year for those who had common rights. These commoners might be the several owners, the inhabitants of a parish, freemen of a borough, tenants of a manor, etc.
The opening of the fields by throwing down the fences took place on Lammas Day (12th of August) for corn-lands and on Old Midsummer Day (6th of July) for grass. They remained open until the following Lady Day.
So the fences at Peter’s Finger were ‘thrown open’ on Lammas Day, which also happens to be the feast of Saint Peter ad Vincula. Saint Peter ad Vincula is corrupted to Peter’s Finger.
- Purbeck District Council – Lytchett Minster [↩]
- Peter in Chains/Michelangelo’s Moses [↩]
- Historic Royal Palaces – Tower of London – The Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula [↩]
- Full text of “The ancient trade guilds and companies of Salisbury” [↩]
- Brewer, E. Cobham. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Lammas Day (August 1st) [↩]
- lammas salisbury wiltshire – Google Search [↩]
- Full text of “Wiltshire by Frank R Heath” [↩]