Readers of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy may recognise this as the name of one of the villages of the Bree Land. It suggests the strength and stoutheartedness of a people who for him meant all that was solid and dependable about traditional England. Like most of Tolkien’s words, it’s no accident. He was borrowing an Old English word that meant variously a foundation or support.
We’ve almost entirely lost it today, though it survived for some centuries in English dialect, most commonly in the south of the country. One sense was of a stump of a tree that was left in the ground after felling so that a clump of thin stems could grow from it, a technique called coppicing. It could also refer to a tree left in place when all around had been felled, so that it would grow to full size, called a standard, unencumbered by neighbours. The link between these senses is that one form of woodland management was called coppice with standards, which combined the two methods. Staddle seems to have been used indiscriminately for both components.
The sense you’re most likely to encounter, however, especially if you visit a museum of historic buildings, is of a stone carved in the shape of a mushroom, with a conical stem and a wide rounded top. This isn’t a staddle, strictly speaking, but a staddle stone. It was one of the supports that kept the actual staddle, the wood or stone base of a hay rick or granary, clear of the ground. The staddle stones were that shape to keep the rats out.
On the east side, in front of the house, a barn stands clear of the ground on staddle stones; and opposite is the cow byre.
Watership Down, by Richard Adams, 1972.
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