Mays, Mayes, Maize, Maze Hile, Hill

Jo asks:

“Why is Maze Hill called so – presumably there was a maze since that would be in keeping with the royal park etc.”

The Phantom Replies:

The answer to this is not at all straightforward – and it’s not necessarily correct either. It doesn’t help that it’s not always been spelled like that. Over the centuries it’s been spelled using all the versions in the title.
According to my trusty Hasted, it is “supposed to have taken its name from Robert May who lived, 1683, in Park Wall, now Park Terrace.” He got his information from the court rolls of Westcombe. Gregory Page – who is better known for his developments at more central Blackheath – is listed in 1717 as living in Mayeshile.
As an aside, I was chatting with a friend the other day who’s studying old manuscripts for a PhD, who told me that what we think of as ‘quaint,’ archaic spelling on old documents was actually deliberate – that the authors of documents knew full-well that they were spelling things differently every time and that being able to spell words in ingenious ways was considered a mark of education and sophistication – which would explain why things are sometimes spelled – in our eyes awry – several times in the same document. I have no idea if it’s true, but it certainly sheds a different light on old manuscripts…
But back to the Mays. Turning to Neil Rhind, I read that Mays Hill would have been established by the latest, the end of the 15th Century when our old friend Humph pinched a lump of common land to build his own palace – and Maze Hill would have been the cart track up the side of his new acquisition.

Neil Rhind seems to disagree with Hasted – in that it was named after Sir Algernon, not Sir Robert May. But far more interesting to me is the theory that there was actually a maze – albeit rather a long way away. A turf maze – a bit like the one at Hall Place rather than a formal one like at Hampton Court. It was, apparently, on the site of today’s Wemyss Road – just round the corner from the main drag. It’s not really a direct route though, and it’s frankly a stretch for me – though I guess at a pinch it could commemorate the cutting of the maze…

It’s also spelled Maize Hill – though I’ve not heard that there were any plantations of corn around there in particular.

No – I’m going back to my friend’s theory in that our ancestors enjoyed the art of creativity in spelling. Mr May – whether Algernon or Robert – seems the most likely solution to me – it being originally “May’s Hill.”

I got told off for speculation yesterday and since I may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, I have one last thought to add. I have not heard or read this from anyone – it’s merely from my own ponderings. That since this was a pathway cutting the Park from the rest of the land and that one thing that the area was well-known for – especially in Henry VII’s time, was the abundance of May trees.

There was nothing Good King Hal and his “lusty bachelors” enjoyed more than setting off of a spring morning, and riding out towards Shooters Hill to gather may blossom, ‘ “caracolling” (I think this means singing rude songs) along the way and challenging each other to “feats of horsemanship,” according to Rev. LeStrange. Could that particular hill have enjoyed a particularly spectacular display of blossom?

I’ll be getting onto some of the intriguing buildings – and their occupants – of Maze Hill on other days…

One Comment to “Mays, Mayes, Maize, Maze Hile, Hill”

  1. [...] to Maze Hill in Greenwich won’t find any kind of labyrinth. As the Greenwich Phantom describes, the unusual name is most likely a corruption of May’s Hill, referring to a one-time land [...]