The Greaves just outside Lancaster comes from an Old English word ‘grǣf’ meaning ‘coppiced wood’.
In the medieval period coppicing was when trees such as oak, ash or hazel were cut down close to the ground. They then re-grew, producing fine straight growths that could be used for many items like poles, wattle fences and walls, bows and arrows.
Variants of ‘grǣf’ are ‘grove’ or ‘grave’ and it is a common element in place-names in the West Midlands and the West Riding of Yorkshire. Another name for a coppiced wood is a ‘copse’.
The word ‘grǣf’ could also become associated with the word ‘grafan’ – ‘to dig’. This happened because these groves might well be surrounded by a protective ditch to keep out grazing animals. There are therefore some places where it means ‘pit’ – such as Orgreave in West Yorkshire and Orgrave on the Furness peninsula.
Usually though it means trees and place-name specialists often look at the surrounding landscape to decide which is most likely. In this case a grove of coppiced trees would have been a precious asset worth naming.
The photo shows Greaves Road around 1900