Centuries-old surnames linked with Mendip families

AMONG the centuries-old surnames of families in the Mendip country area there is none more odd than that of John By-the-Sea. He was a foundling picked up on the sands

AMONG the centuries-old surnames of families in the Mendip country area there is none more odd than that of John By-the-Sea. He was a foundling picked up on the sands at Weston-super-Mare and taken to Axbridge, where he was apprenticed.The foundling made good and became Mayor of Axbridge in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.A former vicar of Wedmore, the Rev S H A Hervey, who packed some interesting local history into his volumes of The Wedmore Chronicle wrote about the persistence down the years of certain names in the Wedmore locality and quoted from wills between 1334 and 1445 in which such names occurred as John de Rych, John atte Church, Richard atte Heth, William the Clerk, Henry Stone, John Pederham, etc."There you see surnames in their infancy," he wrote. "Before the year 1100 there were no hereditary family surnames in England."Men had their Christian names, and if some other name was wanted to distinguish them from one another, then some other name would be given. Thomas was called after his trade 'the baker', or from the position of his house 'at the Heath' or from his father's name 'John's son', or from some hamlet or village whence he came, 'of Latcham', or 'Banwell', or from some nickname 'the Long'."There is much in the Wedmore Chronicle about the Stone family, who were connected with Wedmore for 500 or 600 years. One of them had been a footman to Queen Elizabeth I and owned extensive property, while others were famous as single-stick champions, as also were the Walls.Writing about surnames in his The Heart of Mendip (1915), F A Knight said that among the Winscombe residents of his day there were still those whose names appeared in the muster rolls of Queen Elizabeth's time, and that there were at least two, Nigh and Fry, that went back to the time of the last Crusade.Among the 'Pykemen and Shotte' of the Winterstoke Hundred who "Under the conduction of Sir George Sydenham, Knyghte, were viewed at Bridgwater two years before the sailing of the Armada were such well-known Winscombe names as Tripp, Clark, Young, Day, Lewis, and Badman".The third entry in Shipham's register, dated November 2, 1560, records the baptism of Margaret, daughter of John Tripp. Knight suggests that this John Tripp was he who was later named as one of the 'pikemen' of the Winterstoke Hundred.Tripp is the name that occurs most often in the Shipham register covering the period 1560 to 1794, and there was a John Tripp of the parish who was hanged on the order of Judge Jeffreys after the Battle of Sedgemoor.The Tripps also have ancient Weston links. At Weston in 1699 Richard Varman paid William Tripp "for sooder and his labour about the church".Even further back in 1494 John Arthur, lord of the manor of Ashcombe claimed another William Tripp as his 'villein' or slave, belonging to the manor of Ashcombe. Arthur submitted that Tripp and his ancestors had been serfs from time immemorial, and that he had lawfully tried to take Tripp and imprison him as his slave at Kewstoke.William Tripp, however, asserted that he was not a villein but a freeman, and that he and his ancestors had always been so. After lengthy legal delays the case was tried at Ilchester assizes. The jury found that William Tripp was a freeman and awarded him damages and 20 shillings costs.Day is a most familiar name in the Mendip country. An Arthur Day as churchwarden at Weston Parish Church in 1708 and 1709, and there were farmers and fishermen of the name long before Weston had its first hotel or boarding establishment.Several monumental stones to the Day family on the floor of Weston parish church included that inscribed: Here lieth the body of Peter Day, YeomanWho departed this life ye 28th July, 1695,His life was holy,He dy'd in love,Here rest his bodyHis soul's above.Amesbury is another well-known district name. In 1710 over 13 shillings was spent at Puxton on 'bread and cheese and drink at ye buriall of Robert Amesbury'. A Richard Amesbury kept the Brewer's Arms in Weston in 1830.One also recalls the late Arthur Amesbury, of White Gate, Bleadon, farmer, churchman, rural councillor, and sportsman whose father, Henry Amesbury, farmed the same land for a great many years before him.The Paynes have also been numerous. A Payne who was once a lord of the manor of Hutton, has a brass memorial in the church depicting him in knightly armour. In 1586 a John Payne made a ducking stool at Banwell, for which the churchwardens paid him 17 shillings. No doubt it was set up at the edge of Banwell's former village pond.There was also the John Payne who bought a farm and windmill at Allerton in 1705. Yeo is not so often met with these days. It may have been derived from the Lox Yeo or Blagdon Yeo. The Yeo family have been represented by the memorial to George Yeo, who died at Bleadon in 1763. It reads:Torn from the embraces of his second wifeAnd their fond children, happy in his life;Lost to the poor, took who exclaim in woe,Striking their bosoms, 'Here lies Mr Yeo'.Axbridge's collection of archives is among the finest in the country and delving among them the late Mr A T Taylor produced a list of names occurring between 1242 and 1296 which included Nicholas de la Hole, Martin Goreway, William Young, Robert Horn (who may have given his name to Horn's Lane, Axbridge), Ralph le Baker, William de la Stonehouse, John de Leche (doctor or physician), Robert le Tanner, William le Bergh, Walter de Cava (cave), John Springfot, Robert le Canon, High de Lytele (little), Walter de More (of the moor), Walter Moune (probably an ancestor of the district's Moons), Adam Le Merce, William de Rowberghe (Rowberrow), William de la Fore, and Richard in the Green.There are many other district names on which one could dwell including Bartlett, Body, Boley, Browning, Clapp, Collings, Comer, Counsell, Chapman, Crease, Dando, Duckett, Durbin, Durston, Gill, Gilling, Gouild, Hares, Hatch, Heal, Hawkings, Hoddinott, Hutchings, Isgar, Frost, Leigh, Lewis, Ogborne, Osborne, Osmond, Phippen, Pitman, Poole, Stabbins, Spratt, Starr, Tiley, Tincknell, Tuthill, Tutten, Tyler, and Urch.To set off in search of one's ancestry can prove a fascinating quest, but it can be arduous and frustrating. The first source of information that comes to mind is the civil registration of births, marriages and deaths. These, however, were not begun in England and Wales until 1837, and before that the only direct means of tracing records is that of wading through church and parish records.Naturally the place to start will be in the parish registers of the place or places where you know your ancestors lived. Many parish registers, however, are incomplete, and others not well kept. You may have great difficulty in reading the entries. Parish priests may charge fees for referring to registers and also insist on being present if an enquirer wants to make a personal research.After all, the registers are very valuable, and there have been instances of unscrupulous folk who have not hesitated to tear out and take away a page or pages on which they found family history links.During the Civil War years immense damage was done to many churches and many have gaps in their records over that period.There is also another snag. Until January 1, 1752, the year began on the 25th March, the Fest of the Annunciation. It is a situation in which you may find that some relative was born in December, 1750, and baptised in January of the same year!So far as the civil registers of births, marriages and deaths are concerned there are those kept in the districts concerned. If you want to go in search of your ancestry there are books on the subject that you can buy that will instruct you how to go about it, and one or two interesting ones on the theme are in Woodspring Central Library's lending department. If your enthusiasm is fired, good luck to you, but please do not blame me for the consequences. If you want to set the family skeletons rattling you do so at your own risk - you have been warned!There are now many excellent web sites, DVDs, CDs and books on tracing your ancestors. The National Archives index is available online (particularly useful for records for people involved in the armed services), and many other national and local archives or their indexes can be searched online.* This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on April 23, 1976

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