The Cambridge University Heraldic & Genealogical Society

The Escutcheon

Volume 3

Number 1 – Michaelmas Term, 1997

A Message from the President

A warm welcome to you all in this new academic year, the forty-first of the combined Heraldic and Genealogical Society.

The summer months have brought various advantages to the Society. Most importantly, a safe and permanent home has been found for the library: a report follows in this issue.

The Accession Banquet, held in the Stanley Library of Girton College, was made the more splendid by the continuation of a long-standing tradition. The retiring President, László Á. Kóczÿ de Borgó et Nagy-Sikárló, presented a wooden shield bearing his coat of arms: Per fess azure and gules in base vert a lion rampant per fess of the second and proper, holding a sabre argent in the dexter and a bunch of grapes proper in the sinister, over all a fess or.

The Society’s world-wide web pages are frequently updated, and now have a most impressive catalogue of related sites, including links to sister disciplines such as vexillography and royal houses of the world. Their Universal Resource Locator is:

Our meetings for this Michaelmas Term are all listed overleaf, and I hope that you will be able to attend at least some of them.

Nicolas Bell

The Society during the Fifties and Sixties

Dr Gordon Wright

One day in the mid-fifties I was demonstrating to a group of medical students in the Dissecting Room of the Anatomy Department. Discussion turned to the inheritance of structural anomalies, and thence to research in genealogy. At the wash-basins, one of the students – Anthony Joseph of Trinity – suggested that I should join the Society.

For about a dozen years I went to meetings when not too busy – though never to any, I believe, on heraldry. I had no part in the running of the Society, but was found to be useful – being able to book rooms in Clare, without charge, for meetings. One such was billed for Thursday, 25th April, 1968 when a talk was to be given, on The History of the House of Lords in the Middle Ages, by one of the authors of a new book on that subject. At about 7.20 when I arrived in Clare for Hall, there were 20 or 30 loiterers-with-intent in Old Court. They were not identifiable as members of the College; and they were NOT wearing suits and gowns. Our intended guest, a certain Mr J.E. Powell (who had recently made an important, and provocative, speech on immigration) had wisely cancelled his visit. In his place a talk was given by Mr Scott-Giles, FitzAlan Pursuivant, on an heraldic subject. I did not wait to hear it – to my shame, because Wilf was a wonderfully good friend of the Society, and to my loss because he was not only very learned as a heraldist but also most lively and full of fun.

My diary for Wednesday, 19th March, 1969, records: “Was invited by John Clare, Junior Treasurer, to become Senior Treasurer of the C.U. Heraldic & Genealogical Socy, in succession to Freddie Brittain, who d 15.3.69”. I had two qualifications for the job: I was an M.A. (the only one ‘in sight’ at the time), and I belonged to a College that made no charges. I took my duties seriously – by regularly attending meetings, especially those on heraldry (of which I was totally ignorant). Many a time did Philippa, the new S.T.’s loyal and long-suffering wife, gently slap his arm when the lights went out, whispering “Gordon, Gordon, wake up: you’re disgracing us”.

On Friday, 18th April, 1969, I recorded in my diary: “With Peter [son] to meeting of Heraldic & Geneal. Soc. at the Graduate Club, Mill Lane: lecture by Enoch Powell on the House of Lords in the Middle Ages. He had just finished when we were told by 2 plain clothes policemen (v. quietly and discreetly) that a meeting of Revy Socialists (? in Kings) had got wind of Enoch’s visit. He left within a minute or so, & so did several members. Peter and I left after 5 mins, went to the Panton Arms for a pint then back to Mill Lane ca. 10.35 (deserted)”.

Book Review

Surnames and Genealogy: A New Approach, George Redmonds, New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, USA. 1997.150 x 230mm pprbk, 292pp, ISBN 0-88082-052-2.

George Redmonds has been involved in surname research for over thirty years so this newly published work is the product of his considerable experience and knowledge in this field. He deals broadly with origin and meaning, heredity, changes of name, the linguistic development of surnames and, in his final chapter, he discusses his findings from a very detailed study of seven specific examples, drawn mainly from Yorkshire and adjacent counties.

He takes issue with many of the traditional explanations of the meanings and origins of names, emphasising that it is essential to study their historical development from earlier forms. He also stresses the importance of using the evidence from aliases to demonstrate both changes and variant forms of a surname, illustrating this by reference to a wide range of archival entries. It seems likely that, as a local historian, his familiarity with so many documents, including Estate Papers, Probate Records, Manorial Rolls, Hearth Tax Returns, Deeds, Quarter Sessions Papers, Parish Registers, etc., has given him a unique insight into the amazing variability of surnames over several centuries.

In addition to the obvious variations associated with the distortion of vowel sounds and the confusion when pronouncing consonants, the author draws attention to the remarkably high incidence of elision and truncation, as well as the introduction of so-called prosthetic consonants such as Y, W or S to preface some surnames beginning with a vowel. He also notes that the final consonant of a first name may transfer to the surname, citing Thomas Anderson alias Saunderson and John Nellis alias Ellis.

Eleven pages are devoted to a discussion of dramatic changes in the final syllables of surnames. Examples include Bilburghe alias Bylbroke, Whithalghe/Whitalk/Whitack and Astmough/Astmall/Asman/Asmond. The changes seem to stem from the way the name was pronounced with very little stress on the final syllable – the listener could never be certain of the spelling – so there was plenty of scope for mistakes which were often perpetuated.

The book is well written and profusely illustrated with detailed extracts both in the main text and in the five appendices. It is a most valuable contribution to the study of surname corruption particularly from the genealogist’s viewpoint. Whilst it is recognised that the analyses have been confined to surnames in the North Eastern region of England there seems little doubt that the types of variation discussed by George Redmonds have strong parallels in other parts of the country.

Derek A. Palgrave

Members' Interests

In previous issues of The Escutcheon it has been possible to print details of some of the names being researched by Society members, and it is hoped that any members who have not yet taken advantage of this option will do so in time for the next issue. By indicating the surnames in your ancestry, together with their geographical locations and historical time-spans, the way is open for others with the same interests to collaborate with you.

The C.U.H.&G.S. Library

It is very pleasing to be able to report that the Society’s library is now not only securely and permanently housed, but also available for consultation by and loan to members. Our former President Nicholas Rogers has kindly agreed to look after the collection in the Muniment Room of Sidney Sussex College.

Members of the Society are encouraged to make use of this valuable resource. Nicholas Rogers is normally available during office hours, but you are advised to telephone beforehand to confirm. His number is (3)38824.

The catalogue was published in The Escutcheon, Vol. 2, No. 1, but has grown considerably since then. A further list of additions follows this notice, and a few copies of the complete catalogue are available on request from the President, for those who did not receive the earlier lists.

The occasion of the permanent establishment of the library seems a good opportunity to fill a few noteworthy gaps in the collection. Two of these, Burke’s Landed Gentry and Fairbairn’s Crests, have recently been bought from members who had duplicate copies, but we still have no copies of Papworth’s Ordinary, Boutell’s Heraldry, Burke’s Peerage or Debrett’s Peerage. If any members have spare copies of these or other important books which do not appear in the catalogue, then the President (who happens also to be the Junior Treasurer this year) would be pleased to negotiate a reasonable price for them.