20th January 2021

The Broken Branch - an Online Presentation
by Ian Waller

The subject of Ian's online presentation on 20th Feb 2021 was covering name changes, variants and patronymics.

Ian Waller is a retired genealogist with over 30 years' experience in research and is now an author and public speaker who has spoken at ESFH meetings before.

He started his presentation by explaining the many reasons why family historians might find that the names of their ancestors may be differently recorded over time. People had numerous reasons for wanting to call themselves by another name including to cover up illegitimacy, fear of persecution, as a result of a marriage breakdown, to escape from authorities, or just that they disliked their surname.

Historically, private Acts of Parliament or Royal Licenses were used for official changes of names. Royal Licences were the most common mechanism in the 18th-19th century and were issued where an inheritance depended upon taking the deceased's name or a marriage settlement required the husband to adopt his wife's name. A small number of these licenses can be found in classes SP44, HO 38 1782-1868 and HO142 February 1868 onwards, at The National Archives. Some people, if they chose to make an announcement, would insert the details in a local or national newspaper like The Times, whilst announcements for the public record were made in The London Gazette (now known as The Gazette) a system that continues up to the present day. The College of Arms also has a record of Royal Licences although no public access is possible however searches can be paid for.

Royal Licences were superseded in the 20th century by the use of 'deed poll' where one party draws up a legal document known as a deed poll. Changes of name were made before a solicitor who issued the document to the person changing their name. The person changing their name could ask their solicitor to "enrol" the deed poll, creating a permanent records in the Enrolment books of the Supreme Court of Judicature (formerly the Close Rolls of Chancery). The National Archives only holds deed polls which have been enrolled and an index is available but is not online so can only be searched at the archive. Deed poll records from 1851-1903 are held in series C275, 1904-1944 in J18.

From 1914 it was compulsory for enrolled deed polls to be published in the London Gazette. Enrolled deed poll records from 2004 are held by the Royal Courts of Justice. This system is still in use today.

'Notice is hereby given that a Deed Poll dated 01/11/2020 and enrolled in the Senior Courts of England and Wales on 26/11/2020, I, LUKE GEORGE FROST, 165 Coldharbour Lane HAYES UB3 3EQ, Single and a British Citizen under section 1(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981, abandoned the name of LUKE GEORGE SHELBOURN and assumed the name of LUKE GEORGE FROST.' 01/11/2020 Source
The (London) Gazette

T Clues to identify a name change may often be found in family papers and wills, County Record Office collections, and gravestones. There is an index compiled of the change of names for the UK and Ireland by WP Phillimore and Edward Fry - Change of Name 1760-1901 which is available on CD online. Unfortunately for family historians there is no centralised register of name changes. When accessing indexes researchers should be aware that a record could be listed under a nick-name or alias, and with hyphenated surnames only one surname may be listed.

In some localities family naming patterns were used i.e. the first son was named after the father's father, the second son after the mother's father, the third son after the father, and the fourth son after the father's eldest brother. On the female side the first daughter was named after the mother's mother, the second daughter after the father's mother, the third daughter after the mother, and the fourth daughter after the mother's eldest sister.

Within marriage although a woman commonly takes her husband's surname, there is nothing in law to prevent a man from taking his wife's surname. Either spouse can keep their pre-marital surname, and following death or divorce the marital or the pre-marital surname can be used.

Name changing was frequent among immigrants during the naturalisation process. Many Jewish, German, Russian and Irish immigrants who came to the United Kingdom simply just changed their name in the early 1900's. In 1916, enemy aliens resident in Britain were forbidden to change their names. In 1919 the ban was extended to all foreigners in Britain and was only removed in 1971. Exceptions to this rule were if a woman took her husband's name on marriage, if a new name was assumed by Royal Licence, or if special permission was granted by the Home Secretary.

Ian then went on discuss the practice of patronymics - i.e. the naming a child from its father, so that the surname changes with each generation i.e. Robert son of Tom would be Robert Tomson. Robert Tomson's son Edward become Edward Robertson. The use of Mac or Mc would also denote 'son of'. A location of the occupation of a father could be adopted as a surname, meaning genealogists need to research one generation at a time looking for places and locations of work and also occupations which may explain a change in surname.

Ian finished his informative and interesting talk by reminding us to "think outside the box" when considering sources where family surnames may be found and to utilise county heritage books such as The Victoria History of the Counties of England, oral histories, written histories, and don't skip any steps in your research!

Report by Andrea Hewitt

12th December 2020

Pantomime and Music Hall Through the Ages
by Alan Ruston

Our calendar of 2020 came to a close in a very different way from past years, in that all our meetings from April onwards have been held via the technology of the internet and Zoom Video communication.

In December, Alan Ruston gave us a well-illustrated talk on the history of Pantomime and Music Hall through the ages. It was interesting to learn about the origins of pantomime and the role reversal of boys as girls and girls as boys, as well as the later introduction of 'The Dame'.

The original characters were based on the Italian Pierrot and Harlequin characters, with the addition of the Jester, all masked and in gaudy costumes, the threat of evil forever present and waiting to be triumphed over by good. How many of us realise that 'evil always enters stage left, or sinister, while good always enters stage right, or recto'.

There was always a signature chase sequence, complete with slapstick and comedic music. The term 'slapstick' comes from the actor using a divided stick which he would 'slap' together as a cue for the audience to react, although originally he would use the stick to knock down stage screens to change the scenery! Until 1843 theatre regulations restricted the use of the spoken word, hence 'panto' meaning All, and 'MIME'. Therefore, performances were wholly visual, actions exaggerated and masks used to show character. At the start of the 19th century audiences were stunned and shocked to see a speaking Harlequin!

Alan informed us that there are not many actual records of actors available apart from in some county archives. The National Archives has probably the best collection of hand-bills and theatre programmes from the 1870's, as well as 'the Era' theatrical newspapers, a forerunner of 'The Stage'. More modern (20th century) programmes are usually kept in individual theatres if they have their own archives. Bristol and Kent Universities also have digitised information. The website
http://www.its-behind-you.com Thas information as well.

The art of performance was an unacceptable profession in the past, so it is very difficult to find any census information where the person admitted to being an 'actor' or 'performer', unless they were with a circus for example.

Alan has his own published book (2015 2nd edition) entitled 'My Ancestor Worked in the Theatre' which would be a likely source of information for anyone searching for a theatrical ancestor.

Report by Helen Matten

17th October 2020 Afternoon session

Evacuation in WW2
by Mike Brown

This is a summary of a talk given via Zoom to a world-wide audience.

Mike commenced the talk by explaining that it had become obvious from the Great War and Spanish Civil War that evacuation would be needed in the event of another war and before war was declared a detailed evacuation plan had been drawn up, the Country being split into three areas: 1. Those likely to be bombed. 2. Those unlikely to be bombed 3. Grey areas.

A copy of the London Evacuation Plan is at the London Metropolitan Archives.

The main categories for evacuation were children under school age with their mothers and school children with their schools, although arrangements were also made for pregnant ladies, the sick and the insane. A survey in the reception areas had been carried out by the Women's Voluntary Service (WVS) which found that there was more accommodation available than was required.

The first evacuation took place on 1st, 2nd and 3rd September in 1939 and every school were told where they were going, which station to report to and what time to arrive. To avoid children getting lost each child wore a label with their name, school, and school number on and the teachers carried a placard with the school name and number on. Special trains were laid on for the evacuation but when the evacuees arrived at the terminal stations, such as Kings Cross, things started to go wrong. Stations became very crowded, with some groups arriving late and others early. Station Masters, wishing to keep their stations moving for their every-day commuters, put the first groups to arrive on the first train, which resulted in evacuees turning up at the wrong destinations, for example, a village expecting 12- to 14-year-old children, received pregnant ladies.

Evacuation also took place by bus, and children from East Ham were evacuated by a Thames steamer to the coastal towns such as Clacton. Holiday camps were also used to house evacuees.

Mike explained that the children often found the accents of their new homes hard to understand and food at the time was very regional, one lady from Somerset told him how they laid on a reception tea of local specialities such as pasties and scones with clotted cream only to be told "Don't want that, want chips". People in the countryside were also horrified that some of the children from the East End tenements, where five or more families had to share a toilet, would lay newspaper in a corner crouch down to do their business, wrap it up in a neat parcel and place it in the dustbin. The poverty of some of the children was a great shock to their hosts.

Around 40,000, mainly middle-class children of secondary school age, were evacuated overseas but this stopped after two ships were torpedoed killing 87 children. (In the December 2019 edition of The Essex Historian an article was published detailing the surnames of Essex children evacuated to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa).

Some private evacuation was also arranged, with people moving in with relatives living in the countryside and some private and grammar schools arranging their own evacuation.

In 1939 a lot of families brought their children home for Christmas as there had been no bombing of London at that time and many children never went back. With the bombing of coastal towns and other unexpected areas, the children were moved yet again - one man told Mike he had been moved 12 times.

At the end of the War, the evacuees returned home as young adults, not the children the parents were expecting, with many having developed regional accents together with a love of the countryside. Probably the greatest shock was felt by those returning from New York, where both food and sweets had been plentiful, to a country still under rationing.

An excellent, professionally researched talk.

Report by Meryl Rawlings (ESFH 6639)

17th October 2020 Morning session

Exploring Your Local History. Beginning your own local history research
and some fascinating tales from Essex history
by Margaret Mills

This is a summary of a talk given via Zoom to a world-wide audience.

This was not quite the talk I expected from the description but was entitled 'My Search for Patrick Bronte experience in Essex'. Margaret described how Patrick having been born in Ireland, moved to England in 1802 to study theology at St John's College, Cambridge and received his BA degree in 1806. He was then appointed curate at Wethersfield, where he was ordained a Deacon of the Church of England in 1806, and into the priesthood in 1807. He was the father of the writers Charlotte, Emily and Ann Bronte and one son called Branwell who was doted on by his sisters according to some texts.

Wethersfield which has not altered much over the years and if Patrick Bronte came back today, he would still recognise it and Margaret showed us slides to prove this. In the early 19th century 80% of the population was employed in agricultural work and there was also a Brewery in Wethersfield as well as a workhouse. Using slides showing the inside and outside of St Mary Magdalene Margaret told us that the church was mainly 12th to 15th century but there had been a programme of renovation in 1750. It has a stained-glass window dating from the 14th century - it is well worth a visit.

Patrick Bronte lodged in St George's House, just opposite the Church, the home of Miss Mildred Davy. Miss Davy's niece, Mary Burder was also lodging there, and they formed a romantic attachment which was disapproved of by her father and resulted in Mary moving away.

During his time at Wethersfield there was a Typhoid outbreak and Margaret explained how busy he would have been caring for the community, apparently, he was immensely popular in the area.

Margaret did some of her research at Essex Record Office and was also helped by the Wethersfield Local History Group who are immensely proud of the village link to the Brontes. The society is based in the Village Hall and can be contacted at

Patrick left Wethersfield in 1809.

Whilst not the talk I expected, I found it particularly useful to me as this is where my ancestors came from.

Report by Meryl Rawlings (ESFH 6639)

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