Morcombe Family
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Much information was collected over a couple of afternoons in the summer of 1991 in the Bournemouth Reference Library at Lansdowne. Surnames, inherited from the father by his children, were not in use from the earliest times. Rather the name was awarded to a man according to his occupation, e.g. Baker, Carpentir, Shepherd, Smith, etc,. This still survives in Wales where there are so many Joneses; we called them Jones the post, Jones the undertaker, Jones the barber, Jones the milk, and so on when I was growing up in Pembrokeshire, an English speaking part of Wales. The experts give a number of different classifications of surnames including:

  • RELATIONSHIP, "le Fitz Payn" = son of Payn
  • FEMALES, "la Wodawe" = the widow
  • ANCESTRAL, Algar, Aelfgar (Saxon)
  • NICKNAMES, "Gosebodi" = shape of a woman, "Langknyf" = long knife
  • LOCATIONAL "atte Lynch" = at the ridge, "de Woolecombe" = from Woolcombe

The various authorities who have written books and dictionaries on this subject (except one)
were sure that Morcombe is a location or habitation name. It would originally have been de
Morcombe, coming from Old English (Mor moor or swamp and Cumb valley), meaning living in or coming from a marshy valley. The name has nothing to do with Morecambe, the Lancashire town by the West Coast of England, which, they say, was mentioned by Ptolemy as Moricambe in the 2nd Century referring to Morecambe Bay. This comes from the Celtic, mori = sea and cambo = curved (Dictionary of Place Names in the British Isles by Adrian Room), meaning curved bay or inlet.

So it looks as if the original ancestor came from a valley on a moor or heath. Such a location can be found in present day Cornwall by looking at a modern Road Atlas. It is the Vale of Mawgan or Lanherne running North West from St. Columb Major to the sea. This corresponds exactly with a strong concentration of Morcombes I found when I was trying to classify Morcombes into locations which I had found in the International Genealogical Index for Cornwall (the IGI compiled by the Mormon Church).

I found that there were 75 Morcombes of all spellings, including Morcoms, out of a total of 140 Morcombes who had been christened or married in Cornwall over a period of nearly 200 years who came from 5 parishes near St Columb Major; namely St Issey, St Merryn, St Columb Minor, East Newlyn and St Columb Major. Moreover, these are adjoining the present day small town of St Columb Major. So far I have not had time to see what the Vale of Mawgan is like. It is not very far from Trebetherick, near Padstow, 9 miles as the crow flies or about 12 miles by road. Trebetherick, so much loved by our onetime Poet Laureate, John Betjeman, and immortalized in his poem `Summoned by Bells''. The experts recognize variants in the name in the form of Morecombe or Morcom (Cornish).

The one authority (Dictionary of Surnames, by Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges, Oxford 1988) disagreeing with it being a location says that the name Morcombe comes from Old English. The first part of the name could be a personal name. A Norman nickname from Old French, mort dead (Latin mortuus), presumably referring to a person of deathly pallor or an unnaturally still countenance, and cumb valley. They continue that the surname has been established in Cornwall since an early date; it is not, however, of Cornish origin. It was fairly common in Bodmin in the 16th Century.

Finally, there is one place name incorporating the name Morcombe in its correct spelling and that is Morcombelake, a hamlet, just on the Dorset side of the county boundary line between Dorset and Devon. It is on the main road (A35) going west from Bridport to Axminster. Cars roar by in both directions that's how traffic is these days but slow down if you do go by and stop at a unique small village bakery called Moore's Biscuits. You will always find a number of cars parked outside and this is a tribute to the excellence of their products. In the tiny retail shop you will have to wait your turn to be served because the other customers are buying up the biscuits, home made cakes and other specialty products. Try their specialty called Dorset nobs. These are tiny rusk like biscuits, shaped like breadrolls, which are scrumptious with butter or with cheese. But this is an acquired taste; Mady doesn't like them all that much.

Before leaving this village, I give a bit more of the place name history. Morcombelake was a kind of suburb of an adjoining village having the wonderful name Whitchurch Canonicorum (that is for all you Latinists). Look at the map and you will see that it is on Marshwood Vale and is mentioned in the Domesday Book as Witcerce (1086) and Witechurch (1231) from Old English: hwit white and cerce church. The ``Canonicorum'' bit is used because Whitchurch was a ``peculiar'' of the Diocese of Salisbury rather than the proper cathedral which is Winchester, and it belonged to the Salisbury Canons no wonder Henry VIII decided to disestablish the church when they were rolling in wealth and land. Morcombelake is on the river Char, but it is a new village compared with its neighbour because it only dates from 1558 ! The meaning of its name (Dorset Place Names their Origin and Meaning, by A.D. Mills) corresponds with that of our surname:

mor = marsh
cumb = valley
lacu = stream
i.e. stream in a marshy valley.



Editor's note:

Our ancestors were Englishmen of no particular distinction. They mostly worked at carpentry, farming, shoe making, and similar trades. None were teachers, doctors, clergymen or members of the aristocracy.






























©2007 Peter H. Morcombe
Last update: 14-June-2007