This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 8th December 1997, reproduced by kind permission of the author, Desmond Holden.

The "What's in a Name" series has been a regular feature in the Advertiser.
Articles are confined to the origins and meanings of surnames and Desmond regrets he is unable to undertake research into the genealogy, descent or family history of individuals.

Editor's Note: Articles are provided for general interest and background only. They are not intended to provide an exhaustive treatise for any individual family history - investigations of which may yield quite different results. Or, in Desmond's own words:

"In the end it must remain with individual bearers of the names to draw upon family traditions and to seek out such documentary evidence as is available to decide the matter for themselves."

WHAT'S IN A NAME … Are you called BLOOMER?

This name has no connection with gardening and has never described a person engaged in the cultivation or selling of flowers.

It is a technical expression used among iron-workers. Some idea of its meaning can be derived, appropriately enough, from the "Derby Mercury" (15th Feb. 1865): "An immense bloom of iron, looking like a huge egg and. weighing 5 cwt., showing the state of iron as delivered by the furnace".

The term has long been used in the Industry - indeed in a sort of Glossary compiled around the year 1000 - AD, the Latin word "Massa" (i.e. "lump") is equated with the Old English "bloma". It seems that when a mass of iron is removed from the furnace, it is roughly hammered out so that it can be conveniently set aside for further processing. Referring to an old-writer (1674) we learn: "At the Finery, by ye working of ye hamer, they bring itt into Bloomes and Anconyes". Fortunately the same writer goes on to explain that an "Ancony" is "a Barr about 3 feet long of that same shape they intend the whole barr to be made of itt".

At much the same date a survey of the Iron-Industry in Staffordshire contains a similar description: "They worke the Iron into a bloom by which is meant a square barr in the middle and two square knobs at the ends, one much less than the other, the smaller being called the Ancony and the greater the Mockett head".

This confirms that "bloom" is connected with the Iron Industry. But then it is very tempting to go on and suggest that "bloomer" could have been the occupational name for a worker engaged in this particular process. Of course the idea can't be ruled out entirely, but the fact remains that there is no evidence that "bloomer" ever bore this meaning. The most likely explanation is that during the time while surnames were evolving, iron-works were conducted as small scale localised enterprises and that every process would have been shared by all the participants and that opportunities for specialisation to be practiced would hardly ever present themselves.

So, as if now seems likely, "Bloomer" and any of its related names such as "Bloom", "Blomer" and "Blumer" were not occupational names, and that they certainly weren't either location-names nor patronymics, there remains only the indication that they must have been nick-names.

As a piece of inspired guess-work - and it is put no higher - it could be that the expression "bloom" was associated with things that were of an ill-defined shape and still in need of improvement. This might possible have led to a large, ungainly fellow attracting the description "bloomer" and which eventually became his surname. Possible along the same line of thinking that caused Goldsmith to give the character in his play, "She Stoops to Conquer, the name, "Tony Lumpkin".

Slender evidence that perhaps "bloomer" bore this slightly derisory significance can be adduced from a passage written about 1690: "Those Barrs which (are taken out of) Second Harth are much better Iron than those made in the Blomarie or First Hearth". Even earlier, in an Act of Parliament, Iron-works are listed in what appears to be a descending order of statues: "Yron Mills, Furnaces, Hammer, Fineries Forge or Blomarie". The fact that "Blomaries" came last may be significant.

The word "bloom" is certainly identical in form with that which refers to a flower. Both can be traced to an Old English construction "Bloma". However, after the single entry in the Glossary previously mentioned for around the year 1000 AD nearly six-hundred years pass in silence before the word is next encountered in the industrial sense (1584). Consequently nothing is known of its development and no link between the two meanings can be discerned. All that can tentatively be ventured is that Iron- Workers included "bloom", "ancony" and "mocket" among their own peculiar terms of art and for none of which has any satisfactory explanation yet been put forward. Perhaps they were a traditional expression which has been passed on through generations of Iron- Workers and which went back to the long lost languages of Ancient Britain.

So while the exact significance of the surname has yet to be ascertained, there is enough evidence for the time being to suggest that it was a nick-name conferred on a clumsy ungainly fellow. It would certainly have been appreciated and readily understood among people in Iron-Working Districts and for that reason it seems to have originated among them. Indeed "Bloomer" as a modern surname is heavily concentrated in the West Midlands and in Sheffield. Otherwise it is more evenly distributed across the country.

In Medieval Times, Sussex had a flourishing Iron Industry and the first references to the name occur in that Area: Anselm Bloom (1177) and Walter Blome (1202) and in Stafford, Robert le Blomere (1279). Locally the Bloomer family has long been associated with Bakewell. Football enthusiasts will certainly have knowledge of Steve Bloomer, the legendary England Forward. He played for Derby County 1892-1906 and scored 297 League Goals.

For the removal of doubts, there is no link between the nick-name and the expression "to make a bloomer". Here "bloomer" or "blooming" is listed as one of several expletives such as "blasted", "blinking", "blessed" etc and used so as to avoid the colourful "bloody". The expression "to make a bloomer" first appears in Australia for 1880 and was in use by Convicts.

It is certainly not identifiable with the loaf of bread called a "Bloomer". The first reference to it occurs in a Journal in the "British Baker" (1937).

The most celebrated bearer of the name was Mrs Amelia Bloomer (1818-1894) an American lady who championed women's rights in that she issued the first modern Woman's Magazine and tried to rationalise female attire by devising the "Bloomer Costume". Clergymen disapproved of it and cited Deuteronomy:XXII, 5 in support! Fortunately common-sense prevailed and the successor to her "bloomers" in the form of "slacks" or the "Trouser suit" is now a perfectly acceptable item of female attire.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 8th December 1997.

URL of this page:
Logo by courtesy of the Open Clip Art Library