This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 8th March 1999, 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 BOWERING?

A reader in Great Longstone has asked about this name and also the alternatives, "Bowring" and "Bouring". There are at least fifteen variations upon the presentation of this surname but they can all be traced to the single word "bur" which is Old English for "Dwelling" or "Cottage". Except now in surnames and placenames it has all but disappeared, although, it can still be found by farming circles to describe a shelter for cattle - byre. A clue to its meaning lies in the spelling "Bouring" which can be seen in "neighbour". This expression means literally "the cottage nigh unto mine" - that is "nighbour" giving "neighbour" (c.f. "man-next-door"). The root-word "bur" originated in Central Asia as "bhurom" and during the great folk migrations taking place several thousand years ago, passed into most North European languages. The original meaning was "to live in" or "to occupy" and, by extension, came to describe "a dwelling". (In Modern German "Bauer" means a "bird cage"). However round about the 1300's the form "bur" expanded into "bower" and also took on a different meaning. From describing a peasant's hut (or "hovel, - more like it!) the term "bower" was directed towards idealised country cottages which existed entirely in the realms of fantasy - "Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease" (Goldsmith: Deserted Village: 1700). Although a few surnames constructed upon "bower" would still have borne the old meanings alongside "bur" and "bour", yet certainly by the year 1000 the notion of a "shelter within a shelter" had already evolved and by 1300 it was the accepted description for the secluded inner-apartments set aside for the Ladies of Great Households.

This introduces a complication in the interpretation of the surname because it became an occupational name for domestic servants who worked in the private living-quarters of their employers rather than in the Communal Halls. However following up this development would occupy too much space and will be reserved for a subsequent article.

Otherwise the surnames "Bowring", "Bowers", "Burres" etc. can be interpreted either as "the occupier of a cottage" or "one who lived in a group of hovels".

The second expression appears to have become more widespread. It would have come to pass that as farmsteads were set up, appropriate outbuildings would have been constructed as well as cottages for the labourers. Collectively they would have been called "the Bowers" or "the Bowering" and this term can usefully be noted alongside "shielding". It is interesting to note that in the Low Countries the expression was "bouwerij". The early Dutch Settlers took this word across the Atlantic to America and it has long been established as the name of a celebrated District in New York - "The Bowery". Note also: in the Netherlands "bur" took on the meaning of "farm-worker" hence "Boer".

Most of the cottages as referred to beforehand would have been rather miserable constructions of wattle and daub, with roofs made of turf and floors of beaten earth. They weren't built to last and so most sites have long since vanished. In a few cases a huddle of dwellings might have been better built and were sufficiently permanent to be identified under a neighbourhood name. Surnames based on such fortunate locations can usually be picked out since the oldest records invariably mention that the individuals are "from" such-and-such a "Bowering" or "Burre". Hence we find Mayfflin Attebur (1280: Somerset), Henry del Boure (1287: Cheshire) and Lorence atte Bure (1296: Drummelzier - Peebles).

A very few places went beyond the status of having a highly localised name, and acquired the distinction of a placename such as "Bures" in Essex. There is one example only in Derbyshire: "Bowers Hall" (Stanton). In 1290 it was called "le Boure" but 200 years later it appears as "Bowrez" and finally as "Bowers" in 1623. (Note: "Lady Bower" is probably based on "Hlaefdige bur' - "Our Lady's Bower" but there is no certainty in this matter. "Bower Hill" at Repton is named after William Bower of Sheffield - 1715).

A man moving away from such a settlement would have been identified amongst his new neighbours as "The guy from Bowering" and hence a new surname was generated.

Otherwise in the absence of precise records it is now impossible to say exactly how an individual surname might have come about. The Reader who has asked about this name mentions that his family were farmers lived mainly in Pilsley and Beeley. Merely as a piece of inspired guess-work it might be that his ancestors were originally "cottagers" (i.e. Burers) living and working on lands now associated with Chatsworth. There is a record of a Henry Bouryng for Derbyshire dated 1302.

So people called "Bowering" or any of its many variations can take it that their surname was the Medieval equivalent of "Agricultural Tenant" or "Land Worker". It was a fairly widespread designation and so the similarity of surnames, even within a small region is no sure suggestion of relationship. An unusual form of spelling is "Bowra" which prevails in the South East, especially in East Grinstead. The one name appearing in the reference books is that of Sir John Bowring (1792-1872) a distinguished linguist and traveller who originated in Devonshire. Otherwise the only celebrated bearer of the name is Martin Van Buren, the President of the United States: 1837-1841.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 8th March 1999.

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