This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 19th February 2001, reproduced by kind permission of the author, the late Desmond Holden.

The “What's in a Name” series was a regular feature in the Advertiser over the period 1993‑2004, taking a refreshing look at the derivation of some typically Derbyshire surnames.

Articles are confined to the origins and meanings of surnames, and do not indicate any particular interest on Desmond's part in the genealogy, descent, or family history of individuals bearing the surnames featured.

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 BRIDDON?

A reader, working in Matlock, has asked especially about his name. It is certainly well-represented locally since there are nearly 50 entries in the local directory (not including a dozen or so variations such as "Briddon" and "Breedon"). This is not surprising since according to a survey carried out in 1890, "Briddon" was included among the names special to Derbyshire.

It has been asserted that the name is derived from either of two places: one in Leicester (Breedon), the other in Worcester (Bredon). The searches carried out by the "Peak Advertiser" suggest that the Leicester site is the principal source of the surname which is heavily concentrated in this region, whereas the other place appears to have no numbers to match it. Indeed, if it has generated a similar surname, it remains insignificant in its distribution.

Suggestions that "Briddon" could have originated as an occupational name describing a person engaged in the making of bridles and saddles are very doubtful. The construction of the surname cannot be perfectly matched-up with corresponding surnames which reflect this meaning, such as "Briden" or "Brydone". If anything, it would have been based upon the word "briddon" (from the French word "bridon") and which was a feature in the tackle of a horse. Its design seems to have allowed the rider to guide the animal without tugging on the bit. As it happens the expression "bridoon" first appears in writing about 1750 and it is submitted that it was invented long after surnames had been established.

In the case of the place-names, that in Worcestershire is truly the better-known on account of the verses by A.E. Houseman (1859-1936) but since it is submitted that it generated few - if any - surnames much beyond its immediate vicinity, it is being passed-over.

The place "Breedon-on-the-Hill" in Leicestershire is only about 800 yards from the Derby-Leicester border, close to Melbourne. The hill lies within the 500 foot contour. Curiously the church stands separated from the village, right on top of the hill, while the village is as the foot!

The unit "-don" appears in countless place-names although its meaning can vary. Here it means "a hill on which it is possible to establish a settlement". Particular interest lies in the first unit, "Bre-" which is from an older word ("Bregh"). It also means "hill" and can be discerned in words such as "ice-berg" (i.e. Ice-hill). What has happened here is that later settlers heard the original inhabitants of the region refer to the mound as "Bre" and thought that this was a special name and not the ordinary expression for "Hill". So they tagged on their own word, which was "Don" and created a sort of double name which means, literally, "The Hill called the Hill". This fact was so completely lost on a later generation that it added the superfluous label "-on-the-Hill"!

With regard to the mutation of "Breedon" into "Briddon" it may be mentioned that in the development of our language, it is not unusual for long vowels to be fore-shortened. A familiar example is the place-name "Greenwich" which is now pronounced as if written "Grinn-itch". An every-day word is "breeches", regularly pronounced "britches" (and sometimes so-spelled). The process is still under way, particularly in the States. Within living memory the word "details" once sounding like "dee-tales" is rapidly taking on the sound "ditt-ales".

In the case of the progress of "Breedon" into a surname, there is little to go on. The earliest mention is to an "Ysolt de Bredon", but where the lady is described as "being from" cannot be ascertained. The name is simply listed in a set of general Tax Returns for 1204. However later references favour the Leicester site. The record of the Feudal Dues from Leicester for around the middle of the 13th century list a Ralph de Bredon, and most significantly, also includes a William de Bredon (1275) as being from Derby. There seems to have been movement northwards since the records of York speak of Richard de Bredon (1306) and Johannes de Bredon (1379). The persistence of the "de" (i.e. meaning "from") shows the surname is derived from a placename and the proximity of the recorded names to Breedon in Leicestershire is strongly suggestive of it being the source. Indeed the point is almost carried to conviction since the first example of the surname by itself is actually written "Breedon" and refers to a Zacchaeus Breedon from Buckingham and entering Oxford in 1604.

It can be surmised with confidence that the original bearers of the name had made their way to Melbourne to seek employment. Since it was only 2 miles distant, each worker was easily identifiable as someone "from Breedon". (And no doubt by then pronounced "Briddon"). As time went on the emigrant workers could have moved to Derby which was only 8 miles further, and by which time the surname was getting established and there was no need to adopt or be given another. And from the earliest days of their movement, being largely agricultural workers, they hadn't much reason to travel far afield and so the name tended to become special to Derbyshire. From all the foregoing there is very persuasive evidence that families called "Briddon" can claim to be of true Derbyshire stock.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 19th February 2001.

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