This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 27th October 1997, 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 BROOMHEAD?

A Reader living in Birchover has written to the Peak Advertiser asking for information about the name "Broomhead". Variations on this name include Bromehead, Bromet and Brummitt. There are about twenty entries under "Broomhead" in the local directories and one for Brummitt.

At first glance it could be very easy to assume that it is based on a nick-name as describing somebody with a great mop of hair. Such an explanation would appear to be confirmed since there are also names such as "Mopp" and "Moppet" but they are unrelated and do not carry such a meaning. Incidentally the modern word "Muppet" illustrates the danger of seeking fanciful resemblances and concocting explanations. The term was, in fact, coined "out-of-the-Blue" by the designer (J.Henson) who has firmly dismissed the notion that it was a combination of "Marionette" and "Puppet"!

"Broomhead" is actually a location-name and refers to a Hall in the West Riding. It is clearly indicated on the Ordnance Survey (Sheet 110) being about 2 miles south-west of Stocksbridge. Standing on the 1000 foot contour it now over-looks the Broomhead Reservoir which was constructed out of Ewden Beck, a minor tributary of the River Don which it joins at Wharncliffe. Access is by secondary roads only, with very steep gradients. The Map shows it as set in wild moorland with no provision for road traffic. The establishment is of considerable antiquity. A local history (1860) makes mention thus: "an estate in Hallamshire, County of York, which passed from the family through an heiress as early as the time of Richard II". Since that Monarch's dates are 1377 to 1399 it follows that anybody who now bears the name and is descended from the original family can trace their ancestry as far back only to a junior member. In the majority of cases however the surname will have been given to a man who had emigrated and settled elsewhere and had been identified among his new neighbours as "him from Broomhead". Or, as seems equally as likely, people who worked on the estate took its name as a matter of convenience as, for example, at "Ditchfield" near Widnes.

The meaning of the name presents no problem. There are two units: "Broom-" and "head". The first, "Broom-" is easily recognised as describing the shrub with yellow flowers which grows extensively on moorlands. It is derived from the same Old Germanic sources which give us "briar" and "bramble". Its twigs, when bundled and bound on a stick have provided an instrument for sweeping from the earliest times. Hence the name of the plant was adopted to describe all such implements. The second unit "-head" is derived from the Old English word "Heafod" which occurs in countless placenames. It has several meanings but in the present context signifies "summit". The evidence available indicates that the first unit took the form "bromig". The suffix "ig" was an Old English grammatical device for constructing adjectives which, in Modern English, is accomplished through the termination "-y" The word "bromig" then, by extension from "broomy", was linked with "heafod" and together they were interpreted as "The Hill" which is covered in broom".

As might be expected from its location, the name is first recorded in Sheffield (1290) and refers to a Henry de Bromeheude. Here it should be noted that "de" which occurs so frequently in older surnames does not necessarily signify that the bearer had any aristocratic connections. Although in the present case the name is recorded during the time when the original family held the estate and so it is possible that it really does mean "Henry of Broomhead", nevertheless, the "de" more frequently means nothing more that "from" or "to be found at". The name re-appears in Sheffield yet again for Records of 1440 and has dropped the "de" as for John Bromehed.

Although today it is usually pronounced as written, the long "-oo-" in Broom formerly took on the same sound as in "soot" and the final "-d" in "-head" changed to "-t". This is reflected in some versions of the name such as for "Mary Brummett" (1717).

In 1890 a list of surnames special to each of the English Counties was compiled and "Broomhead" was included as peculiar to Derbyshire. Probably as pressure on resources grew too great to support the people in Broomhead, they emigrated to Sheffield or to the South, over the moors and down into the Peak. It is interesting to imagine how they might have trudged along the track which is now Mortimer Road and made their way into Bakewell or across to Buxton. Equally it is also possible that the owners of the estate could have transferred workers from Broomhead to property they might have in this Area. But that is something for local historians to investigate.

Finally, those families bearing this name and who have a Scots connection might be able to trace their origins to the County of Clackmannon. There is a small settlement called Broomhead in the vicinity of the town of Dollar - about 10 miles east of Stirling.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 9th March 1998.

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