This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 16th June 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 BULMER?

This name has many variations: Bullimer, Bolmar, Boulmer, Bowmar, and Bowmer. However Bulmer is the basic form and is a location-name. It can be referred to one of three places, of which the principle is in the North Riding; the others in Northumberland and Essex.

In Yorkshire "Bulmer" lies to the west of the A64 Road which runs from York to Malton. More precisely it is about 3 miles south of Castle Howard. In the North-East there is "Boulmer" on the coast some 5 miles east of Alnwick. The place in Essex actually doubles-up, giving "Bulmer" and "Bulmer Tye". Both are close together and can be easily located.

No significance in the context of surnames attaches itself to the unit "Tye". It is another way of saying "Bulmer Common". This stands on the A131 Road approximately 4 miles south-west of Sudbury, whereas "Bulmer" itself is positioned some 2 miles west on the secondary road which links the A131 to the A604. Merely as a point of passing interest "Bulmer" is not far from Borley (3 miles north), once a focus of interest on account of its Rectory which which for a long while was credited with being the centre of many genuine supernatural happenings.

None of these places, either in the North Riding, Northumberland or Essex is mentioned in any available Tourist Guide and so it must be taken that they are unexceptional.

The name "Bulmer" (and any of its variations) is straightforward. It is made up of two units: "Bul-" and "-mer". The first is exactly what it seems - an allusion to the farm animal.

The second is less easily recognised but is identified with the word "mere" which signifies "pool" or "lake". Its relationship with the corresponding terms in the French "mer" and the Latin "mare" is obvious.

This unit, in differing forms is one of the most frequently encountered in our native place-names. One survey lists over 100 major sites, and the number of local neighbourhood and field names is limitless. So: from Windermere in Westmoreland to Bowmer in Crich.

All sources of water were of great importance in the farming economy of the Middle Ages and so it is not surprising that so many place-names refer not only to drinking-places but also distinguish them as being frequented by particular forms of animal-life. In Hampshire we find a "mere" favoured by swans (Swanmere), pike are to be found in Pickmere in Cheshire and many forms of domestic poultry resorted to Fowlmere in Cambridge.

In our particular case, the place-name signifies "the pond where bulls are led to drink". It might be worth noting that it was not until the Eighteenth Century, when bulls began to be bred scientifically, and they assumed the alarming characteristics which we associate with them today. Before then they were comparatively small and fairly tractable.

Although all the place-names mentioned carry the same meaning, the original spellings vary and this has influenced the forms which surnames derived for then, have taken.

In the case of the North-Eastern site, it was recorded as "Bulemer" in 1161, but for some reason endedup as "Boulmer". Then, following the tendency of the letter "-l-" to drop its sound when followed by certain consonants - as, for example, in "calm" and "talk" - it assumed the local pronunciation of "Boomer". It must presumably be a matter of choice as to which way the people who a called "Boulmer" wish to be addressed. The Yorkshire location appears first as "Bolemere" in the Domesday Book (1086) and then changes to "Bulemer" in 1130.

However the spelling of "Bulmer" in Essex is rather interesting. The Old English word for "bull" was "bula" of which the plural was formed by adding "-en". This construction still survives in "children", "oxen" and "bretheren". When it was necessary to show that something belonged to something else, then the letter "-a" was tagged-on. In the present case, "bul" ended up as "bulena" and this is reflected somewhat in the way the name was written in the Survey of 1086 namely "Bulenmera" and later, in 1178, as "Bulemere". These early spellings might very well have influenced the formation of the surmane "Bulliman".

Surnames which are derived from place-names usually come about as a result of the inhabitants of a given place departing to dwell elsewhere, Hence strangers coming to live in a new community would have been identified, in the present case, as "The man from Bulmer" or perhaps, "The family over from Bulmer".

And at least one such person did travel far afield, because the earliest mention is to a certain "Anketin de Bulemer" in Scotland, dated 1128. Otherwise all the early references centre either on Yorkshire or Essex. "Walter de Bulmer" is described as both a Cloth Merchant and a Freeman of the City of York in the Records for 1319 and "Roger de Bulmer" was listed in the inhabitants of Essex for 1273.

The name is distributed fairly evenly across the country, although curiously enough it is not as well-represented in Essex as might have been expected. There the Local Directories contain about a dozen entries whereas those for York exceed sixty. In our own Area, there are, altogether about 30 names noted, and this corresponds with numbers elsewhere, as, for example, 30 for London and 21 for Hull.

There are no "head-liners" called "Bulmer". One of the longest poems in the English Language (14000 verses) was produced by an Agnes Bulmer (1775-1836) but it is now forgotten. Otherwise there is the printer, William Bulmer (1757-1830) a native of the North-East (Newcastle) and whose edition of Shakespeare, published in 9 volumes, around 1800 is still highy regarded.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 16th June 1997.

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