This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 7th October 1996, 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 HOROBIN?

A Reader living in Wirksworth has approached the "Peak Advertiser" with an inquiry about her name which is "Horobin". Formerly very little research had been possible with regard to this surname because it can be traced no further back than 400 years. In addition its heavy concentration in one area concealed the fact that it originated a considerable distance beyond. However new material has become, available and so the "Peak Advertiser" will do its best to answer the Reader"s question.

For a long while it had been thought that "Horobin" (or any of its variations: Horabin, Horrabin, Harrobin) was to be traced to a lost fieldname in the vicinity of Taxal, a small settlement about 1 mile south of Whaley Bridge. It used to be in Cheshire but was incorporated into Derbyshire in 1935. A Victorian Clergyman, who was closely associated with this Region and who was interested in compiling records of surnames was responsible for this notion. What he had been able to do was to tap a slender rivulet of local folk-memories and concluded, from them that "Horobin" could once have been picked out as a small spot in that Parish.

What now seems might have been the case is that somebody called "Horobin" settled or, more than likely, was transferred to the area to over-see or participate in some enterprise, the nature of which has long since been forgotten.

It should be noted that in the Middle Ages and later, Lords of Manors had absolute control over the Serfs, and single and even wholesale deportations were not unknown. An inspired guess (to put it no higher) is that somebody skilled in mining was brought in. Anyway, the introduction of an outsider into any small community in the Later Middle Ages would have been a stirring event and in this particular case his name could have been attached to the location where he was involved - "Horobin"s Field" for example.

It seems that the new venture came to nothing and the stranger, or his descendants went away, leaving the remaining inhabitants of Taxal with fading memories. He seems to have made his way into Lancashire and that is the first positive piece of information we have: John Horabin of Westhoughton, 1591. The family then appears to have settled in Bolton where records occur of a Thomas Horabin (1612) and of Richard and William (1633) now called Horrobin.

Today the name is highly concentrated in South Lancashire, the Cheshire-Derbyshire Borders and it trails down in a narrow band through Nottingham and Leicester.

At one time the association with Taxal and with Bolton was just about all that could be stated in connection with the name. The fact is that surnames began to establish themselves towards the end of the 1300's and examples of the majority of surnames can be found in records dating from even before then. This is useful because early spelling furnish clues as to the meanings of many a surname which has become obscured behind fanciful spellings.

In the case of "Horobin" however we did not apparently share this facility because from the time it may have been presumed to have evolved to its first appearance in writing, nearly 300 years had elapsed. Fortunately a form of the name has been preserved which retains the old spelling and also gives us a good idea where the stranger to Taxal might have come from. And surprisingly enough, he could very well have travelled all the way from the South-West - Devon or Cornwall. We haven't a lot to go on, but the name "Henrie Horerobyn" emerges from the Records for Devon in 1596. This is a most useful discovery because, by showing us how the name was originally written, we can discover its meaning and, possibly, confirm that it is Devon in origin.

It comprises two units: "Hore-" and "-robyn". The second is simply the fond or familiar version of the name "Robert" i.e. Robin. The first is the Old English expression "har" which has passed into Modern English as hoar" and means, among other things, "grey" or "greyish white". It is best known in the context of weather forecasting through references to "hoar-frost" where everything is covered in feathery whiteness.

Hence it follows that the ancestor of the "Horobins" was once designated "Har Robin" or "Grey Robin". How he acquired such a name can only be a matter of speculation - was he an albino, prematurely grey or was it a term of endearing respect directed to a venerable old man? Anyway it is significant that this particular pattern of surname - "grey" plus a personal name - can be discerned elsewhere in the South-West. There is, for example, a reference to an Agnes Greyadam for Cornwall in 1297.

Later references in this Region are to a William Horabin for Exeter in 1783 and after that there is certainly some evidence of concentration but by means as heavy as its counterpart in the North.

Further evidence, but of persuasive force only, that the name belongs to the South West can be adduced from the use of the same unit "har" in a place-name. It is "Horrabridge" which signifies "the bridge made of grey stone" and its modifications from "Hore Brigge" (1345) is remarkably parallel with "Hore Robyn" yielding "Horobin" or "Horaabin". The place itself is also in Devon near the A386 (Tavistock-Plymouth Road) and the bridge crosses the River Walkham.

So, in summary it maybe suggested that the original bearer of the name was a man called "Robin" who, because of a mop of white hair, was known to his friends and family as "Grey Robin" The most famous namesake is James Horrrabin (1884-1962). Although, he was born in Peterborough he strongly maintained all his life that his true associations were in Yorkshire, especially the West Riding. Among other - things he was a humorous artist and older readers will recall the adventures of the two office girls, Dot and Carrie, which he drew as a comic strip for the "London Star" and which ran for nearly forty years.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 7th October 1996.

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