This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 3rd July 2000, 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 LOMAS or LOMAX?

This surname and its variations are based upon the name of a lost settlement in the vicinity of Bury, Lancashire. "Lomax" still survives however as a neighbourhood or field name. There are two locations. "Lower Lomax", situated almost half-way between the A58 and B6222 highways and just over 1 mile north-east of Junction 2 (M66), and "Lomax's" which is almost immediately alongside Junction 2 (M66) and near Heap Bridge.

The original settlement, wherever it was, seems to have had only a short existence. It is not included in the Domesday Book (1086) and so must have arisen later. Furthermore it is mentioned only once, in the manorial records for 1324 as "Lumhalgh" and then seems to have vanished sometime around 1500.

It is difficult to be more precise but those who are interested might build on these few available facts. In the records for Bury (1590) mention is made to a "Jeffery Lomax" of Heap. This shows the place-name had passed into being a surname.

Thirty years later (1624) reference is made to a "Laurence Smethurst of Lomax" and in 1638 to "Edmund Smethurst of Lomax". These entries indicate that "Lomax" had gone through the stages of being first a place-name, then a surname; and, finally, a place- name again.

The Smethursts (who originated in Rochdale) seem to have prospered because "Edmund" is designated as a "Yeoman". In the hierarchies of the time, this indicated that he was wealthy and had attained a social status falling only just short of being legally entitled to display a coat-of-arms.

It would be interesting to discover the circumstances in which the Smethursts acquired sufficient riches to be able to acquire property owned by "Jeffery Lomax" and it would be still more interesting to find out why they chose to continue with the name. It is, of course, conceded that the places now using the name are most unlikely to have been the site of the original "Lumhalgh".

In passing, it might be noted that it had probably been long since abandoned before 1590, because it does not appear on any map - and interest in map-making was very great by the beginning of the 15th century.

The meaning of "Lomax" is not perfectly clear and any explanation can be put no higher than inspired guess-work. If the modern usage of "Lower Lomax" is significant in this matter then it could have been influenced by folk-memory of another ("Upper"?) Lomax at a higher level. The geography of the neighbourhood involves the River Roch (hence "Rochdale") which flows through a noticeably deep valley. This feature is reflected in the succession of place-names alongside - Summit, Heady Hill, Simpson Clough, Topping Fold, etc.

Since "halgh" can bear the meaning of "a shallow depression on the side of a hill" it could very well have been that somewhere along the upper contours of the dale (which rises several hundred feet) there was a natural platform in which some outcrop (probably coal) was exposed and a small mine was established. It must have been quite prosperous and easily worked during the years it operated but eventually the resources were exhausted and the site abandoned. This was frequently the case with communities which were based on such an enterprise. Many rarely survived for more than two or three generations because supplies ran out. The residents then moved away, their dwellings fell into ruin and the workings deteriorated.

The presence of a mining connection is forcibly implied in the other unit of the name - i.e. "Lom-". This is specifically recognised as a mining term. In 1747 William Hooson's "Miner's Dictionary" explained it thus: "When Shaftes are sunk down and troubled with Water, We sink Two or Three Yardes deeper than the Design of the Shaftes of purpose to Hold Water one Night at least and this We call a Lumb".

One can assume that water would have seeped down from higher levels and this necessitated the construction of a "lumb". Probably "Lumhalgh" was not all that extensive and not many people were involved in the workings. The few who did were identified as "the folk who lived in the hollow on the side of the hill where they've had to sink bore-holes" - foreshortened, of course, to "Lomax" or "Lomas".

Miners did not generally constitute a separate work-force in many mining ventures: they often combined the work with other occupations, such as farming or forestry. At "Lumhalgh", however, work might have been that little more intensive and some men might have worked full-time. When the supplies began to diminish the workers were obliged to move away and seek employment elsewhere.

When the move began is not certain but there is a record of a "Jack Lummis" being called upon to pay Hearth Tax in Suffolk in 1674. This was payable by householders owning property worth more than £10 a year (roughly equal to a year's wages for a domestic servant) so he must have been well-established for some time in that district. It would be interesting to know exactly when he or his predecessors emigrated and why they moved so far across country.

Otherwise many people seem to have removed themselves not much further than Staffordshire and Derbyshire - no doubt on account of the mining skills they were able to take with them. The name is certainly well-represented in this area. Local directories include well over one hundred entries shared between Lomas and Lomax. It is frequently encountered still in Lancashire.

Curiously enough, in spite of its extensive distribution, there are no personalities bearing the name in the standard biographies. Still, music lovers will be interested to learn that an account of "Jelly-Roll" Morton "the inventor of Jazz" was written by a certain Alan Lomax in 1950.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 3rd July 2000.

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