This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 1st July 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 MEASURES?

At first sight one might be tempted to conclude that this is an occupational name and would have referred to an Official who went around checking weights and measures. Were that the case it would be related to the French "mesurier" which translates, not very appropriately as "surveyor".

Such an explanation cannot be ruled out entirely but it lacks conviction. The Inspection of Weights and Measures in Mediaeval Society was important,and entrusted to persons standing high in the Administration of Government. They would certainly have acquired names by then and if they did tag-on something like "le Mesurier" it still would't have taken on the function of a surname.

There are two important features about "measures". The first is that it is not to be found in any of the old Records. Secondly, it is highly localised. Had it been an occupational name it would have been more widely distributed and not confined to the Midlands.

Furthermore, had "Measures" been associated with feet and inches, then this would have influenced its spelling. The word in that sense originates from the Latin "mensura" and during the transition into English the final "-a" was dropped and the earliest written form is "mesure". In French, however, this "-a" was attracted to the beginning of the work, giving "measure". We only adopted that form of spelling towards the end of the 1500's. So, since "measure" did not appear until long after surnames had become established, it is reasonable to suppose that had it really been occupationally derived, then as a surname it would have persisted and survived under its older spelling - "Mesure".

Since that is not proved to be the case, we may look for a different origin and that lies in the French word "masure" which means "shack" or "hovel". Accommodation in the Middle Ages both for rich and poor was relatively simple. Whether one lived in a castle or a cottage there wasn't much to choose by way of comfort. Indeed, our ancestors spent most of their lives out of doors and just as long as they had some semblance of protection from the wet and the cold by way of four walls and a roof, they were satisfied. So it made little difference if one constructed a make-do shelter of wattle and daub or simply moved into some tumble-down structure abandoned by former settlers.

The moralising writer, Maria Edgeworth tells a story of how some orphan children moved into the ruins of a castle. The setting of her story was Eighteenth Century Ireland but there is no reason why such things should not have gone on elsewhere. In France it was so specifically acknowledged that such occupiers were designated as (individually) "Le Mesurier", or, "he who lives in a tumble-down shack".

This was constructed on the word already mentioned, namely, "masure" and that can be traced to a late Latin expression "mansura" which, in turn, had evolved from the Classical Latin "mansionem" meaning "temporary lodgings" or "a stop- over". The ultimate root-word is "manere" which means "to remain" or "to stay put".

In France the surname "Le Mesurier" evolved and has associations within the Channel Islands (Alderney). It is familiar to Military Historians. To the general public, though, the name is affectionately identified with the actor John Le Mesurier ("Sergeant Wilson of Dad's Army"). He lived between 1912-1983 and it should be mentioned that he took the name from his Mother's family for Stage Purposes. It was not his real designation. Alternative variations include "Masures" and "Demasures".

Now, bringing together these obvious French connections and the abscence of the name from the earliest English Records, we can deduct that it was imported comparatively recently from France. And what better explanation could there be than that it came over with some Huguenot refugees.

In 1685 Louis XIV gave in to pressure from the Catholic Church and expelled his Protestant subjects (Revocation of the Edict of Nantes). Many of them sought asylum in England. It is well within the bounds of credibility that some would have been called "Masures" and it is equally as credible that they would have modified it into "Measures" as being the nearest thing they and their new English neighbours could get to it. No doubt it is just possible that the French expression "messieurs" might have had some influence (?).

Many immigrants settled in the South-East around London, but some made their way into the Midlands. That accounts for the heavy concentration of the name in that Region. It seems to have begun its English life in Northamptonshire. Today the Directories for Leicester, Nottingham, and Peterborough between them contain over 100 entries but as soon as one moves outside, numbers drop rapidly. Even in London there is scarcely a dozen. A representative group seems to have separated itself from the main body and settled in Derby which accounts for the noticable convergence of the name in our Area. There is about a dozen entries in the local Directory.

The name is particularly significant because Miss Rebecca Measures has been chosen as the Carnival Queen for 1996, and to whom the "Peak Advertiser" sends its best wishes and offers this feature in compliment.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 1st July 1996.

This is a Genealogy Website
URL of this page:
Logo by courtesy of the Open Clip Art Library