This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 23rd September 2002, 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 SELLORS?
(Variations: Sellers, Sellars)

Several readers, living in Matlock, have enquired about this name, asking that the form "Sellors" be especially noted. Variations in the spelling of most surnames are not usually significant, but in this case the "-or" version reveals a different source from those spelled otherwise.

The most extensive form in the local directory is "Sellors" (30) although "Sellers" is listed as special to the North Riding. Taking the readers' request first, "Sellors" is derived from an occupational name. It was conferred upon an official, found usually in a monastery but later in other large establishments and who fulfilled a role which today would roughly correspond with that of a catering manager. In monastic institutions, there were not only the religious structures exclusive to religion (supervised by a sexton) but also kitchens, accommodation for travellers and their servants, workshops etc. - often a village in themselves. Administration involved contact with the outside world and so it was not unusual to appoint a layman as over-seer. Such as official was called the "cellerarius" and contemporary references indicate that it was considered a very prestigious occupation. The word originates in the Latin "cella" which means "store-room" or "pantry." Note: The meaning of an underground chamber as now understood came later in the 15th century and from the same source and, despite appearances, is not likely to be related to the Latin "celare" - to hide, conceal. At the Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds it is recorded that Ordingus Cellararius officiated for nearly 30 years (1121-1148). The designation gradually shifted to describing storesmen in general as for Robin le Celerar (London: 1297) and Richard atte Seler (Gloucester: (1308).

The suffix "-or" often occurs in words derived from Latin ending in "-arius". So: Cellararius eventually became "Sellors" and may be compared with baccalarius and cancellarius - bachelor, chancellor.

No such linguistic pattern is followed in the development of the surname "Sellars". Expressed very simply the ending "-ar" occurs in words which would normally have ended in "er" but have evolved erratically. As a general rule the notion of "one- who-does-something" is rendered by means of the key word plus "er." Hence: write - writer. walk - walker. But for no clear reason this suffix occasionally settles on "-ar". Thus: beg, beggar: peddle, pedlar. This has caused the surname to appear with either the "er" or "ar" ending and the interchange is often arbitrary and always confusing. The records show that "one-who- sells" is shown quite often as "sellar" especially in the 14th Century. It did not have exactly the same meaning as today. In 1380 John Wycliffe equated it with "touting" and even earlier (1175) Sanson Sellarius was fined for the illegal sale of arms to the Scots and in Warwick, Walter Sellarius was prosecuted for an offence under what were then the Trades Description Acts. It would seem that a sellar or a seller in Medieval times was the predecessor of the "wide-boys" or the "wheeler-dealers" of a later generation. Even recently the word "sell" carried this old meaning of something by way of a cheat or swindle. In the writer's experience, to send an apprentice on a trek round the factory for, say, a bucket of steam or a long stand, was described as a "sell". Responsible traders preferred to be described as "vendors" (Venditor), and it was not until the mid-1500s that "seller" could be shown to mean "trader" as now understood.

Still, in view of the fact that in the Medieval period the universal form of travel, if not on foot, was on horseback, created a steady demand for saddles, bridles, harness etc. Hence the widest interpretation of "seller" is given to the occupation of a saddler. The old word for "saddle" is "sell" (noun). It is derived from such root-words which yield "seat, settle (i.e. bench) sedan (not from the place-name incidentally) etc.)" Compare modern French forms "to saddle" - saddle-maker. In 1311 Richard of Gloucester was described in the Rolls of the Guildhall as "a Seler" and, later, (1320) Philip le Sedeler is specifically described as "le Seler". An interesting piece of confirmation occurs in the records of the York Mystery Plays (1415). Against an account of the performance staged by "26 Sellars" is appended an explanatory manuscript note that they were "the adellers".

The surname, variously spelled also, is to be found in Scotland and it is believed that it signified "saddle-maker" because its association with black-smiths and horse-shoes is strongly suggested in that a family of the surname "Sellars" followed that trade over 400 years in the village of Botriphnie which is about 6 miles from Keith (Banffshire). The first reference however is Aberdeen and to a Colin Sellar (1281). American settlers have given the name "Sellers" to two people in the States: South Carolina and Alabama.

The name is chiefly associated with humour. W.C. Sellar (1898-1951) collaborated with R.C. Yeatman (1898-1968) in the historical spoof, "1066 and All That" (1930). And Peter Sellers (1925-1980) was a very versatile actor, best remembered for his contributions to the T.V. "Goon Show" and his portrayal on the screen of the "Pink Panther."

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 23rd September 2002.

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