This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 2nd April 2001, 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 TRAVIS?

Throughout the Middle Ages and until the coming of the inland waterways, traffic between centres of industry and commerce was carried out on a much larger scale than is generally realised. The roads left behind by the Romans had been so well-constructed as to remain serviceable throughout the centuries and provided an adequate net-work of highways. However, minor roads were little more than strips of land purposely left clear for passengers and vehicles. In favourable weather they could just about be navigated but in bad weather they became impassable. But, whatever the condition of any highway, it was the rivers and streams which constituted the greatest hazards and obstacles. In passing it might be interesting to learn that "highway" means "the way to go" and the unit "high" is from an Old English expression meaning "to travel". It is not related to the word which signifies "important". Hence the old "heigh-up", meaning "move on", words of encouragement to a horse. Hence even a bridle-path is as much a "highway" as the motorway.

From the earliest times, the only places where water could be crossed was where the depth of the stream was shallow. The importance of such locations is recognised in that many of them became centres of communication and that the number of place-names incorporating "ford" is well over 500. These crossing-places were frequently supplanted by bridges, some of which originated with the Roman engineers.

The importance of bridges cannot be over-estimated. Even before the Norman invasion, Saxon land law imposed an obligation upon all land-owners to maintain and repair bridges. From quite an early date the Church actively concerned itself in the matter of building and the management of bridges. In 1176 a priest, Peter of Colechurch, undertook the reconstruction of a dilapidated wooden structure over the Thames, which, in the progress of time became "London Bridge". (Remains of Peter's working were still discernible over 800 years later!)

It was generally the practice to dedicate a bridge to a particular saint and to erect a chapel on or alongside the structure where travellers could offer a prayer for a safe journey and to make a contribution towards expenses. The use of such chapels was discontinued following the religious upheavals of Edward VI in 1547. A few still survive, and the most note-worthy in respect of our own county, is the little edifice at Cromford. There are two others in our region: at Wakefield and Rotherham. The only remaining examples are at St. Ives in Huntingdon and in Wiltshire, at Bradford-on-Avon.

Various names were given to the charges demanded of travellers. In a charter granted by King Henry II in 1157, mention is made to the levying of a "pontage". This is based on the Latin word for "bridge" which is "pontem". The term was still in localised use even in the early 1900's. Another expression was "Toll Traverse" or, more simply, just "travers". It was still being collected during the time of Queen Victoria, as evidenced in an Act of Parliament dated 1852 and which was entitled "Hull Shipping Dues Act" and referred to "Certain Tolls... called 'Toll Traverse'". The word originates in the two Latin words: "trans-" which signifies "across" and "vertere" meaning "to move over".

The right or the necessity to levy "traverse" usually arose to defray the expenses of maintaining the bridge and which was incurred by those who had built it. Sometimes the right was challenged as in the case of the "travers" over the bridge at Elham (Suffolk) which was claimed by the Bishop of Norwich against the Crown. As local authorities gradually took over responsibility for highways, collecting passage-money was discontinued but it persisted at Hull until 1852 (see above) and in Scotland until 1895.

As a surname, therefore, "Travis" or any of its variations arose in one of several ways. It could have been an occupational name, describing the person who actually collected the money or perhaps a location-name and referring to a person who lived alongside such a bridge or even as a status name, indicating that the bearer owned the right of "Traverse". It must be left to individual families to determine which set of circumstances arose in the case of their particular ancestor. It is suggested, though, that people with associations in Lancashire might possibly be identified with a Robert Travers (c.1160) who was an extensive land-owner at Whiston (Prescot - Merseyside) and so could have held several franchises in the vicinity.

As might be expected, the name is widely recorded. Far north in Northumberland is to be found Walter de Travers (1219) and down in Buckingham is Nigel Travers (1273). The variation "Travis" is centred on Warrington - hence James and Ann Travis of Burtonwood (1609) and Elizabeth Travis of Bold (1614). The name has no Scots counterpart but people with Irish connections might have originated in Leitrim. The name "Trower" belongs to that region and is derived from the Gaelic "Treabhair" which means "skilled worker". This has been absorbed into "Travers" which was imported by English immigrants. The name, with various spellings, is well-represented locally, especially in the forms "Travers" and "Travis".

Older readers will recall the playwright, Ben Travers (1886-1980) who wrote a series of funny performances, collectively known as the "Aldwych Farces" and of which, no doubt, "Rookery Nook" still remains in memory.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 2nd April 2001.

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