Yorkshire Puddephatts, or The Surname Conundrum

It’s no big surprise that on one side of my mother’s family there’s a surname that I’m more concerned with than any other. That is, my grandmother’s maiden name: Holborow. Part of the reason for this – I’m not going to say obsession – bias is that it’s a pretty rare surname. It’s no Smith, Jones or Taylor. Consequently when I come across another surname that seems … striking in some way it causes my inner onomatologist to sit up and take notice. Therefore when I started working with someone with a distinct last name I was intrigued …

Surnames are great. For many reasons. For the majority of us in England and Europe they provide a link with our (primarily, paternal) families. A way to identify our immediate ‘tribe’ (nowhere more so than with Scottish clans). Most of us interested in family history learn about how these were mostly developed from the medieval practice of assigning a ‘byname’ to identify an individual on their location or occupation. We also know the 4 broad categories in which they fit: occupational, toponymic, patronymic/matronymic & nickname. (General article here at Wikipedia.)

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Various Epithets of William The Conqueror

(I should freely admit now that nobody has a bloody clue what the surname Holborow means or where it came from. It doesn’t crop up in surname dictionaries. Reaney & Wilson’s A Dictionary of English Surnames skips straight from Holborn to Holbrook. Phillimore in his 1900 work Some account of the family of Holbrow, anciently of Kingscote, Uley, and Leonard Stanley, in Gloucestershire (snappy title, I know) spares barely 2 sentences on how the exact meaning is unknown. Whether the Hol- aspect denotes a hollow (such as with Holbrook – a brook near a hollow) or was derived from the Old English meaning gracious, or if the –borow comes from borough meaning a fortified settlement or brow as in the top part of a hill is (for now at least) shrouded in mystery.)

So onto the point of this post (sorry). I was talking to the aforementioned colleague several weeks ago regarding her surname as I’d never come across it before and wondered where it originated and, latterly, it’s meaning. I assumed that it was one of those that was nationally rare but locally common (her family is from Yorkshire). During the conversation she mentioned that she’d never met anyone else with her surname before. I was somewhat astounded. Surely … cousins and extended family at the least. Nope. Apparently not.

I took it as a bit of a personal challenge …

Firstly, the meaning. The surname dictionary I have (noted above) has this entry:

Puddifoot, Pudifoot, Puddefoot, Puddephat, Puddephatt, Puttifoot: the second element is fat, probably Old English ‘vessel, vat’. The first is probably the dialectal puddy, poddy ’round and stout in the belly’ from the Germanic root *pud(d) ‘to swell, bulge’ found in pudding. The meaning of the compound is ’round and stout-vessel, cask, barrel’, a nickname for a man with a prominent paunch.

Secondly, the lack of wider family lines. It was relatively simple to follow the family back in time to my colleague’s 4 x great-grandparents – John Puddephatt and Esther Bransgrove. I don’t know where John was born, but I did find that he and Esther married at St Bride’s, Fleet Street, London on 01 July 1800. The pair had 8 children – their births trace John’s job as an Excise Officer from Dedham in Essex to Brandon in Suffolk, Norwich and Great Yarmouth in Norfolk and finally up to Cawthorne in Yorkshire where he died in 1850. As I said, he had 8 children, all of whom reached adulthood. Only 3 were male and would carry on the Puddephatt surname.

The eldest son was Frederick. He married, but died aged 37 with no children.

The youngest was Samuel Besford. He married twice, once in London, once in Edinburgh, and had 3 children – all sons. However, upon moving from Yorkshire he gave up his last name and went by Besford (I can only presume at this time that Besford was the maiden name of one of his grandmothers or earlier female ancestors) and it is as Besford that his children were registered and baptised.

That leaves the only other son of John and Esther – Henry Alfred. He did marry. He even kept his father’s surname. Crucially, his wife Maria Fox gave birth to 8 children, 6 of whom were male.

Albert moved to Surrey, married and had a son, named for his father. This Albert also married – but not before fathering a son on his fiancee. Who was registered and baptised with his mother’s maiden name of Johns.

Frederick moved to Sussex – but by 1881 had mirrored his uncle and changed his surname. He decided to go by his mother’s maiden name of Fox, and even married as Frederick Puddephatt Fox.

Then the next 3 brothers: Samuel Bransgrove, William and Charles. Between 1888 and 1890 they all emigrated to America, ending up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. William and Charles had 16 children between them (10 boys, 6 girls) so the name continues in America – and I could write another blog post just about this branch!

The remaining brother in Yorkshire, George, married and had 2 sons. The younger, Frederick Bertie, died soon after birth, leaving John to carry the name forward – however, John had one child, a son also called John. This John had 2 sons – only one of whom has had a son.

In a short space of time I could clearly see exactly how my colleague hadn’t come across any other people with the same surname! I also began to see that this was for another reason than just a simple lack of sons. Her family were the only ones in Yorkshire with this surname. There are clusters in records around Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, but John was the one to make the trek from East Anglia up to Yorkshire.

How does this John fit in with the other Puddephatts? I can’t tell yet. There are no obvious baptisms, and no obvious marriages that connect to John. Yep, another one to add to the Mystery List! Maybe his will would have some answers – if I can unpick the maze of Yorkshire probate to see if and where it was filed …


  1. Thank you for your article. As a descendant of one of the Arkansas Puddephatts, I enjoyed this! I have visited my Puddephatt cousin John in Barnsley and been to the family burial place in Cawthorne, although I live in Virginia. My mother grew up with Puddephatt as her surname and always said she would like to marry a Smith, Jones, or Williams…something easy! She found herself a Williams and never looked back. Still, it is nice to have a more unusual surname in the family as it does make it easier to track down distant cousins! The US Puddephatts get together from time to time. Tell your colleague it is nice to learn about her!


    1. Ha Hi Sam! Nice to have you stop by 😉 I don’t know if you Bucks lot eventually join up with the Yorkshire bunch, but it would surprise me if you didn’t somewhere along the line!


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