The Holborows

Who are the Holborows? Where did the family come from? What did they do and where did they go? And, more to the point, why am I so obsessed with them?

Well, some of those questions are easier to answer than others. Why Holborow? My maternal grandmother, Eva, was a Holborow by birth, and I suppose that my interest in the name springs from her. We were always much closer to my mother’s family than my father’s, and my gran especially. Therefore it seemed natural to me to concentrate on her family first. It also helped that Holborow was – and still is – a fairly rare surname. And that definitely piqued my interest!

So where does the name come from? What does it mean? The name seems to be highly localised to the south-eastern Gloucestershire and north-western Wiltshire in the south of the UK. Whilst there have been various movements into Wales and across through Oxfordshire and into London, or up to Sheffield and Birmingham, the name is primarily a West Country one.

There is also a historical line in Suffolk that could or could not connect with the western line, but whose roots seem as deep-seated there as in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.

Back in 1901, Phillimore & Co published 75 copies of Some account of the family of Holbrow, anciently of Kingscote, Uley, and Leonard Stanley, in Gloucestershire. It was produced at the behest of Reverend Thomas Holbrow and is an attempt to set out the pedigree of this family (for our purposes, the spellings Holborow and Holbrow can be considered as two faces of the same coin).

Within the first few sentences, it is stated that “there does not appear to be any town or parish … from which it can be derived. There are villages known as Holbrook, but Holbrook and Holbrow seem to be distinct names, and not the slightest evidence has been found connecting the one with the other.” There are still websites out there offering ‘surname books’ for sale with the erroneous statement that Holbrow comes from one of the various Holbrook parishes in Derbyshire or Suffolk. Sadly, I know of at least one family member who purchased this book. Suffice to say it wasn’t particularly useful, helpful or worth the paper it was printed on …

Phillimore goes on to say, moreover, that:

The earliest mention of the name so far sound is from a cartulary (that is, a collection of charters or records, especially relating to the title to an estate or monastery) of the Abbey of Gloucester from the period 1284-1306 where there is a free tenant within the modern parish of Brookthorpe named Richard de Holberwe. In the Subsidy Roll for Brookthorpe in 1327 there is a Walter de Holbergh. However, as I already mentioned, the name also appears elsewhere, and over in East Anglia there are Wills dated to 1494, 1498 and 1544 under the name Holborowe. There is also a mention in Staffordshire of a William de Holbarow who was trustee for Sir Hugh de Wrottesley in 1347. As Phillimore puts it: “It is not known if these persons were connected with the West of England.” Indeed.

All of which seems to confirm that nobody really knows what the name means!

Where did they go? Seemingly most everywhere! Scotland, USA, Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand … I’ll be sharing some of their stories here.

What did they do? We have a litany of agricultural labourers in the vast majority of lines. Some of these progressed to the rank of Yeoman, some reached the solid middle-classes. There are doctors, teachers, convicts, cheesemongers, clerks, shopkeepers, cloth manufacturers, builders, soldiers, clerics … One line was awarded a coat of arms in the late 18th century (and I stress the one line part!). A very solid cross-section of all layers of society, I’m proud to say!

If you have Holborow links then please do get in touch as I’d love to hear from you! I have plans for a Holborow one name study, so keep your eyes out for that too! Some account of the family of Holbrow, anciently of Kingscote, Uley, and Leonard Stanley, in Gloucestershire [database on-line]. Provo, UT: Operations Inc, 2004.

Original data: Phillimore, W. P. W.. Some account of the family of Holbrow, anciently of Kingscote, Uley, and Leonard Stanley, in Gloucestershire. London England: Printed for private circulation and issued by Phillimore & Co., 1990.


  1. Wow…. My Grandmother is Holborow. Ruth Winnifed Holborow. Married Swanborough. Born 1923 I think died 1998 . Her father was Herbert Holborow. Born Sydney Australia.

    Do you have any information on this Australian line?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sarah! Lovely to hear from you! She was the grandaughter, I believe of Henry Francis Holborow and his wife, Emily Ruth Yard. I don’t think I’ve written about his family yet, but I have about his brother John who ended up in San Francisco!


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