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!

Ancestry.com. Some account of the family of Holbrow, anciently of Kingscote, Uley, and Leonard Stanley, in Gloucestershire [database on-line]. Provo, UT: Ancestry.com 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!


  2. Hi Dominic:

    Just an update on my Holbrow ancestor. I found my James Holbrow working as a labourer for the Honourable East India Company. He was taken on in 1829 in the tea warehouse. He stood 5′, 6 inches tall and would have been born in 1793. That’s all I have so far, but a lovely person at the British Library in London is trying to find more. If this rings a bell with anyone I would love to hear from them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Donna

      Can you let me know where you found James listed as working for the HEIC, please?! Would love to be able to place him! I have one James born around that time, but he is living in Cam in Gloucestershire in the 1861 census.


      1. Good Morning Dominic: I found the information on his daughter Catherine’s marriage license under father’s name and occupation. There is no notation of his death, so I guess that he was still alive in 1853. She was married in Mistly, Essex where she worked as a cook. Before you jump to Gloucestershire, which I have done many times, Catherine was born in Hammersmith, London in 1815 or 18. There are scattered references to Holbrow’s in business, being buried in the Dissenters Buriel Grounds (Baptists) and paying land taxes. (William Holbrow, Hatter and his wife Hannah).

        I have also found three generations of James Holbrow’s in Bermondsey. The first was born around 1700, and shows up on his son’s apprenticeship papers. (carpentry). The son James would be born around 1725. I then find a James Holbrow, widower, marrying Mary Parker on August 1822 at St. Mary Magdalene, Bermondsey. I think this is a good solid lead. Bermondsey had a number of docks and industries devoted to shipping, where James could have worked before moving over to the East India Docks downriver.

        I hope this information helps you in some way. Best regards, Donna

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Haha thank you! Yes, the Essex/Sussex/East Anglia Holbrows are a distinct line separate from the Gloucestershire/Wiltshire lines – although I am sure that they join up at some point far back.

          I will see what I can find, but I hope that your researcher at the BL can come up with something more!

          Thank you again.



        2. Thanks Dominic, but I am betting on the Southwark side of things. After I emailed you I found a Mr. Holbrow (no initials) holding three properties directly across from the present Borough Market in 1828, as well as a William Holbrow born in 1640 at St. Olaves in Southwark. I have plotted the four known Holbrows (one of whom did live in Hammersmith) on a map of Southwark, and they are pretty close together.
          My theory is that they began in Southwark, and perhaps two of the boys (James and William) went to try their hand in Hammersmith, as it was the site of many country and summer homes for the wealthy. Perhaps a hatter could make a living there ( I have land tax records for William from 1821-823). Maybe it didn’t go as planned, because I have William, his wife Hannah and their son Henry all living on present day Globe Street., St. Mary Newington in the 1841 census. In 1822 James Holbrow got married at a church a few blocks away. I think they went and came back. Of course, now I have to prove this theory.

          Wish me luck. Donna

          Liked by 1 person

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