The history of the Besfords

Besford name

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The name Besford has occurred with at least the following variants:

  • Bessforth
  • Besfort
  • Besford
  • Bessford
  • Bestford

This degree of variation is not unusual and is fairly typical of what any family historian finds.

Variations can stem from a number of factors, including:

  1. Until relatively recently, most people’s ancestors could not read or write. This is by no means an indication that they necessarily lacked intelligence, merely that they lacked an education.
  2. When our forbears stated their name to a clergyman in the 17th, 18th or even 19th centuries (on the occasion of a marriage, funeral or baptism) the clergyman would write down what he had heard (with whatever accent, dialect or even speech impediment which may have affected the pronunciation).
  3. The clergy could generally read and write but spelling could be highly variable and idiosyncratic the further back in time one goes.

Surnames generally became hereditary in England during the 13th and 14th centuries. They derive chiefly from one of the following:-

  1. A place of origin or landmark  e.g. Wood, Hill, Field, Meadows.
  2. An occupation e.g. Smith, Miller, Cook, Baker, Cooper, Carpenter.
  3. A paternal relationship e.g. Robson, Wilson, Johnson, Peterson, Jackson.
  4. A maternal relationship e.g. Nelson, Megson.
  5. A physical characteristic e.g. Short, Strong, Redhead.

It seems likely that the name Besford – in any of the variants I have come across – stems from a place of origin or landmark.

It is possible that the Besford family ancestors came from a place where a river could be crossed with relative ease (Best Ford) or perhaps from somewhere which offered the most favourable defence against attack (Best Fort). 

There are two places in England called Besford.  One is in Worcestershire and the other in Shropshire.

It is clear, however, that the Besford family has been in the North-East of England since at least as far back as 1679.  It is possible that they were in Northumberland for centuries before this or that they originated from one or other of the “Besfords” much further South and arrived in the North-East in the mid-17th century as a result of the Civil War, when many men serving in the rival armies ended up a long way from home. The question must remain open.

Besford surname distribution map based on the 173 entries listed in the 1881 Census where a place of birth is given.