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A Short History of the Bushby Family

By Keith Bushby, a member of the Guild of One-Name Studies

A Short History of the BUSHBY Family

by Keith Bushby - 1987

Bushby Coat of Arms

British surnames come from a variety of sources. Anglified derivations of a foreign name, a man's occupation, his physical characteristics or the place he came from. It seems likely that the BUSHBY surname has its origins in the latter. The name BUSHBY, which, according to the Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names, is a derivation of an old Norse personal name BUTR coupled with BY which means a farm, homestead, or "the place belonging to." It seems likely that BUSHBY started its life as BUTR's farm, and perhaps it was shared by other families who either worked for or with BUTR, giving it some local prominence. There are a large number of places north of the Danelaw line which end in BY: approximately 800 such places. These areas where heavily settled by the Vikings. The hamlet of BUSHBY is located on the eastern outskirts of Leicester, three miles from the city centre.

The first mention of the name BUSHBY in this area is the list of Freemen of the City of Leicester. These were:

  • 1200 Will De Buscebi
  • 1219 Rog De Buscebia
  • 1219 Rog De Buscebia
  • 1226 John De Busceby
  • 1239 Thomas De Busceby
  • 1319 John De Buscebi

It was hundreds of years before any standardised form of the name came about. Up to the end of the sixteenth century most written names were "Latinised." For the next two hundred years variations of the name can be seen in the parish records of the period. Differences in the spelling of the surname can be seen in even one set of registers. For example, a man could be baptised John BUSHBEE, married as John BUSHBIE, have his children christened as BUSHBYE and then be buried as John BUSHBE. More unusual variations sometimes turn up such as BUSHPE. This was due to the way in which the clerk who was responsible for writing up the entries thought the names should be spelled.

Only two of these variations remain today, BUSHBY and BUSHBYE which is used by only one family.

There have always been cases of the surnames BUSBY becoming confused with that of BUSHBY. I firmly believe that these two names have different origins, although BUSBY is probably also the derivation of a place name. In the eighteenth century whole families became BUSBYs whilst particular clerks were in office. No doubt some branches of the families disappeared forever. Even today there are many BUSHBYs who are converted into BUSBYs by the morning post.

Unexpectedly the 'tribal' areas of the various family lines are found well away from Leicestershire, making it extremely difficult to trace any branch to its roots. Although BUSHBY families can be found in most areas of the country, with families moving away from their origins -- particularly since the Great War -- many families still remain within the 'tribal' areas.

One of the largest traceable families was well established in Cumberland by the early sixteenth century in the villages of Bothel and Torpenhow. The large farm where they lived, Bothel Hall, remains and is still in use although it left BUSHBY hands in the nineteenth century.

Many notable BUSHBYs emanated from this branch of the family: they have made their mark not only in Britain but throughout the world. A line from this branch of the family moved -- for a few generations -- a short distance over the Scottish border to Dumfries. John BUSHBY (born 1743), a keen witted lawyer and sheriff clerk of Dumfries, became both a friend and political opponent of the Scottish poet Robert Burns --who later wrote his epitaph:

Here lies John Bushby, honest man
Cheat him, Devil, gin ye can.


In the Heron Ballads which describe the political climate which surrounded the election of Patrick Heron, Burns -- who was well known for his aversion to lawyers -- made a number of sarcastic jibes at John BUSHBY who represented the opposite side.

"An' there will be black lippit Johnnie,
The tongie o' the trump to them a',
An' he get na hell for his haddin
The deil gets na justice ava."


Later in the same ballads:

"An' there will be Wigton's new sheriff,
Dame Justice fu' brawlie has sped,
She's gotten the heart of a BUSHBY
But, Lord, what's become o' the head?"


Much of the bitter satire was merely good natured banter. In later years when Burns was low in finances he spent much of his time on John's large estate at Tinwald Down.

John was not the only BUSHBY to "suffer" at the pen of Burns. His brother William, who it was suspected had amassed a large fortune in India through bending the golden rules, was also mentioned in the Heron Ballads. With money came a move to London and society life. William's family became lawyers and judges in India. Portraits of both brothers reside in the Burns Society in Dumfries, having been bequeathed by Dorothy Esther BUSHBY in 1983, the last of William's descendants.

Others from the Bothel line moved to Liverpool and Formby and into the cotton trade, owning large estates in the West Indies, while others owned a shipping line at Whitehaven.

Arthur Thomas BUSHBY of the Bothel/London Line became Postmaster General of Canada at a young age, but was robbed of a promising and distinguished career by a fatal accident in 1875 at only 40 years. A street in Victoria bears his name today.

During the sixteenth century another family was living at Penrith and Morland in Westmorland. Over the next hundred years members of this family probably moved through Alston and settled in farms around the Whitfield/Haltwhistle area of Northumberland.

In the early nineteenth century some descendants still farmed in the area, whilst others became miners in the expanding coal industry, moving to Newcastle and Chopwell and from there to mining jobs in North Durham.

There was a large family in the Yorkshire Dales who lived around the Hawes/Hardrow area in the eighteenth century. As the years passed they moved further down Wensleydale, settling mainly in Bishopdale but going as far east as Spennithorne. They were mostly sheep farmers or farm labourers, although some were employed in the lead mines around Redmire.

The Industrial Revolution saw a migration from the hard life of the hills to the "boom" towns of Middlesborough, Stockton and Darlington. Only one farmer remains near Bishopdale. The earliest record I have of the Dales family is a marriage in 1702 at Hawes. Where they came from has yet to be discovered although I suspect that it was possibly along the valleys from Westmorland.

A large "clump" of BUSHBYs can be found living in Bedfordshire, around the same few villages their ancestors occupied some three hundred years before them: Ampthill, Cranfield, Campton, Millbrook, and Lidlington. Most of the BUSHBYs in this area do not believe they are related to the "other" families, however I believe that if their family has been in the vicinity for at least three generations then there is a good chance that they have the same ancestors.

As with the majority of British families, our capital city London attracted families from all over the country. There are relatively large numbers of BUSHBYs resident in the Greater London area and neighbouring counties. However the records show that there were several long established families residing in London. One family lived in Clerkenwell in the sixteenth century. Families moved in and out of London over the centuries, from across the social strata, making it difficult to trace modern London families back through the ages in Clerkenwell without a detailed and lengthy study.

There are records of a large and successful family in West Sussex since the late fifteen century (William BUSHBY, bishop of Arundel died 1483). Although a lot more work has to be done on the BUSHBYs of this area, clear trees are visible going back hundreds of years. The centre of this tribal area are the villages/towns of East Preston, Goring Lancing, Rustington, Patching, and West Tarring.

As with Bedfordshire, the families have lived in most of the villages around the central core at one time or another. They were employed in a range of rural occupations from millers and agricultural labourers to wealthy landowners. BUSHBY Avenue in Rustingtonmarks their passing.

Amongst their number the BUSHBYs can find the infamous as well as the famous. The Times carried a full page report of the hanging of one Edmund BUSHBY (1804-1831) of West Sussex for burning a hayrick during an outbreak of unrest amongst agricultural workers. He was considered a martyr by the farmhands necessitating the deployment of troops to ensure that sentence was carried out.

From the shores of England the name spread throughout the old Empire and the United States (where two brothers fought on opposite sides during the American Civil war).

An account written by a member of the wealthy landowning Henty family who journeyed from Sussex to the Australian mainland via Tasmania in the 1830s enables us to follow the trail of George Bushby of Tarring, groom and labourer, and his young family to the land of new opportunities with the Hentys.

One Jabez BUSHBY left London in the mid 1800s and settled in South Africa. His descendants still live there today.

It would be difficult to say exactly how many BUSHBYs are presently living in this country and I would need far more resources to hazard a guess at the numbers worldwide. In 1983 there were nearly 400 BUSHBYs with telephones throughout the UK, mostly in the aforementioned "tribal areas." One could anticipate an average of a family of four connected by each telephone line, however, the reality would seem to suggest that more people live alone than one would expect.

I have a file of all BUSHBY births, deaths and marriages from 1837 to the summer of 1986. These were transcribed from the register of indexes held at St. Catherine's House in London. Below are some figures relating to the indexes:

All Events 1837-1907
Births = 2243
Marriages = 1152
Deaths = 1379

All Events 1908-1978
Births = 1982
Marriages = 2008
Deaths = 1516

To have a vague idea of the number of BUSHBYs presently living in the UK one has to take into account the number of girls getting married and changing name both into and out of the family, divorces, remarriages, unmarried parents and adoptions and the fact that during the first few years of civil registration some people did not bother to register events. At a very rough estimate I would say that there are probably between one and two thousand BUSHBYs living in the UK. This in genealogical terms, when considered against a population of about 56 million, makes the name fairly uncommon though far from rare.

The various BUSHBY families have always been a barometer of social change. In England pestilence and famine, industrial revolution and prosperity, emigration and war. To that end we have followed society and a dissolving of the large family groups has been taking place. Families are now smaller and more mobile, some having lost touch totally with the area in which their forebears had lived for centuries.

Date1987

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