Branscomb/Branscum Genealogy

The Genealogy of
Richard Branscomb
of Brunswick County, Virginia,
and a Number of his Descendants

by Fred Tubbs







Branscombe in England

A strong presumption exists that the ancestors of persons in America named Branscomb, Branscum or other variants came originally from the area of Branscombe Manor in Devon, England, although to date no records have been found to show a connection between such persons and that village. When commoners were required to adopt surnames, a number of them chose the names of the villages or other areas where they originated. (Others chose to be known by their patronymics, their occupations or by some physical characteristic). Branscombe was home to a number of seafarers, and prior to 1775 several mariners named Branscomb were operating out of New England or elsewhere on the Atlantic coast of America. Some persons named Branscomb were identified as coming from Cullompton, Exeter, or elsewhere in Devonshire, places reasonably close to Branscombe.

Branscombe is a picturesque area of thatched-roof buildings on the English Channel between Sidmouth and Seaton. Evidence of Iron Age encampments and burial mounds (tumuli) exists along the cliffs on the coast, and finds of copper implements attest to even earlier inhabitants. A Roman road runs along the northern border of the parish. St. Winifred's Church is a dominant structure in the village; Winifred was a Welsh martyr of the seventh century. (Ronald Branscombe has written a booklet, A Guide to the Church of Saint Winifred, Branscombe.) A monolith, the Hole Stone, may be as old as the earliest residents. (Frederic Charles Butters"Branscombe, the Parish and the Church" (July 1949; additions in 1966 and 1988). The booklet is available at Branscombe. I am indebted to Cleveland and Barbara Branscum for a copy.)

The “combe” part of the name “Branscombe” denotes a deep valley or hollow. Several place names in and around Devon include the word “combe” (Ilfracombe, Wiveliscombe, etc.). “Bran” may reflect “Branoc,” “a well-evidenced old Celtic personal name” which is derived from the word meaning “crow.” It is therefore possible that the literal meaning of “Branscombe” is “Crow Hollow.” Another possible derivation is from “branch,” as Branscombe is an area of branching combes.

Branscombe Manor existed as early as the ninth century. The will of Alfred the Great (849- 899) contains the earliest known record: Alfred bequeathed the manor to his son Aethelweard. In 925 Alfred's grandson Athelstan gave Branscombe Manor to the Benedictine monastery of St. Peter. Parts of St. Winifred's church date from about that time. Branscombe Manor is listed in the Domesday Book (Butters), which was prepared in 1086-1087 in order that William the Conqueror might have a list of England's taxable estates.

At least one old record states that Thomas de Branscombe was associated with Branscombe Manor before the Norman conquest, but documentation is lacking. (Ronald Branscombe reports that he is not able to confirm the original source which Lysons used in Magna Britannia concerning Thomas de Branscombe before 1066.)

A Walter Bronescombe was bishop of the cathedral at nearby Exeter in 1258. During his tenure he undertook the enlargement of St. Winifred's church. A Sir Richard Branscombe lived at Egge or Edge in the vicinity of Branscombe during the fourteenth century. He was sheriff for five years during the reign of Edward III (reigned 1327-1377).

Other Branscombes were reported to have lived during ancient times in the manor of Aller, which is near Newton Abbott, and at Stoke Damerell, which adjoins Plymouth Dock. All of these places are within Devon. (Butters)




Copyright 2004
Frederick B. Tubbs

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