Origins - Witheridge - Genealogy & Family History Society

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Origins and locations of the Witheridge/Wetheridge name

WITHERIDGE - where does it come from, what does it mean, and how did our families come to bear this fascinating name?

The word itself is Anglo-Saxon, but there has been some dispute about its meaning.  Ridge presents no problems, meaning an elevation deep in proportion to its width and height and generally having sloping sides.  The first part of the word has been said to mean either willow or castrated ram - quite a difference there!

There are quite a few locations linked with the name Witheridge:

  1. The town of Witheridge in mid-Devon, England, recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. At that time it was a small hamlet with a population of 11, but the Hundred of Witheridge, which covered some 61 villages, hamlets and settlements, had a total population of less than 750
  2. The ancient manor of Wederige, near Plympton, Devon, also recorded in the Domesday Book
  3. Witheridge Wood on Witheridge Lane, Knotty Green, Buckinghamshire, England
  4. Witheridge Farm, at Exton, Somerset, England.
  5. Witheridge Hill, north-west of Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, England

As most Witheridge/Wetheridge families can trace their ancestry back to Devon, many thought that we all came originally from the town of Witheridge in mid-Devon. However, looking at the map showing where Witheridges had settled, it seemed unlikely that people would have moved across the dangerous tracks of Dartmoor to reach places like Wembury, Ermington, Kingsbridge and Plymouth. Our joint founder, Kim Cook, had a hunch that there was another place called Witheridge somewhere in South Devon.

The story of that hunch, and the subsequent search for a missing Domesday manor is too long to be told here, but it is known that the manor of Witheridge stood on the cliffs above Jennycliffe Bay, between Plymouth and Wembury. The manor has long since gone and, ironically, the original Anglo-Saxon name has changed over the years to the more elegant Withyhedge. If you look at the 6-inch OS map of the area, you can still see a field bearing the name Withyhedge Brake.

There are many other places linked with Witheridge-Wetheridge families which do not necessarily have any locality bearing the name. Ancestors of various branches of the family settled all across north Devon, with the Combe Martin family being particularly prolific. Other branches settled across the area of south Devon known as the South Hams, between Plymouth and Kingsbridge. Early in the 16th century, many Witheridges, particularly seafarers, sailed in and out of the port of London, and settled in the city, with some eventually moving out to surrounding villages, now suburbs. Another branch was in Chatham, Kent in the late 17th century, and descendants of this branch moved to the Birmingham area and have since spread throughout the Midlands. Descendants from all these branches are now scattered throughout the UK and the world, and we have members in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA. We are also trying to locate known descendants in South Africa.

Although the manor of Witheridge near Plympton has long since disappeared, probably through coastal erosion, the town of Witheridge, Devon, still bears the family name. Here, most of us have, at one time or another, stood by the signpost to have our photograph taken! During Witheridge Day 1997, the Society?s 10th Anniversary, a party of some 45 Witheridge descendants took a coach tour visiting some of the Witheridge ancestral homes. Our first stop was at Witheridge, where we were welcomed by the Town Crier and his wife.

Here we have a few sources for our surname, which suggests that we come from quite different families.  But were those families ever linked in any way, and if so can we prove it? That's another challenge!

Some of the Devonshire towns and villages in which our Witheridge ancestors lived include:

From the Doomsday Book:

 

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