Early Spread


As parish registers began to record baptisms, marriages and burials in the late sixteenth century, so we begin to find more comprehensive evidence of the spread of the name. However this is not without its problems as evidence. Recording of births, deaths and marriages was completely unsystematic before 1538, when Thomas Cromwell instituted the idea that each parish church should keep a record of baptisms, marriages and burials. Of course these are ecclesiastical events rather than the dates of natural occurrences and therefore only approximate to the uses of the family historian. Most parishes made their records on loose sheets of paper and only a minority of records have survived from this early period. Since recording commenced long after the process of surname formation any evidence can only be indicative rather than definitive.[1]

Matters improved slightly during the reign of Elizabeth 1 when church affairs became more settled for a period, and more parishes began to keep records. A further Act of Parliament in 1597 legislated for records to be kept in bound registers and to provide copies of entries annually to the diocesan offices (known as ‘Bishop’s Transcripts’, these provide an alternative source to parish registers and an opportunity to double check entries). However a period of further religious disruption and the chaos of the Civil War led to further gaps in record keeping until the Commonwealth Act of Parliament of 1653 re-asserted the necessity to keep local records and to record dates of birth rather than baptism (a practice which varied enormously). Reasonable confidence can only be generally afforded to parish register recording towards the end of the seventeenth century. Even then local accidents might cause problems. The parish chest at Ecclesfield was robbed and the register books found scattered and damaged in the countryside making many of the originals difficult to read and interpret. Later reforms, Hardwick’s Marriages Act in 1753 and Rose’s Act in 1812, each introduced more system to the process of registration, in particular the use of pre-printed forms to improve the content and form of information recorded, but by then the emergence of independent congregations of nonconformists, Quakers, Roman Catholics and Methodists had led to further fragmentation to the system of registration before a civil system was introduced in 1839.

Nevertheless a substantial proportion of the early baptism and marriage data has been catalogued on the Family Search web-site by the Church of Latter Day Saints. It is a significant weakness that burial information is excluded as this would account for approximately half of all recorded events. However, a study of the spread of the sixteenth-century entries for the name in this database shows that the counties with the strongest evidence of variants of the ‘Basford’ name (outside of London) were Cheshire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire. By linking to localities it is possible to isolate four main groups of records.

Those of earliest provenance consist of two distinct series of baptisms in Nantwich and Chester during the sixteenth century suggestive of three families and two families respectively. Nantwich was the nearest town to the hamlet of Basford, while Chester as the county town was a natural draw for migration. The second group occurs in locations in north Staffordshire and just over the border into Derbyshire, all within twenty miles of Basford near Leek, and indicative of multiple families. A third group is concentrated tightly on locations in and around Leicester and may be connected to a Nottingham provenance (and therefore pronounced Baseford). A fourth group scattered around south Staffordshire, Birmingham and Warwickshire is problematic, in that it may be linked to either the Leicester group or that from Leek.

The only other significant (and also the most numerous) group is based in and around London – but the capital was already an enormous attraction to inward migration and we have no sufficient means by which to source the origins of the London ‘Basfords’. Only at St Andrew’s Holborn in London is there an unambiguous ‘Base~’ prefix to indicate the long ‘a’ pronunciation. The ‘Bash~’ prefix element, which is definitively a short ‘a’ sound, occurs rarely and randomly in the sixteenth century records and would not develop systematically until some time in the eighteenth century, mainly in South Yorkshire[2]. For example, a Martha Bashforth, daughter of Nicholas, was baptised in Berwick upon Tweed 2 March 1584 and represents the earliest ‘Bash~’ spelling recorded[3].

The sixteenth-century Yorkshire records in the Index are isolated and scattered until the turn of the century, when groups of consecutive records can be traced in Sheffield and Ecclesfield. The earliest record of the group name in Sheffield is the baptism of Roger Basforde, son of Francis 11 Jan 1596[4]. An un-named infant son of John Basworthe was buried in Ecclesfield 30 August 1570, and Nicholas Basforthe 26 March 1584[5]. A Henry Basforth was married in Rothwell near Leeds 11 July 1552[6]. We have no direct evidence of how these people came to be in these places, or what trades they were pursuing.

Such parish register evidence as exists for the sixteenth century is so sparse as to be unrepresentative in quantitative terms and does not provide any basis from which to reconstitute family connections. One can identify some evidence that all three potential sources in Cheshire, Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire played their part in the diffusion of the name. Accepting the necessary caution that the accidental survival of records may be distorting our knowledge, there is an impressionistic sense that Basford near Leek may have been responsible for a broader scattering of the name than the other two sources, particularly if it was the source of the occurrences in south Staffordshire and Birmingham. All three sources may be linked to those occurrences of the name in London and the south eastern counties. There is no obvious link between any of these and south Yorkshire, other than the proximity of the latter to Derbyshire. While David Hey has suggested that the IGI ‘entries usually point us in the right direction in our search for the homes of family names’, we must in this instance be cautious in only assuming two or three potential locative origins. In the same volume his suggestion that north Staffordshire surnames included a sizeable minority of names that could be traced to Cheshire origins only complicates the issue further.[7]

[1] This discussion of parish registers owes a heavy debt to the entry on ‘parish registers’ in David Hey (ed): The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History, OUP, Oxford, 1998.

[2] There are three from the same family group in Birmingham and three other isolated spellings of this type in Kent, London and Surrey.

[3] International Genealogical Index

[4] Sheffield Parish Register. The date differs from that recorded in the International Genealogical Index, where it is given as 1591.

[5] Both entries in the Ecclesfield Parish Register.

[6] International Genealogical Index

[7] David Hey: Family Names and Family History, Hambledon & London, London, 2000, p 175 and p 110 respectively.


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