Fine To Have An Alias - Like Smith Or Jones (9 November 1973)
One difficulty I encountered on coming to this district concerned local surnames and their spelling – a matter of no little importance where a local newspaper is concerned. To put it briefly, I found I had left all the “royds” and most of the “thwaites,” “bottoms” and worths” behind me and had entered a world of strange-sounding names like Souster, Shouler, Brinklow Ebbs and Eames.
There were also other names which I knew of, but first met here. One was Gurney, which I knew of only though the old song about Widecombe Fair. Another was Peverell, which I knew only because of the historic Norman Honour of Peverill.
Hereabouts there were also a lot of Dimmocks. I had met that name for the first time only two or three years earlier. That was in the army, where for a week or two I had a Dimmock pal who in civvy street had been secretary of a small London building society. There were variations of the name at Newton Longville as early as the year 1320.
To my surprise I could not find another Hepworth – a name which, in their parlance, was “as common as muck” where I came from. Later there was a solicitor of that name at Stony Stratford for a year or two and recently I spotted another on the Bletchley electoral roll. Greetings!
I had better luck with my second forename, Sykes (my mother’s maiden name), for it was attached to no less a personage than the Bucks county alderman at Woburn Sands.
In the West Riding my surname causes no problems at all. High in the so-called Pennines (a manufactured description of comparatively recent origin) there is a village called Hepworth. Some miles from it I once came upon a pub where another Harold Hepworth of apparently different tastes, was the licensee.
Somewhat further south, in Lincolnshire, where they are not so particular about their aspirates, there is a place called Epworth. Its claim to fame is that its vicarage was the boyhood home of John and Charles Wesley.
When I was called to the army, it was to a place so near home that I walked there. That town is stiff with Hepworths. Next morning I found myself marching with others into a huge improvised drill hall. Over the door it said “Hepworth and Co. Rag Merchants” – a welcome which I thought not unsuitable at the time, though long before my six weeks of square bashing I came to hate the sight of it.
But what problems my name caused in North Bucks and still causes, especially on the telephone! Nearly always I have had to give my name at least twice and then add “like the tailors, but no relation.”
Mind you, names in this country as a whole have become much more hazardous since the war. As a boy I had known of a composer spelt Drdla, but hadn’t a clue how to say it. After the war a whole lot of people from that part of Europe had to settle here and what a time we had with their names. I can’t speak French because I don’t have adenoids like De Gaulle, but these others took the biscuit. Italian is OK so long as you remember that ‘c’ is mostly ‘ch’ or vice versa, but what about those folks who seem to have a single-minded preference for Ali? Perhaps there is something to be said for Hepworth after all.
Only two or three weeks ago I visited the village where I was born. My wife’s oldest nephew is a church-warden there. As such he has been partly responsible this year for sand-blasting the church to its pristine appearance and also for clearing up part of the churchyard and removing old headstones and the like and placing them alongside the wall. Most of my nearest relations are buried there, but the only Hepworth tablet I could discover was that of my great-grandfather. He had two wives (one after the other, of course) and they are both named on the stone, but I have no idea which of them was my great-grandmother, for both were “dearly beloved.” By a fluke, there is a Sykes table next in line.
Talking about names, however, reminds me that in one curious way I did feel a little at home in Bletchley. My home town (so to speak), which lies in the valley below the village, has a Wilton Park. It also has a “De Grey House,” where my brother-in-law was born. When those names cropped up in my early days in Bletchley I sometimes absent-mindedly followed them with the name of that other town instead, but always managed to pull myself up sharply before it got in the Gazette!