An explanation of the name

Address given to the Lancashire Family History Society by Mavis Bimson in January 1997.



There are innumerable purely Lancashire names - Hesketh, Mawdesely, Fazackerly, Abram.
Bamber and so on, but these are locative surnames. I don't suppose there is a hamlet in Lancashire that can't be found as a name in the telephone directory.

It is very different when one comes to surnames which are compounds of a Christian name and 'his son': Wilson, Thomson, Harrison, Williamson etc. - what one might call filial surnames - these are common throughout the United Kingdom because the Christian names from which they were derived were common.

Bimson is peculiar in that the name Bimme, from which it is derived, was a very rare and very local name. Apparently found only in Lancashire - according to the evidence in the Victoria County Histories - between the valleys of Ribble and Douglas, and in the 16C pretty well limited to the hundred of Leyland. It has been suggested that it was a nick-name for William, like Will and Bill, but David Mills in the Place Names of Lancashire puts it down as Old English and, as he wrote to me, 'it is not a diminutive (Will) or a rhyming diminutive (Bill) of William, and the paucity of records suggests that it was not a by-form of that widely adopted French Christian name.

There is a very strong family feeling among us Bimson's - whether in England or the States we are faced with the same incredulity when we try to give our name to shopkeepers and the like - and we all answer to the name Bimmie.

We get an innumerable variety of spellings on letters and so on - but these are some genuine versions from the past - BIMMESSONNE, BIMMESON, BYMMESON, BYMISON, BIMISSONNE, BIMSONE, BYMSON, BIMPSON, BIMSON.
People care very much nowadays whether you include a P in the name or not but this is quite recent - only since most of became literate.
The name was spelt with a P on my great-grandfathers grave when his wife died and without it at his own death.
What seems to be true is that if M is followed by a consonant the ear often thinks it hears a P.
However when M is followed by a vowel as in the earlier versions of the name eg Bymmessonne no P is heard and no P was ever written.

A search through all the English telephone directories showed that most Bimsons are concentrated between Ribble and Mersey.

The index to names in the 1881 census gave about 45 households - the total number of names was 260. The concentration in Ormskirk is very impressive and Liverpool had far fewer that I should have expected.
It is hard to believe there was none of the family in Wigan.

The distribution derived from the Lancashire Parish Register Society publications for the first century of parish registers - from about 1540 to 1650 - shows Bimsons chiefly in the parishes of Croston, Eccleston and Standish.
Unfortunately the Eccleston register does not begin until 1605, but the family was certainly in the parish as they are mentioned in late medieval deeds and William Bimson of Wrightington was included in the Elizabethan muster of 1600.
My information for the earlier periods comes from searches through The Victoria County History of Lancashire, the works of one of Cannon T C Porteus of Coppull & Chorley and the publications of the Historical Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, the Record Society of Lancashire & Cheshire, the Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society and the Cheetham Society.

The name Bimme occurs in the documentary records of at least four areas of the county - chiefly dating from the 13 & 14 centuries but in one or two cases referring back to the end of the 12C.
These deeds concern lands and law-suits, we have no way of knowing how common the name was among common men.

In the Blackburn Hundred.

In the late 13C, Alice wife of Hugh le Surreys released to Roger son of Bimme her dower right in Boothhurst in Chipping. Early in the next century - 1304/5 - Robert Startevant claimed various lands in the township as son of Robert son of Bimme the White, averring that his father had died during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Among the defendants was William, son of John, son of Bimme de Wrightington.
In the court at Clitheroe in December 1323, Magot, wife of Richard Bimme was fined 3d for a breach of the peace.
Still in the Blackburn Hundred, at Grimshaw, in the 13C, Robert son of Richard de Eccleshill gave to Richard son of Walter de Grimshaw land between Ketlis croft and Bimme croft.

At Bamber Bridge, VCH refers to the ridge or rigg of one Bimme, "whose son Roger held lands at the time of Robert Banastre on the north side of Burnulgate, (the road leading to Brindle), and adjoining the Eves brook and the adjoining lands. The name, being eventually applied to the bridge over the little river Lostock, took the form of Bamber Bridge."
But before this is taken as fact, I must add that the document referred to in the VCH seems to have disappeared and it is the opinion of Professor Mills that the lack of early forms of the name makes it impossible to decide how it arose.
He also says that "I am not happy with Ekwalls's derivation of Bamber from Bimme + byrcg, though I cannot disprove it as an etymology for the undated form Bymbrig given in VCH. It is, nevertheless, phonetically more plausible than Bimme + rigg."

In the Leyland Hundred, in the parishes of Standish, Eccleston and Croston, we have the greatest proliferation of the family, and the one I think produced the surviving Bimson's.

In a 14C deed, land in Parbold is described as lying towards the house of Bimme of the Lighthurst.

In a deed of 1326 among the Agecroft Hall mss, now missing but calendared by Earwaker in 1855 is:- 'William son of William Bymmessonne of Chernok Richard, sends greeting. Know that I have released and ..quit claimed to Thomas son and heir of William de Sutton ...all the rights I have in the lands and tenements which formerly belonged to William le P'sone-ssone my grandfather in the vills of Whithull (Whittle) and Wrightington.'
Without the original deed it is uncertain whether this means William-the-Parson his son, or William, the Parson's son, and of which parish.
In 1292, William son of Hugh was sued for debt.

A.T. Houghton of Preston based his family tree on these deeds but he may have been optimistic about the Standish connection.
According to the VCH there is no evidence that Hugh, Rector of Standish was a member of the Standish family and there is no proof that the William mentioned in 1292 is one of the William's of the 1326 deed.

A copy of this tree was sent to a family of Bimson's in the States who have decided we had the right to bear the Standish arms! I would have loved to belong to an armigerous family but I'm afraid that we are invincibly common.

In the West Derby Hundred
The name Bimme also occurs in the records of Ince (Ince Blundell)
In a court case of the 14C 'the plaintiffs adduced a charter granted by William de Molyneux (1250-80) to Henry, son of William del Moorhouses, of land called Ruholmin Ince ... Henry, also known as Henry son of Bimme, had issue Thomas and Simon ... and so on.

I have mentioned Canon Porteus, and it was when I was reading his papers on the 'Mab's Cross Legend' and 'The mysterious murder of Sir Thomas Bradshaigh' (1333) that I came across the following passage;
"In some less important cases the plaintiff's case is set out in detail, as when Dionysia, widow of Richard Bimson, accused William Blundell of the death of her husband 'killed in her arms'. He was in the peace of God in his own house in the Moorhouses at Ince, when Blundell who was lying in wait struck him with a sword of Cologne, worth 2s. on the right side of his head, two thumbs of a man's hand above his right ear, etc."
Porteus adds "in contrast with all this we are told nothing about the affray in which Bradshaw lost his life" and suggests that the evidence may have been willfully suppressed.
I have a sneaking suspicion that the difference may be due to the characters of the two widows.
Dionysia belonged to a Welsh family which probably came into England when Robert Banastre was expelled from Rhuddlan by Owen Gwynedd and was settled on his Aughton manor. Looking at her statement, not to mention the courage it must have taken to take the action at all, I felt that she was probably like a fierce little Welsh woman I once knew who was completely unstoppable when embarked on a crusade.

With the Porteus reference, I was able to obtain the original documents at the Record Office.
It is extraordinarily moving to hold the parchments written when the King's Court sat almost seven hundred years ago.
The membranes are beautifully written but all I could read was the recurring 'states Dionysia.'
I ordered a photocopy, but I was very lucky to have a colleague whose friend was working in the Record Office and was able to have the documents in her room.
I learned from her a lot about the complexities of medieval law, but not the reason for the murder or the outcome of Dionysia's accusations.

In the original evidence Dionysia states that on Thursday before the Feast of Annunciation of the BVM, 7th Edward III, that is the 18th March 1333, at the hours of vespers in the town of Ince, in a certain place called the Moorhouses, in his own house where he then lived, the murderers and accomplices came and lay in wait for him, when he came they assaulted him, he languished until one of prime next day and died then in her arms.
The accused were William Blundell of Ince and his wife Joan, William de Haklowe and Richard son of Walter de Aughton.
They struck him with a sword of Cologne, a big stone in his chest against his heart, crushing his chest, a wooden club across the neck and a large sword called a Welsh knife.

The assault was typical of the utter lawlessness of Lancashire at that time where most quarrels seemed to end in violence, family feuds and attacks on townspeople by armed bands were commonplace.

As for Dionysia, she herself was murdered soon after. I have not found the exact date, but by writ dated 4th March 1339 at Berkhamstead, Richard son of Walter de Aughton had the King's charter of pardon for the death of Dionysia, late wife of Richard, son of William Bimmessonne of Moorhouse, .... in consideration of his having gone over the sea in the King's service....

The Bimson's of Ince were involved in other lawsuits about that time chiefly about land and money.
One may say that the family of Bimson's of the Moorhouses had weight enough at that time to take on the Blundell's in the courts .
I have a suspicion that - if the family survived at all - it took the surname Moorhouse or Moor rather than Bimson, both were well known families later in West Derby.

So - what is the later history of the Bimson's.
As I mentioned, by the time parish registers were introduced in the mid sixteenth century the Bimson name only occurs in the parishes of Eccleston and Standish, later in Croston.

A William Bimson was a chantry priest at Standish Church at the time of the Reformation, he was given a pension of 4 5s 6d and was buried at Standish in 1562/3.
In 1582 Roger Bimson contributed to the rebuilding of the church at Shevington.
In the eighteenth century James Bimson was an overseer of the poor in Croston and church warden, a Roger Bimson paved the church.

Bimsons survived as free tenants though not, I think, as landowners into the 18C and the most prosperous married twice into the Rigby family, one was even termed a gentleman.
One of the same family, the last Bimson to possess Bimson's house in Shevington, became a clergyman and left Lancashire for a Midlands living, though collateral descendants remained in Lancashire and prospered -one was the solicitor who compiled that family tree.

In a letter my father received many years ago is this paragraph:
"I had an Aunt Margaret at Upholland who was the daughter of James Bimson who made a lot of money as an iron founder at Wigan and lost a lot of it farming at Appley Bridge.
He was the only Bimson I knew of who had the gumption to make his pile, with the exception of a great uncle Henry Bimson who was mayor of Wigan some time in the 1850's."

The existence of the iron founder is collaborated by trade directories of the time, but I'm sorry to say that Wigan library assured me that no Bimson was ever Mayor of Wigan.

Study of the 1881 Census Index is very illuminating, it shows that by the late 19C the Bimson's who remained in Lancashire were either labourers, agricultural labourers or small craftsman - not even one farmer among them. Probably the highest achiever was my great grandfather who is listed as a licensed victualler - though he preferred to call himself a hotel keeper - at Midge Hall, near Leyland - and even he began as a labourer and railway porter.
Our branch of the family came from Mawdsley, and in the late 18C went from there to Hesketh, Longton, Preston and Leyland.

We have done a bit better since, and thanks to John Bimson, the horn player, who became the Chairman of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the name Bimson became known even in London.

Several families emigrated to the States in the 19C and most have prospered in a modest way.
The most extraordinary story concerns John Bimson and his family from Walton le Dale who emigrated on the ship Ringfield in March 1848. Alfred George son of John became a blacksmith at Berthoud in Colorado not far from Denver and gained local fame.
His blacksmiths shop - one of the few stone buildings in the town - has become the local museum. This is his house and a street is named after him.
His son Walter, joined a branch of the Valley National Bank and played a major part in the foundation of the city of Phoenix, Arizona.

He wrote a book 'Transformation in the Desert' which is in the British Library but is 'not now available', so I cannot tell you his own story, but this is from an obituary:-
"But unquestionably, the Phoenix that has attracted more than a million residents, and become known as one of North America's great cities, is largely the creation of Walter Bimson and his sense of community and his dreams."

His first act, upon moving from Chicago was to take an ad in the local newspaper, proclaiming that the Valley National Bank - the struggling little institution he was to pilot to national fame - was in the business of loaning money at a time when money was not being loaned.
That paid off.
He also rarely turned down any group or charity or cause that needed his considerable influence or funds.
That paid off too. Phoenix is now rich in arts and culture that Walter Bimson endowed, with his faith and with his funds.

I will end on that high point. I have met some of that family and other Bimson's in the States and none have forgotten that they originally came from the same corner of Lancashire.

Mavis Bimson© 1997
32 Upper Park Road

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