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The Nessworthy Genesis



Alan Craxford

Alan Craxford Site Administrator

Anne Brooks

Anne Brooks
Associate Editor

This article has been derived from a conversation we had over the course of a week in October 2005. It records our association with, research into, discussions over and the current status of our knowledge of the Nesworthy family which is largely based in the North East of England.

NF: Hello Anne. We have been mulling over the Nesworthy family collectively now for over six months and I know that you have been researching this line for a lot longer than that. My interest as co-ordinator of the Craxford Family pages, of course, has been somewhat tangential as I have inherited the linkage by marriage through my wife’s mother.

AB: Hi Alan. My connection is through my own Nosworthy line in Devon. I had been working away sorting through my 3rd great grandfather, Thomas Nosworthy’s children and when I reached Matthew, he led me to South Shields, Durham. Although he is not my direct line, he is certainly part of the family. My curiosity sometimes causes me to step over the fuzzy lines I have drawn to define where I will focus my time and energy in this hobby of genealogy. So, I wandered off to find out why Matthew left the farms and green fields of Devon to go to sea and live in the north of England; it has been a fascinating journey.

The Fifteen Streets- novel by Catherine Cookson

"The Fifteen Streets"
Novel by Catherine Cookson

NF: Although the main thrust of this web site is obviously the Craxford family, we thought it would provide a reasonable starting point and a local forum for investigations of the Nesworthys as I am based in the North East of England. I suspect that anyone who been this way before comes first to the conundrum of the Robert (or Roberts) who had families in North and South Shields in the middle of the nineteenth century and which we have covered in articles already on the site (Would the Second Robert Nesworthy Please Stand Up!!). Several of these storylines would not have gone amiss in the novels of Shields-own Catherine Cookson! (1)

The next thing to confuse matters is the spelling of the family name. We immediately see single and double “s”’s (Nesworthy and Nessworthy) and I quickly came across other potential variants: Nepworthy, Nursworthy and Nurseworthy. How have you managed to document and rationalise these variations in your own archives?

A tale of a ligature or two

AB: Certainly one of the biggest challenges with this line has been the changes in surname. Of the two lines, yet unconnected, I believe quite strongly that Matthew who married Mary RIDLEY, was originally a NOSWORTHY. Although no baptism has been found for him, several censuses state he was born in Staverton, and he names his father, Thomas, at the time of his marriage. There was only one Thomas Nosworthy in Staverton having children at that time. At Matthew’s marriage, the parish entry indicates neither Matthew nor Mary could write and the name was written “Nursworthy”. Most likely the name began its convolution, for this family anyway, at this point in time. I have documented Matthew as NOSWORTHY, and noted the name changes in the notes.

When Matthew began having children the dilemma seems to have changed to deciding between NESWORTHY and NESSWORTHY, although his first two children can be found in the BMD index under the name NURSEWORTHY. The indexes, even the original images, show differing surnames for Matthew’s children; some being Nesworthy, and others Nessworthy. This fact continues to be true in the following generations as does the mix in names on the censuses. The birth certificate we have for Ridley, his last child, shows Ridley to have been named NESWORTHY. Based on that certificate, I decided to name all children born to Matthew as NESWORTHY.

I tried to use the same rationale in the next generation. Robert, son of Matthew, who might have had two marriages, one in South Shields and one in North Shields, was difficult. On Robert’s marriage to Elizabeth Young, he actually signed his name NESFWORTHY. Nevertheless, while we have no birth documents for children born to his wife, Elizabeth Young, three children show in the IGI under NESWORTHY. In the family living in North Shields, Frederick, the son born to Robert and Susanna, is shown as NESWORTHY on the birth certificate. For these reasons, I continued using that name in both lines. I realize the general thinking is that those belonging to the South Shields family were named Nesworthy, while those in North Shields were Nessworthy, but this is not without exceptions.

NF: Oh, I think I have to clarify a point over the certificate that you mention in the name of Nefsworthy. It is in fact Nessworthy spelt with an old English ligature symbol (a long-s tied to a short-s) which has the same derivation as the German "ß". (2,3)

AB: The difficulty in deciding on a true surname can be seen in the following chart documenting names taken from original baptism, birth and marriage certificates. As you will see, there were Nessworthys married in South Shields; also note Frederick who was born under one name and then signed his name at his marriage under the second variation. In the other Nesworthy line in the area, you can see how the name changed from father to son. You can see these changes by following this link.

All in all, I can say that the spelling of the name as Nesworthy or Nessworthy is most fluid and may be determined by factors yet unknown to us, or by nothing at all. Visitors to the website should make sure they check both spellings when searching and not rely heavily on the spelling of the surname for proof of connection to a particular line.

NF: I suppose as amateur genealogists we should be grateful that the internet has made it so much easier to gain access to documentary evidence. We are still however at the mercy of interpretation of handwriting both in the past and through the efforts of current transcribers. I have a subscription to one of the on line UK Birth, Marriage and Death (BMD) index services which is more complete than, say, FreeBMD (part of the FreeUKGen family) although it is less intuitive and user friendly.

Continued in column 2...

Nessworthy: A surname of circumstance?

As you know, the UK started BMD registrations in 1837 and I recently scanned the full indexes from 1837 to 1846 for all occurrences of the variations of the surnames and I was quite surprised that Nes(s)worthy does not appear until shortly after that date – and then seems confined to the North East of England. Prior to that there was further profusion of different spellings from Nursworthy, Nurseworthy, Norsworthy, Noseworthy and Nosworthy. We have suggested in the past that these changes probably reflect the spoken pronunciation of the surname from the South West of England being transcribed into written form by the clerks on Tyneside. Illiteracy then stops the appreciation of these changes. I would contend that the Nessworthy surname came about by mistake as a result of the 1837 Registration act.

AB: Alan, when you look at the scarcity of the name in the early indexes you have to strongly consider that your observation is correct. The earliest marriage we have found occured in Durham between an Isabella Nessworthy who married Joseph Nott in 1844. This has yet to be examined in order to identify Isabella’s parents.**

Prior to 1837 the instances are few and far between. A search for “Nesworthy” on the British Archives site will bring up only two, an Edward and a Joseph. They are listed as being on the H.M.S. Neptune in 1805 during the Battle of Trafalgar, serving in Nelson’s fleet. Edward Nesworthy reportedly was 38, born in Lympstone, and died in that battle. A quick check of the IGI for Lympstone reveals no Nesworthys, but a possible father of Edward Noseworthy, who was having children around that time. Joseph Nesworthy, the other fellow on the Neptune, was 14, and born in Pool. The IGI offered no Nesworthys or Noseworthys/Nosworthys of any sort for Pool nor nearby Otley, Yorkshire.

A one word search for "Nesworthy" on the IGI brings up small rewards. A grand total of 6, four of whom are from South Shields, between 1869 and 1873, and they reside in our database. Of the other two, a John Nesworthy, baptized in St. Pancras, London in 1828 can be tied to parents who married under the name Nosworthy, and a Susannah Nesworthy baptized in Liverpool in 1842, to parents who married under Noseworthy. The same simple search for "Nessworthy" brings up only one the IGI, born South Shields in 1887, and she is accounted for in our database. While an IGI search cannot be considered serious research, it can be an overall indicator to the rarity of a particular name. Even moving ever so slightly forward to the 1881census, without exception, all 7 Nesworthys and 13 Nessworthys were born either in Durham or Northumberland counties. Given such a dearth of information for this surname, you are drawn to the conclusion that this has to be a name of more recent times.

Norsworthy Bridge. Dartmoor

Norsworthy Bridge over the River Meavy, Dartmoor (5)

NF: What then is your impression of the ultimate origin of the family name? I'm not sure but I’ve recently seen references to a Norsworthy Bridge on Dartmoor. (5)

AB: To be perfectly honest I haven’t spent a great deal of time looking at the history and origins of the name; it is something I must do. I have a couple of paragraphs culled from my initial notes which I will add as a historical postcript but this information still needs a lot of collation. The surname itself is defined as a habitational name and according to the work of Mike Brown from Dartmoor Press, the place name of Norsworthy, near Walkhampton, Devon means, “north worthig” (north settlement). It is here we find Norsworthy Bridge, Norsworthy Lane, and once, a thriving Norsworthy farm. Mike Brown reports that “a farmstead is known to have existed here from at least as early as 1384, in which year it was named as Northisworthi, but the original settlement must certainly be very much older”.

Does this mean Norsworthy outdates Nosworthy? I truly don’t know the answer to that question, but what seems to be fairly clear is that the name and all its variations have deep roots in Devon.

On to the bigger picture

NF: Well, Anne, we have certainly covered a lot of ground today and over the last few months. Things have become somewhat clearer as far as the Nessworthys are concerned and we are getting a better idea of how these historical liaisons fit together. I will be continuing to develop this part of the web site as a single name tree (I guess I'll call it Nes(s)worthy for convenience) and I hope we'll be able to find more interesting individuals that we can write about in the future.

I gather that you are continuing the organisation and development of a much wider Nosworthy family database which you hope ultimately to put on line as well. We look forward to the time when a casual surfer fetching up in these pages looking for a Nessworthy can be redirected to the definitive source of their ancestry.

**Update: January 2006:

Ken Nesworthy visited the Durham Record Office and searched for this marriage which was transcribed to have occured on 5 February 1844 at St. Hilda’s Parish Church, South Shields. No such marriage was found on the register. We were already aware of a later marriage between a Joseph Nott and Isabella Nesworthy which took place on the same date, same church, but in 1894. That marriage entry was found in the register and confirmed what we already knew. When Ken checked the handwritten ledgers of indexed marriages in the record office he noted that the date for the later marriage, 5 February 1894 was highly questionable and could have easily been interpreted as 1844. So we believe there never was an earlier marriage at all and Ken’s detective work has reinforced our belief that the name Nesworthy, in this area particularly, was initiated with the arrival of Matthew Nosworthy to South Shields from Devon shortly after 1841.

Continued in column 3...

Postscript: The Doomsday Connection

The following text is derived from the following sources: "From Whence Ye Came" (Chapter 3: Sarah Diana Norsworthy) a book on relatives of Russel Ernest Myers Jnr and Edna Barlow Myers; and the Widecombe Family History website

The Doomsday Book

The Doomsday Book

The name NORSWORTHY, or slight variations thereof, dates back in English history to the Doomsday Survey of William the Conqueror, completed in the year 1086 (over 900 years ago) when it was spelled NORSWORDE or NORSWRDE. The Doomsday Book was the first official record of the property holders living in England and the amount of land they held. The information was collected and recorded some 20 years after the Normans had conquered the English at the Battle of Hastings. The properties of the great English landowners were confiscated by William and his followers. William ordered the Doomsday survey to find out how much land he owned, how the rest was divided, and how the land was populated.

Widdicombe St Pancras Church, Devon

St Pancras Church

The kingdom was divided into districts. Each district supplied people who knew the territory to take a census of their district. The census and the land survey covered most of the territory William controlled. There was no survey of London or Winchester, and information about regions in north of England is incomplete. The Doomsday Book is considered the greatest public record of medieval Europe. It is can be seen at the Public Record Office in London

Widdicombe in the Moor, Devon

Widdicombe in the Moor (6)

William the Conqueror granted the manor of NORSWRDE to the Norman Bishop of Coutances, but as the Bishop lived in Normandy (now the Northern coast of France), his bailiff in England managed the manor. This manor stood in the greater district of Widdicombe-in-the-Moor, close to Dartmoor, England. William the Conqueror granted WIDDICOMBE-IN-THE-MOOR parish to two Normans, Ralph de Pomeroy and William de Falaise. The sub-tenants of the Bishop of Coutances were two men who held land on the NORSWRDE. They were both probably the Anglo-saxon subtenants who had lived there in the time of King Edward the Confessor before the Norman conquests. It is not known for certain whether they were Anglo-Saxon or whether they were Normans put there by the Bishop of Coutances. Both men were known as De NORSWRDE or De NOSWRDE and were only distinguishable by their Christian names. In course of time, the descendants of these subtenants acquired considerable property in the area. Eventually, they called themselves NORSWORTHY and NOSWORTHY, the two principal modern spellings of the name, to differentiate them from each other. The NOSWORTHYs acquired land near the city of Mortonhampstead in Devonshire County and lived in the Manaton manor house. There are still many memorials of them in the parish. The NORSWORTHYs were at one time the chief landowners of their parish.

Village Fayre: Uncle Tom Cobbley rides the mare to market

Uncle Tom Cobbley rides the mare to market

The NORSWORTHYs acquired land near Dartmoor and lived at WIDDICOMBE manor house and owned a farm that still existed as of 1948 called the NORSWORTHY Farm. Near the farm was a little bridge called the NORSWORTHY Bridge over a stream in Dartmoor. There are many memorials in the church and the local village to these Norsworthys.

(To see the words and hear the music of the famous song about Tom Cobbley, the grey mare and all his entourage (7), click this link: Widdicombe fair)


(1) Dame Catherine Cookson in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopaedia
(2) "The history of the long and short s"An explanation in wikipedia
(3) "The German 'sharp-s'" in Wikipedia
(4) The Battle of Trafalgar. The battle map wikipedia
(5)The Norseworthy Bridge, Devon: © Gwyn Jones, and licenced for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
(6) Widdicombe in the Moor BBC uk
(7) Words and music to Widdicombe Fair "Yet Another Digital Tradition Page"

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Added October 21st 2005
Last update: April 30th 2014

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