The Bishop Families of Kent.

Up Chart 1

  The Doomsday book has the earliest known reference to the name BISHOP. It is recorded as BISCOP in the county of Northamptonshire This spelling together with BISCEOP is old English. Further documentary evidence of this name up to the end of the 14th century is listed by P H Reany for other counties but no records for that period have been found for Bishop's living in Kent or Sussex. This does not mean that further evidence will not be found, but it does suggest that Devon, Cornwall, East Anglia and Northamptonshire were the counties where the surname originated.

St. Nicholas of Bari is said to have inspired the annual ceremony held on the 6th Dec. of the election of a boy from the cathedral or parish choir to act as a "Bishop" for 3 weeks. This ancient ceremony was abolished by Henry VIII in 1541, but revived again later only to be finally abolished by Elizabeth. The pageantry associated with these boy Bishops, who were elected for their appearance and bearing of a Bishop of the church must have influenced the mediaeval people when they adopted their surnames. By the time the parish registers came into official use in 1538, the surname BISHOP was firmly established. There must be other reasons for the adoption of this name. It is thought doubtful that anyone with this name is directly related to a Bishop of the church and it is more likely that a man employed by a Bishop would adopt the name in respect for his employer, as did men with the surnames KING, DUKE, PRINCE, VICARS, PRIEST, ABBOT, etc.


When my father died in 1983, I found amongst his effects a note book with the following references: Mothers birthplace, Dunton Green. Fathers birthplace, Tenterden. It was these two clues that helped me to start looking for my ancestors. Having a very common surname, it was wise to note all the references to that name when I searched a parish and then to try to establish families and their relationships one to another. I was surprised to find that Tenterden supported at least 3 unrelated BISHOP families and that several others resided there for only short periods. My own family took root in Tenterden c1737 (see chart 1). EDWARD & ANN had their first child christened 19NOV1738 at St. Mildred and so started a connection with Tenterden that lasted until my grandfather left there c1890, a span of 7 generations lasting 150 years. This was certainly due to their trades. Stone masons, boot and shoe makers, inn keepers and tailors, unlike farm workers who had to move around to find employment, were an all important part in the town life of Tenterden and this provided a stable and continuous living. The 1st EDWARD, born c1715, a yeoman of Boresile (now the St. Michael district of Tenterden) left a will in 1795 making a brief mention of "implements". This has been taken to mean stone mason tools, since both his grandson EDWARD and great grandson GEORGE were stone masons. GEORGE was probably the most prosperous of the Tenterden Bishop's. His stone masons yard was right opposite St Mildred's church where he couldn't fail to get orders. (See photo P34 in Tenterden by R S Spelling). On his death the business was left to his eldest son STEPHEN. His 2nd son GEORGE was inn keeper of the Crown Inn (St. Michaels) but was also a tailor. George's son FRANK trained under the experienced eye of HENRY GOODSALL the towns principal shoe maker and parish clerk (1841 to 1895). This long service is commemorated by a stained glass window in St. Mildred's. It is interesting to note that Henry's appointment to the post of parish clerk was made by the rev. PHILIP WARD, vicar of St. Mildred. PHILIP was married to HORATIA NELSON, the daughter of Lord NELSON. FRANK married Henry's daughter MARY SARAH and set up a business as shoe maker, but by this time the large factories in Northampton were producing good quality boots and shoes that the local man couldn't compete with. By 1893, FRANK was working as a postman. Frank's son WILLIAM HENRY didn't have a trade as such. He left Tenterden, first settling in Bromley, Kent where his 1st child was born and then moving up to the east end of London where he became a grocers assistant. My father was born 29DEC1895 at 31, Railway street, Bromley by Bow, a vastly different place to the beautiful country town of Tenterden. There is some evidence that WILLIAM Henry's brothers lived on in Tenterden for a short while after HENRY left, but this particular family severed its connection with Tenterden at about this time.



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