The origin of the surname Biddlecombe

European surnames have four main sources - names of places where people lived or came from, their occupations, their parentage, or their physical appearance. Sutherland, Butcher, Robertson and Little are obvious examples of each type. If you look up 'Biddlecombe' in British surname dictionaries, you find that it comes from a place in Somerset called 'Bittiscombe'. When you search maps of Somerset, however, there is no such place. However, sheet 181 of the Ordnance Survey Landranger (1:50,000) map series does show a Bittescombe Manor and Bittescombe Hill in the Brendon Hills, south of Minehead. Someone at the Somerset County Archive has confirmed by e-mail that there are no other Bittiscombes or Bittescombes in Somerset, and that the difference is almost certainly just due to spelling variations over the years.

The 1:25000 map for the same area also shows Bittescombe Woods, in the valley of the River Batherm, about 600 yards west of Bittescombe Hill. As 'combe' means 'valley', Bittescombe Hill is a rather strange name. There are in fact plenty of other names of hills like this in England, including at least one 'Coombe Hill'. It is possible that this part of the Batherm valley is the original 'Bittescombe' - the manor is close to a tributary of the same river.

There is still a concentration of Biddlecombes in the south and south-west of England.

Other places as a source of the name

We've had various reports of places called Biddlecombe, and one of us has vague memories of seeing one on a map. In many Internet 'ego-searches' for the name, I've yet to find one of these places mentioned. As the front page of this site mentions, one such place has now been found.

There is a Bettiscombe Manor in Dorset, and any number of 'near-miss' West Country place-names like Widcombe, Bincombe, Butcombe, etc. etc.

Another theory about the origin of Biddlecombe

One e-mail correspondent told me:

"I have only ever once investigated my name and that was in one of those 'let us find you family coat of arms' places in Windsor. They claimed that Biddlecombe was derived from two parts Biddle or Beedle (as in the bad guy in Oliver Twist) and combe meaning valley. They therefore implied that one of our ancestors was a beedle in a valley village."

We're sceptical about this - we think that 'occupation surnames' like Cooper normally belong to the kind of job which would be done by one person in a community, so geographical identification would be unnecessary. I have searched the Web for "occupation and location" names like Chandlercombe and Fletchercombe, without finding any.

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Editor: Peter Biddlecombe
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