Q & A WITH JEAN - about the name Limborough

Walter Townsend, Great Hollands, Bracknell, Berks

"My 3 x great-grandfather, Limborough Townsend, was baptised at Shipton under Wychwood, Oxfordshire in 1790. His uncle, was also given the same unusual forename when he was baptised in 1753. I have found a few scattered baptisms in apparently unconnected families using this forename between 1716 and 1856 in the same area of Oxfordshire and one in Soho, Middlesex. Variations include Limb, Limbra, Libro, and Limburgh. What is the explanation of this name and has it been used in Berkshire? It is so distinctive and has been in use for over a century and a half and it must link to something more than its masculine sound and rolling-off-the-tongue quality".

Firstly, this 'unusual' forename is almost certainly a surname. The possibility is that a Miss Limburgh married into the family and her surname was used for the male descendants.

As a surname, this spelling is not listed in my source books. However, P H Reany and R M Wilson in A Dictionary of English Surnames (1995) and C W Bardsley in A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames (1988 reprint of 1901 edn) have entries for Limbury and its variants, Limbrey and Limbery. Both suggest that the surname derives from the hamlet of Limbury in the parish of Luton, Bedfordshire, meaning 'a fortified place or stronghold on the river Lea' - a Celtic river name plus the Old English ‘burgh'. A burgh could be an Iron-Age hill-fort, Roman or Anglo-Saxon fortification or a fortified house. As this place name element is also spelt 'borough', 'burgh', 'brough' or 'bury' it follows that Limborough could be an unlisted variation of Limbury. One might therefore expect to find early references to this surname in Bedfordshire and beyond.

Secondly, the 1881 National Census Index on CDROM produced 131 Limbury entries, including Limbury & Limbrey, etc. only eight were in Bedfordshire with 13 in Buckinghamshire, 39 in Nottingham and others in London, Warwickshire and elsewhere. A forename search of Oxfordshire only produced Limbrough Turner in Finstock, nr Charlbury. This is near Shipton under Wychwood and both are near the county boundary with Gloucestershire on the west. Gloucester produced nothing.

Thirdly, until the Berkshire parish registers are available on a computer database, finding references to Limborough as a forename is not at all easy.

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