You are at Site Home > General Notes


Notes about the Beckwith Family and the Trees 

1 - Introduction & Acknowledgements 

2 - General Notes & Information Sources

3 - Origin of the Beckwith Name

4 - Famous Forebears ?

5 - The Company of Goldsmiths 


1 - Introduction & Acknowledgements

The starting point of all this was an innocent request in the early 1980's from a young cousin about his forebears. The tree compiled for me by my father, Arthur Surl, gave valuable information about three generations of the immediate family but I wanted not only to have a broader picture but also produce an end-product which added far more interest & 'colour' to the basic birth and death details by including mini-biographies or 'pen pictures' of each person.

In that era, personal computers and the Internet were still many years away so all the research had to be achieved by leg work, hand-written letters and snail mail. Many happy (extended) lunch hours were therefore spent pouring over birth, marriage and death records at St Catherine's House in the Aldwych. 

Valuable help from Roger Beckwith and Goldsmiths Company records obtained some years earlier by Eric Thomas Beckwith plus old family papers and diaries inherited via Nancy Beckwith enabled me to circulate a draft set of trees within the family during 1985/6. These were accompanied by a few sketchy notes plus a request for the blanks to be filled and 'pen pictures' of people to be provided. Sincere thanks are due to all those who subsequently responded so helpfully. Special mention must be made here of Roger Beckwith who, in the late 1980's and early 1990's also spent many hours in London pouring over B, M & D registers as well as censuses. This valuable work enabled many questions to be answered and gaps to be filled. Thanks to old address books and slices of good luck, contact was also established in 1986/7 with several more distant family branches. Thanks to all these for all their help, particularly Phillip Beckwith of Winchester.

Unfortunately, my move away from London in late 1986 and change of occupation prevented much further progress being made - lack of spare time to assimilate all the amended information that had been gathered while life away from an office photo-copier inhibited its printed publication. 

The Internet has proved to be a hugely useful and economical publication medium so this set of trees & accompanying notes is an attempt to rectify the situation. The 'pen pictures' have been incorporated where available (fully attributed in the first instance thence by initials) otherwise they are my own attempts. However, not all the material has been updated since 1987 ... so updates will be gratefully received ! In this era of computers, e-mail and on-line data resources, it is hoped that gaps will be able to be filled more easily and the results published much quicker. 

Back in the 1980s, reproduction of photographs was difficult and prohibitively expensive but scanners and photo manipulation software are now commonplace while viewing the results is easy with current Internet browsers so work has started on compiling a comprehensive photo gallery to compliment the 'pen pictures'. I am particularly indebted to Michael Butler, Saira Holmes and Thelma Miller for kindly supplying so many of the original photos.

When first put up on the Net in early 2007 I wrote "Another reason for Internet publishing is that, thanks to search engines like Google, I am hoping that more distantly related Beckwiths will find this site and so enable an even broader picture to emerge." This came true far quicker and far more productively than I could ever have imagined. I am indebted to Priscilla Henderson and Rosemary Dearman (both in Australia) as well as Dawn Sorensen in the USA, Katie de Haan in Holland and Gillian 'somewhere in Europe' for all their valuable contributions to both the trees and Notes. More recently still, several descendents of James & Joseph who emigrated to Australia (Trees 8 & 9) have made contact and provided invaluable info.

So thank you to all who have kindly contributed ..... but there is still a long way to go though so please forgive the blanks and the age of some of the data as well as any incorrect links and mis-typings.   


2 - General Notes & Information Sources

  • Generations have been numbered to aid identification. This is particularly useful where fathers, sons and even grandsons all have the same Christian names ! Starting at generation number 5 may sound rather eccentric but it is both to allow for possible future progress in tracing earlier generations as well as to standardise on 'my' generation being 11 in all related trees.   

  • Various systems have been tried in the past to give meaningful and unique identification of each person but none has so far proved to be totally satisfactory, particularly where research is continuing or where more than just a few generations are involved. In the Dean family history Notes, several generations of a family unit are shown together using indented paragraphs for the offspring. However, particularly in 'active' lines where future generations are possible, this gives far too many levels of indent, too complex a reference and results in the 'top level' siblings being very widely separated on the page. 

    Hence a different approach has been used for the Beckwiths. 

    With such a large family, one huge tree would be unmanageable so it has been split into sections based on family units and, where necessary, also sub-sections.  In the accompanying Notes to each tree, family members appear in generation sequence so that siblings appear together (and hopefully in chronological order). Naturally this then separates them from their parents and their children but, hopefully, the extensive use of hyperlinks will make these up and downwards references very simple ... and, of course, the Tree page itself should also clearly display vertical relationships. Please note that the reference numbers used in the Notes are not unique overall, only within a given tree or sub-tree ... so to provide a unique reference, paragraph reference numbers must be prefixed by the tree number.  

  • Abbreviations ‘b’, ‘m’, ‘d’ and ‘bap’ have been used for birth, marriage, death and baptism. Hopefully all the former instances of ‘c’ for christening have been replaced to enable 'c' to uniquely represent 'circa'  while > and < have been used to denote after or before the quoted date as a reference to them at that time has been located. 

  • Marriages generally took place in the bride’s home parish (rather than where the couple settled) and it is not uncommon for the first child also to be baptised there as new mothers often stayed with their own mothers during and after giving birth.

  • Early parish registers (at least pre-1837) were compiled on a ‘church year’ basis which if I recall correctly was from the ‘Quarter Day’ in March to that in March the following year (so not dissimilar in principle to our current tax year). Events in Jan-March thus appear in the registers under the heading of the previous year so it is very easy when transcribing register entries to record the wrong year. Some transcriptions quote both possible years eg 1750/1 but where the latter is the more likely due to other related events (eg would mean two children born within less than 9 nine months of one another), this has been changed and is denoted by an asterisk (*).

  • Compulsory Birth, Marriage and Death registration commenced in 1837. To speed searching for a particular event, indexes were created for each type covering a quarter of a year, the March quarter covering events in Jan, Feb and Mar and so on. These Indexes show only very limited information but they were available for free access at Somerset House then St Catherine's House in London. Many, but by no means all, have since been transcribed into databases which can be viewed on the Internet. As such they are a valuable resource but ....

    • Actual date of the event is not given so info from this source is shown as 'Mar qtr' denoting that the event took place in Jan, Feb or Mar of that year. Note also that these periods tend to relate to when the registration was made rather than the event so, for example, the Mar qtr may include events from mid-Dec onwards depending on how quickly after the event it was officially registered. As might be expected, American genealogy systems like Ancestry refer to the quarters by the first month of the quarter rather than the last, hence Jan, Apr, Jul and Oct instead of our Mar, Jun, Sep and Dec. Hopefully none of the Americanisms have crept in here but, to avoid confusion, most new pages show the quarters by number instead eg Q1. 

    • Until the early 20th century, marriage indexes did not show the name of the spouse. Where other information (eg census) is not available to establish a Christian name, all that can be deduced is that it was someone on the same page of the original register. Normally this gives a choice of two (but it can be more) hence showing these as 'xxx or yyy'.

    • Age at death was not initially shown while mother's maiden name was not recorded on births until late 1911 but, as always, the former have to be taken with a large pinch of salt as the info was only what the person reporting the event believed to be true.

  • As few people could read or write in bygone times, name spellings are a question of interpretation by the vicar or curate who compiled the register. Instances have been found in another family context of a vicar who recorded parents’ Christian names on baptisms as those by which they were commonly known but, when he was on holiday, a visiting curate recorded proper names. Siblings thus appeared to have completely different parents ! The use of ‘popular’ names - often second Christian names - seems to have been quite widespread in the family, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Where Birth, Marriage & Death indexes generally only record the ‘proper’ first Christian name, this has inhibited tracing some people.

  • Census information should be taken as a good guide but it is not infallible. Apart from possible transcription errors when records were being computerised (often by staff in Asia who had no knowledge of English language, names and customs), the info was largely given verbally to the enumerator by whoever answered the door to him at the time so very much depends upon their own interpretation of names and places. The person answering the enumerator’s questions may also have had a fallible memory or not be fully au fait with their spouse’s or servants’ origins or even exact age. This was wonderfully demonstrated, again in a different family context, by the marked differences between 1881 and 1891 censuses according to who answered the door! Although the first of the 10-yearly censuses was in 1801, the early ones are of limited value unless land was owned. The first ‘real’ census was in 1841 but a confusing factor here is that the ages for adults were rounded to the nearest five years while birthplaces, relationships and occupations are only very rarely shown. Under the 100-year confidentiality rules, the latest currently available is 1911 but the 1939 Register has been an invaluable resource for those alive in that year.

  • The reason for the gradual dying out of a name can be attributed in many families to the two World Wars robbing them of male offspring. This does not seem to be the case with at least the immediate Beckwith family; it seems to be more attributable to premature death due to illness. 

  • Two hundred years ago, the family was focussed entirely upon the City of London but, in the ensuing years, the family naturally spread further and further afield as transport improved. However, the Northern Heights (the outer London suburbs to the north from Crouch End up to Barnet) seems to have been an 'enclave' for almost a century until the 1950's and it has been interesting to note whilst compiling this history how certain areas of England keep cropping up - the Leigh/Westcliff area near Southend in Essex and the Worthing area of Sussex in particular.  

  • For brevity in the notes, the source contributor's initials are used, at least from the 2nd occurrence onwards eg

DS         Dawn Sorensen 

KdH      Katie de Haan

PH         Priscilla Henderson

RTB      Roger Beckwith

RD        Rosemary Dearman

MGS     My own two-pennyworth   

while PR denotes Parish Register 


3 - Origin of the Beckwith Name

The following has been extracted from Burkes' Landed Gentry:

 "This very ancient family bore, originally, the name of MALBIE or MALBYSSE  being lineally descended from the marriage of Hercules de Malbie (reign of Henry III), grandson of Sir Simon de Malbie, Lord of Cawton, in Craven with Beckwith, one of the daughters of Sir William Bruce, Lord of Uglebarby, derived from Sir Robert Brus, Lord of Skelton Castle in Cleveland, a noble Norman knight, ancestor of the Bruces of Scotland.....

 ....The Baronetage became extinct in Sir Roger Beckwith Bart. who married Elizabeth Buck, daughter of Sir John Buck of Filey (died 1679)......

 ....William Beckwith, born 22nd November 1664, inherited the property of his uncle, William Beckwith Esq of Thurcroft and became of that place. He married Mary, daughter of Sir Edward Chaloner of Guiseborough (d1702) by whom he left at his decease, in 1713, with other issue, a son and successor....

 ....William Beckwith of Thurcroft & Sleningford married in April 1715 Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of John Woodifield of Fishburn & Trimdon (Durham) and had issue:

-  Woodifield, his heir

 - William of Carey St, London, barrister at law, who married and had one son, William (d unmarried) and two daughters.

-  John, a lieut.-col in Abercrombie's regiment.

-  Jane

-  Elizabeth ..... "

The lineage then continues through to the 20th century, primarily in Yorkshire and Co Durham.

Burke's continues "....

                 Seat                                        Trimdon House, near Sedgefield, Durham

                 Arms                                      Arg. a chevron between three hinds' heads, erased, gu.   (?)

                 Crest                                      An antelope, ppr, in the mouth a branch, vert

                 Motto                                    'Joir en bien'.."


4 - Famous Forebears ?

'Our' family tree starts with Jonah Beckwith, an 'upholder' (undertaker) living and working in the parish of St Andrew in the Holborn area of London in the 1750's. Although mention is made above of a William in London, this is not only too late for any direct connection with 'our' family but also his only son William is reported as having died unmarried. Equally, no earlier connection is obvious so, sorry, it does seem that there are no grand estates for us to inherit.

However, the mention of John being a lieut-colonel in the army is interesting. My father (Arthur Surl) had in his possession "fair hand copies" of the following letters :

                 - From Lt. Col. Sydney Beckwith, 1st Battalion 95th Regiment, dated 1/11/1810,

                   Heights of Aruda, Portugal to Lt. Gen. Sir Brent Spencer K.B.

                - From Lt. Gen. Sir George Beckwith K.B., commander of forces in Barbados,

                  dated 11/2/1811 to Lt. Col. Torrens.

                - As above but dated 12/3/1811 to Gen. the Rt. Hon. Sir David Dundas K.B.

 In some brief notes accompanying them he reports that Nancy Beckwith once told him that an ancestor was in the burial party attending the funeral of Sir John Moore after the Battle of Corruna (N.W.Spain) in 1809.

Research reveals that Sir George (1753-1823) and Sir Thomas Sydney KCB (1772-1831) were respectively the first and third of the four military sons of Major Gen John Beckwith (c1722-1787), who was in turn, according to Joseph Foster (pedigrees of County families of Yorkshire), the only surviving son of Lieut-col John Beckwith and Sarah nee Crook. At first sight, this Liet-Col John appears to be the same as the one mentioned in Burke's as the third child of William and Elizabeth but as those two only married (according to Burke) in 1715, the dates don't fit.

Whatever, Sir George was pre-occupied at that time as Governor of Barbados with commanding the capture from the French of Martinique (Feb 1809, for which he was knighted in May 1809) thence Guadaloupe (Feb 1810). Sydney, on the other hand, was trained by Sir John Moore (at Shorncliffe, Folkestone) and served under him in Portugal & Spain as a Lieut. Colonel; "The 95th and Beckwith crowned their services at Corunna, when they were the last troops to leave the city...". Also at Corunna in 1809 was Sydney's nephew John Charles who served as a Captain so the former at least would have been present at the subsequent burial of their commander Sir John Moore, the occasion commemorated in Charles Wolfe's famous poem.

To be brutally honest, I think it more likely that the Beckwith name on the papers attracted a family member in the mid 20th century when they came up for sale or auction than them having been passed down through the generations. If there is a relationship, it must be very distant ... and how this is will remain a mystery ... unless you know better !


5 - The Company of Goldsmiths 

Freedom of the Goldsmiths' Company was conferred on several members of the family. This was normally either by -

Service -

Admitted 'free' after having served a seven year apprenticeship

Patrimony -

Father was a Freeman ... at the time the son was born. This explains why Thomas William (b1859) was not eligible when his younger brothers were. "The freedom given on the 'testimony' of two London citizens, who may be Freemen of some other Company, and these names are mentioned (in the 'Freedom Book') after the name of the new freeman and his father " (letter dated 18/08/1949)



Return to Index Page


Any Copyright or other Intellectual Rights applicable to listed information sources is hereby acknowledged.

All original material is © 1985-2020 strictly copyright Malcolm Surl, all rights reserved worldwide.
 For permission to use any material from this site, apply to 


Last updated 5th July 2020