Origins of the name ROWBERRY

Reaney, in his Dictionary of British Surnames says that the name is from Roborough (Devon), Rowberrow, Ruborough Hill (Somerset) or Rowborough (Isle of Wight) all place names deriving from the ME rou, row(e) OE ruh, meaning "rough or wild" and ME bergh(e), berwe OE beorg meaning "hill".

Early references
Whilst there is no doubt that the name is locative in type (meaning that it is derived from a place name) the question is which place? Reaney quotes several possibilities, and in actual fact there are very many places throughout the southern part of England with a similar name, although they are all smaller than those listed by Reaney, and hence not so easy to locate. The entry continues by quoting an early reference to the use of the name as a surname in the 1327 Lay Subsidy Roll for Worcestershire. This lists at Beriton (now Berrington) in the parish of Tenbury "de Rogero de Rubury ijs" which translates as "from Roger of Rubury, 2 shillings". A few years later the 1332-3 Lay Subsidy Roll has for the same place "de Rogero de Roubury ijs". By the time of the 1603 Lay Subsidy Roll there are two persons with the surname living at Berington and being assessed, "Richardus Rowbury" and "Thomas Rowbury".

Which Place?
So whilst these entries confirm that the origin of the name is indeed a place name, because of the use of the "de", they do nothing to help us with its actual location. However the source of the surname of the Herefordshire/Worcestershire family is unlikely to be any of the places quoted by Reaney as they are all too far away from Berrington. Use of a descriptive name of this type would indicate that it was familiar within the area where it was being used. It is possible of course that some of the other families took their surname from another place, but few, if any of these families now survive. For the vast majority of people bearing the name or its variants today place of the name has to be found closer to Berrington. Nowadays there is a place called Rubery not far away and Hanks and Hodges in their more recent Dictionary of Surnames do in fact add this to Reaney's list for the original source of the name. Researching the history of Rubery itself proves that this too is unlikely, as the name was not used as a habitation name until quite recently, being previously restricted to the quarry ridge at the end of the Lickey Hills once known as Rowberrow Hill.

A place in Herefordshire
Thus for many years I sought for an early habitation place more local to Tenbury to explain the origin of the name. At last I think that I have identified it, thanks to an entry in Bruce Coplestone-Crow's Herefordshire Place Names. I have long been aware of a farm called Rowberry Court in the parish of Bodenham, five miles to the north of Hereford, but had always supposed that it had taken its name from a previous tenant, as have several other places in Herefordshire now bearing the name. However Bruce confirms that it was a place name long before hereditary surnames became established, quoting the following references in early deeds and charters: Ruberh 1148-55, Rughebur' c1230, Rubir' 1249, Roberwe 1283, Roubury 1361 and Rowberye 1579. Interestingly the source of this last reference is The Kyre Park Charters (J Amphlett (ed), Worcestershire Historical Society, 1905), Kyre being an adjacent parish to Tenbury just over the border from Herefordshire.

Early references
I have now been able to check out three of the references quoted by Bruce Coplestone-Crow. The very first reference occurs in The Letters and Charters of Gilbert Foliot (eds Adrian Morey and C N L Brooke, Cambridge, 1967). When Gilbert was Bishop of Hereford he consecrated four cemeteries in Bodenham as places of sanctuary in times of war, and in return for certain gifts of land and rights he made them free of secular dues. The four cemeteries were at The Maund, Rowberry, The Vern and Broadfield, and all except the latter had a chapel. The chapel at "Ruberh" was to be served twice a week. The gift of Robert "de sancto Albino" holder of "Rueberch" was the whole of his tithe of "Rueberch" and half a fardell [about 5 acres] of land there, together with a certain little wood and meadow and common rights in the pasture and one messuage. The other references that I have been able to follow up are the last two mentioned by Bruce. The first of these appears in the Descriptive Catalogue of Ancient Deeds in the Public Record Office, Vol VI (PRO, 1915), which lists deeds from the Chancery. C 6480 is a Grant by William le Walssh to Walter Coleman of "La More" [now Bodenham Moor] of one acre of arable in the parish of Bodenham. Amongst the list of witnesses is one "Walter de Roubury". The date is "Thursday, Christmas Eve, 34 Edward III" [24 Dec 1360]. This clearly shows the place name being used as a surname within the parish of Bodenham itself. The Kyre Park Charters give two references to the name. The first (87) dated 1579 is a sale of property in Stoke Bliss and is witnessed, amongst others, by "William Rowberye". The second (437) dated 1675 is a lease to "Henry Dolphin of Collington, yeoman" and to his wife and daughter of "Rowbery tenement previously belonging to the farm of Collington". Neither of these references really help with the origin of the name, and in fact the second reference does not refer to the property in Bodenham at all, but to a holding at one time held by a ROWBERY, in Collington. This is mentioned in a Marriage Settlement dated 22 May 1626 where the farm in Collington in the occupation of James Rowberry is granted to the use of Thomas Burwall of Butterley, Edwyn Ralph, his wife Katherine and his heirs. This document is amongst the records of the Pateshall Family of Allensmore at Herefordshire Record Office [Ref: A95/5/22].

Some early wills
Although none of the ROWBERRY family appear in the early parish registers of Bodenham, which start in 1574, it is apparent from the Hereford Probates, Admons and Wills 1407-1581 (British Record Society, Microfiche) that the family remained there alongside the family in Tenbury until at least the late fifteenth century. In 1481 the administration of Isabel ROWBERY of Bodenham was granted to her husband John. Are these the same people mentioned earlier, on 17 Oct 1442, as the executors of the will of John PYPER of Temdebury [Tenbury]? They are described as "ROWBERRY and Isabel wife of same". If so it indicates another link between Tenbury and Bodenham. On the 20 Jan 1490 administration of the estate of John ROBRY of Bodynham was granted to Elen, his "relict" [widow]. There are several other ROWBERY/ROWBURY wills in Tenbury, together with a Thomas RUBRY, esquire of Luddelow (administration 18 May 1482) and a Richard ROBERY of Leominster (probate 8 Oct 1527). Unfortunately the actual wills referred to in these grants no longer survive, so we cannot learn any more about them, or their authors.

Original meaning?
Bruce gives the same meaning as Reaney for the place name, ie rough hill. So where was the Rough Hill? The OS map above shows that at that time the hill to the back and right of Rowberry Court was still covered with rough grazing, rising above the flat land surrounding the farm itself. The hill can be clearly seen in the picture that I took there in 1998. However neither the orchards nor the rough grazing shown on the map remain, having been replaced by cultivated fields. Even most of the common has been fenced, although some remains in front of the house to the left of the photograph.

In May 2003 I helped to organise the Herefordshire Local History Day-School, and the speakers were Margaret Gelling and Ann Cole, speaking on Place-names and Landscape around Bromyard. Imagine my delight when "Rowberry" was one of the places that they choose to discuss! Margaret explained that "the name Rowberry meant rough-surfaced rounded hill. The Old English beorg is used in place-names for small hills which have a continuously curved outline. Rowberry Court is overlooked by such a hill. Rough may have distinguished this one from others which were cultivated." On our afternoon coach trip we visited Rowberry and were able to note that there were many other typical beorg shaped hills in this area. So at last I have identifed the exact source of the surname, now marked on the picture below.
Please use your browser's scroll bar to see the full extent of the panorama, which extends to the right of your screen.

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Last revised: 3rd May 2004
© Polly Rubery 1998-2004