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About the study
My Atcherley one-name study has grown out of attempts to track down my maternal ancestors and cousins, a task which I began in the latter part of 2008. On tracing the ancestry of those bearing the surname Atcherley during the census and civil registration era, it became clear that all of them very likely shared a common ancestor.
My hope is that it will be possible to assemble a complete family tree for the Atcherley family, based on solid evidence, and also to gain as full an understanding as is possible of how all these Atcherleys lived their lives. As more and more historic records, books and newspapers are transcribed, indexed and made available online, it seems that this goal may well be possible.
There are other Atcherley researchers who have been piecing together this family's tree for a lot longer than I have, and I am extremely grateful to them for their pioneering - and ongoing - work. It would be great to have more people on board - particularly people who were born an Atcherley or who have Atcherley ancestors or cousins.
Acherley was a common variant in the past (particularly in the 1600s), and while the number of Atcherleys who emigrated to or visited America has been relatively low, those who did venture 'across the pond' often had their surname recorded as Atcherly. A combination of the rareness (and therefore unfamiliarity) of the name and variations in old handwriting means that Atcherley is often transcribed incorrectly from parish registers, census schedules, passenger lists and birth/marriage/death records. Atcherley records can therefore be difficult to find as they are often 'lost in transcription.'
The surname of one of the earlier and more prominent members of the family, Sir Roger Atcherley (Lord Mayor of London from 1511) was typically written as Achelley. This variant (with many similar ones including Achley, Atchly, Atchley, Atcheley, and Achelley) can be found in some of the parish registers of south Shropshire (Ludlow and some nearby townships) and also London in the 1500s and 1600s. These surname variants are not (yet) part of this study, though I have little doubt that those who bore them were part of the family.
Atcherley has been described as a "good old Shropshire name" and certainly has strong roots in that county. It has been suggested that it is a locative surname, derived from a lost village or settlement. That is certainly a possibility given the presence in Shropshire of places like Atcham and Asterley, not to mention an ancient document dating back to 1403 which refers to "a virgate of land in Acheley, co. Salop..."
Another possibility is that the original 'Atcherley' was in fact a Norman invader or settler. One William Achilles, apparently the grandfather of a Richard Acheley, appears in the Testa de Nevill, during the reign of Henry III (1216-1272), holding "a tenth part of a Knight's fee in Dodelebur" (Diddlesbury, in south Shropshire). Was Achilles derived from the French surname Achille?
Historical occurrences of the name
The Atcherley family, although a small in size, has included a good number of notable members. The above-mentioned Sir Roger Atcherley (or Achelley) was elected sheriff of Middlesex and London in 1504 and chosen to be Lord Mayor of London in 1511, during the reign of Henry VIII. He "filled several civic offices of high trust with distinction" before his death in 1521.
Another Roger (Roger Acherley, baptised 23 Dec 1662 at Baschurch in Shropshire) was a noted lawyer of the Inner Temple and author of The Britannic Constitution, published in 1727. He presented a copy of his book to the King, who (according to reports in the Daily Journal) received it 'very graciously.'
The Rev. James Atcherley was headmaster of Shrewsbury School from 1770 to 1798, although a number of authors have described this period as one of decline during which the school's fortunes (and the number of its pupils) reached their lowest levels! James' youngest son, also named James, was notable for being a Captain in the Royal Marines who, during the Battle of Trafalgar, took the surrender of the French Admiral Villeneuve.
Perhaps the most famous Atcherleys were the 'flying twins' of the RAF, Air Marshall Sir Richard Llewellyn Roger Atcherley and Air Vice Marshall David Francis William Atcherley. Richard, popularly known as Batchy, was the most prominent of the two, known for setting air speed records while competing in the Schneider Trophy Air Races in 1929, for winning the King's Cup Air Race during the same year, and for his displays of 'crazy flying' at the Cleveland Air Races in the USA in 1930 and 1931. Less well known are his contributions to the development of night landing and air refuelling systems.