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About the study
Since 2016 I have continued the work of Brenda Davis, who researched the surname Bessant and its variants for at least 20 years. As my surname is Bezant, that is the focus of my study, but it is not the most common spelling.
When I began I was quite familiar with the families whose roots are in Suffolk and Norfolk, but I had no knowledge of the wider geographical spread. I began to explore Brenda’s database.
I do not have a website to direct you to but I am able to produce family reports which can be emailed. I am also very happy to receive any information you may feel would help the study.
In alphabetical order they are:
Beasant, Besant, Besent, Bessant, Bessent, Beszant, Bezance, Bezant, Bezants, Bezzant
I find that the surname spelling often changes within a family. Baptism records sometimes have siblings with different surname spellings. Often the spelling changes from one census year to another and even birth, marriage and death registrations for the same person can have different spellings.
Two variants occurred in Norfolk, Bezance and Bezants. I think this is connected with the way the name is spoken and the fact that the people were illiterate. In Haddiscoe and Wheatacre the ance ending appears in the parish registers from the mid 18th century, most usually spelt Beazance. In 2002 there were just 70 people with the Bezance spelling. Bezants was adopted by one of the sons of my G3 grandfather Henry and his first wife Hannah, who settled in Norwich. In 2002 there were 15 people with that spelling.
Historical occurrences of the name
Annie Besant (1847-1933) is probably the most famous person with a variant of the name. She is best known to me for her support of the female employees at the Bryant and May match factory in East London. She also published a book about birth control with Charles Bradlaugh. There is much written about Annie Besant which is easy to find.
Walter Besant 1836-1901) an author, was the brother of Frank Besant, husband of Annie. Walter Besant wrote fiction as well as histories and books about London.
John Besant (abt 1745-1791) invented an improvement to mail coaches in the 1780s.
Looking at the order of frequency in the 2002 Office of National Statistics database the most common variant is Bessant then Besant, Beasant, Bezant, Bessent, Bezzant, Beszant, Bezance, Bezants and Besent. There are people with those surnames in the 1911 census and they are the main focus of my study.
There are occurrences with the spelling Basant, Bassant, Bassent, Bazant, Bazzant. Bassant is the most common.
Name frequency in 1911:
Bessant 1020, Besant 448, Beasant 366, Bezant 212, Beszant 167, Bessent 162, Bezzant 112, Besent 58, Bezants 15, Bezance 10
Distribution of the name
The 1881 census frequencies for the 4 main variants are:
Bessant - 599 entries - Hampshire 235, Somerset 101 and Dorset 39
Beasant - 342 entries -Wiltshire 153 and Middlesex 52
Besant - 271 entries - Middlesex 54, Hampshire 47 and Wiltshire 45
Bezant - 114 entries - 32 Suffolk, 17 Surrey, 15 Middlesex
There are people in America with the spelling Beasant, Besant, Bessant, Bezant & Bezzant variants with roots in the UK and people with the spelling Bazant with roots in Poland.
Besant and Bezzant in New Zealand
Beasant, Besant, Bessant, Bezant and Bezzant in Australia
The study consists of nearly 44000 individual people who are as far as possible connected into family groupings.
The largest group consists of nearly 5000 people over 12 generations, these are people with the Bessant spelling who are descendants of William Bessant and Ruth Cullimore who lived in Weston in Gordano, Somerset.
The next largest group consists of nearly 1500 people across 12 generations who are the descendants of Henry Bezant and Mary Leigh who lived in Laxfield, Suffolk.
Altogether there are over 6000 islands or groupings of people, many of which are just two or three generations as well as many individuals or couples without any established links.
The study is supported by many birth, marriage and death certificates which have been digitised by the Guild. There are many census records and parish records too.