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About the study

The aim of the study is to reconstruct the genealogy and history of the Edgcombe family (and variants). Results are published in correspondence and through 'Edgcombe Family Genealogy and History' (EFGH), a journal started in February 1988 and published three times a year between then and 2007, and twice a year with changed format since then. There are currently around 75 subscribers.

Variant names

The study covers Edgcombe in all its spellings. I also collect but do not normally seek out information on Gedgecombes/Gatchcombs etc. Family members have been found with spellings such as Hitchcombe and Agecome but these variants have not been collected systematically, and might include people from other families.

Name origin

Edgcumbe is a valley leading down to the Tamar in the parish of Milton Abbot, Devon. It is the valley (combe) of a Saxon named Eggha who lived, farmed or did something else notable there before records begin. William de Edgcumbe, first recorded bearer of the surname, lived there in 1273; and John de Edgcumbe died there in 1285. His descendants remained at Edgcumbe until they sold it in 1920, while other progeny carried the name far and wide.

History of the name

Most people know of Mount Edgcumbe near Plymouth. Since 1789 it has been the home of the Earls of Mount Edgcumbe. Their lineage can be traced back to Sir Richard who built the house between 1547 and 1552. Before that the family lived at Cotehele in the Cornish parish of Calstock. They moved there in 1353. Before that, they lived at Edgcumbe, the farm in the parish of Milton Abbot in Devon whence they derive their name. The first recorded head of the family is William Edgcumbe who was a landowner near Tavistock in 1273; he was probably born before King John set his seal to Magna Carta, and one branch of his descendants remained at Edgcumbe until it was sold in 1920.

There was an Edgcombe with Cook when he discovered Australia, and another was a founder of the colony of New Plymouth in New Zealand. There were Edgcombes in Salem, Massachusetts, just after the time of the witch trials.

All corners of the world, and all walks of life too. In the mid 19th century at one end of the social spectrum the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe was ADC to the Queen; at the other five Edgcombe sisters walked the Falmouth dockside. Most fell somewhere in between. Many were farmers, more were farm labourers. Many set themselves up in trade, particularly the carpentry and building trades -€“ by 1800 virtually every house in Tewkesbury must have had Edgcombe workmanship in it. Many took to state service, at sea in the Navy, or ashore working in the dockyards, especially Plymouth Dock, as shipwrights or other artificers. Others joined the army or the marines: the roll of honour of Britain'€™s wars has its share of Edgcombes. And not just Britain's: Edgcombes have been killed in wars in America and New Zealand and at Monte Cassino in Italy.

Name frequency

I have references to almost 19,000 people surnamed Edgcombe. Adding on omissions and recent bearers who have escaped notice, I estimate that over 20,000 people have ever borne the name.

Distribution of the name

EFGH has had subscribers from England, Scotland, Wales, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Barbados, Ecuador, Belgium, France and Italy. We also know of cousins in South Africa, Zambia, and many Caribbean islands.