The English surname Wedmore was taken from the place name of Wedmore near the middle of Somerset. The village name is believed to originate from the old English form waþmor where waþ or wæþ means hunt. So the name probably derives from ‘hunting moor’.
From the time of the Norman conquest the landowners were using the names of their estates as a form of surname and these were passed with the land to their children. The need for surnames slowly spread down the social classes and increased during the 13th and 14th centuries as more written records were kept. Names based on occupation, relationships, location or simply nicknames evolved and by the 15th century most English people had fixed hereditary surnames. The use of Wedmore as a surname almost certainly started out with somebody who was born at Wedmore and later moved away, or who owned an estate or land at Wedmore and took his name from that.
In the Exchequer Lay Subsidies dated 1 Edward III under Hundredum de Bempstone is the entry –
|Alnestone Egidio de Wedmor xviiid|
The Lay Subsidies were taxes raised for specific purposes and mainly based on goods and property other than land. The clergy were exempt, though no doubt they paid other taxes. This particular tax was raised in the first year of Edward 3rd, i.e. 1327.
Since late Saxon times the main unit of administration in southern England, especially for tax purposes, was the ‘Hundred’, meaning an area containing 100 Hides. The name Hide was derived from an area of land which could be ploughed and cultivated using a team of oxen in one year and was deemed enough to support a single extended family. The size of these hides would vary considerably depending on the quality of the soil and seems to have been fairly arbitrary. There were usually several parishes within each Hundred and many Hundreds in each county.
One such Hundred is Bempstone which includes Wedmore and surrounding villages. Alnestone was the medieval parish name of the modern Stone Allerton, a village about three miles to the north-east of Wedmore. Thus Egidio of Wedmore living in the parish of Alnestone paid one shilling and six pence [xviii pence in Roman numerals], which translates to 7½ pence or 13 cents in today’s money. However, in today’s values that might be £30 or $55. Egidio, or Giles as we would call him, was not a wealthy landowner, but was more than a simple labourer. He is one of the earlier recorded people found so far with the name, though there is yet no proof that all or even any alive today with the name Wedmore are descended from him.
The earliest Wedmore surname references are:-
- John de Wedmore appears in the Somerset Pleas for 1225 at Bemestane, possibly as the serjeant (sic)or bailiff.
- Adam de Wedmer’ in the Somerset Pleas for 1242-43 for selling cloth illegally.
- William Wedmore appears in the Assize Rolls 1276 for Wiltshire. [PH Reaney and RM Wilson Dictionary of Surnames].
- Richard de Wedmor, a clerk, on the 5th of the Ides of May, 1296 was made a grant by Thomas, Prior, for lodging, etc., for himself in the chamber of Master Henry de Bath, and stabling for two horses in the stable of the clerks. [Two Chartularies of the Priory of St. Peter at Bath, volume 7, William Hunt (ed.), 1893]
- Egidio de Wedmor at Alnestone in Hundredum de Bempstone etc. Exchequer Lay Subsidies 1 Edward III  xviiid(1/6d or 7½p). It is said that there is an earlier reference to this man. [Kirby Quest].
- Some two hundred years later is the marriage of John Wedmore and Catheren Hauking at Wraxall on 8th of July 1564. [Parish Register].
It is most likely that the first person with the surname Wedmore left the village and took the name in the form shown above Egidio de Wedmor, meaning Giles of Wedmore. The name is found in the villages of Backwell, Churchill and Dunster moving northwards to villages in the very north of Somerset to the west of Bristol, and to Bristol itself. By the middle of the sixteenth century the name Wedmore is found in Bristol [on the boundary between Somerset and Gloucestershire] and in the villages in the very north of Somerset, west of Bristol. These were the parishes of Weston in Gordano, Portishead, Easton in Gordano, Portbury, and in particular, Nailsea and Wraxall [Failand]. During the eighteenth century the name is found in Dorset where one family spread and nearly all those with the name today in Dorset and Wiltshire can trace their roots back to that first settler to the south-east of Bristol.
In England today the name Wedmore, which would be regarded as a very rare name, is still predominantly found in the Bristol and Dorset areas with scattered families in South Wales, London, Sussex, and Durham.
Surprisingly there are possibly three times more Wedmores in the U.S.A. than in England, though most of the American families cannot trace their English roots. This would indicate that these Wedmores were early settlers.
Four main family groups have been identified in America. The term family group has been used since many of these individual families have no knowledge of each other, but share a common ancestor. There are several apparently unconnected families in the USA who must originally have left England, probably from Bristol, though this occurred too early for the link to be found at the moment. There are many other Wedmores that have not been linked, but most are likely to belong to one of the four groups, though no doubt in time other groups may become evident.
In England the situation is more complicated with up to a dozen family groups which so far are not linked. However the closeness of their families, even within the same parish, means that if the records can be found, many of these families will in time be shown to link together. During the nineteenth century Wedmores emigrated and there are Wedmore descendants in Australia and South Africa and one Wedmore has even been found in Costa Rica.
Since July 1837 when births were first registered in England there have been about 380 Wedmore entries in the index, averaging 23 born each ten years, however estimates for those children not registered range between 10% and 20% . Prior to 1837 baptisms rather than births were recorded in parish registers. Today, telephone directories give a guide to the number of families but many people opt to be unlisted. It is therefore very difficult to determine numbers accurately, but the author estimates that there are between 500 and 600 living people worldwide with the Wedmore surname.
with kind permission of Wedmore Surname website: http://www.wedmore.org.uk/origins.htm