Pobjoy Origins

From Mr Derek Pobjoy's Family CrestThe origin of the name 'Pobjoy'

At archery contests in the Middle Ages bowmen shot at a wooden parrot or 'popinjay' on a pole or steeple: similar competitions are described in Virgil's Aenead and in the ancient Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. The winner was awarded the title 'King of the Popinjay' for the year, and this is probably the origin of the name Pobjoy. It is illustrated in the family crest of Mr Derek Pobjoy, Managing Director of the Pobjoy Mint, reproduced here. The motto Oculo Certo, "With a sure eye", refers both to the origin of the name and to the artisanal tradition to which the Mint is heir.

Reaney's Dictionary of British Surnames cites a mention of Robert Papejay in a Staffordshire Assize Roll of 1321 and references to a Robert Papyngeye in Norfolk documents of 1371 and 1397. There is a tradition connecting the name with Hugenot refugees, but although there are French, Flemish and Dutch versions of the name - such as Papeguay and Paapegai - I have found no evidence to support this.

'Pobjoy' has been spelt in dozens of different ways, and four main variations still exist in the English-speaking world: Pobjoy, Popjoy, Popejoy and Pobgee. Until well into the 1800s different spellings would be used for members of the same family, and even at different times by members of the same family - if they could write at all. 'Pobjoy' and 'Popjoy' were used interchangeably into the 1920s, and living bearers of these names probably have common connections that go back only a couple of centuries. 'Pobgee' and 'Popejoy' have formed distinct branches since before 1700. A fictional - and fictitious - variant makes an appearance in Thackeray's And is he Popenjoy?, which turns on the identity of the eponymous hero.

The surname 'Pobjoy' and its variants are so uncommon and, until this century, confined to so few localities, that the recent ancestry of Pobjoy families can be traced quite readily. Until about 1850, however, a dozen Christian names were so common that it can be difficult to know which Ann, Elizabeth, John, Mary, Richard or William Pobjoy a particular record refers to, especially where Pobjoys were thick on the ground or where, conversely, a 'stray' pops up.

Pobjoy families in the West Country

On 24th October 1496 Rich. Popingay was one of the witnesses to a land transaction at Fisherton, near Salisbury, Wiltshire. The Parish registers of Box, just across the Wiltshire border from Bath, record the marriage of John Poppingay to Alice Jafferies in 1539. A Thomas Popiay was christened in Frome, nearby in Somerset, in 1562. Frome was an important centre for the woollen cloth industry, and by the 17th century a number of Pobjoy families were living there and in the nearby villages. Some of these families grew quite wealthy, such as the descendants of William Pobjay, baptised in Frome in 1667, who made 'cardboards' studded with nails to prepare wool for spinning into yarn. Some of the Frome Pobjoys settled in Bristol in the 18th century: some moved to London, and have descendants there still. Other West Country Pobjoys prospered as publicans and millers.

In the 19th century the woollen industry in Somerset and Wiltshire began to decline and so did the numbers of Pobjoys there. In some cases this happened where there were no male heirs; in others because individuals and families moved to towns and cities like Bath, Bristol, Newport, Gloucester, Swindon and London. A growing number of individuals and families emigrated to Australia and a few to America. Today there are quite large numbers of Pobjoys in Wiltshire, Bristol, Monmouth, Gloucestershire, London and Australia, and individuals and single families in many other places.

My own interest comes from my mother's side. She was born Nellie Pobjoy in Gloucester in 1908, youngest of the eleven children of Edward Henry Pobjoy (1864-1947), a confectioner. Ted was originally a gilder like his father, Edwin Edward Pobjoy, who was born in Bristol in 1842. Edwin's father, George Popjoy, was baptised in 1793 in Norton St Philip, a village between Bath and Frome.


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