From FHM 159
What's in a name?: Holmes
The surname Holmes, also spelled Holm, Holms and sometimes Homes, is a locative surname for somebody who lived near a ‘holm’ oak, a tree distinctive for its evergreen nature. The word was also used for people connected with a ‘holmr’ – a Norse word from the 8th and 9th centuries, meaning a flat piece of marshy land.
With these two possible origins, and the widespread nature of trees and islands in marshes, it is not surprising that the surname is quite widespread; Holmes is England and Wales’s 87th most common surname, with 63,377 bearers. Its distribution – mainly in the Midlands, the North and East Anglia – corresponds fairly well with the areas originally under the Danelaw; those under Viking settlement.
The surname is found at its earliest with Roger de Holm, who lived in Leicestershire in about 1186; Urkell de Holmes listed in Yorkshire in 1219, John Ate Holme in Sussex in 1296 and William de Holme in 1327 in Derbyshire.
Its most famous bearer, Sherlock Holmes, was, of course, fictitious: real Holmeses include Sir Robert Holmes (1622–1692), an admiral serving under Prince Rupert in the Civil War, who captured several Dutch colonies in North America and along the Guinea Coast.
The arms shown here are blazoned Barry of six, Or and Azure, on a canton Ermine, a rose Gules, seeded Or, bearded Vert. They were confirmed in the Heralds’ Visitation of Cheshire in 1613, with the addition of the crest An arm couped and embowed, vested as the coat, and cuffed Ermine, grasping a rose branch Proper.
These are the arms of a very special heraldic family: the Holmeses of Chester. They were descended from a landed family – the Holmes of Tranmere, traceable back to the marriage of Robert Holme and Matilda de Tranmere, in the late 14th century. By the Tudor period, the family were impoverished and they had become tradesmen in Chester town centre.
Randal Holme I (1571–1655) became a deputy to the College of Arms for Cheshire and Lancashire and, as a result, Mayor of Chester. He established a successful practise as a herald and genealogist, and the same profession was followed by his son, grandson and great-grandson, all called Randal Holme.
The third Randal (1627–1699) wrote the Academie of Armory (in 1688), one of the greatest treatises on the subject ever compiled. The family’s manuscripts form the backbone of the Harleian Manuscripts at the British Library and remain a fantastic source for Lancashire and Cheshire genealogy and heraldry.
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