The History of the Surname Newbon
Those surname dictionaries which include the name Newbon all state that it shares its origins with its close relatives Newbond and Newbound, all of which are in fact offshoots of the more common surname Bond. Bond, whose literal meaning is simply ‘the bond’, dates back as a surname at least as far as 1086, when it was mentioned in William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book. It would have been used to describe a householder, that is a farmer or peasant who held some land – this land would not, however, have been owned outright because of that person’s relatively lowly position in the Medieval social hierarchy known as the feudal system. Within this system all land was held by tenants, rented from somebody from the social layer immediately above them, the ultimate landowner being, therefore, the monarch himself. A person to whom the surname Bond would have been attached could, perhaps, best be described as an unfree tenant, someone who was bound in his duty and whose land was rented from a higher member of society.
It was not until the end of the 13th century that the name first appears with the prefix ‘new’, thus meaning literally ‘the new bond’ or ‘the newly bound’. This would, therefore, have described a man who was socially upwardly mobile (within the limitations of the feudal system), a new householder or a newly-settled peasant who now held his own land and was bound to a social superior.
The earliest references to the surname Newbond are found a century or so before the period in the late 14th century when surnames started to become commonly used throughout the country: for example, a ‘Hugo le Neubonde’ is mentioned in the archives of Ramsey in Cambridgeshire in 1271 and a ‘William newebonde’ found his way into the Worcestershire Subsidy Rolls 4 years later. Other Neubondes and Newebondes can be found at this time in Buckinghamshire and Huntingdonshire, suggesting that there was no one particular geographical source of the name (which would make sense given that the surname refers to a person’s social position rather than any specific geographical location), although the origins of the surname seem to be in central England. From these humble origins in the Middle Ages the surname has survived into our own time in the 3 variant forms mentioned above (Newbon, Newbond and Newbound).
Spelling was until fairly recent times full of variation, and it is remarkable that throughout the 19th century, and during much of the 18th also, the spelling NEWBON was absolutely standard, with almost never any deviation from it. Before this period, though, alternative spellings (such as Newbone, Nebon, Neabon, Newborn, Newbourn and Nubon) are more common, although Newbon can still be regarded as the standard spelling. It would be very interesting to find out when and why the original surname Newbond lost its final ‘d’ to become Newbon. This had certainly happened by the end of the Tudor period and one could surmise that it maybe happened soon after the first appearance of Newbond in the late 1200s, perhaps because of a regional pronunciation.
The Surname Newbon Today
Newbon has never become a common surname and has always in fact been somewhat limited in its geographical distribution. Today, for example, the name appears not to exist at all in Scotland nor to have found its way to Ireland, and it is rare in Wales and in the Northern counties of England. The British Telecom directories give a good indication of how common a name is in any particular part of the country (even though, of course, they in reality reveal only the number of householders with any given surname who subscribe to British Telecom and who are not ex-directory! They are nonetheless undeniably useful sources for investigating surname distribution). Of the 87 UK directories for 1995 (those available at the time of the original calculation), the largest concentration of Newbons (totalling 33) is to be found in the Midlands – the single directory containing the largest number being that for Stoke-on-Trent, with 19 entries; but elsewhere the name is comparatively rare – there is a total of 10 Newbons listed in the East Anglian directories, 9 in those for the South West, 8 in the North East, 7 in the North West, only 6 in the South East and 3 in the South Midlands and Chilterns; only 3 are listed in the London postal area, with another 5 in the surrounding Greater London area, making a total of 84 Newbon households. In reality, there are most likely over a hundred Newbon households in the country.
Numbers, geographical distribution and Christian names since 1837
During the first 100 years of civil registration (i.e. from 1838, the first complete year of registration, to 1937) 691 children were born and registered with the surname Newbon in the whole of England and Wales, an average of just under 7 per year. There was a remarkably even spread of 346 boys and 345 girls. This total is considerably smaller than the number of births of any common surname, whose totals would run into hundreds every year; a number of these children, particularly those born in the 19th century, would sadly have died young. 188 of these births were registered in the Greater London area, but the place with the highest number of births registered was (as might be expected from the 1995 British Telecom data listed above) Stoke, with 244 Newbons; 60 Newbon births were registered in Stamford and 50 in Peterborough. Considerably more births were registered in the 40 years from about 1880 to around 1920 than in other years. The choice of Christian names made by the Newbon parents makes interesting reading: the most popular boy’s name was John (with 36 children given that name), closely followed by William (35) and then Arthur (25), George (24), Walter (22), James (19) and Thomas (17), all of which, apart from Walter, are still popular today. Matthew, Andrew and Paul, however, do not feature, with David, Edward, Richard and Peter making little impact. The most popular girl’s names were: Mary and Elizabeth (both 17), Florence (16), Emma (13), Sarah (11), Alice (10) and Louisa (6). Generally, girls’ names that have long since gone out of fashion (such as Doris and Ethel) fared well, and Annie (14) did much better than Ann/Anne (7). Understandably, some names have remained quite unique: for example, there has only ever been one Septimus Baily Newbon, one Clarence Brocklebank Newbon and one Ebenezer Octavius Newbon! 381 Newbons married during this same period.
The surname Newbon in London
The earliest reference in London to the surname Newbon appears to have been when a William Newbon was married at Harrow-on-the-Hill in 1665. The ancestors of many of the 19th-century London Newbons, however, arrived in the city in the second half of the 18th century, settling mainly within the square mile of the City of London (which may suggest a connection between some of the families), and during the 19th century these families slowly moved out of the centre of London, thus widening the area in which the surname was found. Other Newbon families from elsewhere moved to different parts of London throughout the 19th century in the hope of finding work in the ever-expanding capital. In the light of these statistics, the fact that only 8 Newbon households are to be found in the 1995 Greater London telephone directories is perhaps a little surprising, for in the 19th century the number of Newbon households was certainly higher. From the late 1800s, few Newbon families have, however, had male descendants to carry the name forward. Today, therefore, London is home to only a handful of Newbons, with the surname considerably less common in the capital than it was a century ago. Elsewhere (particularly in the Midlands) it is faring better. My very rough guess is that there might be somewhere in the region of 500 people alive today whose surname is Newbon.