Treatise on English Womacks and their Origins

by Jan Womack


I first heard the name WOMACK in 1976 when I met my husband, at Guy's Hospital London where he was a medical student, and then again shortly after when I heard the name of the black American singer, Bobby Womack. I was curious about this unusual name and none of my husbands family had any idea where it came from, except that it HAD to be truly Yorkshire in origin and it was a not an uncommon surname in West Yorkshire.

When we moved to Yorkshire in 1983 I began to research the name, wondering whether it could be Jewish or East European. I discovered a direct line very quickly, straight back to a wedding in 1619 at Wragby (near Nostell Priory) in West Yorkshire. Wragby is only 5 miles or so out of Wakefield. All my husband's ancestors after this came from Warmfield\Normanton, Wakefield, - where they still live today.

Having explained a bit about the background to my research, I will move on to other things more relevant. The crest of Laurence Womack is a cross-crosslet and the arms are argent with a lion rampant gules. Basically it is a shield divided centrally from top to bottom. The left half has a black background with a gold cross touching each edge. Inside the gold cross are 5 black\blue stars positioned in each bar of the cross and one right in the centre. The right hand side of the crest is white in background with a red lion standing sideways (facing the centre) up on its hind legs. I have a photo of this crest on the pillar in St. Margarets Westminster. I was granted special permission to photograph (its not usually permitted) as I was a "Womack"! Unfortunately my photo shows the crest in about a 1 cm square and I don't know if it will show up on screen. In 1986 we moved back to London and I joined the Society of Genealogists and gained access to some interesting info. One was hand written document from 1909 which I will attempt to decipher for you:

"From D.N.B 1909 Womock or Womack Laurence, 1612 - 1686. Born in Norfolk in 1612 was son of Laurence Womock rector of Lopham until his death in July 1642. His grandfather Arthur Womock had held the same benefice. Christ Church College Cambridge 4th July 1629 ?? 15th Dec. Scholar on Sir Nicholas Bacon's ??? following Oct. B.A. 1632 Deacon 1634 M.A. 1639 Prebendal stall of Preston in hereford Cathedral 1660 and 8 Dec 1660 Archdeacon of Suffolk. He does not appear to have gone into residence at St.Davids. Died at his home in Westminster on 12 March 1685\6 and was buried in the North aisle of St. Margarets Church. He married first at Brideford on 18th November 1668 a woman called Anne Aylmer of Bury and secondly at St. Bartholomew - the- less, London, on 25.04.1669\70 a woman called Katharine Corbett of the city of Norwich, spinster age 40. She was still living in Oct 1697. He left an only daughter by his first wife named Ann who was buried in St. Margarets Westminster soon after her father. His heir was nephew Laurence Womack (d.1724) Rector of Caistor by Yarmouth. (signed) Donn. Miss Frances Hills - March 1950"

I don't think that this document is quite correct as according to another document I found (I believe referred to by another Womack genealogist in the message page) which was the "Womack of Mautby, co Norfolk" family tree communicated by Arthur Campling, Esq. In this family tree Laurence Womock has 3 wives, Ann ? buried at Horringer Suffolk 26 ? 1665, then Ann Aylmer and then Katharine Corbett (at St. Sepulchres, London).

I have found a reference to the Womack crest in a very old book at the society but unfortunately as we moved back to Yorkshire in 1990 I have never been able to trace the references within it. Here it is:

WOMACK of Mettingham, Horringer, Boxted. Laurence W., Archdeacon of Suffolk, Bishop of St. Davids. ref: Davy. Misc. Gen 5th. S VIII, 317-20 (Pedigree). Papworth 63-4. Kett* (Pedigree 5)

If anyone can decipher these references I would be pleased to know. I suspect one of them will be the "Womack of Mautby" however.

The Norfolk link is an interesting one. There are no longer many Womacks in the area. The area known as East Anglia was one of the most populous areas prior to the agricultural revolution in England. The Womacks obviously made their mark in a prestigious area. There is an area in Norfolk called Womack Water, on the Norfolk Broads (Canals). Nowadays Norfolk is a sparsely populated area mainly holiday homes and Ministry of Defence training land. The churches mentioned in references to Laurence are almost deserted only opening for special occasions.

Now I will discuss the origin of the name. Again in a very old book at the Society of Genealogists I found a reference to ROBERTUS WIUHOMARCH under Womack in the index. This chap was a Norman knight who was granted land in Essex, England, by William the Conqueror in 1066 following the Battle of Hastings. The name is originally Breton (from Brittany) and means "Battle Famous" and also infers "Worthy to have a Horse". I was thrilled to find this and it was reinforced by a letter I received out of the blue some 4 years ago. This letter was from a scholar of St. Mary's College Spinkhill, this is a Jesuit centre in Lincolnshire\Derbyshire. He wrote:

"In the 1930's a Jesuit priest called father Ralph Baines did much research into the Spinkhill Mission i.e. The hidden centre of Catholic activity since the religious persecutions of 1600's. At the end of Father Baine's book, having dealt with all the priests and gentry, he makes the point that none of it would have flourished without the ordinary simple catholic people of the district. He then selects the family Womack and so I have photocopied it for you. - - Much has been written in these pages of recusancy, of penal laws, in a word - of persecution. It is refreshing to see the other side of the picture and record the sterling loyalty and patriotism of those whose names are recorded in the registers. We could not do better than to sketch the story of the family of Womac. They lived in Barlborough and Spinkhill certainly from the time of the reformation, the name is unusual. The name of Womac as pronounced by its owners - who were illiterate, takes curious forms, and finally ends up surprisingly aspirated as "Hummock". But what indeed was there in a name when sterling character was the mark of the breed? We can trace four heads of the Barlborough family - granssire, son, grandson, and great grandson - respectively Ignatius, Francis I, FrancisII, FrancisIII b.1795. Ignatius was a man of gigantic stature, and a large mound marking his tomb used to be shown in "Squire Bowdon's Field". All the Womacs seem to have been of powerful build. It has even been suggested that the reason why spinkhill was never beaten up was that pursuivant or mobs coming from the South, would have to pass by Barlborough, which would mean negotiating the Womacs!

They were originally a Norman Family who had known better days. they had owned property in Nottingham and Durham. The latter branch suffered heavily for the faith, but clung loyally to it as did our Barlborough family."

English history around the 1600's was full of religious persecution which was why the Pilgrim Fathers set sail for America. I find it odd that one branch of the Womacks was so Catholic in spite of persecution and the other (Norfolk) branch was obviously happy to "go with the flow" and be Protestant hierarchy. Obviously prior to Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries all the Womack's would have been Catholic. Perhaps the main family Womack settled in Norfolk after Essex and then the Womack's not willing to renounce Catholicism after Henry's excommunication had to move Northwards to avoid persecution whilst those Womacks willing to bend to Henry's will stayed in Norfolk and were rewarded with office - just a thought. Incidentally the Womacks today are Methodists (as are most Yorkshire folk).


Copyright © 1998 Jan Womack. This document may be duplicated or printed for use in personal research as long as this copyright notice is included. It may not be reproduced in any other media form and/or for commercial use without the express written consent of the author. All rights reserved.
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