Coomber Origins

There are two theories regarding the origins of the Coomber surname. The most likely theory, is that Coomber derives from Comber which is an occupational surname given to one who combed the fleeces. This is given some weight in that the Coomber/Comber spelling seem at times to be almost interchangeable in parish records in the south-east of England. This suggests that in local dialects the two may have been pronounced much the same.

The second theory relates it to the name Coombe which derives from old English. A coombe was a short straight valley running up from the sea and so the theory here is that a Coomber was a dweller in a sea valley. This origin is unlikely because the names Coombe and Coombes derive from different parts of England to Coomber, which is almost exclusively from Surrey, Kent and Sussex counties which have few of the Coombe/s surname.

While the Coomber spelling is first recorded in 1541 it did not become a common spelling until the mid 1700s. Comber was much more common and can be found in Yorkshire (1185), Lancashire (1350), Sussex (1547), London (1550), Worchester (1612), Devon (1690) and Berkshire (1690). The early Yorkshire entry is for a person called Comber with no first name so we can presume it is an occupational entry, however it was definitely established there by 1379 when the Yorkshire Poll Tax lists a Johannes Comber. Nothing should be read into the unusual forename Johannes because the poll tax lists were usually written in Latin and so John would normally be rendered Johannes. 

Other variants of the name include Comer found earliest in Devon (1541) and Somerset (1630); Cumber found in Shropshire (1550), London (1577), Berkshire (1660) and Gloucester (1670); Coumber in Sussex (1613); Comar in Cornwall (1750); Coombers in Dorsett (1810), Combar in Sussex (1550) and Essex (1571); Commer in London (1770) and Gloucester (1813), and Coomer in Somerset (1592), Shropshire (1640) and Staffordshire (1735). French-Norman derivations of the name appear as le Combere in 1260, le Coumber in 1276, Cumbar in 1332, Combre in Sussex in 1545, Le Comber in London in 1812 and La Comber in Liverpool in 1817.  Another ancient variant of the name belongs to Richard De Combre who lived in Sussex around the 1450s.  An interesting derivation suggesting Scottish links is McCoomburs which appears in 1875 marriage records in Alachua, Florida, USA.  The Commer name appears to be strong in Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland and Ireland with many more entries than for England. 

Our line of Coombers appears to have originated in the area of Kent around Mereworth and Tonbridge, then moving to Croydon, Surrey, with a long line of baptisms and marriages being recorded in St John the Baptist Church from as early as 1739 when a Maria Coomber married. The same church also has Comber and Cumber surnames recorded so how the name was written obviously was left much to the imagination of the person writing the records.

The oldest known reference to the surname Coomber which I can find is in England in 1541. In this instance an Eme Coomber was baptised in Denchworth, Berkshire, but there is no detail regarding her parents.  She later married a John Geeringe in Denchworth in 1562.  These Berkshire entries are interesting because the name is not one commonly associated with that county, being a little to the west of the main congregation of people with the surname which is south of the River Thames in the counties of Sussex, Surrey and Kent.

The Coomber spelling was established in the Lingfield, Surrey, area by the early 1560s, in Laughton, Sussex by 1570 and Maidstone, Kent, by 1580. From then on the name appears mainly in Surrey, Kent, and the northern parts of Sussex. It does not appear to have spread to neighboring London or Hampshire until the mid to late 1600s. 

The first entry in ecclesiastic rolls refers to an application an application being made before the court on September 19, 1676 for the marriage of parties with the surnames Wellins and Coomber. Why a marriage application should need to go before the courts in unclear but perhaps one of the parties was previously married and needed ecclesiastic permission for a second marriage. This was often the case if a person was lost at sea. After some years the remaining party could be free to remarry if the church agreed it was likely their spouse was dead. In any case this application before the ecclesiastic court by Coomber and Wellins appears to have been prohibited because the couple appear in the records four months later.

On January 15, 1677 a William Coomber was before the church court for unlawfully impregnating Margaret Wellins and she was charged with being unlawfully begotten with child by William Coomber. These charges were dismissed on February 26, 1677, perhaps because of doubt over the paternity by William. The authorities appeared to have been none too happy with this result because on March 19, 1677 Guilelmum (William in Latin) Coomber was charged with the slightly different offence of unlawfully begetting with child Margaret Wellins. It is possible that the first charge was thrown out because the child had been born and that would explain the difference between “impregnating” and “begetting.”  I have not found the result of this second case.

There is a further entry in the church records for 1682 when a Margariae Coomber was before the court on some matter in relation to John Wellins. This is possibly Margaret again because all these records are written in Latin. John Wellins may have been her first husband.

The earliest Coomber I can find coming to Australia is a Richard Coomber who was a redcoat soldier of the 1st/80th Foot Regiment of the Staffordshire Volunteers. The Staffordshire Knots, as they were known, formed in England but served in Cork, Ireland, up until 1836 when the regiment moved to serve in New South Wales, Norfolk Island and New Zealand. Coomber was among the soldiers serving in Sydney and when the various detachments reunited in Sydney in 1844, he is believed to have left Australia with the regiment when it moved to India.  

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