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Chapter 6

The origin of the BRUSH name?

It seems well established from various dictionaries that the medieval spelling of 'brush' was 'brusshe'. There seems to be a consensus that the object known as a brush and the act of brushing with it originate from the tying together of brushwood, sometimes simply brush. Or possibly the other way around - that the small wood shoots known as brush is so called because it can be bundled together to make a brush. 'Etymonline' links both English words together as first recorded in the 14th century with roots back into French (broisse or broce, later brosse) from a century or two before. The root for the French is suggested to be the Latin 'bruscia' meaning a bunch of new shoots (used to sweep away dust). Note that three key early references - William of York, John of Reading and Richard of Tewkesbury all use the BRUSSHE spelling - that is the name of a common object.

The fact that the word 'brush' has a French linguistic origin does not of course mean that the BRUSH family has French origins That is a logical fallacy. I have seen nothing in any record to suggest that any of the BRUSH family are French immigrants. From time to time I encounter suggestions of a French link connected with the immigration of the Hugenots. (Something that seems to be popular in lots of family histories). This seems unlikly since the Hugenot immigration period was 1670 to 1710 around the time of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, by which time the BRUSH family history is already well underway in multiple locations.

I have already mentioned (in chapter 4) an alternative possibility that it originates from the Flemish brusch, broosc or broos.

Linked to the idea of brushwood is a construction known as a Brush Weir - a weir (river barrier) constructed from bundles of brushwood. In Norah Day's Tewkesbury history she suggests that the Brush name could have come from the "brush weir" at Tewkesbury. I am inclined to disbelieve this theory given the earlier appearances of the name elsewhere and the much more common use in connection with fields of brusshe. And that we have instances of the BRUSH name going back well over a century before the first known Tewkesbury family.

I am also very unwilling to accept the suggestion that the BRUSH name is a craft based name associated with brushes. Although the craft of 'brushmaker' appears frequently in 18th and 19th century records there seems to be no indication of it existing as such in the medieval period when names were beginning to become settled. Despite the claim in the Society of Brushmakers' Descendants website that "the Greeks and Romans had brushes very similar to those still being hand-made". The etymonline.com website says the earliest reference to brush as an instrument for applying paint is the late 15th century. The earliest reference to the trade I have seen is from 1732. The first Society of the Brushmakers is said to be the Manchester Society formed in 1747.

If you are interested in origins see also chapters xx and 40 looking at some alternatives - Bruge or Bruge , de Breuse , de Bruce ( Dof T&R of LI notes), Bruch, de Bruche

Errors? More information? Comments? Please do get in touch: brushdw@gmail.com

NEXT: Section 1, Introduction; Chapter 7, Conventions used in this history

The BRUSH Families of the British Isles        © David Brush 2006 to 2020

The BRUSH Families
of the British Isles
© David Brush 2006 to 2020