My grandmother’s maternal grandmother’s family, the Vickresses, formed a tight-knit network of cousins who have inhabited the Herefordshire vales for at least four hundred years.
This unusual surname is often spelt in many different forms which try to emulate the phonetic pronunciation of the original, giving the following alternative variations: Vicarage, Vicearidge, Viccaridge, Vicaridge, Vickrage, Vickerage, Vickridge, Vickerridge, Viccors, Vickrise, Vickery… Spellings often reflect accents and dialects, and the forms mentioned above more probably correspond to a corruption of the word vicarage. The surname therefore probably denotes a vicar, or someone who lives or works in a vicarage. In fact the form Vickress, which is how it has been maintained until the present down my side of the family tree, only makes its appearance in the mid 1700’s.
An online source credits a William Vickress, who married Sarah Oliver in London’s St George Hanover Square in 1765 to be the first known user of the surname. In actual fact I have found at least one other reference to the spelling when a James Vickress, also of St. George Hanover Square, who made his last will and testament, dated 21 August 1762. James Vickress appears to have been the uncle of the above-mentioned William and, even more bizarrely, his surname is also spelt Vickers on the same document. This shows Mr Vickress used both forms of the family name – a genealogist’s nightmare (source). A larger family of Vickresses, possibly related to those in St George Hanover Square, seems to have lived for several generations in the Shoreditch/Bethnal Green of London’s East End.
My family’s earliest members, who came from the parish of Hope-under-Dinmore, Herefordshire, also seem to have spelt their surname using a wide range of variations. In 1740 James Vicaridge was baptised in the above-mentioned parish, followed a few years later by the twin daughters of another relative – only this time, the variant Vicariss was used. In 1768 John Vicarage was baptised, but not before Mary Vicaress was buried in the same parish. This random use of four different spellings within a twenty-year-gap gives us an idea of how surnames can get mangled and adapted.
It seems the surname (in one of its primitive forms) made its appearance for the first time in the Middle Ages, specifically during the reign of Edward III, when the country was on the brink of civil war. At the time, a man called Hugh Vicaries is mentioned in a Calendar of Letter Books of the City of London. The year was 1332.
Despite the connections to London mentioned above, my family seem to have had no direct links to the capital. In fact, as far as my research has been able to prove, my ancestors on the Vickress side all came from Herefordshire, wedged between the English Midlands and the Welsh Marches. One branch, indeed, moved to London, but unless a genetic match can be found, they are unrelated to the Vickresses of Shoreditch and Bethnal Green.
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