A'Bear Family History

Delaberes & Atte Beres (A'Bears)


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De la Bere / Atte Bere Tree


This article is a study into the likelihood that the atte Bere and de la Bere surnames were the one and the same.

A quick inspection of references containing either surname reveals the following obvious differences:


c1230 John atte Bere father of Adam de la Bere owns Ibsley & Malshanger


1254 John de la Bere & others witness a lease, Farnborough, Warwickshire

1254 John le Bere & others witness a lease, Farnborough, Warwickshire


late 13th century Robert de la Bere witness re land in Burghill, Herefordshire

late 13th century Robert de Bere witness re land in Burghill, Herefordshire


1308 Alexander atte Bere & ? Bere and others witnesses at West Membury

1308 Alexander de la Bere & Master Adam de la Ber and others witnesses at Membury


1308 John de Bere & others witness grant of land at Charlwood, Surrey

1312 John de la Bere & others witnesses re warranty & deeds of Charlwood, Surrey


1310 Simon Bere of Witney

1311/12 Simon le Bere of Witney


1318 William de la Bear & John his son grant a tenement in Okehampton. Witness John atte Beare.


1323 An atte Bere living in Steeple, Isle of Purbeck

1323 Henry de la Bere living in Povington, Isle of Purbeck


?1330 - ?1345 Thomas de la Bere states that ten years ago he pleaded re half the manor of Haselbere (Haselbury Plucknett)

1357 – 1359 Thomas de la Vere petitions King & Council regarding Haselbere (Haselbury Plucknett), Somerset.


Firstly, both surnames were in use as early as 1230, so any notion of a split in the family giving rise to different surnames due to the birth of an illegitimate son or for any other reason does not seem likely around the time of the arrival of our first ancestor in Wargrave in the early fourteenth century.

Secondly, differences range from obvious little transcription errors to what seem like deliberate changes of name, suggesting that the name recorded was, at times, perhaps down to more than the whim of the scribe. One wonders how names were actually recorded by the scribe. It would seem probable that each person would have to say their name, and if this were the case it seems odd that at this stage a change of name might be made by the scribe, and equally odd that our ancestors would change the name they gave. Perhaps, depending on the scribe of the day and the illiteracy of the person concerned, the prefix given was not considered to be necessarily correct, and he simply added what he thought made sense and should be correct.

For the most part though, amongst the collection of references neither the spellings nor the names vary at all.

To investigate recorded name-changing further, a study was made of the Close Rolls, Patent Rolls, Chancery records etc for people with an ‘atte‘ prefix to see if they also appeared with the ‘de la‘ prefix, and soon discovered the following. In 1393 a Semon Tonge appears in the Patent Rolls, then amongst the Close Rolls in 1399 there appears a Semon atte Tonge. That same year, listed in the Patent Rolls again we see Semon  de Tonge and then in 1404 named within the Close Rolls is the first name Semon Tonge. There were many such examples of name changing, suggesting perhaps that these were three different people, or the same person changing his name, or most likely that the scribe of the day was recording different versions. A possible reason for this could simply be the complexity of names around this time. For not only were there two simultaneous languages in use, but their names fell into different categories, namely occupation, established place name and geographical feature. The problem could be exacerbated by people changing location, so their name no longer fitted their location. If the scribe did not know what Tonge meant, he might record le Tonge if he thought it was an occupation, atte Tonge or de la Tonge if he thought it was a local geographical feature, de Tonge if he thought Tonge was a place name, de La Tonge if he thought La Tonge was a French place name, or just plain Tonge. Consequently one wonders if the differently recorded forms of our own surname are sometimes due to this same confusion. [In our family it took until about 1450 before the prefix was dropped altogether and names were given the contracted form of Abere].

Amongst our own deeds we also see examples of a prefix change from ‘atte’ to ‘de la’. For example, in 1275/1276 Godwin de la Berigate is named as a witness, but becomes Godwin atte berigate in the next deed concerning the same matter. This may just have been a case of the preference of two scribes, but there is a more general indication that ‘atte’ may be used to mean ‘at the known local fixed abode of’ whereas ‘de la’ is used where the person lives further afield and possibly travels around. In this case it is endorsed with a village name to clarify where he lives. An example of this could be ‘John de la Bere of Wargrave’, when John is at a hearing or witnessing a deed ten miles away. Having said this, not all deeds seem to support this theory.

Returning to our own family records around the time of the first Wargrave records, the 1308 references listed above read as follows:




FILE - [no title] - ref. 123M/TB274  - date: 1308

Torn, parts missing


(Dated as 123M/TB273 where legible)

Quitclaim with warranty

Andrew de Shyrbourne to --- de Birtone and Cecilia his wife and their heirs and assigns.

Property as in 123M/TB273 in the manor of West-membury, to hold as in 123M/TB273.

Consideration ---- 3 marks of silver.

Witnesses, ---- Robert de Uppehegh, Alexander atte Bere, William de Swyneffild, Simon de yrty, William le Gere ---, --- Bere.

Slit for seal tag.

Endorsed 9.







FILE - [no title] - ref. 123M/TB273  - date: 1308


Axemynstr', Sunday after Annunciation 1308

Quitclaim with warranty

Andrew de Schyreborne to John de Byrton.

Land at la more in the manor of Westmenbury which John had of Andrew at farm for 7 years, to hold by hereditary right for ever in fee.

Consideration 33 marks.

Witnesses, William le Gerenter, Alexander de la Bere, William de Sueneffeld, Simon de yerty, Master Adam de la Ber.

Seal tag.

Endorsed 9.

Here one scribe names a witness as Alexander de la Bere and the other Alexander atte Bere and there is little doubt they were one and the same person as some of the other witnesses are the same in both cases. However, a close inspection shows that the witnesses are listed in different orders and spellings are not the same; therefore one is apparently not a copy of the other. Perhaps a second scribe preferred keeping purely to French names and wrote de la Bere instead of atte Bere. Either way, we also see here a mixture of prefixes used by the same scribe who, if our theory is correct, considers Alexander (rightly or wrongly) to be of a geographical location, namely a bere or grove of trees. 

Then in 1318 the following deed appears:



Okehampton Borough, Devon


FILE - Devon Record Office - ref. 3248A-0/11/19  - date: 1318



1 William de la Bear

2 John, his son

Premises: One tenement in Okehampton

Witnesses: John Caddyng, reeve, Roger Bonclerk, Thomas Cole, John atte Beare, Nicholas Cole, serjeant?

Here the scribe writes down both forms of the surname, the witness being either the same son of William or another man using the Saxon prefix. This might suggest one possible reason for the use of alternative Saxon and French prefixes - to avoid confusion between two men living at the same time in the same place, often father and son, both with the same forename. The c1230 reference above comes from a 1286/1287 Ibsley deed which has a footnote that Adam de la Bere was the son of John atte Bere. This also gives the impression that the surname changed deliberately between father and son, perhaps supporting the reason suggested. There is another possibility, however. Looking through the summary of references to de la Beres and atte Beres one somehow gets the impression that the name de la Bere was used by those working in the service of the King, whilst the latter was used by those working locally. This would not necessarily create a dividing line between those with different surnames, as an atte Bere might find his way into the King’s service and then assume the name de la Bere, and a de la Bere might leave service through retirement or injury and live off the land, when it would be more socially acceptable to be called atte Bere.


Let us now turn to the four Wargrave references.

John de la Bere first appears in the Calendar of Patent Rolls for 1318 in which he was one of a large gang who were recorded as trespassing and causing damage to a park belonging to the Earl of Lancaster at Ashridge in Wokingham:  

"York, December 5th, 1318 - Commission of oyer and terminer to William de Hardene and John  Inge, by oath of good men of the county of Wiltshire, on complaint by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, that Geoffrey atte Beche, John Pippard, Peter de Waltham, John Lammar, Adam de Waltham, Adam the Younge, Robert le Yem, John de Yevendon, Richard de la Chaumber, William Turry, Richard atte Hegge of Waltham, John le Bercher of Hurley, Robert de Lullebrok and John de la Bere of Wargrave, with others, broke his park at Ashridge, cut his corn growing there, and consumed and trampled it down."

In this reference the scribe uses de, of, le, the, de la and atte within surnames, showing no preference, possibly recording accurately how each person gave their name, thereby indicating the proper use of each word. As suggested earlier, ‘De’ here is used before a village name, ‘le’ possibly signifies an occupation, atte and de la indicate a location. [Given the seriousness of this crime and the location, one might expect the scribe of the day to be highly skilled and articulate].

The next known record occurs in 1325 in the Warfield area near Wargrave, when John atte Bere witnessed the grant of a tenement from the Parson of Warplesgrave to the Parson of Warfield:

"23rd June 1325 at Easthampstead - Henry de Langburwe, parson of Warplesgrave to Master Alexander de Neuport, parson of Warfield.
Grant of a tenement with buildings, land, etc., which Henry de Langburwe, parson of Warplesgrave, had of the gift of Richard Clark called le Carpenter of Bray.
Warranty against all people. Witnesses: Robert de Waltham, William de Newenham, Henry Batayl, Henry de Penkeneye; Roger de Wodemancote,
John atte Bere, Richard Aylward, William atte Halle, Robert atte Lak, Master Thomas Cook of Easthampstead, William le Coterel of Easthampstead, Richard Clerk called le Carpenter of Bray"

Easthampstead is about 10 miles south-east of Wargrave.

According to research by David Nash Ford, those named certainly seem to be prominent people and established landowners, and four were Lords of the Manor.

Here it is again noticeable that ’de’ is used before a village name, that is, it replaces the word ‘of ’ whereas ‘atte’ is used to replace ‘of the’ and signifies a feature. John is recorded with the ‘atte ’ prefix, as are two others, and nobody is recorded with ‘ de la’. This could be because the matter in hand was a local matter, written by a local scribe who preferred the Saxon prefix, or it may be that the names are exactly as given by the people concerned.

The third reference occurs in 1340, and is the Nonarum Inquisitionum which records the value of ninths of wool, lambs and corn in the parish of Wargrave for Church taxation purposes. Amongst the jurors the first named is John atte Bere:

"John Atte Bere, John Atte Wydegate, Rob Wepestrode, John Dyton, John Atte Frythe, Philip Galant, of the Parish of Wargrave, sworn before the Prior of Wallingford and his fellows, say, upon their oath, that the ninth of the fleeces of the lambs, and of the sheaves (garbs) of the aforesaid Vill granted to the Lord the King are worth what they are valued at to the Church of Wargrave, that is to say eighteen marks [twelve pounds], and they do not exceed this because a great part of the lands of the parishioners of the said Vill lies uncultivated in consequence of the pauperisation of the aforesaid parishioners, and because there are great expenses in the autumn in collecting the sheaves, and because the land and wool and meadow and pasture belong to the Vicar, and also the small tithes which have to be offered, and the Mortuary fees. And the tythes of hay of the said vill amount per annum, to 10. which profits indeed run over the extent of the said church. In testimony whereof the aforesaid Prior and. the Aforesaid Jury have severally affixed their seals to the present indenture."


Interestingly, much of the village lies uncultivated because of pauperisation. This could be because of disease or famine, or the overburden of heavy taxation to fund on-going campaigns.

The names of the six jurors use atte only, not de la, and it seems that again ‘atte’ is used to signify a location. 'The Frith,' is a tract of Windsor Forest, which stretched from Cookham and Bray to Wargrave, and what remains of it in Berkshire is now called Maidenhead Thicket.

The six listed seem to be farmers of good standing. (ref: DNF). S G A’Bear maintains that John Atte Bere was a Freeman and Yeoman Sheep Farmer at this time.

One wonders again if ‘atte’ is used more within the locality, perhaps by a local scribe, whereas ‘de la’ is used on a more national scale?

The fourth Wargrave reference concerns John de la Bere and is in the Calendar of the Close Rolls for 1341, just one year later:

"Westminster, October 2nd 1341 - It is recorded that John de la Bere of Wargrave acknowledges that he owes to Agnes de la Bere, his daughter, 20; to be levied, in default of payment, of his land and chattels in the county of Berkshire."

 These last two deeds name the same location and occur at about the same time, so on the face of it, it seems likely that they relate to the same person. The 1340 reference is more about a local issue – the value of crops – whereas the 1341 reference is a personal financial matter taken up at Westminster. So, if they are the same person, could it be that the names are recorded differently because of the circumstances? This notion might be supported by the 1325 reference, which was a local issue in which John was recorded as Atte Bere along with certain others (even though he was in the company of important people), whereas the 1318 criminal act reference uses the name De la Bere as it is a more serious issue at national level.

Alternatively, perhaps there were two Johns, father and son, living in Wargrave at that time, deliberately using different names to distinguish between themselves? If this were the case it would seem natural for the father, who may well have held a responsible post in the service of the King and travelled around the country, to carry the name John de la Bere, whereas his young son, who had grown up and remained in the locality working or managing the land, would be known (at least locally) as John atte Bere. If this is correct, the John who gave witness in the 1340 Nonarum Inquisitonum and 1325 Warfield tenement grant, both concerning local issues, may have been the son of the John who trampled down the Earl of Lancaster’s corn upon or soon after his arrival in 1318 and owed money to his daughter in 1341. This notion makes good sense, and ties in well with the c1230 and 1318 references above where father and son deliberately held different surnames.

At this juncture, these two possibilities seem equally likely, and the matter is taken up in the article Our First Wargrave Ancestor.

After 1341, there are no known de la Bere references in Wargrave. The next atte Bere reference in the locality occurs in 1367:

Feet of Fines: CP 25/1/20/98

CP 25/1/20/98, number 14.

County:  Buckinghamshire.

Place:  Westminster.

Date:  The day after All Souls, 41 Edward III [3 November 1367].

querents, by Thomas Hynden', put in the place of John Nothurst, and Parties:  John Nothurst, chaplain, and John atte Bere of Wergraue, Robert de Nansele and Julian, his wife, deforciants.

Property:  1 messuage, 1 mill, 1 carucate of land, 12 acres of meadow, 10 acres of pasture and 20 shillings of rent in Chalueye.

Action:  Plea of covenant.

Agreement:  Robert and Julian have acknowledged the tenements to be the right of John Nothurst, and have remised and quitclaimed them from themselves and the heirs of Julian to John and John and the heirs of John Nothurst for ever.

Warranty: For this:  John and John have given them 100 marks of silver.

Standardised forms of names. (These are tentative suggestions, intended only as a finding aid.)

Persons:  John Nuthurst, John atte Bere, Thomas Hinden, Robert de Nansele, Julian de Nansele

Places:  Wargrave (in Berkshire), Chalvey (in Upton-cum-Chalvey)


Again we have here a local issue, and John is recorded with the surname ‘atte Bere’.


The next atte Bere reference in the locality after this occurs in 1413 when Robert atte Bere sells two crofts of land and a moor called Scotfold in Woodley (ref :BRO Ewen papers D/EE/T1/1/6). Following this, William Abeare acquires land in Bycroft in Wargrave from William Webbe in 1478, from which the A’Bear family tree descends. Thus the name change from Attebere to Abeare occurs around the middle of the fifteenth century.


To summarise, there is sufficient evidence here to suggest beyond much doubt that both surnames were used by one family, and that at times the name chosen was selective rather than arbitrary. The reason for the choice of surname requires further study, but seems to be related to local as opposed to national issues, local as opposed to more distant locations, class distinction or the prevention of mistaken identity within the community.


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