“Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather,” were what entranced Lou Reed way back on the legendary first Velvet Underground album, a 50-year old record that had such an incredible, indelible impact on the fledgling David Bowie.
But what if your very own family history sparkles with something more alluring, and a lot more precious? I’ve been researching my family history, off and on, for over twenty-five years. And I’ve discovered some fascinating insights into my nomenclature background.
The origins of my surname seem to have been traced, at least in part, right back to both Saxon and Norman invaders. As I write this from my house in the south of France, Pafard is old French for ‘shield’, hence the Norman nickname for a warrior.
Päffgen – which was fellow Velvet Undergrounder Nico’s last name – is a Germanic forefather, as is Paffrath, which suggests Pafford is of toponymic origin; this means the name derives from the name of the place where the original bearer of the name once lived or held land.
In this instance, Paffrath is located half an hour outside the city of Köln (Cologne), in the Nord-Rhine Westphalia region of Germany. The name has two elements: Paff derives from the low German “pape”, meaning monastery, while “rath” derives from the Germanic word for the clearing of bushes. So Paffrath means, very literally, the clearing for a monastery.
Additionally, Pafford can also be extracted from the Middle High German “Pfaffe”, which itself derives from the Old High German, pfaffo or phaffo, but the meaning is essentially the same: a priest, preacher or the clergy.
Even better, one of my earliest recorded ancestors in Britain was a William de Pafford, who, in 1331, was appointed Controller Of His Majesty The King’s Silver Mines in Devon. Damn! What an inheritance I seem to have royally missed out on! The boy king, Edward III, would have been just 18 at the time – why would a mere kid possibly need all those endless bits of metal cluttering up the place?
And it’s this obviously-too-honest-for-their-own-good-but-still-slightly-avaricious association with the monarchy, not to mention the Pafford clan appearing to own a considerable amount of local land themselves around this period, that goes some way to explaining why there have been a whole swathe of Devonian manors, villages, roads and schools bearing the name Pafford over the centuries, mainly around north Dartmoor and that self-appointed ‘queen of watering places’, Torquay. Ford = water, of course. The owner of the former Pafford lands is now a certain HRH Prince Charles, the jug-eared perma-heir to the throne who was made Prince of Wales at an investiture at Caernarfon Castle in North Wales, 48 years ago today, on July 1, 1969, when I was a mere five days old. It also happened to be the day his future wife Lady Diana Spencer turned eight.
I finally visited Torquay in May of 2008, even spending (enduring?) a night at the infamous Gleneagles, the very hotel that inspired John Cleese to create that top class super-construction of British classic comedies, Fawlty Towers. And I must admit to getting something of a silly juvenile buzz from winding down the car windows to enquire of various country locals the name of the road or village, just so I could hear someone tell me what, funnily enough, I already knew: “This is Pafford Avenue,” “You’re in Combe Pafford,” “Oh, Pafford’s just over there..” and so on and so forth. If only they knew who my ancient relative was. Yeah, like they’re bovvered!
The reason I thought I’d mention Basil and co is a lot less gratuitous than you might think. The inspiration for tracing the family tree and name happened purely by accident, because back in June 1990, I’d had a bit of a letter published in TV Guide magazine, and it mentioned Fawlty Towers. By return I was contacted by a lovely lady, sadly no longer with us, who was born Marjorie Pafford (see attached pic below). Lest we forget that this was the pre-internet era, and it was the first time I’d even heard of another Pafford outside of my family anywhere in the world.
Marjorie confirmed what I suspected; that there were very few people left in the UK bearing our “very ancient” name, and also kindly provided copies of all her extensive written research conducted over many years, which included the basic information on William de Pafford and his Devonshire protectorate.
Bizarrely, Marjorie actually lived in Torquay herself, just minutes away from Gleneagles, and had only had her own request published in the Western Gazette asking for Paffords to get in touch just weeks before (pic also attached). At the time I remember being thrilled to suddenly discover I had both a present and very regal past connection to the setting of my favourite sitcom. So thanks Marj, this is all your doing.
I like to think she would see the funny side that my very first acting role on stage was in the brilliant South Hill Park production of Fawlty Towers in 2013; my last acting job before I left the United Kingdom and emigrated to Australia. And yes, I played that German. This really is not funny, its absolutely true. And, blimey, how topical is the opening line of this story? Lou Reed died just as we were taking our final bows.
Historical variations of the name have included Pathford (from the “path to the ford”), Parford, Pafforde, Patford, Spafford (my fave!) and Paffard. There’s also Pavord, which was an alternative West Country way of spelling the name phonetically, probably accidentally at first, bearing in mind that schooling wasn’t common back then. According to Marjorie’s considerable sleuthing abilities, it’s believed most of the Pavords are descended from a branch of Paffords from Somerset who died without male heirs, hence why the name is such a rare one these days. Incidentally – back to German – the name Pafor is a Slavic-Bohemian term for someone from Bavaria.
The name that I have a hard time with is Patford – and I’m sure if you dig deeply enough, you’ll find that was probably another variant that branched off of my name several centuries ago.
I know I’m far from being in a group of one when I say I absolutely loathe talking to companies on the phone, and apart from the verbal assault course of the automated screening and checklist you have to endure before you actually get to speak to a real human being, one of the main reasons is whenever I’m asked my surname I face the same stupid reply almost every time – “Patford? So, P-A-T-F….”
Nooooooo! The reason they usually do it is because I’m in London. OK, so I was born in London, I lived in London for 23 years, but I don’t speak with a cockney accent. Far from it.
I like a bit of a retort. Sometimes I get so wound up I get clever and throw back “Listen. Do you hear me dropping my ‘t’s and ‘h’s? No, well don’t insert letters into my name when they’re not wanted then. It’s as I said it – Pafford. Tsk.
As a titular footnote, other noteworthy Paffords include Wiltshire-born university librarian and editor John Henry Pyle Pafford (6 March 1900 – 11 March 1996), who, as far as I can ascertain, appears to the only other published author in the family tree.
And to my great great great uncle Private Peter Pafford, a Royal Marine who tragically drowned on 7 February 1863 when the HMS Orpheus, travelling from Sydney to Auckland, was shipwrecked at Manukau Harbour as it was coming into dock. With 189 lives lost, it has the sad distinction of being New Zealand’s worst ever maritime disaster.
Additionally, some may like this link:
Pifford indeed. Hmmm.
Combe Pafford area and school pix here:
And even Gleneagles for your eccentric edification.
John Henry Pyle Facebook page:
HMS Orpheus sinking:
Right, I’m armed with a rucksack and a pair of bolt-cutters. I’m off to claim a small stash of metal from our Betty.