The Name of Greatorex

A History from Domesday to Millenium


Joan Greatorex


What's in a surname? We all have surnames, but where do they come from? What's the origin and meaning of one's surname, one's friend's surname, one's neighbour's surname?

That's the intriguing question I have tried to answer with regard to my own surname. I am indebted to the publishers of the Domesday Book and members of the Marc Ffitch Foundation in the Department of Local History (at the University of Leicester)for helping me to produce this study. They are at present writing about surnames in each county of England and would welcome any information on the subject.

So where from a surname?

Surnames first began as place-names. The Anglo-Saxons used the prefix 'atte', meaning 'from' or 'of'. Hence we get the surnames 'Attewell', 'Froggatt', 'Attenborough' and 'Attenash'(now Nash), which mean, respectively 'from the well, 'of/from the place of' frogs'. 'of/from the borough' and 'of/from the ash (tree)'.

The Anglo-Saxons also used the words 'son of' and 'born of' to identify a person. Thus we get the surnames of 'Robertson' ('son of Robert'), 'Collins' or 'Collinson' ('Son of Col(l)in') or 'Marriott'(born of Mary'). There are many other such surnames still readily listed in the 'phone book which end in 'son' or 'iot(t)', which means 'born of'.

With the Norman conquest came the use of the French prefix 'de' ('from') to denote a surname. Hence we get the surnames 'D(') arch' and 'D(') arcy' (both meaning de'Arcy) and 'de Launay'(meaning from the laune or alder tree).

Incidentally, 'de Launay' has many variants from the same root- (if you will excuse the pun). We get the surnames 'Delaney' and 'Downie' from 'de Launay'.

The use of place-names to make up surnames had all but disappeared by the early 13th Century. The custom died later in the North of England than it did in the South. But wherever one lived, by the middle of the 13th Century people started to assume surnames which derived from their office or occupation. Hence we get the very common surnames 'Smith' and 'Bailey' and the almost as well-known 'Cooper', 'Fisher', 'Fletcher', 'Bishop', 'Prior' and 'Warden'.

So important did these particular surnames become that a procession of these artisans was formed on the Feast of Corpus Christi, such as the one which is recorded to have taken place in AD 1533 in Norwich, in the County of Norfolk, England. Another group of surnames also developed in the first few hundred years of this Millennium.-surnames stemming from nicknames. Good examples are found in the Kings of England. William II was known as 'Rufus', Henry I was dubbed 'Beauclerc' and Edward I was referred to as 'Longshanks'. Physical and personality traits soon became people's surnames.

What about my own surname, 'Greatorex'?

We can date it before the second half of the 12th Century, when the use of place-names had died out in the Midlands. It means literally from/of GREATRAKES and the many variants of the name originate in the fact that, in those days, people wrote as they spoke and few were completely literate.

In the anthology, we can see how this name evolved from a farming settlement, started shortly after the publication of the Domesday Book.



Chapter One

The Normans and the Domesday Book


Greatorex is an unusual and fairly rare surname. During my own life-time, many people have asked me about the origin and meaning of the name and I promised myself that when I retired I would research them. In doing this, I have made many friends throughout the English-speaking world, many of whom are identifiable as distant relatives- as indeed they should be. Greatorex is a place-name, which people used a s a surname when the use of surnames, first began about 1000 years ago.

The first record of the name is in the Derbyshire Archives in the year AD 1251 as GRET(E)RACHES a small farming settlement, now known as Great Rocks Farm it is in the high peak of Derbyshire, midway between Buxton and Tideswell and three miles from Wormhill village. (Wormhill is spelled as WRUENELE in the Domesday Book of AD 1086 and as WERMEHILL in AD 1273 in the Lichfield Charters.) The settlement of Gretraches was probably founded shortly after AD 1086 and definitely before AD 1200 then the use of place-names as surnames had died out in England. It is not mentioned in the Domesday Book.               

This dates the Farm's founding during the reigns of the Norman Kings, King William 1, the Conqueror and his sons William II, Rufus and Henry I, Beauclerc. The most likely time could be during the upheaval following the Norman Conquest and publication for the Domesday Book when many settlements were formed. All disputes of land tenure were decided by reference to it and there was no redress against its ordinance. The landholder in AD 1086 was Siward, the Dane well documented in history. It later passed to Henry de Ferrers, a Norman Frenchman and ancestor of the present Lord Derby and then in to the ownership of Lichfield Cathedral and it's monasteries.

At the destruction of the monasteries, these lands and church treasures went to King Henry VIII, and thus we find a Robert Greatrakes a fief of King Henry's daughter Queen Elizabeth I being obliged, therefore, to perform military service for his sovereign in wars in Southern Ireland.

Robert Greatrakes was of Greatrakes then a large estate in the Tideswell area in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. If we return to the time of the foundation of the settlement just after the Norman Conquest the people would be mainly of Scandinavian origin as this area was well within the Danelaw (tacitly acknowledged by the Danes as theirs by AD 878). Even today, the area of the Danelaw is marked by these Scandinavian place-names and fashions of speech. Today, also people from the Teutonic nations find it easier to understand English spoken with a Midlands accent rather than the southern style. In this context we can look at the names and it's variants, through nearly a thousand years.


Hopton Hall



Chapter Two

The 'Great' is from the Teutonic languages. The present day great in German is Gross and in Swedish 'Grat' and 'raches' or 'rakes' is a similar word in mining terminology. It means a vertical vein of ore, usually lead, part of which was called the 'peek'. In times past the Peek District was called the Peek not because of mountain peaks but because of the points in which lead was found. Lead mining was encouraged by the Romans, but actually started in pre-history in Derbyshire.

The name Greatorex was traditionally associated with lead mines and lead miners, the staple industry of Derbyshire. There was a GREATRAKES mine in Carsington and villages like Winster were thriving lead-mining villages, interspersed with sheep farms.

At the time of the foundation of the original GREATRAKES settlement the land belonged to the King, the Church and the Aristocracy. King William I , the Conqueror gave Siward the Danes Derby lands to Henry de Ferrers, who fought with him at the battle of Hastings in AD 1066. (Battle Abbey was built beside the site as an act of atonement by William the Conqueror and was later destroyed by Henry VIII. ). About the year AD 1100 began a large and sustained monastic crossing from the Duchy of Normandy to the existing English and Welsh monasteries, priories and cells in order to found others on the estates of the great Norman fiefs.

The High Peek was scattered with monastic establishments in mediaeval times, GREATRAKES Farm was within the Diocese of Lichfield Cathedral. (The Cisterian Order from Garendon Abbey, Loughborough, the Benedictine Monastery, bought Reevestones, now known as Royston Grange. Sheep were farmed in this area during the Stone Age and the Grange can now be visited as an example of farming in the Peek throughout the ages.

The royalty and nobility of the country were from a French background. Henry I and King Stephen were the last of the Normans followed by Henry II of Anjou, a Plantagenet, who married Eleanor of Aquitaine. He ruled most of Britain and a large part of France, where he eventually died and was buried at Chinon in AD 1189. Saint Thomas Becket was martyred during his reign and a shrine was built in Canterbury Cathedral for his remains.

GRET(E)RACHES Farm became known as GREATRAKES Farm by AD 1364, when it was mentioned by Jeayes Charters ( Derbyshire Charters), in a section dealing with Tideswell near Buxton. It states that a lease for five years from the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield to Roger de Northburgh (Prebendary of Lichfield) of the tithes of Tideswell, Lynton, Monshall (now Monsall) Wardlow, Tunstede, GREATRAKES, Wheston, Fairfield, etc. At an annual rent of L 19 DAT. Iii Non. Mai ji (May 5) 1364 (Lich.D8).

Tithes were taxes amounting to one tenth of the produce farmed and went to support the Church's role in education and care of the sick, as well as spiritual concerns.

Llewellyn Jewitt, the 19th Century historian, who lived in Winster Hall, wrote in the Derbyshire Reliquary Magazine that GREATRAKES was, in 1364, a great feudal estate.

The ruling monarch then was King Edward III, the archetypal mediaeval king who reigned for fifty years. He founded the Order of the Garter and made St. George the Patron Saint of England. The Black Death plague was suffered; his son the Black Prince spent his life fighting in France and Spain, where the king of Castile, Pedro the Cruel gave him the stone, known now as the Black Prince's Ruby, in the Imperial State Crown.

Geoffrey Chaucer, father of English poetry and author of the Canterbury Tales lived then and told of people's desire to visit the shrine of the holy blissful martyr, Sir Thomas Becket, and we hear the first mention of the Ferne family who feature intermittently in Greatorex and Gells ( of Hopton Hall ) family trees.

Several GREATRAKES wills are recorded this time, livestock often being bequeathed, and in one ' a black fleece coat', as well as ' sums of Money'. People with the surname had spread over the whole of the High Peak in Derbyshire. Mary GREATRAKES daughter of William GREATRAKES of Hopton Hall married John Ferne of Hognaston in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Hopton Hall was eventually bought by the Gell family, who lived there for three hundred years then selling the Hopton estate with the Hall in 1990.


The record 'Gentry of the County of Derby' returned to the commissioners and Henry VI, (1433) mentions Gretrax, John de Elton living in AD 1493. Gentry are classed as one tier below nobility and this would read today as John Greatorex from Elton, the French 'de' being used. Elton is 11 miles from GREATRAKES.

Shortly after this, began the Wars of the Roses, which involved and ravaged the feudal families of England and ended the era called the Middle Ages.

Living in the same century and probably a contemporary of John from Elton was William Gretraks of Wormhill a village adjacent to GREATRAKES. William Gretraks and William Palfeyman are described as 'joint fefees of ye chapel of Wormhyll.' This means that they had a landed estate held on condition of homage and of performance of military services to the superior lord by whom it was granted. These services were principally to give military aid when required. This proviso was later commuted to scutage (financial tax). It was a hereditary possession and feudal in character.

In practice a 'chapel' is the area of the parish boundary - In this case Wormhill , as mentioned in the Lichfield Charters of AD 1254.



Chapter Three

The Tudor Age and the Anglo-Irish GREATRAKES

In the early 1500's Robert GREATRAKES was of GREATRAKES and about AD 1540 Elizabeth, his daughter, married Edward Bagshawe of Wormhyll, Abney and Hucklow, a neighbour with lands adjacent to the GREATRAKES estate. Her dowry was in GREATRAKES lands. The Greatrakes Farm continued with the family unitl it was sold. WILLIAM GREATRAKES’ son, also a William, went to Ireland with a troop to suppress the insurgents in Munster during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the first Protestant monarch of England. It was his duty as a fief.


This can have been no mere chance, for in the closing stages of queen Elizabeth's father's reign, that of Henry VIII, a Suffolk squire named William Cavendish married a Derbyshire wife, Bess of Hardwick. Sir William bought Chatsworth House adjacent to the GREATRAKES and Bagshawe estates and fifteen miles from Hardwick. Both he and his wife were known at the Tudor Courts. Sir William helped with the destruction of the monasteries by Henry VIII and Bess was lady-in-waiting at Court. William GREATRAKES was given a grant of lands in Affane County Waterford by Queen Elizabeth I and eventually the Cavendish family inherited Lismore Castle nearby through marriage with mutual friends the Boyles. William built the fortified Norrisland Castle and planted the famous Blackwater cider orchards, in imitation of Sir Walter Raleigh's agricultural plans and experiments in Virginia in the American Colonies. They also were friends, Sir Walter buying his estate in Munster cheaply from the territory fortified by the Irish Desmond family during the Munster Rebellion. When Sir Walter Raleigh was executed in 1613 in James I reign, the Boyle family from Cork in turn bought his estate. It is of interest that a factor in his being executed was that he was accused of plotting to have Arabella Stuart placed on the throne. She was a kinswoman of the Cavendishes, " being Bess of Hardwick’s grand-daughter"and had good claim to the monarchy, but was a Catholic.

Many West Country adventurers settled in Munster at the time. It was a short sea voyage from the ports of Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset to the ports of Southern Ireland.

The Boyles, Godolphins, Carews, Smiths, Devereuxes' and Courtenays, as well as Sir Walter Raleigh acquired lands by one means or another. The GREATRAKES family remained Protestant Anglo-Irish and married local spouses of a similar background. Of the 4200 English planted in Munster in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, many returned fully or covertly to the faith of their parents-that being Catholicism.

A systematic devastation of Munster by the English was commenced in order to extinguish the last embers of rebellion. So ruthless was this that 30,000 native Irish died within six months of starvation, disease and sudden death.

Edmund Spenser the poet who had been granted an estate in Cork wrote the famous words of what he saw with his own eyes:

'Out of every corner of the woods and glens they came creeping forth upon their hands, for their legs could not bear them; ' they looked like anatomies of death', they spake like ghosts crying out of their graves and if they found a plot of water-cresses or shamrocks then they flocked as to a feast for the time.'

Spenser converted to Catholicism and his own grandson fell foul of the Cromwellian transplantation because of the family's faith, and recusancy. There is no reason whatsoever to suppose the William GREATRAKES and his troop did not participate in the atrocities. Neither can it be said that Valentine GREATRAKES, his grandson, who joined the Parliamentarians in AD 1649 and served under Oliver Cromwell, did not also join in the Cromwell family's persecution and massacres.

Valentine GREATRAKES was born on 14.02.1628 and came to England as a boy because of the rebellion. He lived with his uncle, brother to Sir Edward Harris, his grandfather. He spent some years studying the Classics and Divinity under a clergyman in Devon, since the troubles prevented his attending Trinity College, Dublin.

He returned to Ireland and spent a year in contemplation in Cappoquin Castle, Lismore. In 1656 after serving in the Cromwellian Army, and with the influence of the Governor, he was made Clerk of the Peace for the County of Cork, Registrar for Transplantation and Justice of the Peace.

All these offices were removed from him at the Restoration of the Monarchy with Charles II- in 1660 AD. He had, by this time, married Ruth Godolphin and had a small son. His mind became disturbed without any 'regular occupation' and it was then that he turned to healing. He moved to England in 1665 AD, not only against his wife's wishes, but having 'slighted the Holy Ghost' was persona non grata in Ireland.

His reputation as a healer, however, spread extensively and he was invited to the Court at Whitehall by King Charles II. Unfortunately, he treated a Mr. Cresset of Charterhouse Square and failed to cure him. Mr A Mr O Lloyd of the Charterhouse branded Valentine as a cheat, but to his defence in 1666 AD came a galaxy of persons - RT. Hon. Robert Boyle, Sir W. Smith, Doctors Denton, Fairclough and Faber, Sir Nathan Hobert and Sir Ino Godolphin.

It is of interest that the Godolphin's were not only political figures but philanthropists. Sidney Godolphin became Lord High Treasurer in 1702 and imported the Godolphin Arabian, a horse which played a major part in establishing British Racing. The young Sidney Godolphin is mentioned in both Pepys and Evelyn's Diaries and at that time (1660's)was contemporary to both Sir Ino Godolphin and Ruth Godolphin, Valentine GREATRAKES wife, of the Anglo-Irish line. Also a friend of the GREATRAKES family was Robert Boyle born in Lismore Castle, Waterford, and known as 'Father of Chemistry' and who was uncle of the Earl of Cork. He presented the historic paper to the Royal Society called 'Spring of the Air', explaining what is now known as Boyle's Law which states that at a given temperature, the pressure is inversely proportional to the volume.

In 1748 Charlotte Boyle married the 4th Duke of Devonshire. She was of the same family as Robert Boyle and was the heiress who brought Burlington House, Chiswick House and Lismore Castle in Ireland to the Dukedom of Devonshire. In additions, she brought her Father's incomparable collection of paintings and drawing to the Cavendish family, many of which are now displayed at Chatsworth House in the High Peak.


Chapter Four

Friends of the Diarists

At the same time as the Anglo-Irishman, Valentine GREATRAKES was in London, Ralph Greatorex lived in St. Martin's Lane ad had a shop in the Strand. They may well have been distant relatives, but at about that time, the spelling of the name had generally become the now familiar 'Greatorex', the Anglo-Irish branch retaining the old spelling. And, of course, they met.

Ralph Greatorex came from Derbyshire and married Ann Watson in Derby at All Saints Church. He was a maker of mathematical instruments, an inventor and man of ideas. He was a member of Gresham's College, which in AD 1662 became the Royal Society, founded by King Charles II. Ralph was a friend of Samuel Pepys, and both Pepys and John Evelyn mentioned him in their diaries. Ralph took Pepys to Gresham's College on 23.01.1661. It was his first visit and Pepys recorded that he 'saw the house and a great company of persons of honour there. Ralph Greatorex, he said, was intending to go to 'Tenariffe' to try experiments there. Pepys records various items and projects of scientific interest in which Ralph Greatorex was engaged. Their friendship recorded in the diaries, lasted for years. Pepys records seeing the first sphere of wire that Ralph made, a drawing pen, a revolutionary lamp glass, a demonstration of how levers work, plans to drain the Fens and make fire extinguishers. 'Esquire' Ashmole is mentioned in the diaries on 28.10.1660. (The Elias Ashmole who founded the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) Ralph may have specimens of his early scientirfic instruments in the Old Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

We know that John Evelyn was treated by Valentine GREATRAKES but he also mentioned Ralph Greatorex. On 08.05.1656 saying ' I went to visite Dr. Wilkins at Whitehall, where I first met Sir P. Neale famous for his optic glasses: - Greatorex the mathematical instrument maker, shew'd me his excellent invention to quench fire and returned home.'

This intermingling of gentry in England, Ireland, London, Oxford and Paris, is an example for life at a certain social level. One hundred years later, Thomas Greatorex was the celebrated musician, composer, astronomer and mathematician, friend of the Godolphins, member of the Royal and Societies and well know at the Hanoverian Court.

During the life-times of the Diarists came a time of peace and tolerance with a thirst for knowledge and a flowering of invention. There was a surprising amount of travel using horses only. (I am reminded by a friend, Marion Herridge of Wootton, that when she was a girl, a business-man from Abinger rode horseback every day from there to the city. Marion is 70 years of age in 1994. She said people rose earlier and worked later).

John Evelyn describes a trip to Newmarket on 09.10.1671 travelling by coach and six horses. We know Pepys and Greatorex went to Newmarket as did the King and his Aristocracy. There was horse-racing, card-playing, dicing and lavish entertaining. With the Restoration of the Monarchy, life had become more relaxed and tolerant- the song 'The Vicar of Bray' illustrates the mood perfectly. King Charles II paid lip-service to Protestantism. Evelyn records that on 18.12.1688 the King went to 'Masse in his chapel with three priests officiating filling the bed-chamber and all the rooms with extraordinary acclamation. His Majesty went to dinner (a Jesuite saying Grace)' We know, too that a Catholic priest gave him the last rites (now known as the Sacrament of the Sick) King Charles' mother was Queen Henrietta Maria the Catholic daughter of Catherine d'Medici the Italian-born Queen of France, consort of King Henri IV. Queen Catherine is supposed to have brought the art of haute cuisine from Florence to France.



Chapter Five

The Name of Greatorex Emerges from its Variant Forms.

During the reigns of the Stuart monarchs the spelling of the name of GREATRAKES changed to its present form of Greatorex. The first record of this being in a marriage in July AD 1601 at All Saints Church, Derby.

The reasoning behind the change of spelling was given to myself and fellow pupils in a Latin lesson by my Classics Mistress, who had the gift of relating this ancient language to everyday English.

When the time came therefore to research the family history, I visited the Local History Department at Leicester University, where there is a research project (The Marc Ffitch Foundation) investigating the origin of surnames. Dr. Camsell gave me invaluable help on how to proceed and asked me to inform the Department of the results of my research, the record of which is as follows in my letter: -

‘The first record of the name is in the Derbyshire Archives, in the year AD 1251, as GRET(e)Raches, a small farming settlement. Now known as Great Rocks Farm, it is in the High peak of Derbyshire, midway between Buxton and Tideswell; 3 miles from Wormhill Village, mentioned in the Domesday book.’

The settlement of Gretraches was probably founded shortly after AD 1086 and definitely before AD 1200 when the use of place names, as surnames, had died out, in the Midlands.

By AD 1364 the farm was known as GREATRAKES Farm. (Jean Charter, Derbyshire Charters). It states that a lease for 5 years from the Dean Chapter of Lichfield to Roger de Northburgh (Prebendary of Lichfield) of the tithes of Tideswell, Lynton, Monshall (Now Monsall), Wardlow, Tunstede, GREATRAKES, Wheston, Fairfield at an annual rent of 19 pounds (5th May 1364).

By this time there were several records of GREATRAKES wills. (Reliquary p323). In the Gentry of the County of Derby' is a record of Gretrax, John de Elton, living in AD 1493.

Local Derbyshire records show variants such as GREATRAKES, Greatrex, Greterix, Grethoricks, Greatrax and Greatrox. One of the earlieat versions is Greatraikes.

In July 1601, in Derby, is a record of a marriage; Zpoferiils Whitingham et. Maria Greatorex nup.10 die. This is an early, Latinised version of the name. For the reason of prestige or to air the knowledge of Classics in the Clergy they began to use the suffix 'Rex or 'Orix' in Church Registers, (De Bello Gallico-the French Chieftain Cingetorix is an example and Zpo looks like the Greek CHI RHO.

By the time of the diarists Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn the now familiar name of Greatorex was being used. The Anglo-Irish branch of the family still retained the spelling GREATRAKES. Both Ralph Greatorex and Valentine GREATRAKES were friends of the diarists and were mentioned in their writings.

By AD 1750 the now universal spelling was used by almost everyone. These facts were brought to my attention by Miss Todd, a Latin mistress at Nottingham High School for Girls, G.P.D.S.T., in the 1940's.

'Rakes ' is actually a mining term association with a vertical vein of ore, usually lead. Lead was mined in Derbyshire in pre-history and well documented during the time of the Roman Empire. Gretraches was well within what was the Danelaw so must have a derivation from the Teutonic languages. That is a matter for students of Mediaeval English, I would think.

Greatorex, Joan, Esher Surrey KT10 8NB


Chapter Six

Greatorexes in the Protestant Churches

Bonnie Prince Charlie

During this period of change lived the great grandson of Elizabeth GREATRAKES (the heiress of GREATRAKES, who married Robert Bagshawe), He was William Bagshawe the well-known non-conformist 'Divine', the Apostle of the Peak, born in AD 1628 and dying in AD 1702. Elizabeth GREATRAKES would neither have accorded the term 'Divine' nor 'Apostle' to a mortal being, but 'Divine' in Non-Conformism means 'Theologian'.

The Greatorex changed from being Catholic landowners to Protestant gentry both in England and Ireland. Ireland was no longer the Isle of Saints and Scholars; England was rent by multitudinous Protestant sects. The Greatorexes became pillars of the Church of England.

In the parish Wirksworth was the Mother Church of an extensive district from which ancient Greatorex families arose, spreading to surrounding villages in the Middle Ages. It is impossible to follow each line, but more realistic to relate names. The Callow line is supposed to be somewhat prestigious and of interest is the fact that the Reverend Samuel Greatorex B.A. (Emanuel) 1703-4, was Rector of Holme Pierrepoint and Adbolten. This is a hamlet about two miles from Radcliffe on Trent, Nottinghamshire, where the writer Joan Greatorex was brought up. Radcliffe is no longer a village, but small new town, Holme Pierrepoint was part of the Cavendish family estates, now the Dukedom of Devonshire.

Samuel's brother Daniel was also a clergyman and Rector of West Hallam, Derbyshire.

Also of the Callow line was, Isaac Greatorex, educated at Cambridge University obtaining a B.A. in AD 1751 and becoming Rector of Kniveton, Derbyshire. There is an original letter of his in the Archives of Reuben Courtnell Greatorex, now in Alice Springs, Australia and the property of Anthony Greatorex.

John Greatorex of West Hallam was at St. John's college, Oxford, obtaining a B.A. in AD 1740 and M.A. in 1756 . He was vicar of Great Dalby,, Leicestershire from AD 1752 - 1757 and vicar of Abkettleby AD 1756-7 being Chaplain to the Duke of Buccleuch AD 1756-7.

Of the same Callow line was its most famous son, the musician and composer Thomas Greatorex. His father was Anthony Greatorex of Riber Hall Matlock a musician, organist and bassoonist, who made his money manufacturing nails (a lucrative trade when horses were the only means of transport). He was organist at the Parish Church of Burton on Trent for 43 years where the following inscriptions are on his memorial on the wall of the south aisle.

Anthony Greatorex

Born July 15 1730

Died Nov 19th 1814

The simplicity of his manners the integrity of his heart and the innocency of his life, have numbered him among those who kept the commandments of God and the faith of their Saviour Jesus Christ.

Anthony Greatorex was a direct descendent of Anthony GREATRAKES of Callow, Derbyshire, born in AD 1578 in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (Reliquary p.224 Callow section), Anthony Greatorex's son, Thomas, born in North Wingfield, on 18.7.1831 was the renowned Derbyshire organist, composer, court musician and friend of Handel. It is right to include in his anthology two accounts, one from The Reliquary and another from 'A House of Kings, 'the official history of Westminster Abbey, as follows:



THE RELIQUARY - Notes of the Family of GREATRAKES, p224

i           Anne, married to John Dean, of Callow. She dies in 1856 leaving

ii           Sarah Greatorex                                                                                                          

iii          Lydia Greatorex

I take up now the history of the younger son of the first William GREATRAKES, of Callow. He was Daniel Greatorex, born circa 1638. He left, William Greatorex whose son, Daniel Greatorex, was father of Anthony Greatorex, of Riber Hall, Matlock, famous for his musical abilities, especially for his performances on the violin. His son, ‘ Greatorex was born at North Wingfield, Derbyshire, in 1758. His earlier instructor was his father under whose fostering care his natural taste for music was rapidly developed. He removed to London in 1772, and became a pupil of Dr. Cooke, organist and master of the singing boys at Westminster Abbey in the year 1774,1775 and 1776. Greatorex attended the oratorios which Lord Sandwich gave during Christmas at Hinchingbrook; and there he derived the greatest advantage not only from hearing Handel's music executed with precision and effect, but also from the acquaintance and friendship of Mr. Bates, who conducted those performances. At the establishment of the Ancient Concert, in 1776 Greatorex assisted in the Choruses, and continued a performer there until he was advised to try a northern climate for the re-establishment of his health, and in 1780 he accepted the situation of organist of Carlisle Cathedral. Here, though the emoluments were small, he passed some of his happiest days of his life. However, in 1784, Greatorex resigned his situation at Carlisle and went to Italy where he studied vocal music and received instruction in singing from Signor Santarelli at Rome. He also made a considerable stay in Naples, Florence and Venice; and visited, on his return, Bologna, Pisa, Leghorn, Padua, Verona, Vicenza, Mantua, Parma, Milan and Genoa, entering Switzerland and England through the Netherlands and Holland, at the end of the year 1788. He now established himself in London, and soon had his time fully occupied as a teacher of singing. In 1793, on the resignation of Mr. Bates as conductor of the Ancient Concert, the directors appointed Mr. Greatorex to that distinguished situation.

His pursuits were not altogether confined to music. He was a mathematician. He was much attached to astronomy, and possessed several valuable telescopes. Mr. Greatorex was a fellow of the Royal and Linnaean Societies. He died in July 1831 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

A House of Kings

Gibbons may well have been striking character; so certainly was Thomas Greatorex (1758-1831), the successor of George Ebenezer Williams, who had already reached a commanding position in the London Musical world when he was appointed to the Abbey at the age of sixty-one. He came from an old Derbyshire family. As a boy he had studied with Dr. Benjamin Cooke, the then organist of the abbey; he had been a protégé of the Earl of Sandwich, a devoted musical amateur, and assisted at the oratorio performances give at Hinchinbrook, that nobleman's country seat, under the direction of the celebrated Joah Bates. He was for four years organist of Carlisle Cathedral, but resigned in order to go and live in Italy, where he formed a friendship with the pretender, Charles Edward Stuart, who valued the friendship sufficiently to bequeath to him some of his music books.

Greatorex came back to London in 1788 and settled there for the rest of his life. He had a large teaching practice; he became conductor of the Concerts of Ancient Music in succession to Joah Bates; he was much concerned with concert giving and directed triennial music festivals at Birmingham, York and Derby. Most remarkably, he also became a Fellow both of the Royal and the Linnaean Societies; he is said have been skilled in mathematics, astronomy and natural science. He was obviously a man of vigour, of strength of character and of intellectual force. There is a story that George IV, when Prince Regent, once said to him, 'My father is Rex, but you are a Greater Rex' All that could justify the repetition of such an appalling pun is that it shows that Greatorex was accepted as being at the head of his profession. It would be interesting to know how Abbey music flourished under his direction.

Henry Wellington Greatorex, one of Thomas's five sons, became a church organist in Hertford, Connecticut, USA. He composed many hymns a collection of which was used in the United States for many years. He died of yellow fever in Charleston , Carolina in the 1870's. He directed the ‘ Swedish Nightingale', singer Jenny Lind in New York in 1860.

Anthony Greatorex's father Daniel, also in trade associated with farriers, would be the link between the family and Prince Charles Edward Stuart, ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie' the legitimist heir to the English throne or the Pretender, depending on one's political thinking.

Having invaded Scotland from France in June 1745 and having been accepted as King James VIII of Scotland after the battle of Prestopans, the Prince began an invasion of England. He had a large troop of cavalry with horses to be reshod.

News had gone ahead that there was to be a forced march from Preston to Derby, where the Prince was given a warm welcome. The Hanoverian monarchs were not popular and the Midlands were depressed economically. The Prince's march to the south was a welcome sign and the future relationship of Thomas Greatorex with the Stuart Prince in exile in Rome was formed at that time. Thomas's father Anthony, was 15 years of age and already in the business with smithies and farriers, as well as being a talented young musician. He in turn had the very talented son Thomas Greatorex whom he sent to Rome to study vocal music under Signor Santorelli, and to do the Grand Tour. Thomas was in Rome from 1784-1788, returning shortly after the death of Prince Charles Edward. He had no doubt been introduced by his father, who had met the Prince in 1745 and then formed such a friendship with him that he was bequeathed some of his music books. The must have discussed Culloden-an excerpt in a biography describes this. Later King George IV gave a pension to the 'Cardinal King’, Prince Henry Duke of York who would have succeeded had Bonnie Prince Charlie become King Charles lll of England. Prince Henry, the Cardinal, is buried in St. Peter’s, Rome.

What we do know is that Thomas Greatorex conducted the King’s Concerts for forty years, having shared interest in the composer Handel with King George lV. What we do not know is the extent of influence he had with regard to the Stuarts in exile whome a great many people regarded and still regard as the legitimate Monarchs of England.


Chapter Seven

Reuben Courtnell Greatorex and 19C.

The definitive work on the family was commenced by Reuben Courtnell Greatorex in the 19th Century. His great-grandfather, William of Wirksworth was also the great-grandfather of Thomas Greatorex, the composer and musician. Reuben lived at 5 Upper Westbourne Terrace, Hyde Park, London Wl and Thomas lived at 70 Norton Street, Portland Place. Norton Street is now re-named Bolsolver Place. There is a letter-dated 01.02.1913 from Sarah Greatorex, sister-in-law of Reuben, stating these prestigious family heads are cousins and both had large families. Sarah lived at 101 Abbey Road, St. John's Wood, London.

Reuben's brother Daniel, was a clergyman and for 40 years was chaplain to the Sailor's Home in Dock Street, whilst being vicar of St. Paul's Whitechapel. A street is named after him-Greatorex Street, Aldgate, London E1, until recently famous for its fish restaurant, 'Tubby Isaacs'. Dan was childless and is buried at Dover.

Reuben's second son was Theophilus, a minor Canon of Westminster Abbey and who was subsequently appointed Archdeacon in Perth, Western Australia. He had three sons, one being killed in World War I and another Anthony winning the M.C. and being awarded the OBE during the other World War II. Anthony's son, Anthony and his son James Anthony and daughter Pennee now live in Alice Springs. A thoughtful friend visiting Alice Springs saw a 'Greatorex Buildings' there. I wrote to this address and thus made contact with my distant cousins, Helen and Tony Greatorex.

A descendant of Reuben's third son, Clement, lived in Sydney until recently but the families had grown apart and he retired to Matlock, Derbyshire in 1930. He was a retired Admiral.

Walter Greatorex (1877-1950) was born in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, educated at Derby School and St. John's College. From 1888-1893, he was a chorister at Kings College, Cambridge. In 1900, he was appointed assistant music master at Uppingham School where he was a teacher of Henry G. Lay. In 1911, he left Uppingham to become Director of Music at Gresham's School. Holt, Norfolk, where in 1919 he composed 'Woodlands' the music used in the Catholic Church for 'Tell out my Soul' the hymn of the Magnificat. It is used also in the Anglican Church for the hymn 'Lift up your hearts'. He was also know affectionately by the boys at Greshams as 'Gog' or 'Greatoxe' and W.H. Auden wrote that Albert Schweizer, the organist and authority on Bach, played no better than Walter Greatorex! Walter was a descendant of the marriage between Ralph Greatorex and Ann Bowring in the early 1600's a very distant cousin of Thomas Greatorex and Reuben Courtnell Greatorex. He retired to Bournemouth to live in a hotel with his sister, but remembered by the boys for his giant frame, imposing figure, bald head and pickwickian face, radiating good nature.

The London Post Office Directories in Victorian times have several Greatorex's recorded.

Thomas Charles, a Carver and Guilder has the addresses of 1 Knightsbridge and 6 Charles street, Grosvenor Square (now Mayfair).

William Anthony Greatorex a solicitor lived at 70 Norton Street, Fitzroy Square with his father, the organist and composer, Thomas Greatorex

In 1842 John Greatorex a tailor and draper lived at 187 Brick Lane, Spitalfields. Brick Lane runs from the Bethnal Green, through Shoreditch to Spitalfields, in 1842 rural London.

Also in 1842, is recorded Thomas Greatorex and Co., Wine Merchants of 79 Upper Thames Street. ( In 1994, Upper Thames Street still runs along the river from London Bridge to Tower Bridge in the heard of Dockland.) In 1842, there must have been many bonded warehouses there and ships in the Port of London. Mrs. Degex (!) Is also recorded as living in The Prince of Wales Hotel, 11 Leicester Place.

Today Leicester Place still exists off Leicester Square. There has obviously been bomb damage and re-building but enough beautiful Regency houses still exist there as to visualise what it was like. Baroque buildings face Leicester Square and William Greatorex, a blacksmith, and William Greatorex, a dairyman lived in the area in 1879 when it must still have been semi-rural..

Also in 1870 lived Henry, a zinc-worker, Anthony Heyrick Greatorex, a solicitor, Charles Greatorex a cabinet maker, Reuben Courtnell, again an architect and Thomas 'Orlando' Greatorex, Prince of Wales Hotel. This particular Thomas married Elizabeth Tapunny, and his son also Thomas, emigrated to Australia, where there is a large middle-class extended family of Greatorexes in the Melbourne area. Thomas Orlando is supposed to have died of senile debility on 06.10.1883 in Endell Street, London WCl'. Endell Street still exists joining the north end of Shaftesbury Avenue and running straight through to Bow Street, Convent Garden. It is within walking distance of the Prince of Wales Hotel site in Leicester Square. Jack Greatorex has a copy of Thomas Orlando's will.

In 1870 is recorded a Jeremiah Greatorex, merchant of London, of Bradbury, Greatorex and Co. Jeremiah married Elizabeth and had four children one of them named George Bradbury Greatorex. Father Jeremiah died in Kingston Hill, Surrey in 1877, age 91. Latterly, the business moved to New Malden to a high security building where bank notes were printed for countries world-wide. During the 1950's the business, then Bradbury Wilkinson moved to Wales but still has the head office in London at Royal Mint Street, E1.

Progressing in to the 20th Century, Samuel Hayman researcher publishing in the Reliquary magazine records 'a colourful character who lived in South Wales and called himself Thomas de Greatorex' was the subject of an article in 'Sporting Magazine'. In 1865 he was fly-fighting in Fermoy and Killarney and was a gentleman of wealth and consequence. The name Greatorex being traditionally associated with mining, was probably the reason he lived in South Wales. He had migrated like so many others to areas where there was mining activity.

In 1904 Joseph Greatorex with Charles Heathcote, presented Winster Market Hall (called locally the Market House) to the newly formed National Trust


The Trust engaged the Duke of Rutlands architect to supervise the restoration and today it features in their handbook. This same Joseph was a local property owner, owning the Bowling Green Inn, where his photograph is displayed showing his own mother, himself, his eldest son and grandson.

Joseph's eldest daughter Emma Greatorex was an authority on English folk dancing and reintroduced it to complement the now internationally famous Winster Morris-men, the girls dancing English folk dances. She married Dr. James Lyon Fletcher, the village doctor and used to broadcast.

Wilfred Greatorex the author and playwright was born in Liverpool and wrote the television series 'The Planemakers' as well as books. He lives in Berkshire.

" In Norfolk, a nurseryman with the surnname of Greatorex has bred a snowdrop of the name, the Greatorex Snowdrop."

It has been said that the most famous Greatorex in Australia is David, whose family hails from Cheshire. And in Skegness lives a Greatorex who has a mammoth collection of theatre posters.

Innate talent of dancing may account for the success of Tony Greatorex in the world of opera and dance. He appeared with the Royal Opera at the Los Angeles Olympics and in Japan and the Netherlands. And the great estate of the Greatorex's near Wormhill has the epitaph in Reliquary-

From the Reliquary, Vol. 4, page 231. A.C. Glover

Greatrocks is a hamlet in the Parochial Chapelry of Wormhill, a Parish of Tideswell in the High peak. At Tunstead near this place James Brindley the engineer was born.

Mr. Glover writes on the 28th of August, 1856, to R.C. Greatorex, 'Last week I was with my friend Mr. Bateman of Lomberdale Hall whose grandfather purchased the Greatorex Estate in Wormhill, now one of the finest farms in England. As a family of Hope (written with a Capital H)have hold the writings he could not give me the information I required but he said he had no doubt the Irish GREATRAKES and the Carsington, Callow and other families in the Peek of that name are, descendants of the Greatrocks family.'

This volume 4 has a picture of the healer, GREATRAKES, treating a patient. This is a wood cut.

Wormhill Land Office

Greatorex to Bateman

Prior to 1856

Bateman who lived at Lomberdale Hall.

Mr Bateman the internationally famous archaeologist and antiquarian a wealthy cotton merchant who built Lomberdale Hall (their original seat was Hartington Hall) had a great collection. Regrettably, his son Thomas William Bateman grew up in to a most unworthy heir and forced the sale of his father's collections. Fortunately, the archaeology section, of immense importance to the Peak District was bought by Sheffield Public Museum. Llewellyn Jewitt, from Winster Hall and who was a great antiquary himself, worked with Thomas Bateman senior and provided illustrations for his books.

The End of the Great Feudal Estate

In the early 1980's the foundations of three or four buildings were clearly visible on the site of Great Rocks Farm and a photograph was taken on the site, which was surrounded by fields and rocky outcrops. There was nearby, however, huge excavations for limestone taking place by a subsidiary company of Rio Tinto Mines.

Later the whole site was excavated, and no evidence remains of the ancient settlement. Perhaps some enterprising Greatorex will ask the company responsible to erect a sign to commemorate an event happening nearly a thousand years ago.

Joan Greatorex

Esher, Surrey, UK

UK10 8NB

(Minerva Network)