Surname Saturday: Sheepwash

The oddest surname I’ve found in my ancestry so far just has to be on my mother’s side of the family – Sheepwash. With the help of a number of fellow researchers I’ve managed to trace my ancestors back to about 1731 when John Sheepwash was born in Faversham in Kent.

With such an unusual name you’d think it would be easy to find the surname’s origins, but there are a number of variant spellings and it seems to have caused confusion at census enumeration time!   Census transcribers also seem to have struggled with the spelling.  There is a possibility that the name was also  written as  Shipwash, but it seems to have settled as Sheepwash by the mid 1700s.

 Numbers of “Sheepwashes” in the English census according to

1841: 51

1851: 73

1861: 51

1871: 72

1881: 102

1891: 126

1901: 92

1911: 35

If, however, you use the numbers are as follows:

1841: 66

1851: 78

1861: 70

1871: 89

1881: 99

1891; 138

1901: 132

1911: 139

It’s always useful to be able to check out at least 2 different sources of information. Subscribing to several websites can be extremely expensive but public libraries and archives often offer free access to some of the major commercial sites.

My great grandmother, Alice Sheepwash, a widow living with her 5 children, including my grandfather Frederick (born 1898), is shown in the 1901 census as Sheetwash. I imagine the enumerator struggled to understand her East End accent and made the best guess he could. It would have been good if her occupation had been a laundress (!)  but  she was actually a  “monthly nurse”.

Maybe the unusual nature of the name was one of the reasons for several of the branches of the family deciding to use Neville as their surname rather than stick with Sheepwash. I haven’t managed to work out exactly why they decided to change, although my mother always said that it was because of the teasing the children received at school.

As far as I know the name has no connection with the village of Sheepwash in Devon – but there’s always more to find out.


About familyhistoryfootsteps

I'm enjoying early retirement! I have been researching my ancestry for several years and am interested in all aspects of family history especially local and social history.
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13 Responses to Surname Saturday: Sheepwash

  1. Steve Saville says:

    I believe we may share a common ancestor in John Sheepwash.
    John Sheepwash (married to Sarah Sparrow) is a great great great Grandfather. I’m descended from one of their daughters Agnes Matilda Sheepwash. The Sheepwash family were tobacco pipe makers in Preston Street, Faversham.

    • If you know any more about the Sheepwash family, or want to ask about my research, I’d be pleased to share information. Thanks for reading my blog and getting in touch.

      • Steve Saville says:

        Sorry, I’ve taken so long to reply.
        Most of what I know relates to John Sheepwash (1799 to 1862) and has been gleaned from Census Records (1841,1851 and 1861, Faversham), and trade directories. The Faversham Archaelogical Research Group have published descriptions of tobacco clay pipe fragments – some of which have been attributed to a John Sheepwash. I can supply the link if you’re interested.
        I would be very grateful though, if you are able to provide any information on this John Sheepwash’s parents. I think his father may be a John Sheepwash that married an Elizabeth Videon (I’ve come across various spellings) of Sheldwich, Kent. Certainly there is an Eliz. Sheepwash listed as a Pipemaker, in Preston St., Faversham in Pigot’s Trade Directory in 1824 for Kent.


  2. Vanessa says:

    Hi, My Gt. Grandmother was Eliza Mary Ann Sheepwash b. 1869. in Chatham. I have traced her family back to the early 1700’s and I guess all Sheepwash’s must be related as there are so few of them. I know that when one emigrated to USA he changed his name to Shipwash. I was interested to read a mention that they also used the alternative name Neville. I am sure somewhere back in the 1770’s one of the families included Nevil as a middle name for more than one of their sons…might be some historical reason that carried down and worth some investigation…..
    I also remember reading many years ago when I first started my family tree trail that one of my Gt. G’mothers family believed the original name was Sheepwatch as in occupation of Shepherd or similar…another line of investigation I am currently working on which led me to your blog.

    • Hi, thanks for your comments about the Sheepwash family. Like you, I’m sure they must all be related in some way, especially as from the 1700s they all seem to originate in Kent. My great great grandfather was Nevel Hanes Danes Sheepwash born in 1831, but that’s the first mention of “Nevil / Nevel” that I’ve found in my line. I’ve no idea where “Hanes” or “Danes” come from as first names, either! Do you have any details of the family with “Nevil” as a middle name?

      I hadn’t heard of the derivation from “Sheepwatch” or “Shepherd” but that’s an interesting theory too. I do know that quite a few of the families changed their surname in the 20th century.

      • Steve Saville says:

        Hi, are either of you members of ‘’?
        There is a public family tree on ancestry (called NewWendychrisTree_2012-01-8).
        This tree suggests that Sarah Sparrow (1794- 1879) married to John Sheepwash (my
        Gt,Gt,Gt Grandfather and Nevel Hanes mother) was the daughter of a John and Ann Sparrow both of Faversham.
        John and Ann had 4 children – Sarah (1794 – 1879), Ann (1787 – ), John (1789 -) , and Nevel Hayes Sparrow (1792 -).
        I’ve not contacted the owner of this tree, since I use Ancestry via a corporate account. It may be worth inquiring about the source.
        Interesting about the Sheepwatch derivation.



      • Hi Steve,
        Thanks for alerting me to this family tree. After I’d had a look on Ancestry I checked Find My Past, which has an image of the baptism record. Nevil Hays Sparrow was baptised at Faversham, Kent, on May 6th 1792. He was the son of John and Ann Sparrow.

        This probably solves the mystery of part of Nevel Hanes Danes Sheepwash’s name – now I wonder where the Danes part came from!



  3. Steve Saville says:

    Hello Anne,
    I may have found something of interest. I have found a record (on “Ancestry”) for a marriage between a John Sparrow and Ann Daynes in Faversham on 25th Feb 1786. I also found a Daynes/Danes family from Frittenden, Kent (Frittenden is though about 30 miles from Faversham) and a baptism record for an Ann Daynes on 26th Apr 1767, the daughter of a Thomas and Elizabeth Daynes. Intriguingly I have also found another baptism record for a Hannah Hayes Daynes in 1773 also the daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth. The spelling of Hayes and Daynes matches my record for Nevil.
    best wishes,

    • Hello Steve
      Good to hear from you. Thanks for the information – it’s very interesting and may begin to solve the mystery of the “Hanes Danes” part of our records for Nevel Sheepwash’s name. I haven’t had much time for family history recently but I shall now be back on “Ancestry” following this up. Nevel/ Nevil’s full name is so unusual that there has to be a connection. I wonder where the Nevil comes from – especially as that ended up being my family’s surname! If I find anything further I’ll let you know.

      Best wishes


  4. Hi Steve
    You may have found these records yourself by now but just in case I thought I’d let you know that I’ve found (on Ancestry) records for the following:

    Baptism of Nevil Hayes Daynes at Frittenden on 22nd Feb 1765 (parents Thomas and Elizabeth Daynes)

    Following up the baptism mentioned before – of Nevil Hays Sparrow at Faversham on 6th May 1792 (Parents John and Ann Sparrow). Sadly there is a burial record for him in 1794 at about the same time that Sarah Sparrow was baptised.

    So that pretty much establishes the “Daynes” connection but I haven’t yet found the “Hayes” – logic would suggest it’s Elizabeth’s maiden name but I haven’t found a Daynes / Hayes marriage yet.

    The search goes on ….



  5. Steve says:

    Hi Anne,

    I hadn’t spotted this, no and thank you for alerting me to it. That joins things up nicely.
    I had a quick look on Ancestry myself and found a marriage record for a
    Thomas Daynes and Elizabeth Balcomb(e) –
    “Thos Daynes of Frittenden tanner bach & Eliz Balcomb of Cranbrook sp, at C. 26 Feb 1760. Wm Balcombe of C farmer bond.
    Book: Volume 30
    Collection: Kent, Surrey, London: – Canterbury Marriage Licences, 1751-1780 (Marriage)”
    Cranbrook is about 5 miles from Frittenden. Interestingly there is a Grade 2 listed farmhouse just outside Frittenden called Balcombe Farmhouse.
    Hayes could be of course the maiden name of either Thomas or Elizabeth’s mother. I’ve found this skipping of a generation before.
    Incidentally, I have a little more information on the Sparrow and Sheepwash families, which I will forward shortly.



  6. Alison Howe says:

    Alice Sheepwash – are you referring to 1911 census? She is there with only 4 of her children Edward James 30 and his family (wife and 2 children), Martha 12, Frederick 14 and Alfred 26 – 41 Tenby Road, Walthamstow. If this is correct then Alice Sheepwash who married Edward Neville Sheepwash was born Alice Miles 1861 – 1939 – she was the daughter of John Miles and Elizabeth Sheppard (my connection) …….. Alison

    • Hi
      Thank you for your helpful comment on my blog post. My research suggests that Alice Miles was the daughter of John Miles and Elizabeth Ram (not Sheppard) – she was born at 5 White Hart Court in March 1861, Father John Miles, mother Elizabeth Miles formerly Ram. On her marriage to Edward Neville Sheepwash (my great grandfather) on December 26th 1879 she was still living at 5 White Hart Court, so I have made the reasonable assumption that the two records (birth and marriage) refer to the same person! There are, however, several trees on Ancestry which also have the “Sheppard” connection and only one other which, like me, has “Ram” as the mother’s surname. John Miles and Elizabeth Ram married in 1841 in Lambeth – I have a copy of the marriage certificate.

      If you have any evidence that the same John Miles also married an Elizabeth Sheppard and that she was the mother of any of the children I will be very interested to have the details as it could explain why the couple married in Lambeth some time after having several children in Shoreditch! Of course, I may have been researching the wrong people for years!…. thanks again …Anne

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