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The European UK

Sadly for a great many of our readers the none-too-subtle title of this post will be self-explanatory. The UK’s departure from the European Union on 1 January – on what terms we don’t know at the time of writing (21 December) – is very problematic and, in my opinion, at best misguided. I feel very strongly that we’re better off in Europe, and regardless of the political borders which are now drawn, I shall regard myself as both European and British. The UK might have been based on islands off mainland Europe, but it has never been disconnected. Those connections may be more challenging now, but they will continue.

This brief blog post takes a look at how some of those European connections manifested themselves in our project period. This is very sketchy, as we’ve not yet done much research on this aspect of our database. It also takes the form of looking at surnames rather in isolation – and of course what we may get here are individuals born and raised in the UK, whose families had been here for generations, but who retained a surname indicating an international origin. We also don’t know how many international names were anglicised, either by the individuals concerned or in the official accident reports – or how many names were misunderstood. An example of the latter might be Sylvester Vandennieuwenhuysen, killed at Preston in 1928 – presumably a rendering of what looks like a Dutch-origin name, Van Den Nieuwenhuysen. What this surface-level commentary hopefully will do is show how important European connections have long been for the UK.

Starting with a couple of those likely very long term connections, we have some individuals in the database possibly of Norman origin: Gevaux (discussed here) and Devereux. Intriguingly, French/ French-origin surnames don’t appear in our data so far, at least at an initial glance – given they are our closest neighbour on mainland Europe, I wonder why this might be?

Moving north, there are several names which appear Scandinavian in origin: Torgesen, Jorgeson, Kjarulff and Svensson. Another – perhaps eastern European? – name appears via Cardiff Railway records: D Kedzlic. Some or all of these might be missing diacritical marks, which makes identifying further details more problematic.

Continuing (broadly) south, there are several names which are possibly Germanic or Dutch in origin. These include Mouzer, Mohrman, Stroobants, Steenstroom and Ernest Bielfeldt, involved in an accident in Liverpool on 26 March 1915. If he was either German or of German origin it must have been a challenging time to be in the UK, before the accident. There is also an Alphons Beudts in the data – possibly Belgian? – and Emmanuel Perrotti and R Riozzie, who might be Italian.

There are a few Spanish or Portuguese origin names in the data, too – interestingly all concentrated in South Wales. This makes sense in terms of shipping routes. They include a De Pinto, Santiago Mallo, Cresanto Rego (subject of a guest blog post from project volunteer Chris Jolliffe), Luse Maria Fernandez, William Reilla, Antitonio Perez and Cyril Pereira.

I’ve not given any details of the accidents that all of these men (and they were all men) were involved in. Clearly that’s why they appear in our project data – some already in the database, some to come in the releases that we’re working on for the coming year. I am sure that we will find plenty more examples of the flows of people across Europe. This flow wasn’t one-way of course – railway staff from the UK worked and lived on mainland Europe, in peacetime and in war, as discussed in these guest blog posts by Sandra Gittins.

I would like to revisit the wider European aspects of our work later in the year, but for now felt it important simply to acknowledge the connections. The only thing to add is that a great many of the accidents were concentrated in port or dock locations – unsurprising, perhaps, given this is where we would expect people to enter the UK at this time. What were their stories? How and why did they first come to the UK? Did they make their lives here and stay, or only remain here for a short while? Either way, they contributed to the UK – as did others from beyond Europe; we know, for example, we have an Egyptian national in our inter-war data, and it’s been difficult to place Harry Vanpraah. Our nation has been built on immigration, and in spite of the path our current political leaders have decided to take us on, we will continue to offer a place for immigrants.

To our European friends and neighbours – I am sorry about what has happened, and I look forward to maintaining strong connections with you all. The new political realities, very much against my will, may make this more challenging, but they redouble my determination to remain European.


  1. Duncan Laurence

    Devereux is quite a coomon name here in south east Ireland. So your Devereux could be Irish. This goes back to the Norman invasion of Ireland in the 1100s as this locality was colonised. Interestingly (and perhaps a little irrelevantly), there are two local pronunciations by those with this surname: Devereux as in its French pronunciation and something close to (phonetically) “Deverux”. Naturally, both parties claim their pronunciation is the correct one …

    • Mike Esbester

      Hi Duncan – thanks for the additional Irish input; hadn’t considered or heard this before, but I can see the logic for the reasons you note. I’m not going to get involved in the pronunciation debate – far too dangerous!

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