Most surnames are derived from a trade - Taylor, Thatcher, Baker, etc. - or from variants of 'Son of...' as in Johnson, Williamson, and so on. Another thing which has to be remembered is that before about 1800 English spelling was unformalized - people spelt words however they felt at the time. It was only in the 19th century that spelling settled down to 'correct' spelling as we know it. This is how many name variants arise - including Wilmut.

A relative sent off for one of those 'certificates' claiming to show the origin of your surname: it claimed that 'Wilmut' derived from 'Guillemot' and even came up with a coat-of-arms and a motto ('Quod Vult Valde Vult' - 'What he wishes he wishes fervently'). However, frankly I think this is nonsense (though I rather like the motto): I've been told by someone who had researched into names (and published several books on the subject) that it is simply another derivative of 'Son of William'.

The more usual spelling is Wilmot, or Willmott. My spelling seems to derive from the beginning of the 19th century. My grandfather, and a more distant relative, did some research into family history, and the resultant papers have trickled down to me.

Some information on earlier generations has been supplied by James Phillips-Evans, to whom I am grateful: the earliest forbear we have details of is Charles Wilmot, born around 1690-1695 (a yeoman). He married Susannah Jay in 1717, and died in 1747.

His eldest son was George, whose surname was spelt Wilmutt: there was at least one more son, Isaac (who was born in 1720 and married Elizabeth Pearce). George was born in 1717 and died in 1777. He married twice: the first time was to Betty Leonard in 1744; they had two daughters, Susanna (born 1748) and Elizabeth (born 1752). George's second marriage was in 1768 to Susannah Tippett née Bailey who was the widow of Samuel Tippett.

His sons Samuel and George were both born in 1771, and there was also a daughter, Nancy. George married Elizabeth Roach in 1793 and had three sons, Edward (born 1794), Samuel (born 1797) and Isaac (born 1801); he died in 1841.

The earliest document I have is a photocopy of a complex-looking legal document in which this Samuel Willmut, of the Parish of Batheaston in the County of Somerset, carpenter, and Matthew Temple of St. Michael's in the County of Bath, servant, undertake to pay the Bishop of Bath and Wells the then rather large sum of two hundred pounds if Samuel does not marry Charlotte Lewis, also of Batheaston. The date of the contract was the 18th of October 1790.

£200 was a huge amount of money in 1790, and I can't imagine that Samuel ever saw that much in his life. Apparently the money was a theoretical surety allowing the marriage to take place without the normal three readings of the banns (see the note on the page about the document) - this was a normal practice if the marriage had to take place quickly because of, for example, an existing pregnancy, and was simply a form of assurance from the parties involved that the marriage would be legitimate.

On the same day, Samuel signed a form (above) promising to marry Charlotte. He was still a minor (i.e. under 21) and had the permission of his mother, Susannah Willmut; and that Charlotte was 21.

The marriage took place on the 24th of October 1790 (only six days after the signing of the forms above). Samuel and Charlotte both signed the form; he spelt the name as Willmut but at the top of the form it is spelt Wilmut - it looks like the same writing but it might be a clerk.

Wedding document, 1790

The parish records for baptisms show nine children (with the surname spelt Wilmott). The first, Susannah, was born on February 14th 1791 (less than four months after the marriage...). Two children at least died in infancy (including Susannah, in 1793). The eighth was Isaac, from whom the present family in the UK is descended. There were two other surviving sons: George (born in 1796) and Charles (born in 1807): I don't know whether they produced any offspring.

An American genealogical site, Gendex (now closed), had a list of 18 Wilmuts from 1818 onwards, mostly in Texas: I have no way of knowing whether these were in any way related to Samuel, or were simply an unrelated spelling variation. They included an Ephraim, an Inez, a Sunie, and the endearingly named Benjamin "Button" Wilmut.

Returning to my own forbears: Isaac was born in 1804 and died in 1836: he was a glazier by trade. I have no evidence on how he spelt his surname, but his sons definitely adopted the spelling Wilmut, which has stuck ever since: so anyone with that spelling in the UK is probably directly descended from Isaac.

Isaac married Sarah Wookey in 1824 and had at least three sons: George, born in 1924, who died as a baby; another George, born in 1826, and Henry (1828-1865). Henry made trunks, portmanteaux and other luggage: I have an original of his business card:

He married Anne Ridgewell in 1854: his children, Henry (1857-1919) and Sarah, were brought up elsewhere when he died - the boy by a farmer in Bath: he had a son, Frederick Charles (1888-1918) but there appear to have been no further descendants in the male line.

Isaac's older son, George, married Sarah Slip in 1847 and had 13 children. A very old photograph, hand-coloured and quite small - (45mm by 57mm), has been passed down as a family picture, but no-one knew who it was. Originally I thought it was on glass, which would have dated it to the 1850s, but having prised the frame open it's on card: probably it's from the later 1800s, though I still have no idea who it is. I think I can detect a faint family resemblance to myself, but I may be imagining it!

George's eldest son, William Henry (1847-1911) ran a woodcarving firm in Bristol; the firm's work included a number of churches in the area and new doors for the National Gallery in London - a comprehensive list is given in his advertisement (below): click here to see the full document.

William Wilmut & Sons

William's descendants now mostly live in Australia, Canada, and one branch last heard of in Ohio, USA.

In the picture on the business card, right, William is fourth from the left, with the cap on: the three men on the right, and the one behind the main row at the left, are staff, not sons.

A younger son, Henry, went on the music halls as Harry Wilmot (though he must have been a very minor performer, and I have never seen any reference to him in my researches). Of the other sons, Francis died while a baby, and there was an Isaac about whom I know nothing.

My branch of the family is descended from the second son, George William (1850-1924), my great-grandfather. My grandfather said he was a church organist, but his marriage certificate says he was a shoemaker, so presumably he was an organist in his spare time. He married Mary Ann Sophia Moore (known as Polly) in 1875 and had nine sons, of whom four died young (about normal for the period).

The family can be seen in this 1913 photograph: in the back row: Ed, George, Ellen (Percy's first wife), Percy, Herbert Sidney (known as Bert), and Francis Samuel (known as Sam), my grandfather. Their father, George William is seated in the front row, with Polly on his left. The small boy between Polly and the lady on the right of the picture is my father, Harold, then aged four. (The other boy is Ronald, George's son: he became a clergyman in Birmingham). The inset is my grandmother, Amy Morris (she hated this photograph - she thought being in the insert made her look silly).

Percy moved to Canada: he and his second wife, Mary, had four children. Bert married Emmie but had no children.

Sam, my grandfather, and Amy had four children: Harold (my father), Enid, Edgar, and Leonard (always known as Jack) - Ian's father. My father was born in Southampton but subsequently the family moved to Huddersfield, Yorkshire, where Sam taught mathematics at Royds Hall School: one of his pupils was Harold Wilson, later a Labour Prime Minister. Sam died in 1966.

The family group on the right was taken in 1951 - I think it was probably the only time we were all together. Sam and Amy, my grandparents, are seated in the centre: I am to the right of Amy, with Ian (he of the cloned sheep - now Sir Ian) to the right of me. My parents are at the right-hand end of the back row.

My father taught chemistry at Caterham and at Stratford from 1940 until his retirement in 1975 (he died in 1983): Edgar was an optician and Jack a maths teacher and later a computer programmer (in the days when that meant punched cards).

Oddly enough, there are no boys in the generation descended from Sam following mine, at least at the latest information I have: I am not married, and my other cousins (four male - three are Wilmuts - and two surviving female) have produced only girls (though there is one adopted boy): so the name looks likely to die out in this branch of the family. However there are six other branches, variously in Australia, America, Canada and Britain, so there are still a fair number of Wilmuts about: all distantly related to me, although I am not in contact with any of them. Oddly the name can apparently be a Christian name: an Internet search throws up a Professor Wilmut Gasser in Germany: how he got his name must be entirely another story.