Mr Thorngumbald? – History of a Curious Name

Thorngumbald Tree Planting

“THERE’S A MISTER THORNGUMBALD IN THE HALL!” an excited voice called out to a friend in St Mary’s Church, Thorngumbald on the Village’s History Day held last month. The exchange continued: “Really!? Is he really called Mister Thorngumbald?” 

The actual name of the guest visitor to the Thorngumbald Village Hall that day was Mr Adrian Gombault. But perhaps it is right that he quickly gained the village surname for the day, because Adrian can actually trace the history of his family name back to the founder of this Holderness village.

Adrian Gombault can trace his family name history back 751 years to the French Knight who most likely gave the place its name! In honour of this a Hawthorn has been planted in front of the Village Hall and a plaque placed there to commemorate this historic association with the village. 

Adrian gave a talk to villagers to open the History Day. He kindly sent us a copy of the speech he made and HU12 Online is delighted to publish it in full:


Good morning. May I say that it’s a great honour and a pleasure too to be invited here today.

Mr Adrian Gombault

You and I don’t know each other at all .. but we do have something in common. Whenever you are asked where you come from, you always have to spell it out … and whenever I am asked my surname, I have to do the same. And that’s because we share the name Gumbald .. or in my case its variant form, Gombault.

I have been asked here today to open this exhibition of the village’s history, and I’m looking forward as much as you will be to viewing its contents. Perhaps on your behalf I may congratulate the organisers and in particular your local historian, Sid Skeggs, for his excellent research over the years and for his unique collection of photos, which is on display today. I understand the majority of these are concerned with life in the village over the past two hundred years … so I guess I’m here to represent the period before that …. and in particular the time when the village gained its curious name … Thorngumbald.

Various explanations have been put forward as to the provenance of this unusual name .. for instance, that it began as a combination of the parishes of Thorn and Paull, ie Thorn cum Paull. I’m sure we can discount the story I read on one website about a man who got caught in a prickly bush and lost all his hair. I hold the view, which I know Sid shares, that it is in fact a combination of the word Thorn or Torne and the surname Gumbald, and it is a version of that combination which over time has yielded the names which both the village and my family separately bear today.

The evidence for this comes from legal documents signed as early as 750 years ago by a French nobleman of high rank called Sir Galfrid Gumbald or Gumbaud. Other documents mention members of his family in particular a William Gumbald owning the manor of Thorne. If you add to this the importance of this valuable agricultural land in those days, and the prominence of the Gumbald family in this area, it seems inconceivable that the Gumbald in Thorngumbald should not have derived from the man whom I count, albeit in a very distant way, as my forebear.

In fact, we can trace the name back further still. Sid’s book suggests that it may be derived from the Germanic name, Gundebald. My own family’s tradition traces it back rather to the beginning of the sixth century in France, where it first manifested itself in the title Chevalier de Combellis (meaning “Knight of the Hill”). This was a title granted to the son of a noble Frankish knight, who died in an important battle fought against the Allemands to the East of Paris.
A monument was erected at the spot where he fell, and a township grew up around the site, which still bears the name Gombault to this day. A good case for a twinning arrangement, if ever I saw one?

What happened between those times and the present day is less easy to account for. After the death of Galfrid’s son, William, the family name seems to have disappeared in East Yorkshire (and probably in England as a whole) .. until around 100 years ago, when my grandfather – also called William – settled here from Holland just before WW1. Since then there has been a continuous family presence in the East Riding, which is currently maintained by my sister, Jacqueline.

To the best of my knowledge, there are currently only the 6 members of my immediate family in the whole of the UK who bear the name Gombault. My wife, Sue, is one of them. But beyond these shores, the name is more widespread. 

I have records which mention various members of the Gombault family in France throughout the middle ages. There are some celebrated tapestries in the museum at St Lo in Brittany, which depict the life of a young nobleman named Gombault, including his marriage and his death. I have a book of poems written by a Jean Ogier Gombault, who was court poet to Louis XVI. There are also Gombaults in Holland and the Benelux countries, where the family spread after the Huguenot expulsions in the middle ages.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could claim direct linear descent from the founder of your village? This of course I cannot do… although I can boast a family tree which goes back to the 1600’s. But I can attest to the continuing existence over 750 years and more of a family of which I am a member which I believe gave this village its present name. And it is for that reason that I felt we should come to share this special day with you.

To mark this occasion, my sister and I are, by kind permission of the Parish Council, planting a commemorative tree here in front of the village hall. It is – what else? – a Thorn tree – Crataegus Scarlet Paul – and we hope it will give you all pleasure as it presents its beautiful varied colours throughout the seasons. We hope too that the commemorative plaque which will be set on the wall nearby will encourage interest and pride in the village’s distant heritage ….. which perhaps over the coming years we can together do more to explore?

Adrian Gombault

About the Author

Ray Duffill (Editor)
Ray Duffill (Editor)
Ray Duffill (photo by Neil Holmes) is a former community development manager but now describes himself as a beat-blogger or citizen-journalist. Ray lives in Hedon and also edits the Hedon Blog and is the Hedon correspondent for the Holderness Gazette.

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