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The name Briscoe is of topographical origin from the north of England. There are villages of the same name in Cumberland and the North Riding of Yorkshire. These were first recorded as Brethesco and Brisco in the 1200s, meaning ‘wood of the birches’ from the Old Norse biörk (birch) and skogr (a wood). Locational surnames, such as this, were usually acquired by a local landowner, or by the lord of the manor, and especially by those former inhabitants of a place who had moved to another area, usually in search of work, and were thereafter best identified by the name of their birthplace. There is no evidence, however, that Betsy’s ancestors originated from the north of England, but perhaps in years to come evidence of distant ancestry from the north of England will emerge. For now, this history focuses on east London and reveals some interesting characters.

Family connections

The Biscoe or Brisco family enter this history in about 1890, when Betsy Biscoe met George Charles Moss. By this time, the Biscoe family had been established in the east of London for 70 years, and for perhaps longer still.
They have not been an easy family to trace. Uncovering their past has highlighted one of the difficulties faced by family historians: from an early age, Betsy was known by the surname Catley, and it took some effort to establish her birth name. To complicate matters further, Betsy’s father was recorded in official documents as ‘Briscoe’, and it was not until the 1860s that the ‘r’ was dropped to form the surname ‘Biscoe’. This was not artifice or design and it is unlikely that its bearers were even aware of the error. At a time when many people were illiterate and officials recording people’s details relied only on what they heard, the Biscoe surname has been recorded in various official documents as Brisco, Briscoe, Biscoe, Bisco, Briscall, Bristow and even Driscall.

brisco family: the shadow of the workhouse

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