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'A History of the Speake Family in Shropshire' - (The River of Lives)

About the Book

This book is the result of 45 years of part-time research into the Shropshire Speake families. It describes the history of the author’s family through thirteen generations, as well as all other associated Shropshire Speake families. In some cases it follows them across the nearby border into Wales, and the possible reasons for their migration.

It focuses on the period prior to the advent of census returns and the civil registration of births, marriage and deaths in the early nineteenth century.

Prior to this date research becomes more difficult and time consuming, and the aim of this book is to help Speake family researchers to link their family trees back to this earlier period. This approach has enabled this book to be kept a reasonable size.

It is the story of periods of prosperity in the late sixteenth century, with accompanying social advancement. This is contrasted with the problems of two court cases brought against them in the infamous Court of the Star Chamber in London, 150 miles distant. After the mid-seventeenth century they lived the precarious existence of the rural poor, at the mercy of poor harvests, poverty, accidents, chronic illnesses and sudden death.

Outline family trees for the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are included, to help those interested in their Speake family to connect with the earlier information presented here. In particular, the very large Eaton-under-Heywood and Westbury families are comprehensively shown in outline. This reconstruction was made possible by the use of a large computerised relational database.

Shropshire was an early leader in the Industrial Revolution and the new industries in Ironbridge and Ketley provided alternative employment for the rural poor.

The later nineteenth century growth of local government also provided new opportunities for employment and increasing prosperity. The advent of the railways made it easier to seek work further afield and many Speake families migrated to the industrial districts of Lancashire, South Wales and the adjacent ‘Black Country’ of the Midlands. More distant migrations were made to Canada, Patagonia, Australia and New Zealand.

This book is a record of often short, hard lives, and although documentary evidence is hard to find, their lives can bring surprises.

This book has 452 pages, contains 130 family trees, nine specially commissioned maps, two original artworks and an extensive index. A comprehensive collection of Appendices contains summaries of all known Speake wills, lay subsidies, marriages licences and hearth tax entries and many other

documents. These make this volume an essential addition to the book collection of family historians and others with an interest in Shropshire history and the Speake families.

About the Author

John Speake was born in Shropshire where his family have lived since at least 1500. He was educated at Wellington Grammar School and Walker Technical College before moving to Cambridge to start a career in Telecommications Electronics. He is the holder of several patents related to electronics circuit design. He has also worked on the design of military radios, the design of radio controlled aircraft electronics and medical monitoring devices.

He started his research into the Speake families of Shropshire in 1974 and the name Speake and variants are registered with the Guild of One Name Studies. Other spare time interests have included stained glass design and manufacture – his windows are to be found in domestic and public buildings in the Cambridge area including the chapel at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

Another interest is looking after his classic 1986 Porsche 928S2. This has led to his present business of providing electronics repair services for these cars and he is an acknowledged expert with customers worldwide.

He lives in Cambridge with his wife and they have three daughters and five grandchildren.

The book is available by order from any bookshop or from Amazon.

ISBN 978-9161142-1-0 Hardcover
ISBN 978-9161142-0-3 Softcover

I have been researching SPEAKE family history since 1974. This study initially focussed on the numerous families of that name in Shropshire, where they have lived since at least 1525. The study has since expanded to include the Speke family of Devon, Somerset and Wiltshire, Speak families in Lancashire and Yorkshire and branches of the families who moved to Australia, New Zealand, India and USA. In order to be able to search and discover links between the various individuals, since 1987 I have complied and added to a large relational database of my research. I am keen to share my research with other people interested to these families and to receive further contributions, and to put enquirers in touch with each other if they so wish.







Cyril G. Speake 1901-1953





Speake name origins:

All the available reference books point towards two sources for the name SPEAKE and all its derivatives; one being a nickname, and the other a place name. P.H. Reaney, in his 'Origins of English Surnames' states - 'The woodpecker has given us a variety of names, probably due to its place in folklore: Pike and Pick are, at times, from Old English pic, Latin Picus; from Old English Speoht or Speht, and Mediaeval English speight we have Speight, Spaight; and from Old French espech(e), espek, Speake, Speck, Speek and Speke.' The origins of the place Speke, in South Lancashire, according to the 'Dictionary of Place Names of the British Isles' by Adrian Broom, (Bloomsbury 1988) gives the derivation; Speke - 'A district of Liverpool whose name means '(place by) brushwood', from the Old English spaec (small branch, probably related to the modern 'spoke' and 'spike')'.



Distribution of the name

For the period 1541 to 1991, the all time number of the name who ever lived in England is estimated as about 10,000 people.

The estimated the current UK population of SPE(A)K(E)(S) as 2,788, with an annual birth rate of 37. Therefore a SPE(A)K(E)(S) family member today is 1 in 19,000 people of the total population; or 53 SPEAKES per million of the UK total.

In the USA today, there is a probable total of 7000 SPEAKE (and variants) families. One striking difference between the UK and the USA is how uncommon the variation SPE(A)K(E)S is in the UK , and how often it appears in the USA .

For Australia the estimated total SPEAKE population of about 120. Approximately half of these are Western Australia , and the others fairly equally distributed amongst Queensland , Victoria and New South Wales .


I have a large relational database of UK Civil Registration Index entries, Census returns, parish registers and other sources. Many other paper records, photographs and family trees.


This Speake Family History website focusses on the British Isles and emigrants from there

These emigrants found their way all over the world, and there are pages on this site giving more information to these main areas. (more)

All people with Shropshire origins have been allocated unique codes to identify them and also allow links in my Relational Database. (more)


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