Select Sykes Miscellany



Here are some Sykes stories and accounts over the years:

Sykes and DNA Testing


A 2002 BBC series Surnames, Genes, and Genealogy started with the program, "There's Only One Sykes."  It described Bryan Sykes work with DNA tracing the Sikes/Sykes in West Yorkshire during the Middle Ages back to a common ancestor.

In order to assess the correspondence between surname and Y-chromosome haplotype, a sample of males with the surname "Sykes" was ascertained from published lists compiled from electoral rolls and other registers.  "Sykes" is typical of indigenous English surnames, in being of low overall frequency but having marked local concentrations, presumably reflecting historical origins.  From the geographic distribution of the 9,885 registered UK voters with that surname, it was clear that the highest concentration of Sykes are in the counties of West Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Cheshire.  This matches the earliest occurrences of the name during the 13th and 14th centuries in the villages of Flockton, Slathwaite, and Saddleworth, close to Huddersfield in West Yrokshire.

A randomly ascertained sample of males with the surname "Sykes" was typed with four Y-chromosome microsatellites.   Almost half the sample shared the same Y-chromosome haplotype, which has not been observed in control samples from the same geographic region or from the UK as a whole.  This points to a single surname founder for extant Sykes males, even though written sources had predicted multiple origins. 


Sir Tatton Sykes

Sir Tatton Sykes, the fourth baronet, was not a scholar.  He married in 1822 and succeeded to the Sledmere estates in 1823.   A year later he sold his brother's library for 10,000 and his paintings and other works of art for 6,000; and bought instead bloodstock breeding horses.

He was a man of extreme puritanical habits and old-fashioned dress who behaved as a basically benevolent despot towards his tenants.  But his cruelty to his own family had far-reaching effects.  He beat his children and his behavior made his wife a cold and distant mother to them.  She escaped to London whenever she could and hid in her orangery with her flowers when she was at home.

Their eldest sone grew up in an atmosphere devoid of love.  When he succeeeded to his estates on his father's death in 1863, he immediately sold his father's racehorses and demolished his mother's orangery.

Betty Sykes of Saddleworth

Betty must have been a hard-working woman.  Shw worked all her life in wool, either as a wool weaver or as a woollen manufacturer.  Her children were brought up as wool sorters, spinners, or weavers.

Saddleworth in general and Diglee in particular still retain many marvellous-looking wool weavers' cottages, with rows of stone-mullioned windows especially in the upper storeys.  These were designed to let in the maximum amount of light to the looms, which must have been particularly important in the dark winter days. The music of Betty's life would have included not only the tinkling of streams and the songs of the skylark and blackbird, but also the rat-a-tat of the handloom as the shuttle flew to and fro.

Sir Mark Sykes


His mother Jessica had led a gay but fragile and alcoholic life in London.  She published a travel journey in Africa during the Boer war, but fell further and further into debt.  Tatton Sykes refused to pay her debts after a very acrimonious court case.  She died prematurely in 1912.  Tatton himself died a year later, leaving their son Mark to succeed.

Sir Mark Sykes was the man who carved up Turkey and caught bird flu.  But his 39 year life remains a monument to how much can be achieved in a short time.  He was a senior diplomat, MP, the father of six, Boer war commander, the author of four books, and the manager of the largest estate in Yorkshire.  In between times, he created singular sculptures, commissioned the finest Turkish room in the country at his stately home of Skedmere, and maintained a pile of huge Victorian churches donated to nearby hamlets by his eccentric father.

Left to his own devices by his estranged parents, his wealth and natural enthusiasm won him influential contacts, such as Lord Kitchener, Lawrence of Arabia, Gertrude Bell, and Chaim Weizmann.  He was a central figure in the future of the Ottoman empire and its Arab lands where he had often travelled.

Sykes died of Spanish influenza in 1919 at the Versailles peace conference, after negotiating the Sykes-Picot agreement.  His many descendants have included Evelyn Waugh's biographer, Christopher Sykes, and novelist and fashion writer, Plum Sykes.
  Sykes himself was buried in a lead coffin.  His body was exhumed in 2008 in the hope that the lead coffin might have preserved the influenza virus for scientists to study.


Columbus Sykes and Confederate Sadness

On October 26, 1864, Colonel Columbus Sykes had held his brother, Dr. William Sykes, in his arms as he was dying at his home at Decatur.

With a heavy heart a month later, he sat near a tree in Aberdeen, Mississippi and composed a letter to his neice and nephew.  "You are yet young, very young," he wrote, "one just emerged from his mother's arms, the other an infant whose age is numbered only by months."

He then told his brother's young children about "their devoted father" and "his noble brother" who had joined the Confederate army.

"Though suffering excruciating agony, he calmly surveyed his wound and pronounced it inevitably mortal.  And then with a courage that was sublime in its exhibition, he prepared for the last struggle with the great monster - death." 



Ally Sykes Remembers

Ally Sykes was born in Dar es Salaam in 1926.  This is his recollection of his grandfather.

"My grandfather came to Tanganyika as a German mercenary.  The Zulus has already acquired a reputation among the colonial powers for being very tough warriors and the Germans wanted to beef up their colonial army.  They went on a recruiting drive to South Africa and Mozambique to attract young members of the Zulu tribe into their army.

Once he had stayed in Tanganyika for some time he decided that the British colonial oppression was slightly milder than what he had suffered in South Africa under the Boers.  So he decided to stay."


From 1933 to 1946, Ally was in the King's African Rifles, fighting the Japanese in Burma and rising to the rank of sergeant, which was as high as African could get in those colonial days.

 "The lessons of the KAR were crystal clear.  There were three different diets, designed on a racial basis: European, Asian, and African.  When I came home there was still a mirror image of this, with three salary grades: European, Asian, and African.  How could a grown man put up with that nonsense?"

Ally is now 78, but has a memory and walks and talks like a man of fifty.  He is a practicing Moslem.  The day was Friday, the time for prayers was approaching, and the interview drew to a close.




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