Cumberbatch Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Cumberbatch Surname Meaning

The surname Cumberbatch derives from the place-name Comberbach, a small village in Cheshire.  Combe is Old English for “valley” and bach is Old English for “stream.”  So Comberbach describes a valley by a stream.

Comberbach was first mentioned in early Cheshire charters in the late 12th century.  Early spellings of the surname were various.

Cumberbatch Surname Resources on The Internet

Cumberbatch Surname Ancestry

  • from NW England
  • to Caribs (Barbados)

EnglandThe Cumberbatch surname started in Cheshire.  By the 16th century it had reached Lancashire. Thomas Comberbach was recorded in Congleton, about 20 miles away from Comberbach, in the Tudor tax returns of 1546; and Comberbach in various spellings appeared in its parish records from 1593.  Richard Cumberbatch appeared there in 1633.  The name spread elsewhere in Cheshire over the 17th century.

However, by the time of the 1881 census, the largest number (42) was to be found to the south – in the village of Wolstanton in north Staffordshire.  Many there were working in the nearby coal mines.  I.W. Cumberbatch was director of the Sneyd Collieries in 1942 when 57 men were killed by an underground explosion.

Abraham Cumberbatch seems to have been a Bristol man.  He married Ann Lord there in 1675.  He was not in Barbados, but his children were by the early 1700’s. 

Ann Cumberbatch married Edward Carleton and their son Abraham, born in 1726, was in 1753 – according to his grandfather’s will and by an Act of Parliament – granted the surname of Cumberbatch.  Some descendants of this line joined the British consular service.  A modern-day descendant is the actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

Caribbean.  Abraham Cumberbatch owned sugar plantations in St. Peter’s parish and elsewhere in Barbados.  That parish became the origin of the Cumberbatch name in Barbados. 

After 1834 the slaves, previously the property of white Cumberbatch families, were freed and many took that surname.  By that time, all of the white male Cumberbatchs had either died or, having received compensation from the British Government, relocated themselves back to England. 

By a strange twist of fate, by the 1880’s there were more Cumberbatches in Barbados than there were in England.  Ren Cumberbatch, born just before emancipation at the St. Nicholas plantation, died in 1927 at the age of ninety-four.

Many Cumberbatches dispersed elsewhere in the Caribbean and to America and England.  Because of hard times Charles and Sybil Cumberbatch and their daughter Claudia left Trinidad for New York in 1923.  Claudia subsequently moved to the UK and, as Claudia Jones, helped found the Notting Hill carnival in 1959. 

But a number of Cumberbatches have remained in Barbados.  Seibert Cumberbatch, who was born in St. Andrew parish in 1912, was able to celebrate his hundredth birthday on the island; while Mark Cumberbatch, born in 1945, was witness to Barbados becoming a republic in 2021. 

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Ancestry

The actor Benedict Cumberbatch has ancestry from plantation owners in Barbados to diplomats in Turkey and to parents who were actors.  Just click below if you want to read more about this story:

Cumberbatch Surname Miscellany

Cumberbatch in Barbados.  The first of this line – Joshua, his wife Ann, and their three children – came to Barbados in the late 17th century.  But Joshua died shortly after arrival and it was his son Abraham who built up the family fortune. Abraham learned the basics of the sugar industry as a salaried plantation foreman, before buying up plantations in the early 18th century and building refineries to turn the raw cane into sugar.

By the time he died in 1750, Abraham had built up a small fortune.  But he had no son to inherit. Instead, he left his estate to his grandson Abraham (his daughter’s son) on the condition he changed his surname to Cumberbatch.  He also stipulated that his plantation “be kept staffed with 250 negro slaves and 150 head of cattle.”

The plantations passed down the generations until 1816 when Abraham Parry Cumberbatch faced a rebellion from one of his slaves. The uprising lasted two months before being crushed.  The writing was on the wall for Abraham and he soon returned to Britain.  Yet when the British Government abolished slavery, he received more than £6,000 for the loss of his “human” property.

And, more than 150 years after the Cumberbatch family had left the plantation, a painting of his slave-owning grandfather Abraham Cumberbatch still stands in the hallway of St. Nicholas Abbey.

Cumberbatch and Cumberbatch.  In 2014 Stacey Cumberbatch, a grand-daughter of Caribbean immigrants, was a newly appointed city commissioner in New York.  She told the New York Times that she believed the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch’s fifth great-grandfather owned her ancestors on an 18th-century sugar plantation in Barbados.

They “are related,” the newspaper noted, “if not by blood, then by geography and the complicated history of the slave trade.”

Sergeant Grey Doyle Cumberbatch.  Sergeant Cumberbatch was one of the twelve young men known as ‘The Second Barbados Contingent’ who were recruited specifically for the British Royal Air Force during World War Two.  These men included Errol W Barrow who survived the war and went on to become Barbados’ first Prime Minister.

Grey lost his life when his Lancaster plane on a mine-laying operation crashed on March 5, 1943 while trying to land (after having been diverted due to fog) at the Langar airfield in Nottingham.  He was only twenty-one when he was killed.

Cumberbatch Numbers Today.  The Cumberbatch numbers in the Caribbean today are around:

  • 1,800 in Barbados
  • 800 in Trinidad
  • and 700 elsewhere in the Caribbean.

The UK number is about 1,000 and there are also some Cumberbatches in New York and Florida.

Cumberbatch Names

  • Claudia Cumberbatch, also known as Claudia Jones, helped start the Notting Hill carnival in London in 1959.  
  • Benedict Cumberbatch is a well-known British actor, best known perhaps on TV as Sherlock Holmes.

Cumberbatch Numbers Today

  • 1,000 in the UK (most numerous in Staffordshire)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Barbados)

Cumberbatch and Like Surnames

These are surnames which have a small number of people bearing that name but are included here – for the curiosity of the name, its history, or because of some famous person who bears that name.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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