Pertwee Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Pertwee Surname Meaning

The name Pertwee is of Huguenot extraction and was originally Perthuis. After the French purge of Huguenots in 1685, many refugees fled to Protestant countries such as England.

In England, the Perthuis settled in Essex. Due to the locals’ inability to pronounce Perthuis, the name got corrupted to Pertwee.

Pertwee Surname Resources on The Internet

Pertwee Surname Ancestry

  • from France (Huguenot – Perthuis)
  • to England (Essex)

England. The name Pertwee was originally Perthuis and is of Huguenot extraction.

Essex. A Perthuis family settled at Langenhoe near Colchester in Essex, after having been expelled from France in 1685. The name was still recorded as Perthuis in 1813. But Thomas Pertwee, presumably a descendant, was a farmer at Langenhoe Lodge later in the 19th century. He survived the great Langenhoe earthquake of 1884, reporting that “the chimneys were thrown down, the walls much cracked, ceilings uplifted, and bottles thrown down and broken.

Canon Arthur Pertwee was the vicar of Brightlingsea from 1872 to 1917. He was known to climb the belfry tower during stormy nights to shine out a lantern for distressed mariners at sea. In 1883 he established a memorial at the All Saints church for all those from Brightlingsea lost at sea. The Rev. Ellsworth Pertwee, described by a friend as a “saintly, spry, white-haired elf,” went out to South Africa in the 1970’s to give support to the anti-apartheid cause.

James Pertwee was a farmer at Woodham Ferrers near Maldon in the 1820’s. His son or grandson Albert was recorded at the Fen farm forty years later. And there were Pertwees prominent in local affairs in Chelmsford and Colchester. Charles Pertwee, an architect and subsequent borough engineer, designed many of Chelmsford’s Victorian buildings. Frank Pertwee started as a corn merchant at Hythe Quay in Colchester in 1899. The business has passed through four generations, although it now manages real estate in Colchester.

Elsewhere.  There was said to be a family link between the Charles Pertwee of Chelmsford who died in 1905 and the Ernest Pertwee who married Emily Moore in Brighton in the early 1880’s.  Ernest compiled and edited verse anthologies while his wife was active in the suffragette movement.

Subsequent Pertwees of this line made their names in TV and film. Son Roland and grandson Michael Pertwee were screen-writers; and grandson Jon Pertwee and cousin Bill Pertwee became well-known TV actors in the 1970’s, Jon in Dr. Who and Bill in Dad’s Army.

Canada. The Perthuis who left France for Canada kept their Perthuis spelling. Charles Perthuis arrived in the early 1690’s and became a prominent merchant in Quebec. His sons Joseph and Jean-Baptiste followed in their father’s footsteps but returned to France after the defeat to the English in 1763.

The descendants of Pierre Perthuis, a fur trader in Montreal, did stay. They moved south to Detroit and later as Pertuis to Arkansas when it was still a French trading outpost of colonial Louisiana. Pierre Pertuis there became Peter Pertuis.

Pertwee Surname Miscellany

French Perthuis.  The English Pertwees have claimed their descent from the French family of Perthuis de Laillevault in Auxerre. The line in France has continued down until the present day.  In more recent times, the head of the family was Comte Bernhard de Perthuis de Laillevault. He fought with the RAF during World War Two and became a distinguished painter of murals.

Canon Arthur Pertwee and His Maritime Duties.  Many a time Canon Pertwee would accompany crews in the roughest of weather or to stranded or wrecks of vessels.

On one occasion when they had tarried too long, the vicar himself took the spare oar and pulled like “one to the manner born.”  On another occasion, when one of the deep sea vessels came in with her flag flying at half mast, it turned out that some of the crew were down with smallpox. The authorities could find no one willing to go on board to nurse the patients. The vicar knew of their sorry plight and urgent needs, however. After the doctor had visited the infected boat, he put off alone in his canoe and nursed the sufferers carefully through the night.

Oaklands House in Chelmsford.  Chelmsford brewery had been started by the Wells family in the town in the 1790’s.  Frederick Wells, a director of the company in the 1860’s, had Oaklands House built for him in the Italianate style by his brother-in-law Charles Pertwee.  Charles Pertwee went on to design many of Chelmsford’s Victorian buildings, including a number of Congregational chapels and the Co-operative Building on Wells Street.

Oaklands House on Moulsham Street is now the Chelmsford Museum.  It remains very much as it was built almost 150 years ago.  Charles Pertwee’s name lives on in Pertwee Lodge, an old cemetery lodge recently converted into apartments.

Ernest Pertwee and the Art of Public Speaking.  Ernest Pertwee was a professor of elocution at the City of London school. From the early 1900’s he started producing books on public speaking, as well as verse anthologies.

The following is a list of some of his works.

  • Shakespeare for Recitation, 1904
  • English History in Verse, 1906
  • Scenes from Dickens, 1910
  • The Scottish Reciter, 1914
  • The Art of Speaking, 1924
  • The New Spirit in Verse, 1930

A number of the earlier works were edited and expanded by his son Guy Pertwee.

Jon Pertwee and the Whomobile.  In early 1973 Jon Pertwee was opening a Ford dealers’ branch in Nottingham when he saw a restored Model T Ford called “The Californian Hot Rod” that could do 0-60 mph in three seconds.  Pertwee found out that the vehicle was created by Peter Farries and he asked him if he could design a custom-built car to suit his futuristic character in the Dr Who series.

Thus was created the Whomobile.  Powered by a 975cc Hillman Imp sports engine, the vehicle could reach a maximum speed of 105 mph if pushed.  It was 14 feet long and 7 feet wide and had large fins extending five foot from the ground. The body was made from fibreglass and constructed in just two sections. There were no doors. To gain access you climbed in over the wing.  Inside, the sci-fi look continued with a TV screen and a fake computer bank of flashing lights to the left of the TV.

By September 1973 the Whomobile was written into the Dr Who series and was first featured in “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” where the Doctor might otherwise have been riding a motorbike. It made its second and last appearance in “Planet of the Spiders.”

Peter Farries, the inventor of the Whomobile, said that the car was eventually sold at a car auction for £1,200 after having been mistaken for a motorboat.

Pertwee Names

  • Charles Perthuis was a prominent Quebec merchant in the early 1700’s. 
  • Canon Arthur Pertwee of Brightlingsea saved many a mariner out at sea in the 1800’s.   
  • Jon Pertwee the actor made his name on TV as Dr. Who.

Pertwee Numbers Today

  • 100 in the UK (most numerous in Essex)

Pertwee and Like Surnames

These are Huguenot names, names sometimes anglicized brought by Protestant refugees from France in the 17th century to England and America. Here are some of the Huguenot originating surnames that you can check out here.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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