This might be part one of more to follow, it might be the only “peculiar history” there is on this one… I’m not quite sure how peculiar we are yet! Either way, my surname is Belcher. When people find that out it normally elicits one of the following responses.
1 – How do you spell that?
This happens because some people simply can’t believe that anyone would be called Belcher and try and respell it as (and I’ve had letters with all of these on them at some point!) Beltcher, Bredgar, Belsher, Beltscher…
2 – Oh, do you know John Belcher?
Some people have heard the surname before. Which obviously means you’re related to whoever it is that they know. I have (to the best of my knowledge) never known the other Belcher in question.
3 – Sniggering.
Not particularly common now, not since I left junior school really. But if you can make it through the British school system with a name like mine, you’re set for life.
We’re not as uncommon as people think though. And we have an interesting history.
The name is thought to have come over with the Normans and their famous beach holiday in Hastings in 1066. Apparently, the first recorded use of the name as it is spelt today was when Ralph de Belcher acted as witness to a deed in 1176 in Staffordshire. The name was originally composed of the words Bel and Cher meaning simply “good cheer”, relating to a persons disposition and visible countenance. The modern French translation however would be “beautiful dear” or “beautiful beloved”. Variations of the spelling reflect the older meaning (‘cher’ as in ‘chere’ and not ‘cheri’ and ‘bel’ or ‘bele’ rather than ‘belle’), so we’ll stick with good cheer and not beautiful beloved… Sorry Belcher women.
So that’s the root of the name, and it would appear that by the 1500s there were Belchers all over the place in the UK. It wasn’t long before we spread out.
The most notable of the travelling Belchers seems to be Governer Jonathan Belcher of the United States. Governor of New Hampshire then Massachusetts and finally New Jersey from 1729 to 1757. He’s even got a town named after him – Belchertown in Massachusetts. It is also possible that Governor Belcher’s coat of arms may have influenced the design of the Great Seal of the United States of America. He was acquainted with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. US historian H. Whitmore has stated that the principals of the Belcher coat of arms and the Great Seal are identical (that is the general layout rather than the specific details). The shield at the centre of the traditional coat of arms is certainly similar and I guess it’s this sort of thing that keeps the conspiracy theorists going, but anyway, you can see for yourself…
So I don’t think it’s a huge stretch… The Governor of east coast colonies (at the time) was known to the people who shaped Independence and they would have at least been aware of his coat of arms as it was used officially by Jonathan Belcher while in office.
But we’ll leave Governor Belcher there and instead look at another Belcher connection (although incredibly flimsy this time I admit) to the US Government.
It’s all about to go a bit “National Treasure” – and if you’ve seen the second film, “Book of Secrets”, you’ll have a bit of a head start over those that haven’t. It all revolves around a desk. The desk in question currently resides in the Oval Office of the Whitehouse and has a twin which sits in the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth. The Whitehouse presidential desk was gifted to President Rutherford B Hayes in 1880 as a gesture of thanks for the recovery and returning of HMS Resolute, hence it is known as the Resolute Desk. You’ll have seen it before. It’s this desk…
It didn’t always look like that though. The centre panel (featuring the Presidential Seal, itself a stylised version of that Great Seal) was added at the request of President Franklin D Roosevelt in order to conceal his leg braces. It’s interesting to note that the Presidential Seal normally features an eagle looking towards the olive branches clasped in its right talon (left as you look at it) and not towards the arrows clasped in its left talon. Peace was obviously not on the agenda.
On the desk through remains a plaque which reads:
H.M.S. RESOLUTE forming part of the expedition sent in search of SIR JOHN FRANKLIN IN 1852, was abandoned in latitude 74 degrees 41 minutes N longitude 101 degrees 22 minutes W on 15th May 1854. She was discovered and extricated in September 1855 in latitude 67 degrees N by Captain Buddington of the United States Whaler “GEORGE HENRY.”
The ship was purchased, fitted out and sent to England as a gift to HER MAJESTY QUEEN VICTORIA by the PRESIDENT AND PEOPLE of the UNITED STATES as a token of goodwill & friendship. This table was made from her timbers when she was broken up, and is presented by the QUEEN OF GREAT BRITAIN & IRELAND to the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES as a memorial of the courtesy and loving kindness which dictated the offer of the gift of the “RESOLUTE.”
You might be wondering what the Belcher connection is here. Well, like I said, it’s a lot flimsier than the first. The Commanding Officer of HMS Resolute when she became locked in the ice and was subsequently abandoned whilst on the search for Sir John Franklin was Sir Edward Belcher. And the connection with me? The Resolute Desk, and the others that came from her timbers, were made where I have worked for the last seven years in Chatham. HMS Resolute, once paid off was broken up for scrap at Chatham Royal Dockyard and the desks were made in the Joiner’s Shop that still exists on the site today. Sitting on top of that desk today is a pen holder. This pen holder in fact.
The plaque reads:
A gift for, the Honorable Barack H Obama, President of the United States, made from the timbers of HMS GANNET in The Historic Dockyard Chatham where William Evenden made the Resolute Desk in 1879.
Presented by the Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 3rd March 2009.
My pen is a biro and currently resides in a cup on my desk…