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English: habitation name from either of two places in Devon called Cobley*, from the OE (old English) personal name Cobba (see Cobb ) + OE leah wood, clearing.

English: from the Middle English byname or personal name Cobbe, Cobba, or the cogn. ON (Norse) Kobbi, both of which are probably from an element meaning "lump", used to denote a large man.

A Dictionary of Surnames, Hanks & Hodges, Oxford University Press 1998.

Cobb, Cobbe:-Cobba - 1201; Leuric Cobbe - 1066; Walter Cobbe - 1234/5; John Cobbe - 1327. OE 'Cobba' is a 'big, or leading man', an original nickname, unrecorded in OE, but not uncommon from the 12th century onwards. A shortened form of 'Jacob' is a further possibility.

A Dictionary of British Surnames, by P.H. REANEY, Routledge & Kegan Paul 1976.

*The places of Cobley in Devon were known as Cobelega in 1200, Cobeleghe in 1291 and Cobbeleghe in 1352
The Place Names of Devonshire

The majority of sources regarding the name of Cobley agree that it probably derives from the Old English personal name of "Cobba" which meant a big or leading man, together with the Old English word leah or ley, which meant a clearing in a wood. It would appear unlikely that the name comes from any one place in England, as a number of hamlets have been known as Cobley or similar throughout history.

The earliest references to the place name are to be found in the Doomsday Book, which was commissioned by King William I in 1086 in order to get a detailed account of the lands he and his tenants held. In the survey we find two entries for Cobelei (Cubley, Derbyshire) and Coberleie (Coberley, Gloucestershire). Of these the description of Cobelei is the more interesting:-

"In Cobelei, Siward had two curacates of land to be taxed. Land to two ploughs. There are now two ploughs in the demesne, and four villanes, and four bordars, and one bondman, have one plough. There is a priest and a church, and mill of 12d. and eight acres of meadow. Wood pasture one mile long and one mile broad. Value in King Edward's time 100 f. now 40 f."

This is unusual in that a church is mentioned which suggests the place was of some importance to the English before the Norman invasion of 1066, and in fact, the remains of an early Hall, moat and village can still be seen today, as can the church.

In the time of Henry III [1216-1272] Cobelie could be found spelt Cob(b)elegh, Cobble and Cobeley(e) and there was also reference to William Cobelegh, who disseized Nicholas le Clerk of land in Clifton, about 2 miles from present day Cubley. This suggests that the name could be spelt in a number of ways and that there was no standardisation until much later.

The name of Cobley appears in a number of areas in England over many centuries and spelt in a variety of ways. The spelling, more often than not, being at the mercy of the transcriber. At Nottingham we find John de Cobeley in 1316 and Richard de Cobbelaye in 1324. In Devon there are records of Robert and Walter Cobley being Sherrifs of the city of Exeter during the years 1404-1411. Cobleys again appear in Devon during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. In Wiltshire on 23 March 1556, William Coberley is burnt at the stake for his religous beliefs. In Warwickshire a few years later, records now held at the Public Record Office in London, refer to a lawsuit concerning the manor of Cobley and the land of John Cobley. In 1608 a farm at Cobley in Warwickshire is again a matter for the courts. 1631 sees William Cobley, the son of a Leicestershire grazier, enter Cambridge University. In Devon, during the reign of Charles II, the tithes of the area of Cobley are in dispute. In 1781 John Cobley of Devon enters Cambridge University and goes on to become Vicar of Cheddar, Somerset. And so over the years the name continues to appear in historical documents, mainly centering on Leicestershire and its neighbouring counties, and also those close to Devon in the South West of the country.

By the 1881 census the Cobleys are spread wide throughout England, but the largest percentage are to be found in Leicestershire*, which is also the case in the year 2000.
However the name of Cobley is no longer restricted to the British Isles. Cobleys now, like their ancestors, are prone to wander the world and appear in every corner.

* In the 1881 census of the 1133 Cobleys listed, 227 appear in Leicestershire, 156 in Devon,
and 122 in Northamptonshire. The other main areas being: London (73), Warwickshire (63), Lincolnshire (61), Lancashire ( 59), Surrey (44), Yorkshire (42), Somerset (31), Monmouthshire (29), and Rutland (28), the remainder being scattered about the other counties

Mark Cobley © 2000

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