NOTES ON SURNAMES (HULL) 45
OWST Historically a surname of South Holderness Owst is now best represented in the Hull district.
George Poulson, in his history of Holderness (1840), has this to say about the family –
“The name of Owst is of Saxon origin, and the family have held possessions in Halsham, Keyingham, Owstwick, &c. for many generations. Halsham seems to have been their principal place of residence, as the register of burials in that parish contains their names rom the commencement of the reign of Charles I … The family are Roman Catholics …” etc. (vol. ii, p. 241)
Robert Owst and Isabel his wife, Robert Owst and Anne his wife, Robert Owst and Mary his wife; all recusants living at Halsham in 1664 (Surtees Society Publications, vol. 40, 1860, pp.119-123).
The terms ‘recusant’ and ‘popish recusant’ refer to Catholics, who were subject to many restrictions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. An example of such is the reason for the following permit copied from Joseph H. Hirst’s “The Blockhouses of Kingston upon Hull” (1913) –
“Whereas Thomas Owst, of Halsham, in the East Riding of the County of York, yeoman, is a Popish Recusant, and therefore by the Act of Parliament cannot go and travell out of the compass of Five miles from the usual place of his abode unless upon necessary occasions or Business, and first taking the Oath and being licenced thereto as the Act of Parliament directs. And whereas the said Thomas Owst hath requested us Four of his majesties’ Justices of the Peace for the said Riding with the privity and assent of one of the Deputy-Lieutenants for the said Riding, to grant unto him a Licence to travel from his said usual place of abode to Drax, in the West Riding of the County of York, to see his wife, who is very ill there at the house of his son-in-law, and he having made Oath thereof as the Act directs. These are, therefore, to Licence the said Thomas Owst to go and travell this day from his usual habituation to Drax aforesaid, and to return to his usual Habitiation on Wednesday, the Fifteenth day of January next or sooner. Given under our Hands and Seals this Eighteenth day of December, 1745.”
One relaxation of the sanctions against Catholics was introduced in 1778. They were finally permitted to swear an oath of loyalty to the monarch without acknowledging him as head of the church as well as head of state. So in July of that year 73 Catholics of Hull and the surrounding area assembled at the Guildhall to take the oath. Among them were a Thomas Owst and a Thomas Owst, junior, probably from Holderness.
Although there were still Catholic Owsts at Hedon in the 1830s, it appears that those who moved into Hull soon conformed to the majority faith. So we have William Owst, son of John Owst marrying Mary Foster at Holy Trinity church in August 1838. And no records of Catholic Owsts in Hull have been found to date.
Joseph S. Hansom has suggested two possible origins for the surname Owst –
i. From Aust in Gloucestershire
ii. From the word “host”
Of the two, I think the second the more likely, as Aust is far from Yorkshire and doesn’t appear to be the source of a surname, however spelt.
Host is a surname, with the variant Ost. Could Owst be another form? I would just add that Owst- and Oust- meaning “East”, is a component of several place names, including some in East Yorkshire. Some of these place names have become surnames.
(J. S. Hansom, Catholic Record Society Publications, vol. v, 1909)
Poulson’s statement that the name Owst is of Saxon origin is probably a stab in the dark.