This page has been established to facilitate sharing of information with other Breach/Breech/Breche researchers.

The BREACH/BREECH surname distribution map from the 1881 census shows a strong concentration in East Sussex with the hotspot (at least in 1881) being Eastbourne. Research is showing that most of the Breachs in East Sussex go back to one family at Hertsmonceux c1550 but that at that time there was still a scattering of Breach people across Sussex suggesting that the surname had been around for some time. 

A search of documents in the East Sussex Record Office cataolgue reveals occurrences of the surname going back to the 1200s. Examples are:

  • Robert atte Breche and Philip atte Breche in 1301 at Edburton (ESRO: BAT 1022)
  • Andrew de la Breche in c1235 at Battle (ESRO: HEH/BA/BOX 13/1149)
  • Richard Breche in 1454 at Brede (ESRO: RAY 2/7/4)

According to the "A Dictionary of English Surnames" (1991) by Reaney and Wilson, the surname meant "someone whose residence was near a piece of newly cultivated land". That is, a dweller at the "breach" or opening into the forest. However, there could also be a French origin (Brèche) given the early spelling Breche and the very close proximity of Eastbourne to France and the location of the Norman invasion.

The information below presents the main Sussex family tree put together so far. It remains a work in progress and the aim of presenting it here is to stimulate discussion and verification by others. Please contact me if you disagree with any of the connections and/or have further information. 

A PDF copy of the book "The BREACH Wills of East Sussex 1548-1858" is available for free download on the Publications page (see main menu on the left) and contains the family trees mentioned below.

Distribution of the BREACH/BREECH surname in England in 1881. (The British 19th Century Surname Atlas ver 1.10, Archer Software)
Distribution of the BREACH/BREECH surname in Sussex, England in 1881. (The British 19th Century Surname Atlas ver 1.10, Archer Software)

The Main Tree

The following descendant chart is the primary BREACH family tree in Sussex. Those who left wills/admons are highlighted in yellow. This tree originates around Herstmonceux in the 1500s where it appears that there were at least four brothers, Thomas, Robert, John and Richard Breache[sic]. Nearly all the Sussex Breachs descend from Thomas (c1550-1619). There are scatterings of other Breach families in Sussex at this early time which have yet to be explored such as in the parish of Woodmancote where four individuals are identified in probates between 1553-1561.

The origin at Herstmonceux suggests a connection to the wealden iron industry in the 15th-16th century which brought much prosperity to the inland wealden towns and villages. For example, Sarah Skinner, who married John Breach in 1729 at Dallington, had a grandfather Richard Skinner who was the iron founder at the furnace at Ashburnham 1676-88 (see Wealden Iron Research Group website). This has not been expored in any depth though.

From Herstmonceux there are two main branches:

  1. One branch of the family family moved to the seaside towns of Bexhill, Hastings and Eastbourne and became fishermen and fishmongers. These families ultimately spread out along the coast between Hastings and Seaford with some venturing inland to Lewes and as far as Steyning.

  2. Another branch moved further inland to Dallington and Burwash before making their way to Lewes, Hamsey and also Steyning.

If looking for particular names in the descendants chart I suggest using the CTRL-F to open a search box as the chart is very large. Also, in the descendants chart you can double-click on individuals to read more information about them.

Another major resource for Breach/Breech researchers is Alison Vainlo's blog, particularly for those associated with the Eastbourne group.  

Isolated Families

The following descendant charts are for families which I have not been able to connect to the main trees due to lack of information. Any help you can offer to sort these out will be much appreciated.

The Breecher surname variant

In the 1500s and 1600s there are a number of families in East Sussex with the surname BREECHER/BREACHER/BRECHER/BRITCHER. It is not a surname that lasts and in the Sussex Marriage Index there are only two marriages involving this surname after 1700. The surname may have simply died out, or it may have gradually became "BREACH", although I haven't seen any evidence for this yet. There were a group of wills for these BREECHERs allowing a small tree to be put together. The tree is given below:

General Observations and Notes

  1. The village of Herstmonceux was one of the earliest centres (c1550) for the Breachs and led to a clan developing in the Dallington, Ashburnham and Burwash area. The wills of Thomas Breach of Herstmonceux (1620), his son and daughter-in-law Thomas (1619) and Dorothy Breach (1620) of Dallington, and grandson John Breach, cordwainer of Burwash (1684) greatly assisted in putting these families together. There would also appear to be further documents at the ESRO to be investigated here. The earliest parish register entry is the baptism of Joan Brech[sic] in 1543 at Herstmonseux and the earliest wills are 1580 (John Breache of Ashburnham) and 1599 (Joane Breache of Warbleton).

  2. One of the children from Herstmonceux, Thomas Breach (1637-1709), married Clemence Fryar at Eastbourne in 1661 and started a large family there. Many of the East Sussex Breachs trace their roots back to this Eastbourne family.  Their descendants spread in both directions along the coast to Hastings and towards Seaford where they populated placed such as Piddinghoe, Litlington, West Dean, etc. Some also moved inland to Lewes and Hamsey.

  3. A strong Breach presence in the Piddinghoe, Litlington, Alfriston, West Dean and East Dean parishes existed from the late 1600s through the 1700s and later. This group has a clear connection to the earliest Eastbourne family. Wills exist for Nicholas Breche of East Dean (1760) and his wife Mary Breach of Buxted (1765). The will of Elizabeth BEAN (1772)  reveals an interesting connection to Ann BREACH (1737-1770) and her three illegitimate children.

  4. The Breach families at Hastings are dominated by the descendants of John Breach (1751-1822) and Elizabeth Cogger Eldridge (c1846-1832). John left a will as did his son William (1775-1855).

  5. The neighbouring parishes of Lewes, Hamsey and Little Horsted became a melting pot for Breachs from all areas in East Sussex. A removal order for the three children of widower John Breach (1698-?) to relocate from Burwash to Lewes St Michael documents the move there in 1738 followed by apprenticeships arranged for the children. Other Breach families at Hamsey in the later 1700s clearly come from the Eastbourne families but there remain some problems in proving some of the connections (see isolated families above).

  6. The Breach families at Steyning first appear in the baptism register in 1791, so relatively late arrivals. The first family there is Benjamin and Joanna Breach and they came from Hamsey, near Lewes. Most of their children stayed at Steyning and one in particular, Benjamin (1797-1846), seems to have had a hard life being married three times and being issued with removal orders from Steyning back to Lewes (St John sub Castro) in 1826 and 1831. 
    A second Breach family settled at Steyning when John Breach (also of Hamsey) married Sarah Banfield of Steyning in 1803. They seem to have had a better life with one of their sons becoming Superintendant of Police at Hove.