Distribution of Sharmans in the United Kingdom

Using the phone books

You can get a pretty good idea of the distribution of Sharman families in the UK by counting the number of residential entries in the local phone books and plotting the results on a map. It's not a perfect technique, I grant you.


  1. This technique supposes that there is no geographical bias in the numbers of Sharmans who do not have a phone - but I can't think why there might be.
  2. It oversamples those that do have a phone, because the areas covered by adjacent phone books overlap, and people in the overlap zone are recorded once in each area.
The following discussion ignores these biases.

Hearts of oak: eastern England is our birthplace

Without any doubt, Sharman is a solidly English species, endemic to East Anglia and the east Midlands. There is a simple way of looking at this distribution: a quarter of British Sharmans live within 50 miles of Nottingham, while three in ten live within 50 miles of Newmarket. Another 16% come from Greater London, Sussex and Kent.

Roundheads, not Cavaliers

It is without doubt only by coincidence that present-day Sharman families concentrate in those English counties that formed the Parliamentary Eastern Association during the English Civil War of 1638-1651.

Looking to live near a Sharman?

Absolute numbers might reflect nothing more than the general population distribution; it is therefore interesting to look at the number of Sharman entries relative to the total number of entries in each phone book, which tells us how probable it is that your neighbour is a Sharman.

If you want a Sharman as a neighbour (and who wouldn't?), then move to the area covered by the Kettering phone book, where 84 people in every 100 000 are called Sharman, or into the area of south Lincolnshire near Spalding (72) lying between Kettering and the Wash, or to nearby Leicester (54). Another high concentration of Sharman families can be found in Ipswich (81) and to the north of this city in the eastern reaches of Norfolk (55).

Lesser densities also available

Outside these Sharman heartlands, you will still find Sharmans in reasonable density (between 30 and 50 in every 100 000) in the triangle formed by Colchester, Stratford on Avon and Barnsley in Yorkshire.

In this triangle you are rather more likely to find a nearby Sharman in Northampton (46), Peterborough (44) , Bedford or Banbury (42 each) than in Cambridge (38), which nevertheless enjoys a high quality of life.

Hitchin, Barnsley, Sheffield and Colchester (about 33 or 34 each) are slightly more sharmanesque than Mansfield, Bury St Edmonds, Coventry, or Stratford on Avon (around 30).

If for some unfathomable reason you want a Sharman-free zone, simply move somewhere in the British Isles as far from East Anglia as possible.

Fumbling for foundations

What might account for this distribution? The bulk of present-day Sharmans live to the east of Caird's Line, which is to say that they live in the eastern grazing and dairy lands rather than in the chief grain districts of England.

Wool again

The concentration in the east coincides well with one of the main areas of England where woollen cloth was produced in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. In the 18th century East Anglia became less important as a major centre of England's wool cloth production, while the area round Manchester became steadily more important. Perhaps some of the shearmen followed their trade to the north west in an economic migration that proved permanent.

Brownian motion

Through the centuries a few Sharman males have presumably left home for destinations chosen for reasons of their own, and founded families in other parts of the British Isles, and overseas. This migration probably accounts for the smatter of Sharmans all over England - notably in Cornwall, southern Devon and Somerset - and in northern England and Scotland.

We are not alone

What of our cousins the Shearmans and Shermans? If you live in North America, I bet you thought Shermans were more common than Sharmans. Not so. For every 10 British Sharmans there are only 3 or 4 Shermans and 2 Shearmans. Other variants such as Sharmon, Shermon, Shereman and Sheerman are yet far more rare.

Sherman distribution

If Sharmans snuggle close to the fens, Shermans inhabit the home counties. Ipswich (36 in every 100 000), which lies just outside the northern tip of this triangle, has the single greatest concentration of Shermans, just as it has a particularly high concentration of Sharmans.

Once outside Ipswich, the highest concentration of Shermans (at around 20 to 40 for every 100 000) in the British Isles is found broadly in the triangle enclosed between Bury St Edmunds, Swidon and Worthing. Lying within or on the edges of this triangle are Cambridge, Bedford, Swindon, Salisbury, Southampton, Worthing and south-west Essex and London (all with about 25).

Curiously, within this triangle lies an area from Luton in the north to Reading in the south where Shermans are less common than in surrounding lands. There is a third Sherman colony around Salisbury, Aylesbury, Southampton and Winchester (about 18), and a fourth isolated group near Blackpool in south-west Lancashire.

Thus Shermans and Sharmans seem rather to avoid one another except in Ipswich.

Shearman distribution

Shearman families are never sufficiently common to allow us to plot a convincing distribution, with only two areas (Chelmsford and Wakefield) having more than 10 Shearman phone numbers for every 100 000 of the population. If pattern can be detected, it is that Shearman and Sherman share similar habitats in the southeast, but Shearman also appears in Lincolnshire where Shermans are uncommon.

Martin's Exclusion by Diction Principle

I wonder whether this disjunct distribution, with Sharmans excluding both Shearmans and Shermans, is not a consequence of local pronunciation, rather than anything more profound.

From the beginning of the 12th until the middle of the 15th century, people in England spoke a language now known as Middle English. This language was not as homogenous as modern English, and scholars recognise 5 major dialects - Northern (spoken north of the Humber), West Midland (spoken north of the Severn and south of the Humber, to the west of present-day Birmingham), East Midland (Lincolnshire, East Anglia, Oxfordshire north of the Thames, and London), Southern (south west of the Thames), and Kentish (south east of London).

The distribution of modern-day Sharmans coincides remarkably well with the distribution of the East Midland dialect. Shermans, by contrast, mostly live today where the Southern dialect was spoken when the wool-trade was at its most important.
Information on the dialects of Middle English from: David Crystal (1988) "The English Language" Penguin Books ISBN 0-14-013532-4

England's geography and the Sharman:Sherman ratio in the New World

At the time of England's first great overseas adventures, East Anglia had few good ports. Those it had - especially Ipswich and Yarmouth - faced the North Sea, where trade with Flanders and the rich Hanseatic League was best carried out with ships designed to ply those choppy shallow waters.

By contrast, Southern England had many excellent deep-water ports, including Portsmouth, Southampton and Bristol. Ships built here were first designed to trade across the Bay of Biscay, whose notorious storms and huge waves taught ship builders the skills that they would later use to exploit their easy access to the wide Atlantic. The expeditions and convoys from England to North America usually put to sea from these southwestern ports.

Quite naturally, the sailors and passengers on these ships came for the most part from the port towns and neighbouring farms and villages. Local Shermans would have left these hinterlands to set sail for a new life over the ocean, where they and their descendants helped to colonise North America - especially the southern states of what is now the USA. The West Country origins of these southern colonists can still be detected today in the accents of the south, and most famously in the Tidewater accents in the Chesapeake Bay.

The main exception to this general rule of south-west English origins is that of the most celebrated of the emigrations. The Pilgrim Fathers and succeeding Puritan migrants came mainly from East Anglia. Their speech patterns have left remnants in the Boston accent, and some aspects of the accents of US states bordering Canada.

If this emigration hypothesis is correct, then most of the Sharmans in North America probably live today in Canada and in the US states that border Canada, while Shermans probably live mostly in the southern states and the heartlands of the USA.

Site maintained by: Martin John Sharman
Revised: Sunday, 18 April, 1999