Some years ago, early in the year 1941, there died at Cosby, a few miles to the south-west of Leicester, Mrs. Helen Elizabeth Armston in her 94th year, widow of Mr. William Armston, "whose Ancestors,' we are told, 'had lived in the village for hundreds of years". There is a family tradition that members of the family were persecuted for their loyalty to Charles I, and that one of them fled to Whetstone Grose where he was fed by loyal townsfolk from Leicester.
The Armstons have indeed lived in Cosby, and farmed land there, for many hundreds of years. In the hearth tax return dated 1666 we find "John Armson" paying on five hearths, one of the largest houses in the village. A hundred and forty years before that, the tax list of 1525 includes "Richard Ormeson". This Richard Ormeson or Ormeston, as he is indifferently called, occupied in 1544 lands in Cosby that had belonged to the preceptory of Dalby, but the family probably had lands on their own as well.
Now the name "Ormeson" means "the son of Orm", and Orm is a pure Danish Personal name, so that once again we have a Leicestershire Yeoman family with a descent which, though it cannot be proved step by step, goes back ultimately more than a thousand years to the latter part of the ninth century, a descent beside which as often-boasted Norman lineage is but a poor thing.
Although the name Ormeson does not appear at Cosby in the tax list of 1327 such lists are notoriously incomplete; in some villages a third or perhaps even a half of the inhabitants escaped the levy, and not always the poorest families. We have indeed evidence that the family were there at an earlier date, for Nichols prints a record dated 1249 wherein William Burdett recovers possession of one acre of meadow in Cosby against William Lewine, Martin de Thorp, Robert de Paumer, William Warin, Reginald Strick, Martin Kadmer, Ralph Lawless, Ralph "le Cupera", Emma Warin, Robert Orm (misprinted in Nichols as Oren), Walter Neucomin, and William "Carectarum".
This Robert Orm of Cosby got his name in the same way as Richard Randolf of Wigston who was alive at the same time: he was descended from some man named Orm just as Richard Randolf was descended form Rannulf. And Orm, as I have said, is a pure Danish name. Since Robert Orm in 1249 was in all probability a free tenant (to be involved in a suit of this kind) it seems pretty certain he was lineally descended from a Dane of the ninth century who had first been given land in Cosby. Incidentally, when the Domesday Book was compiled in 1086, every household in the principal manor of Cosby was free. There were twenty-six sokemen, and not a single villein or serf, a remarkable example of a free community of Danish origin surviving intact two hundred years after the Scandinavian Conquest. We cam say of the Armstons of Cosby, then, that they were very probably there when the Domesday Book was written, and two hundred years before that.
The name John was a favorite with the Armstons for generations. In Nichols' day there were inscriptions in Cosby churchyard to a whole series of them, beginning with John Armston, who died in 1633. His son John died in 1654, aged 69; his son John died in 1696, aged 76; his son John died in 1699, age 50; his son John died in 1768, aged 80; his son John died in 1778, aged 58; and his son John died in 1792, aged 41- seven generations of them one after another. The name goes further back than that, for another John Ormston died at Cosby in 1558. In 1846 John Armston still owned and farmed land there, and to this day the family remains at Cosby.
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