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There are many who would like to believe that the Hollyers came to Britain with the Norman Conquest or with the Huguenots alongside William of Orange. What do we know of immigration into Britain?
It is quite possible that some Hollyers descend from the Norman French who came over with the 1066 conquest and there is some support for this. But they wouldn't originally have had hereditary surnames as we know them now. By the 14th century, we find some people called 'de Holyer' or 'le Holyer' which suggests a connection with the French speaking ruling classes.
Many Hollyers believe the family is connected with Huguenot immigrants, but I have yet to find any hard evidence to support this. This assertion was first made by William Dodgson Bowman in his 1931 publication The Story of Surnames. I believe that some genealogy firms selling 'instant family histories' repeat this story and make a link to the Huguenot Isaac D'Olier. Isaac's family originated in France, fled to Holland and then followed William of Orange over to Ireland, so is an unlikely candidate for a Hollyer ancestor. The D'Olier family flourished in Dublin and to this day there is a D'Olier Street in central Dublin. Even as late as the 19th century, this family retained the name spelling D'Olier.
However, many Hollyers in the Coventry family were silk merchants and we do know that there were Flemish weavers and Huguenots in the silk and ribbon trade in the city. But since we know that Holliers existed in the Coventry area from earlier times, it might just point to there being a Huguenot family that anglicised their name to Hollyer. However this is entirely speculative and on the whole, I remain unconvinced about the Huguenot connection.
If the earliest Holliers were not Huguenots, there is nevertheless plenty of evidence that the Hollier name is a French one. We have come across several citations to publications by Holliers from France, between the 16th and 20th centuries. There are some 75 Holliers in the French IGI. In the mid 1700s, three brothers from Nantes, who were in the French Navy, settled in Louisiana and stayed on even when it became a Spanish colony. Two of these brothers (Luc Claude and Jacques Noel Hollier) are the ancestors of the large group of Holliers still in Louisiana and nearby southern states. The families originate from Opelousas and St Martinville in Louisiana and for several generations maintained their French names and language. More on this.
Aside from the Hollyers mentioned in previous pages, there is what seems to be a separate family of Hulyers and Hullyers, some of whom seem to have had their names recorded as Holyer or Hollier.
The Hulyer family were Dutch folk who came over to Cambridgeshire in the late 17th century to exploit their skills in dyke building as part of the major project to drain and irrigate the fenland between Ely and the Wash. Many stayed in Cambridgeshire and even as late as the 1880s, the census shows that most Hulyer/Hullyers were born and living in this county.
In the 1901 census index, there are quite a few of this Cambridgeshire group shown as using the name Hollyer, but this appears to be due to the notorious inaccuracy of transcription of this census.
So although the Holyer and Hollier spellings do occur in records, I remain of the view that these are all 'deviant' spellings and I have not found any modern day Hollyers or Holyers who descend from this family.
The 1881 and 1891 censuses for Birmingham do show a French Hollier living and working in England. At first I was doubtful if he was a Hollier as his children don't appear in the GRO birth indexes, but I later discovered that his proper name was L'Hollier. Leon L'Hollier was born in France c1847 and was a manufacturer of baskets and perambulators. This capability eventually got him involved in the early years of car making and the Brooklands Society records:
Early on the scene, too, was the Anglo-French Motor Carriage Company of Birmingham, an offshoot of a perambulator factory run by Leon L'Hollier and his business partner Gascoine. L'Hollier had been arrested on December 22, 1896 for driving an “autocar or horseless carriage” at between 5 and 6 mph without “a person on foot preceding the said locomotive”.
It is also worth mentioning that one of Leon's sons made a distinguished contribution as a pilot during the Great War, but it seems he became an immigrant to Canada and the USA:
L'HOLLIER, Lieutenant Leslie Howard - Air Force Cross - awarded as per London Gazette dated 12 July 1920. Born in Birmingham, England, 27 December 1889; educated in Britain; tobacco and cigar merchant in New York (1907-1912), Mexico (1912-1914) and Boston (1914-1916). Joined RFC in Canada, November 1916 and trained here; appears to have been retained as instructor; sailed to Britain, 14 August 1918; to Netheravon, 31 August 1918. Pioneer pilot in Handley-Page flights, Britain to Egypt to India; AFC “for services in Egypt”. Discharged 3 January 1920; later American rubber merchant.Back to top