“What’s in a name” William Shakespeare’
It’s not by chance that Kim & Whit Hanks are so enamoured with this part of Wiltshire. Malmesbury has played a significant role in their family history, the origins of their family name can even be linked to the town pre-1500s.
In Malmesbury during the Middle Ages lived a family that bore a highly unusual surname: ‘Hand-Seax’. The word ‘Hand-Seax’ is very ancient. It was the Old English word for a short sword or dagger used for fighting and self-defence and literally, it means it means ‘Hand-Sword’. The second component- ‘Seax’- was the word for ‘sword’ used by the Anglo-Saxon peoples who invaded Britain in the period between 400-600. The word ‘Saxon’ itself is thought to mean ‘the people of the Seax’, because these tribal groups were famous for their distinctive short swords.
This is a replica of an Anglo-Saxon ‘hand-seax’. The original is in the British Museum. It is inscribed with runic letters. The ancestors of the Malmesbury Hanks family were, in all probability, manufacturers of weaponry such as this.
”Sir Richard Luce, a distinguished local historian and retired general, whose history of Malmesbury was published posthumously in 1979, articulated a theory that over time the Hand-Seax family became known as the Hanks family. This seems entirely plausible. Certainly, the Hand-Seax surname was very common before 1500 but then disappears from the record, while at the same time, the Hanks family came to prominence in contemporary documents from 1500 onwards.
In terms of the origin of the Malmesbury surname, the most likely explanation is that an ancestor of the town’s Hanks family was a skilled metal worker, well-known for manufacturing the ‘Hand-Seax’. Since crafts were often passed down from father to son, the ‘Hand-Seax’ family may have operated as manufacturers of bladed weaponry over several generations” claims local historian Tony McAleavy.
Various members of the Hand-Seax/ Hanks family have been traced in historic archives and they played a prominent part in the life of the town during the medieval period.
One such character was Henry Hanks (the same name coincidentally as Whit’s grandson!), after whom one of our hotel rooms is named. Henry Hanks leased property from Malmesbury Manor in the early 18th century including the lease on the fields surrounding Daniel’s Well near the Old Bell.
After the purchase of The Old Bell Hotel in 2021 a surprising discovery was made when title deeds surfaced revealing that members of the Hanks family - and Whit’s distant relatives, owned part of the Hotel over 150 years earlier.
Kim said, “We didn’t know that the Hanks family used to own part of the hotel and lived here. It is an amazing coincidence. Whit and I are so excited and fortunate to have the opportunity to bring our Whim Hospitality brand of welcoming hospitality to both these outstanding historic properties in the wonderful town of Malmesbury, home of our Hanks family ancestors.” Whit commented, “I have a grandson in America whose name is Henry Hanks and I love the fact that his distant English relative, with the same name, had his home here at the Bell all those years ago.”