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Otter/Ottilar Family History

Langton Herring/Portland, Dorset

Although the Otters are one of the main Portland families, they were relatively recent arrivals on the island. Not only that but the original version of the name was Ottilar.

The family was living in Langton Herring, a small village a few miles to the west of the mainland end of Chesil Beach, although some were also in Abbotsbury. Unfortunately the parish registers do not survive prior to 1681 so going back further is a bit tricky, that’s not to say that there may be something in the manorial records. Any way the earliest Ottilars are I’ve found is Philippa and John Ottilar. John would have been born in the 1680s. There was a John Otter born in Bishops Caundle on the northern edge of Dorset in 1689, but I have no reason to suppose they are the same.

John and Philippa had eight children; the first born in 1709 named John after his father and the last in 1719/20 (calendar changes) this being Henry. The family appears to have farmed, and are listed on the Rent Accounts for the Manor of Langton Herring. The earliest surviving, dating to 1726/27, records:

"John Ottilar and Christopher Boyte for their quit rent for 2/3 of the ffarm for a half a year from Michaelmas 1726 to Lady Day 1727 £10 13s 4d." John also paid copyhold rent of 71shillings for this and subsequent years. On John's death in 1730 Philippa continued to pay the rent. A Thomas Ottiler is also listed; this may be John's brother. Philippa Ottilar died in 1748. The Ottilar family is still recorded as tenants in the Langton Herring Enclosure Award of 1761, apparently owning 60 sheep, 8 cows and 2 horses. By the 1851 census, however, the family had gone.

By 1741 Henry Ottilar had married Mary Elliot. She a small landowner on Portland and he moved over to join her. So this was the first of the Portland Otters (please note all present and past Portland Otters are therefore related!). They had nine children, curiously, with the exception of Owen, every one was named after the eight children of John and Philippa Ottilar. In 1749/50, Henry Ottilar is recorded in the Manorial Rolls as a Collector of Rents, (P.R.0) and in 1756 and 1761 sat as a Juryman on the Court Leet .

References to his land in Weston are frequently made in the 1750's, along with sales of land by Henry and Mary in 1760, for the sums of £100 and £80. Mary died in 1783, her death being recorded thus in the Court Leet Presentment on 15 October of that year:

"We present Mary Ottoler Late deceased and we doe Appoint one Moyetey of a Dwelling
House in the Villidge of Weston for a Relieffe due to his Majesty 2s.6d."

Henry (who by now had become an Otter) subsequently married Elizabeth Hardy, also a widow, in 1786. The family line was carried on by his son, Henry Otter born 1757 who married to Katherine Allen in 1786. They had five children all using the same forenames as John and Philippa Ottilar's children. It was the fifth son, William, born in 1791, who carried on the line. William married Ann Winter in 1810 and broke with tradition by giving five of his seven children different names, although Henry and William were retained. In 1822 William was fined for " not keeping his Fence up next the Corn Field" and in 1828 the Court Leet recorded:

"On the 30th the Jury went on the hill and under the hill to see what encroachments there were on the parish land and to throw down Houses and Walls when people would not pay what they were charged. Began to throw down William Otter’s on Yeates but he paid". The Tithe Map of Portland, dated 1839, revealed a huge amount of land owned and/or occupied by William Otter, which totaled 11 acres, l rood and 32 perches, with a tithe of £2 4s. 4d. He also shared some land: 11 acres, 3 roods and 14 perches, with a tithe of 3s. 6d. Some of the plots of land had curious names, such as Suckthumb and Shaggers Lawns.

William Otter died in 1857 and left a fairly substantial will. Both his and his son Henry's occupations are given as quarrymen.

This time the line was carried on by Hiram Otter, the youngest son born in 1834 and who married Caroline Alice (surname unknown). Hiram was best known for his involvement with the Salvation Army, being one of the first recruits in Portland in 1888. Stuart Morris describes him as "a quarryman of immense build and strength, whose tales of Portland folk lore held listeners spellbound. He became renowned for daubing biblical scripts on rocks alongside a pathway which he made, almost single-handed through the rough West Weares, to a cove which he christened Hallelujah Bay". N.B. Family tradition has it that the bay was so named because Hiram walked along the shore shouting 'Hallelujah ‘ whilst castigating those disporting themselves on the beach'. The name by the way lives on.

"Old Hiram died in 1913, leaving Portland poorer without his rich folklore, red Salvation Army hat and umbrella, and greetings such as 'seen the first wheatear (a mouse) today?' "

The line was this time carried on by a female, Anne Otter 'the Belle of Portland', born 1860, the eldest child of Hiram and Caroline Alice. Her son, Percy Clarence was born illegitimate (was her epithet not necessarily a term of endearment!) although Anne later married and became a Stone. Percy married another Annie.

The Otters entry into the 20th Century was certainly not uneventful. The family tree is next taken forward by Charles Ernest Otter (granddad), born 1912 and the son of Percy Clarence and Annie. Charles Ernest married Irene May Smale and had three children, Geoffrey, Shirley (my mum) and Christopher, thus bringing the family tree up to date and nearly at an end. Charles Ernest met an untimely death on 4 July 1940 aged 32 when he was killed in a bombing raid over Castletown, along with nine other civilians. The story goes that when the allclear sounded he emerged from the shelter, he was virtually deaf and when some one shouted look out one’s coming back, well the last anyone ever saw of him, was him shouting ‘pardon’! Irene May later re-married Reg Jackson and had a daughter, Veronica, who remains on the Island today along with Chris who moved back there a few years ago.

Other Otters of note are Richard Otter, grandson of Henry Otter who was Hiram’s brother. At 39 he was returning to America as a second class passenger on the Titanic. Had he been a first class passenger, he might have survived! He left a wife and child in America. He is included on his parents: William and Mary Otter’s, gravestone in St George’s churchyard. Also there is also Robert Henry Otter, who is quoted on his parents gravestone as ‘died as a prisoner of war’. Apparently he was on a Japanese ship being used with other allied prisoners as a ‘human shield’. The ship was sunk nevertheless. Robert was mum’s uncle (brother of Charles Ernest).