Gemma Arterton

Gemma ArtertonCaptureGemma Arterton family tree-2Surname AtlasThis map, based on data in the 1881 census and taken from the 19th Century British Surname Atlas CD, shows that Arterton is a relatively rare surname. In 1881 there were only 40 entries for the name, 25 of them in Norfolk where Gemma Arterton’s ancestors came from.  

GEMMA ARTERTON is being tipped as the next young British actress for mega stardom in Hollywood, joining the likes of Kate Winslet and Kate Beckinsale. She has already appeared in films with top male stars like Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck, and is best known for her roles in St Trinian’s (2007), Quantum of Solace (2008), Clash of the Titans (2010), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), Hansel and Gretel: Witch HuntersByzantium, and Runner, Runner (all in 2013).

Arterton gained her first professional role in Stephen Poliakoff’s Capturing Mary while she was still at drama school and made her stage debut as Rosaline in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost at the Globe Theatre, London, in July 2007 before graduating later that year. She made her film debut in St Trinian’s as Head Girl Kelly the same year. In 2008, she appeared in the James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, with Daniel Craig, as agent Strawberry Fields, being chosen from around 1,500 candidates.

Also in 2008, she played the eponymous heroine in the BBC television adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Elizabeth Bennet in the ITV serial Lost in Austen. In 2011 Arterton was nominated twice by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts for her performances in Tamara Drewe and The Disappearance of Alice Creed, her most controversial role to date in which Arterton’s character was kidnapped and abused in several graphic scenes.

She was born as Gemma Christina Arterton in Gravesend and North Kent Hospital, Gravesend, Kent, on 2 February 1986, the daughter of Barry Arterton, a welder, and Sally-Anne Heap, a cleaner, and brought up in a council house. She was born with polydactyly (extra fingers or toes) and at her birth a doctor tied off the boneless sixth fingers to remove them. She went to Gravesend Grammar School for Girls and made her stage debut there in an amateur production of Alan Ayckbourn’s The Boy Who Fell Into a Book which was entered into a competition at a local festival where she won the best actress prize. At 16 Gemma left school to attend the Miskin Theatre School in Dartford. She then received a full grant to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She has a younger sister, Hannah, who is also an actress.

Arterton is not a very common surname but records indicate it was found principally in the county of Norfolk in eastern England. Gemma’s direct male line ancestry can be traced back at least to a pair of great great great great grandparents who were born in Norfolk in the late 1790s in the period known as the Regency era. Her forebears were mostly humble agricultural labourers working on the land, with no suggestion that a beautiful female descendant would one day become a famous actress and star.

The more recent generations of Artertons lived in the county of Kent, close to London. Gravesend, Gemma Arterton’s birth place, is a town in north-west Kent on the south bank of the River Thames. Because of its geographical position, strategic importance and historic links with the Thames Estuary, the town has always played an important role in the shipping and fishing trades.

In the references at the end of this account of Gemma’s ancestry, the abbreviation GRO refers to the births, deaths and marriages indexes of the General Register Office for England and Wales. These indexes are found online at a number of Internet websites and are, therefore, in the public domain. Used in conjunction with the UK census returns from 1841 to 1911, they enable genealogists and family historians to trace a family or individual through a number of generations, frequently back at least to 1837, the year in which civil registration began in England and Wales. The volume and page numbers are the official references to the register in which an event is found. The births, deaths and marriages are indexed in quarters, i.e. first January-March, second April-June, third July-September and fourth October-December.


Gemma’s parents, Barry J Arterton and Sally-Anne Heap, were married in August 1985 in the registration district of Gravesend, Kent1. They divorced when Gemma was only five. Barry Arterton was born in the third quarter of 1961 at Dartford, Kent2 and Sally-Anne Heap was born in the final quarter of 1962 at Worthing, Sussex3.


The parents of Barry J Arterton, Gemma’s paternal grandparents, were Arthur E Arterton and Nellie C Smith, who were married in the first quarter of 1940 at Gravesend4. Arthur Arterton was born in the first quarter of 1915 at West Ham which, though historically it’s in the county of Essex, is generally regarded as part of London’s East End5. Nellie Christina Arterton was born on 25 April 1918 at Gravesend6 and died in the second quarter of 1972 at Dartford, aged 53 or 547. It seems likely Gemma Arterton’s middle name of Christina was given for her grandmother, though she never knew her.

Great grandparents

It is with Gemma’s great grandfather, Ernest Walter R Arterton, that we find the Norfolk connection appearing in the family tree. Ernest was born on 11 December 1882 at Buxton, Norfolk, a village near the historic market town of Aylsham, north of Norwich8. Ernest Arterton joined the Royal Navy in 1899, signing on for 12 years9. He is missing from the 1901 census – presumably because he was at sea – but appears in the 1911 census as an Able Seaman, then aged 28, aboard HMS Russell, a battleship in harbour at Malta10. When he joined the navy he was described as a labourer. He married Henrietta Louisa Hall at Aylsham registration district in the second quarter of 191211. Henrietta was born at Leytonstone, Essex, on 12 May 188812. Ernest died at Eastbourne, Sussex, in the last quarter of 1956, aged 7313. Henrietta died at Eastbourne in the first quarter of 1972, aged 8314.

Great great grandparents

The parents of Ernest Walter Arterton were William Rivett Arterton and Emily Cook, who were married at Aylsham registration district in the third quarter of 187115. I have not found a precise birth date for William Arterton, but in the early years of civil registration it was not uncommon for some births not to be registered. Emily Cook was born at Buxton, Norfolk, in the final quarter of 184816.

In the census of 1891 William and Emily were living in the village of Lammas with Little Hautbois, Norfolk, with six sons and two daughters, all born between  1872 and 1891, including Ernest who was then aged eight. The parish of Lammas with Little Hautbois is close to Aylsham and on the River Bure. William Arterton was aged 42 and a maltster, born at Hautbois Magna, Norfolk, about 1848, while his wife Emily was 43, born at Buxton, Norfolk, as were all the children except the youngest, John, who was born at Lammas17. The villages of Buxton and Lammas are on opposite banks of the river. William’s death was recorded at Aylsham registration district in the third quarter of 1920, aged 7318, and Emily’s also at Aylsham in the first quarter of 1928, aged 8219.

Great great great grandparents

William Arterton’s parents were John Arterton and Charlotte Clarke who were married at Aylsham registration district in the final quarter of 184720. The FamilySearch website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) gives the precise date and place of the marriage as 2 November 1847 at the picturesquely-named village of Stratton Strawless, Norfolk21. John’s father is shown in the record as Benjamin Arterton and Charlotte’s father as John Rivett. This latter fact suggests that Charlotte was born as Charlotte Rivett and had been previously married, and presumably widowed, before she married John. I speculate whether this is where William Rivett Arterton got his somewhat unusual middle name from when he married in 1871? However, in the censuses of 1851 and 1861 William appears as William Clarke Arterton – such are the vagaries of family history research!

In the 1851 census John and Charlotte were living at Stratton Strawless with John’s father, Benjamin Arterton, aged 54, a farm labourer who was a widower born at Hevingham, Norfolk. John Arterton was 28, placing his birth about 1823, and his occupation was either a “farm man” or “team man” (the enumerator’s writing is difficult to decipher). John’s birth place was also given as Hevingham, while Charlotte was 27 and born at Stratton Strawless22. William was the couple’s only child, aged three, in this census, and his birth place too was shown as Stratton Strawless, though in subsequent censuses it was given as Hautbois – another frequent bugbear of research. However, the two villages are close together.

By the census of 1861 the family of John and Charlotte Arterton had grown to five children. They were still at Stratton Strawless with William the eldest at 13, followed by two more sons and two daughters aged from nine to 10 months23. In this census both John and William were described as agricultural labourers. John Arterton died in the first quarter of 1887, aged 6424, but Charlotte lived on for another 15 years, dying in the last quarter of 190225.

Great great great great grandparents

Benjamin Arterton was born about 1797 at Hevingham, Norfolk, going by his given age and birth place in the 1851 census. In the 1841 census he and his wife, Susan, were in Stratton Strawless with three daughters aged from 18 to eight26. Benjamin was an agricultural labourer and he and Susan were both shown as being 45, but in this, the first full census to give names and addresses, given ages were often an unreliable guide. The ages of all adults over 15 were supposed to be marked down to the nearest lower multiple of five – thus someone of 44 could be shown as 40 – and the ages of children under 15 were supposed to be given precisely. However, not all enumerators in those early days followed their instructions to the letter.

Benjamin was widowed in 1846 when his wife Susan died in the final quarter of that year27. He remarried not long after the 1851 census to Anne Doyle at Aylsham registration district28. Benjamin died in the third quarter of 1870 at Aylsham RD, aged 7429.

Finally, I discovered on the Internet a family tree for Gemma Arterton by another researcher and this claims that Benjamin Arterton married at Marsham, Norfolk, about 1819 to Susan Digby, who was born about 1796. This account takes the Arterton male line pedigree back two further generations to a John Arterton, born about 1750, who married Margaret Hastings, and through their son, another John born about 177530.

I have not so far been able to check for myself the accuracy of this pedigree, but it seems to be well documented. I did find in the International Genealogical Index at the previously mentioned FamilySearch website a marriage for John Arterton and Margaret Hastings on 12 October 1772 at Marsham31. However, this record appears under the “Contributed IGI” heading, meaning it was a private submission by a member of the LDS Church and, therefore, not as reliable as the “Indexed IGI” entries which were extracted either from the parish registers or Bishop’s Transcripts. Fellow genealogists will understand what I mean by this!

However, IF the record is accurate, then it would appear that John Arterton and Margaret Hastings were the six-times great grandparents of Gemma Arterton.


  • 1   GRO marriage indexes, vol 16 page 1071
  • 2  GRO birth indexes, vol 5b page 611
  • 3   GRO birth indexes, vol 5h page 610
  • 4   GROmarriage indexes, vol 2a page 2929
  • 5   GRO birth indexes, vol 41 page 106
  • 6   GRO birth indexes, 2a page 1028
  • 7   GRO death indexes, vol 5f page 748
  • 8   GRO birth indexes, vol 4b 94
  • 9
  • 10 1911 census  RG14PN34973 RD640 SD4 ED3 SN9999
  • 11 GRO marriage indexes, vol 4b page 165
  • 12 GRO birth indexes, vol 4a page 242
  • 13 GRO death indexes, vol 5h page 227
  • 14 GRO death indexes, vol 5h page 950
  • 15 GRO marriage indexes, vol 4b page 127
  • 16 GRO birth indexes, vol 13 page 4
  • 17 1891 census, RG12 piece 1515 folio 38 page 6
  • 18 GRO death indexes, vol 4b page 84
  • 19 GRO death indexes, vol 4b page 107
  • 20 GRO marriage indexes, vol 13 page 45
  • 21
  • 22 1851 census, HO107 piece 1810 folio 686 page 8
  • 23 1861 census, RG09 piece 1207 folio 127 page 5
  • 24 GRO death indexes, vol 4b page 61
  • 25 GRO death indexes, vol 4b page 54
  • 26 1841 census, HO107 piece 762 folio 3 page 1
  • 27 GRO death indexes, vol 13 page 4
  • 28 GRO marriage indexes, vol 13 page 41
  • 29 GRO death indexes, vol 4b page 50
  • 30
  • 31

* The British Surname Atlas is produced by Archer Software,