Selected Surnames of North East England
ARMSTRONG a Border Reiver name
The name Armstrong, so numerous in the north of England is
found throughout the English speaking world and will be forever famous
as the surname of the first man on the moon. Neil Armstrong was very
probably descended from the Armstrong clan which inhabited the Border
country between England and Scotland in Elizabethan times. Armstongs
were Border Reivers,
murderous livestock thieves who inhabited both sides of the border in
the days before England and Scotland were united under one monarch.
Famous Border Armstrongs included Kinmont Willie and Jock O' the Side,
who are commemorated in border ballads and folklore. Armstongs are
mentioned as early as the thirtennth century and are thought to have
originated from Cumbria, although one theory traces their family
origins back to Siward Beorn, an Anglo-Viking earl of Northumberland.
The best known story relating to the origin of the Armstong family name
claims descent from a man called Fairbairn, an armour bearer to a
Scottish king. Legend claims that when the King's horse was killed
during a battle, Fairbairn lifted the king onto his horse by the thigh
using only one arm. Fairbairn was awarded lands in Liddesdale for
saving the king's life and from that day on Fairbairn and his
descendants were known as Armstrong.
See Lord William Armstrong, Tommy Armstrong.
The surname Belasis derives from the historic manor of Belasis near Billingham, which was a seat of the Belasis, Lambton and Eden families. Belasis is a Norman-French name meaning beautiful seat and it is likely that the surname came about shortly after the place was named. Rowland de Belasis, identified by his place of origin was the first holder of the surname and was a Knight of the Bishop of Durham who lived at nearby Cowpen Bewley around 1264. Later Belasis passed into the hands of Durham Cathedral, but the Belasis family continued their association with the area. Between 1270 and 1280, a John De Belasis held land around Wolviston and there is a tradition that he exchanged part of Belasis for territory at Henknowle near Bishop Auckland. The arms of the Belasis family in the church of St Andrews Auckland at South Church were said to be inscribed with the words 'Johnny Belasis daft was thy poll, when thou exchanged Belasis for Henknowell'. The most famous member of the Belasis family was Miss Mary Belasis of Brancepeth Castle near Durham who lived in the eighteenth century and fell in love with one Bobby Shafto, a County Durham MP. She is said to have sung the words 'he'll come back and marry me', but he returned from sea to marry someone else. She died of a broken heart. The Belasis family also had strong connections with Coxwold near Thirsk, Yorkshire.
BELL a Border Reiver name
The surname Bell is very numerous in Northumberland and Durham and is also found in big numbers in Yorkshire and Scotland. During the Border troubles between England and Scotland it was a border reiver name, a sheep rustling family like the Armstrongs, Robsons, Grahams and Charltons. British Surnames fall into four categories of origin, those derived from first names, descriptive nicknames, occupational names and surnames derived from localities or places of residence. Bell is unusual because it can fit all four categories and it is probable that not all Bells share a common ancestor. As a surname derived from a first name Bell could be a pet form of Isabel and this was probably the case of Osbertus filius Bell recorded in Yorkshire in 1297. Hugo Bel recorded in Hampshire in 1148 is thought to have a descriptive nickname taken from the Old French 'Belle', meaning beautiful, fair or handsome but Seaman Belle of London in 1181 and Serlo Belle of Yorkshire in 1190 are thought to derive their names from the occupation of bellringing. This meaning has also given rise to the surnames Bellars, Bellers and Bellringer. Some early Bells took their name from their place of residence, and this was almost certainly the case of Robert de la Belle of Staffordshire in 1222 and London's John atte Belle in 1332. These Bells or one of their earlier ancestors lived near a church or town bell, or perhaps near the sign of a bell. The surname Bellas is similar, derving from Bell-Hus, someone who lived near a Bell House. Bell-like names deriving from places include Bellingham, from the village in Northumberland and Bellerby from the village in North Yorkshire. Today the Bells, Bels, Belles, atte Belles and De la Belles of old are now all called Bell, making it difficult to know the exact origin of each individual.
Blenkinsopp the surname derives from Blenkinsopp Castle in the Tyne valley near Haltwhistle. The name of the castle means Blenkin's Hope, situated in the 'hope' or valley that once belonged to Blenkin. According to legend the most famous Blenkinsop was Bryan Blenkinsopp who lived at Blenkinsopp Castle sometime in the distant past. As a young man Bryan boasted that he would not marry until he met a lady possesing a chest of gold heavier than ten of his strongest men could carry. Later in life his wishes were fulfilled when he met with a wealthy lady while fighting in the Crusades. Bryan brought her back to England where they were married. When the new bride learned of her husband's youthful boasts, she was concerned that Bryan had only married her for her wealth, and secretly hid her treasure chest in the grounds of the castle. Bitter, heartbroken and humiliated by his bride's lack of trust, Bryan mysteriously left his wife and castle and was never to return again. The Lady came to regret her actions, but despite her efforts, her husband could not be traced. She died a lonely and remorseful woman. It is said that her ghost may occasionally be seen haunting the grounds of the ruined castle where she waits, ready to guide the way to the spot where her chest of treasure is hidden. Some believe that the spirit will not lay to rest until the treasure is discovered and removed. Of course it is just possible that Bryan had taken the treasure with him.
The Christian name Bruce, as in G'day Bruce, is strongly associated with Australia, but it derives from Bruce the surname, which is of Norman French origin. The surname Bruce was originally De Brus and means 'of Brus' or Briouze, a place in France. The De Bruses came to England in Norman times, although they are thought to have arrived here in the late eleventh century a number of years after King William's Conquest of 1066. A great number of the early Bruses were called Robert De Brus and were very important landowners in the Hartlepool and Guisborough areas where they established the priory. The Brus wealth was great, but they were expected to earn it by defending England from the Scots. This they certainly did, and at the Battle of the Standard near Northallerton in 1138 a Robert De Brus fought against the Scots. Robert's involvement was ironic as he was a personal friend of David, the King of Scotland and owned substantial tracts of land in the Scottish valley of Annandale. In later years Bruce family territories in Yorkshire and Scotland were divided between two separate branches of the Bruce family, while 'piggy in the middle' Hartlepool was held first as part of the Yorkshire territory and then given to the Scottish Bruces in 1200. The most famous member of the Scottish line of Bruces was of course Robert the Bruce King of Scotland (1274-1329). According to legend this Robert took refuge in a Scottish cave after a defeat in battle, where a persisent spider mending its web, taught him never to give up in the face of adversity.
The Bulmer family take their name from Bulmer to the north of York near Sheriff Hutton in North Yorkshire. Bulmer, the place means Bull's mere, a lake frequented by a bull. Other places called Bulmer in England include Bulmer in Essex and Boulmer in Northumberland, which has the same meaning. Ansketil de Bulmer was the first recorded member of the Bulmer family who lived in the area in the twelfth century. Ansketil was the High Sheriff of the North Riding of Yorkshire, which acounts for the name of neighbouring Sheriff Hutton. Bulmer, the surname is the subject of much discussion as it is believed that they were an aristocratic family of Anglo-Saxon origin who retained their status after the invasion of the Normans. It is believed that the Bulmers were related to the Anglo-Saxon noble Liulf, who was the first member of the Lumley family. Liulf was murdered at Gateshead by the retainers of the first Norman Bishop of Durham called William Walcher in 1081. The Bulmers are thought to have continued as tenants of the Normans who inherited Liulf's land in Yorkshire. Sometime in the twelfth century Ansketil Nulmer is said to have married the daughter of the Lord of Brancepeth and their son Bertram Bulmer, who succeeded him as High Sheriff inherited this property. Later the Bulmers intermarried with the powerful Norman family called the Nevilles, who adopted the Bull's for their coat of arms and inherited Brancepeth Castle. Raby Castle, the other great Neville property may also have belonged to the Bulmers as the oldest part of the castle, the Saxon Bulmer tower is inscribed with the initials BB for Bertram Bulmer.
Burdon was listed by the Victorian surname researcher Henry Guppy as a County Durham name. Guppy collected names of yeoman farmers who were present in the county over a number of generations. Guppy's County Durham names included Pease, Proud, Bruce, Wearmouth, Eggleston, Heppell, Surtees and Burdon. It is highly likely that the last of these surnames originates from the place called Great Burdon near Darlington. The ancient place name means the great fort hill, but the surname first appears in 1486 when Thomas Burdon 'took two oxgangs of land' in Stockton on Tees. For generations the Burdons continued their association with Stockton, a number becoming mayors of the town, including Robert Burdon who was the first mayor in 1495, William Burdon the mayor in 1621, and James Burdon in 1683. A certain Rowland Burdon was mayor of Stockton in 1641, 1644, 1650, 1651, 1652 and 1654. In the eigteenth century the Burdons were closely associated with Castle Eden in eastern Durham, where they purchased the manor in 1758. One owner of Castle Eden called Rowland Burdon(1756-1838) was an MP for County Durham from 1790 to 1806 and was the mayor of Stockton in 1793 and 1794. He was the great-grandson of the Rowland Burdon who had dominated Stockton's civic affairs in the seventeenth century.
CARR a Border Reiver name
The surname Carr occurs in four forms, namely Carr, Kerr, Ker and Carre. Pronuciations of the name include 'Care', 'Car' and 'Cur'. All forms of the name derive from an old Viking word ciarr, meaning marshy or rough boggy country. In place names, the word Carr is found throughout the Viking settled areas of the north where examples include Bradbury and Preston Carrs near Sedgefield. The surname in all its forms is found throughout the country. It is not known which marshy area the surname came from, but it is probable that someone was identified in early times as originating 'from the marshy land'. As a surname Carrs and Kerrs are commonest in Scotland and the north of England where they were once a notorious border reiving clan. Like most border folk of the Elizabethan period, the Kerrs and Carrs lived in fortified houses called pele towers. Pele towers were virtually impregnable stone built tower houses with walls three to four feet thick. The peles had two or three upper storeys accessed by a narrow spiral staircase, which in most cases ran upwards in a clockwise direction. This gave an advantage to right handed swordsmen defending their peles. The Carrs were different, they were noted for being left handed, so their stairs ran in an anti-clockwise direction.
CHARLTON a Border Reiver name
Charlton, the surname derives from Charlton, the place name which means the farm belonging to a churl - a peasant or person of low birth. It is from churl that we get the word churlish meaning ill bred. Several places called Charlton can be found in England but the surname is so closely associated with Northumberland that the hamlet of Charlton near Bellingham in North Tynedale would seem to be the most likely place of origin for the surname. In the Elizabethan days of Border Raiding, the Charlton clan were active in North Tynedale and carried out sheep and cattle thieving forays throughout the north. Their favourite victim was the Scott family of Buccleugh near Hawick in Scotland. Hesleyside Hall near Bellingham was the seat of the Charltons and is the subject of a Northumbrian tune called 'The Hesleyside Reel'. Visitors to the National Trust's Wallington Hall near Morpeth can see a huge frescoe depicting the Charlton family assembled for lunch at Hesleyside. The Lady of the house has brought in a salver and dish for her hungry family but the salver has been lifted to reveal an empty dish, empty that is except for a riding spur. It was a great tradition of the Charlton family that when the larder was empty the spur would be presented in this way as a hint that it if the family wanted food they would have to go raiding. The Charltons don't seem all that disappointed at the prospect of raiding enemy territory for mutton or beef. In the violent past famous Border raiding Charltons included John of the Bower and Thomas of Hawcop but Charltons can still be found throughout the Borders today and are a well known family name in the North East. Among the famous Charltons of more recent times are of course the Ashington footballing brothers Bobby and Jack
The surname Conyers derives from either Cogners or Coignieres which are places in France. Members of this family came to England at the time of the Norman Conquest when William the Conqueror appointed one Roger de Conyers as a Constable of Durham Castle. Sometime in the twelfth century the Conyers family were granted the manor of Sockburn on Tees near Middleton St George. According to legend this place was rewarded to a certain John Conyers after he slew a fierce local dragon called the Sockburn Worm, perhaps a distant relation of the Lambton Worm. In commemoration of this event each new Bishop of Durham is presented with the sword called the Conyers Falchion which was reputedly used in the dragon slaying act. The presentation ceremony is carried out on the bridge at Croft on Tees near Darlington, with the following speech; "My Lord Bishop, I hereby present you with the falchion wherewith the champion Conyers slew the worm, dragon or fiery flying serpent, which destroyed man, woman and child; in memory of which, the King then reigning gave him the manor of Sockburn to hold by this tenure, that upon the first entrance of every new Bishop into the County the falchion should be presented". Interestingly Croft on Tees was the place where Lewis Carroll lived as a boy and it was here that he wrote the first verse of his famous nonsense rhyme about the killing of a dragon called Jabberwocky.
DIXON a Border Reiver name
Many English surnames derive from the Christian name Richard. It is a name with a Germanic root meaning 'strong king' or 'powerful brave', but was really introduced into England by the Norman French. The surname Richardson is especially common in the north and the earliest records of this name occur in Scotland and Yorkshire. Ricardus, the Latinized form of Richard has resulted in pet forms like Rick and Hick and Dick which have given rise to names like Hicks, Hix, Hickson, Dicks, Dix, Dickson and Dixon. Dickson and Dixon were both originally Dicson and are thought to have originated in the Dumfries and Cumberland area and spread out from there. Other diminutives of Richard are the surnames Dicken, Dickens, Dickin and Dickins all variations of the same with early occurences in Yorkshire. Dickenson and Dickensons are also developments of these diminutive forms. Less obvious is the surname Higgins, which derives from a kinsman of Hick, though this along with the variations Higginson and Higgs are likely to have originated from the south of England. Other unexpected derivatives of Richard include the surname Ricketts, but some names which appear to derive from Richard are misleading. Dickman for example means one who lives or works near a dyke, while Dicker and Dickers were the diggers of the dykes.
DODD a Border Reiver name
Todd and Dodd are surnames closely associated with Durham, Northumberland and Cumbria and are thought to derive from an old word for a bush or a bushy tailed fox. It is most likely that the surnames refer to a fox rather than a bush and it may be that the first bearer of the name Todd was noted for his or her fox-like features. Perhaps they had bushy hair or were elusive, and sly like the fox. Another possibility is that like many foxes they were inclined to solitary behaviour, and were often seen 'on their tod' but this phrase is Cockney rhyming slang and derives from the name of an American jockey called Tod Sloan. 'Fox' surnames connected with the north include the surname Fox itself, which is primarily associated with the North and North Midlands. Todhunter is a Cumbrian name and along with the surname Todman means foxhunter. The form Dodd is primarily associated with Northumberland where the Dodd family were one of the four major Border clans of North Tynedale. Burbank Peel, a fortified tower on the Tarret Burn near Bellingham was their ancestral home. Legend has it that the Dodds were descendeed from Eilaf, an Anglo-Saxon monk who was one of the carriers of St Cuthbert's coffin who fled from Lindisfarne at the time of the Viking raids in the 9th century. It is said that Eilaf pinched some cheese from his fellow monks who prayed that that the culprit be revealed by turning him into a Dodd - a fox. Prayers were answered and for a short while Eilaf was turned into a fox. From that day on Eilaf and his descendents were known as Dodd
'Hush thee !, hush thee !, little pet thee, do not fret thee, the Black Douglas shall not get thee' was a rhyme sung by worried mothers to comfort children in the days of Scottish raids. It refers to a friend of Robert the Bruce called Jamie 'the Black Douglas' (1286-1330), who was much feared in England. Douglases have long been associated with the border country and the name originates from Douglas in Lanarkshire. The name derives from Dubh Glas, meaning 'black stream' and as well as being the origin of the surname has also given rise to Douglas, the Christian name. William de Duglas is the first known member of the family and lived in the twelfth century. Other Douglases include William Douglas 'The Hardy', father of the Black Douglas and Governor of Berwick in 1296 when the town fell to the English. At the Battle of Otterburn on the 19 August 1388 the famous rivalry between the Douglases and the Percy family of Northumberland reached a dramatic climax. James Earl Douglas invaded England with an army of 4000 soldiers and burned Northumberland and Durham as far as Brancepeth. At Newcastle Douglas taunted Harry Hotspur Percy who was safely protected behind the defended town walls. Later Hotspur attacked Douglas and his army at their camp at Otterburn and the battle commenced. James Douglas was killed in the battle but only after he had correctly predicted a Scottish victory - 'I hae dream'd a dreary dream, beyond the Isle of Skye, I saw a dead man win a fight, I think that man was I'
ELIOTT a Border Reiver name
Eliott the surname is thought to derive from an Anglo-Saxon forename Elewald which means 'the elf ruler', although the name could also be a diminutive of the name Elias. After the Norman conquest the name occurs as a forename in the form Heliot. Earliest records of the surname include a William Elyot mentioned in the Assize Rolls for Somorset in 1257 and a William Eliot mentioned in the Subsidy Rolls for Sussex in 1327. It is thought that these south country Eliots have a surname which derived from Elias and that the Elliott families of the north were descended from an Elewald who lived in Cumberland in the year 1279. Until the fifteenth century the Elliott surname of the Anglo-Scottish border still occasionally occured in the form Elwald or Elwold. Spellings were inconsistent and other forms including Elwuad, Elwat, Elwood, Eluat, Eluott, Elioat and Elwand are recorded. Even today there are at least seventy derivatives of the surname including four different spellings of the basic name which are Eliot, Eliott, Eliot and Elliott. The last spelling is said to be frowned upon by the Scottish border Eliotts where according to an old rhyme 'The double L and single T descend from Minto and Wolflee, the double T and single L mark the old race in Stobs that dwell, The single L and single T the Eliots of St Germains be, but double T and double L, who they are nobody can tell.
This is a very long surname which fools many who try to pronounce every syllable. It should be pronounced Fanshaw. The surname derives from a place called Featherstonehaugh near Haltwhistle in Northumberland. If we take the name to pieces it means the meadow near the feather shaped stone. One famous owner of this seventeen letter surname was Albany Featherstonehaugh, a sixteenth century High Sheriff of Northumberland who was murdered by a band of notorious Tynedale thieves called the Ridleys and Thirlwalls. The murder is commemorated in a ballad written by the Victorian historian of County Durham Robert Surtees who wrote - Hoot awa' lads, hoot awa', Ha' ye heard how the Ridleys and Thirlwalls and a', had set upon Albany Featherstonehaugh and taken his life at the Deadmanshaw. There was Williemontswick and Hardriding Dick and Hughie o' Hawden and Will o' the wa' I canno tell a' I canno tell a', there was many a mair that the Devil may knaw - The verse fooled Sir Walter Scott who thought it was a genuine ancient ballad. The Thirlwall family mentioned in the ballad were also of local origin. They originated from Thirlwall on Hadrian's Wall, where Picts are said to have thirled or destoyed the Roman defences. This surname is also spelt Thirlwell.
FENWICK a Border Reiver name
Robert de Ffenwick is the first recorded owner of the surname Fenwick and lived in the Scottish borders around 1220. The next recorded Fenwicks are Walter del Feneweke in Lincolnshire 1275 and Thomas de Fenwyck of Northumberland in 1279. The Northumberland and Scottish Fenwicks were a famous border clan found on both sides of the border and are thought to take their name from Fenwick near Kyloe in Northumberland, a place which means 'the farm on the fen'. Some Fenwicks, with origins slightly further south, may take their name from Fenwick in Yorkshire. Fenwicks seem to have achieved notoriety throughout their history and were frequently involved in the Border troubles of Tudor times. Their historic strongholds included Kirkharle, Bywell on Tyne and the peel tower at Wallington which later made way for the site of Wallington Hall, near Morpeth. During the Civil War, a Northumbrian called Sir John Fenwick was killed at Marston Moor, but it is a descendant of the same name, who lived during the reign of King William of Orange, who has gained greater fame. This Sir John Fenwick was beheaded for High Treason after conspiring to murder the Dutch born protestant King. Sir John's property and estate were confiscated by King William, who came into possession of Fenwick's horse called Sorrel. This horse was later to throw the King from its saddle after it stumbled near a mole hill in the grounds of Hampton Court. Shortly afterwards King William died from his injuries. The horse had thus fulfilled the wishes of its original master.
Gascoign, Gascoyne, Gaskain, Gaskin and Gasking are all variations on the surname Gascoigne. Surnames were often corrupted in earlier times, when different spellings and nicknames resulted in the birth of new surnames. Today surnames are fixed, so Paul Gascoigne's nickname 'Gazza' is unlikely to become a surname in its own right. Early Gascoignes included Bernard Gascon in Northamptonshire 1206 and Yorkshire's William le Gascun in 1208, but this line is thought to have died out. In the later thirteenth century another line of Gascoignes included Philip le Gascoyn of Shropshire and Geoffrey Gascoyne of Norfolk and in the following century this surname appeared in Yorkshire as Gasqwyn. All the names point to a French origin and mean 'Gascon' - someone from Gascony. Gascon derives from the Latin Vasco-Onis which means 'boasting' which is also the origin for the name of the Basques in Spain. In the sixteenth century a branch of the Gascoigne family acquired land in Durham when Isobel Boynton, a descendant of the Lumleys and heiress to the estate of Ravensworth near Gateshead married Sir Henry Gascoigne of Gawthorpe, Lancashire. The Gascoignes owned the manor of Ravensworth until they sold it to the Liddell family in 1607, but members of the family continued to own land at nearby Birtley. It was the Liddells who built the castle at Ravensworth in the following century. It was demolished in 1953.
GRAHAM a Border Reiver name
The Grahams were a Border family found in both England and Scotland, but were associated primarily with the region between Cumberland and Dumfrieshire. During the border raids of Tudor times, the Grahams were one of the most troublesome families hereabouts. Grahams were noted for their regular forays into Northumberland, where their arch enemies were the Robsons of North Tynedale. In 1552 the border Grahams were said to number five hundred and occupied thirteen fortified towers. It is claimed that the Grahams were descended from a man called Graeme, who in Roman times helped to breach the Antonine Wall, a great wall between the Rivers Clyde and Forth, but this has not been proved. It is more likely that the Grahams were of Norman French origin and settled in the south of England at Grantham in Linolnshire from which they took their name. The name De Grantham was corrupted to De Graham and later shortened to Graham. The Grahams moved to Scotland in the twelfth century, where a William De Graham is recorded in 1127. Grahams were accepted as Scottish following a marriage into the native Scottish family of Strathearn and they made Auchterader their seat. Following the Union of England and Scotland in the seventeenth century many troublesome border country Grahams were transported to Ireland and were forbidden to return. There they were joined by hundreds of other transported border tribesman including Eliots, Kerrs and Armstrongs.
GRAY AND GREY a Border Reiver name
Many surnames derive from colours like Brown, White, Black, Grey and Green. Grey which alternatively occurs in the form Gray is a surname closely associated with the North and is one of many old Border surnames still found throughout the region. The Greys of Fallodon and Holwick in Northumberland are the most famous branch in the north and their members included the Northumbrian born Earl Grey who was Prime Minister of England 1830-34. Earl Grey is commemorated by the Grey Monument in the centre of Newcastle. The name Grey is thought to have originated in the south of England and described someone with grey hair rather than a grey personality. Some Greys may have taken their name from an unidentified place called Graye. The surname Black has a similar origin to Grey and is especially common in Scotland. Black means black hair or of a dark complexion and was frist recorded in 901 AD. The surname Blake has the same meaning. Rarer coloured surnames include Red, a variant form of the surname Reed or Reid, someone who lived in a reedy area. Perhaps some Reds were descended from the Viking called Eric the Red.
HALL a Border Reiver name
Hall referred to someone who lived or worked at a hall. Early owners of the name include Warin de Halla,1178 and Roger de Hall,1327. The Hall family were a Border family found in the Scottish valleys of Teviotdale and Liddesdale and in Redesdale, Northumberland. In Redesdale the Halls were accompanied by the Milburns, Potts, Storeys, Reeds and Hedleys, while the Robsons and Charltons also lived nearby. Across the border lived the Armstrongs and in Liddesdale the Croziers who were at feud with the Redesdale family called Reed. Parcy Reed, the leader of the Reeds was the Keeper of Redesdale and his appointment aroused the jealousy of the Halls who cunningly invited Parcy to join them on a hunt, knowing that a Crozier raid was imminent. Parcy was invited to the home of the Halls where, unknown to him they jammed his sword in its scabbard and dampened the workings of his gun. The next day Parcy and three Halls set off hunting and stumbled upon a raiding party of Croziers at the Carter Bar. As keeper of Redesdale, Parcy felt he must stand up to the Scottish raiders but the Halls refused to assist. In the words of 'The Ballad of Parcy Reed' the Halls explained. 'We mayna stand, we canna stand, We dairna stand alang with thee. The Croziers had thee at a feud And they would kill baith thee and we' . Riding forth alone to challenge the Crosiers Parcy failed to release his sword and his gun would not fire. The bloodthirsty ballad claims the Crosier's left poor old Parcy with thirty three wonds and no hands and feet. For centuries the treachery of the Halls was despised throughout the Border country.
HERON a Border Reiver name
Early forms of the name Heron include de Hairun, de Harum and Hairun. It is thought that the name has more than one origin. Some forms are belived to derive from a nickname 'Heron' refering to a tall, thin man with long legs, like a Heron. In the north the name is closely associated with Northumberland, Durham, Yorkshire and Scotland and it is likely that these Herons were originally de Harum, or de Harome and originated from Harome near Helmsley in North Yorkshire. In the twelfth century branches of the Heron family held land at Chilton in County Durham, Hadston, Northumberland and around Northallerton in North Yorkshire. Many Herons held positions of high status in the north, including the thirteenth century William Heron, who was the Keeper of Bamburgh Castle in 1248, Keeper of Scarborough castle in 1255 and Sheriff of Northumberland between 1246 and 1257. The historian Matthew Paris described William Heron as a man who 'ground down the poor and oppressed the monks'. In the days of border warfare Herons held land throughout Northumberland but were most closely associated with Ford Castle near the River Till in North Northumberland. On August 22nd, 1513, eighteen days before the Battle of Flodden Field, King James IV of Scotland entered England and captured a number of Scottish castles including Ford, where during his stay he is said to have had an affair with the beautiful Lady Heron. At this time William Heron, the keeper of Ford Castle was imprisoned in Scotland. The king's son Alexander Stuart is also said to have 'melled' with Lady Heron's daughter, but there is some doubt to the acuracy of this claim. What is certain is that whatever Lady Heron's feelings for James may have been, she was never to see him again after the great battle on September 9th, where King James and 9,000 Scottish soldiers 'The Flowers of the Forest' were to meet their bloody end.
HOME OR HUME a Border Reiver name
For many centuries the surname Hume, and the alternative pronunciation Home which is also a surname in its own right have been associated with the lowand area of the Scottish borders near Berwick called the Merse. The Merse on the Scottish side of the border has been the scene of many a skirmish between the English and Scots over the years and many of the places in the area like Polwarth, Blackadder and Edrom were strongholds of the Humes. The Humes often sided with the English Kings in order to protect the district, but could support either side, perhaps because their family could trace its origin to William the Conqueror and to Duncan, the King of Scotland who was slain by Macbeth. The Hume family takes its name from a place called Home in Berwickshire, which derives from the Viking word 'holm' meaning an island of land or a holm oak tree. The surname Hume probably arises from the Scottish pronunciation of the word, although a separate branch of Humes are thought to originate from the south of England. Holmes is another similar surname but is not thought to be connected with the Humes or Homes. One branch of the Home family became the Lords of Home and included the fourteenth Lord Home of the Hirsel near Coldstream on the River Tweed. He became a Conservative Prime Minister of England as Sir Alec Douglas Home in 1963. He resigned the title of Lord to pursue his political career, but on retirement regained the title when he took up his post in the House of Lords. Today the Hirsel is regarded as the seat of the Home family, while the place called Home which was once the site of the family seat is now only noted for a sham castle built on the site of the stronghold of the Home family.
Whist ! lads, haad yer gobbs I'll tell yer aal an aaful story. So begins the famous Lambton Worm Song, the story of how dragon slayer Sir John Lambton slew the notorious Lambton worm somewhere in the middle of the River Wear in the days of the Crusades. John Lambton is one of many famous members of the Lambton family who take their name from Lambton near Chester le Street, a place name meaning Lamb Farm. The Lambtons were later to give their name to Lambton Castle, a building of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century origin. The castle was built around the core of the earlier Harraton Hall and became the seat of the Lambton family after their previous home, Lambton Hall, across the River Wear was demolished in 1797. Nearby Penshaw Hill is often confused with Worm Hill near Washington as the place once frequented by the Lambton Worm, but Penshaw hill is connected with an entirely different Lambton, called John George Lambton. This John Lambton was the first Earl of Durham (1792-1840) and was known as 'Radical Jack' because of the political reforms he instigated in the nineteenth century. The famous Penshaw monument built on the top of the hill in 1844 in the style of a Greek temple was erected in memory of the earl, who was once the Governor General of Canada. The Earl's son Charles William Lambton was immortalised in the famous Thomas Lawrence painting called The Red Boy. This young Lambton died of consumption aged only thirteen. Many other Lambtons and their relations have acheived great fame and notoriety but Whisht ! lads thats aal I knaa aboot the story.
Liddell means valley of the loud water and is found in Liddesdale, a border valley formed by the Liddel Water in the Scottish borders. The surname which may derive from the place is closely associated with the North East where the Liddell family were the Lords of Ravensworth near Gateshead. Ravensworth was the site of the Liddell family seat called Ravensworth Castle, which was demolished in 1953, due to mining subsidence. The Liddells were one of four big coal owning families known as the 'Grand Allies' who dominated North Eastern coal mining in the eighteenth century. The other grand allies were the Brandlings of Gosforth, Russells of Brancepeth and the Bowes family of Strathmore. A later Victorian coal owner called Thomas Liddell built Ravensworth Castle on the site of a hall first built by his ancestor Colonel Liddell in 1724. Perhaps the most famous Liddell of all was Alice Liddell, whose great grandmother lived in the South Bailey in Durham City. Little Alice's family were friends of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson who immortalised the young girl under his pen name Lewis Carroll as 'Alice in Wonderland'. The surname Liddell also occurs in the forms Liddel andLiddle.
A surname of special interest to me. Although their numbers have included Sheriffs of Nottingham, the Littlefairs are overwhelmingly concentrated in County Durham and were for many centuries, although significant but smaller branches could also be found in Yorkshire, Northumberland and Lancashire. Most of the Littlefairs in the North East can be traced to Cockfield village between Teesdale and Weardale. My father, Albert Littlefair Simpson has put together a website of his extensive research on the Littlefair family which can be visited at http://www.alsweb.org.uk/littlefair/
Lumley is a County Durham surname and originates from Lumley near Chester-le-Street. The name of this place and its famous castle may mean 'the clearing belonging to the ember-goose' or the 'clearing near the pools'. The first member of the Lumley family was called Liulf of Lumley (de Lumley), a popular Saxon noble who was a friend of the first Prince Bishop of Durham called William Walcher. Liulf complained to the Bishop about the activities of his retainers Leofwin and Gilbert who sought revenge on Liulf by murdering him and his family as they slept in their beds at Lumley. The murder angered the natives of County Durham, so the Bishop called a meeting at Gateshead in order to make peace. He tried hard to make amends but an angry mob assembled which sallied forth with cries of 'Good rede, short rede, slea ye the bishop'. The Bishop was bludgeoned to death. Later members of the Lumley family continued their association with Chester-le-Street, but one branch of the family became the Earls of Scarborough and were important landowners in the Hartlepool area. One member of The Lumley family John, Lord Lumley was very keen to preserve his family heritage and in 1594 removed two effigies from Durham Cathedral which he mistakenly believed to be his ancestors and placed them in Chester-le- Street church along with twelve other effigies. The majority of the effigies were Elizabethan fakes, but Lumley claimed them all as his ancestors, the first one he labelled as Lilulf, the murdered noble. The fourteen effigies laid head to toe would not quite fit into the church so Lumley had to chop the legs off some of them to fit them in. The visiting King James of England and Scotland was invited to view the effigies but was not impressed 'I did nae ken Adam's name was Lumley ?', he exclaimed. The effigies can still be seen.
The Marley family are quite numerous in some local phone books and the name may originate in the North East. The surname derives from the place name Marley of there are several places of this name throughout the country including Marley Hill in County Durham. marley place names are thought to mean the woodland clearin inhabited by ferret like Martens. Famous people with the surname Marley included Sir John Marley, the Mayor and defender of Newcastle during the Civil War of 1644.In 1750 a woman called Elsie Marley, perhaps a descendant of Sir John, became famous as the landlady of a pub called the White Swan at Picktree near Chester-le-Street. She was apparently very popular with her customers until she acquired some terrible unknown illness which caused her to go delirious. The disease proved fatal when in a moment of madness, poor Elsie escaped from her sick bed one night and ran across a nearby field. She fell into a disused coal pit and drowned. Elsie is commemorated in a local folk song called Di ye' ken Elsie Marley Hinny ? The first verse states 'Di' ye ken Elsie Marley, the wife that sells the barley hinny, lost her pocket and all of her money a' back o' the bush in the garden hinny'. A later verse refers to the lads of nearby Lambton who are to pay for Elsie's new straw hat.
MILBURN a Border Reiver name
Milburn and Milbourne were surnames used to describe someone whose ancestor lived near a mill on a stream and the name is thought to have originated in Northumberland. The family names Milburn and Charlton were well known in Northumberland long before 'Wor Jackie' Milburn and his equally famous footballing relatives Jack and Bobby Charlton acheived fame. Like many northern surnames Milburn and Charlton were Border names associated with the lawless cattle and sheep thieving clans of the Border country. It is perhaps no coincidence that the 'freebooting' Borderers who roamed the Northumbrian fells in Elizabethan times were very keen on football. Border football matches were played with great vigour, violence and enthusiasm. Some well known footballers of more recent times like Ashington's famous sons may be descended from the Milburns and Charltons who once inhabited North Tynedale, where they lived in close proximity to the Dodds and Robsons. Together these families were known as the four graynes or clans of North Tynedale. Milburns were perhaps the least known of the four but played their part in many a border raid often siding with the Charltons and Dodds on their regular forays into Scotland.
MUSGRAVE a Border Reiver name
The surname Musgrave comes from Cumbria, or at least that part of Cumbria formerly known as Westmorland, where we find a place called Musgrave. The place name means the grove where mice lived and the first owner of the surname will have originated from this place. Musgrave was an important surname in the days of Border warfare, when the Musgraves were allied to the English Crown. Musgraves were often appointed as wardens of the marches, responsible for maintaining law and order in the Border zone. A folk ballad sometimes known as 'Lord Darlington and Little Musgrave' links the name of Musgrave with County Durham. In the ballad Musgrave is caught sleeping with the lord's wife in a bower at Oxenhall, on a cold November's night. His discoverer, a little foot page quickly informed Lord Darlington of his find and the Lord silently approached the two lovers as they slept; - 'Arise, arise my little Musgrave, and put your clothing on, It shall never be said in all my life, that I slew a naked man. - The first blow, his wife got a deadly wound, the very next blow Lord Darlington gave, Musgrave lay dead upon the ground'. Another traditional version of the ballad is called 'Lord Barnard and Little Musgrave' and has been recorded by the Irish folk group Planxty.
From the thirteenth to the sixteenth century the Nevilles were undoubtedly the most important barons in the County of Durham. Originating from Neville-Seine-Maritime in France, from which they took their name, they came to England at the time of the Norman conquest when a Henry de Neville commanded William the Conqueror's fleet. The Nevilles intermarried with a powerful Saxon family called the Bulmers, took the Bull's Head as their emblem and became the Lords of Raby and Brancepeth. At the Battle of Nevilles Cross, near Durham City on 17th October 1346, Ralph Neville of Raby Castle led the English army in their famous victory over the Scots and became the first layman to be allowed burial in Durham Cathedral. His son John Neville, also buried in the cathedral donated the famous Neville Screen for the great building in 1375. On Nevilles orders, the beautiful ornamented screen was shipped to Newcastle in sections and then brought to Durham by cart. Perhaps the most famous Neville of all, though not directly connected with Durham was Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, who was known as Warwick the Kingmaker because of his influence over whether Edward IV or Henry VI wore the English Crown. The power and influence of the Nevilles in Durham came to a dramatic end in 1569 when the Nevilles, along with the equally powerful Percy family of Alnwick in Northumberland, plotted to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I in what came to be known as the Rising of the North. The rising failed, the Nevilles fled into exile and all their Durham properties were confiscated.
The surnames Olley and Mole could both be found in England before the seventeenth century, the first is an obscure derivative of a French place name, the second a nickname for a small mole-like man. In the North East, the German surnames Ohlig and Mohl were anglicised to Oley and Mole after these two families settled at Shotley Bridge in 1691. Ohligs and Mohls were Lutheran sword makers who fled from Solingen in Germany to escape religious persecution. They were attracted to Shotley by the fast flowing waters of the River Derwent and the remoteness of the area, which limited the possibilty of industrial espionage in the form of strangers or spies, copying their sword making methods. There is a story that a certain William Oley was challenged by two other sword makers to see who could make the sharpest and most resilient sword. On the day of the challenge, the three men turned up, but it seemed that Oley had forgotten to bring his work. The other sword makers, assuming he had been unable to make a sword of a suitable standard, boastfully demonstrated the sharpness and resilience of their work. They asked Oley why he had not brought a sword. With a grin, Oley removed his stiff hat to reveal a super-resilient sword, coiled up inside. He challenged the other two sword makers to remove the sword from the hat, but their attempts nearly resulted in the loss of their fingers. In the end the sword could only be removed by means of a vice. For strength, sharpness and resiliency Oley's sword was undoubtedly the winner.
ROBSON a Border Reiver name
The name Robson is closely associated with Northumberland and Durham and was the name of a Northumbrian Grayne (or family tribe) which inhabited the valley of North Tynedale in the Elizabethan days of the Border Reivers. The reivers were violent sheep rustling families whose allegiance was first and foremost to their family name even if other members of the family group belonged to the opposite side of the Scottish border. The name Robson means son of Rob or Robert and one suggestion is that their patriarch was Hroethbert, an Anglo-Saxon mentioned on a runic cross found at Falstone in North Tynedale. Border families preyed on their traditional enemies and in the case of the Robsons the great enemy was the Graham family who inhabited Liddesdale on the Scottish side of the border. One day a group of North Tynedale Robsons made a foray into Liddesdale and stole a large flock of Graham sheep which they brought back into Tynedale. When it was found that the Graham sheep were infected with scab, which spread like wild fire through the existing Robson flock the Robsons were furious and made a second raid into Liddesdale. Here they caught seven members of the Graham family and executed them all, by hanging them from the neck. As a 'calling card' The Robsons left a sinister note stating that 'The next time gentlemen cam' to tak' their sheep they are no' te' be scabbit!'. In later centuries when the border troubles came to an end many Robsons left Northumberland to become coal miners in County Durham and Tyneside. Later some turned their attentions to quiet leisurely activities like managing football clubs or national sides.
SHAFTO a Border Reiver name
Shafto or Shaftoe, the family surname takes its name from the place Shaftoe found in the upper reaches of the River Wansbeck near Wallington Hall west of Morpeth. The surname came about in the twelfth century when a certain Cuthbert Foliot of Shaftoe Crags changed his name to Cuthbert Shaftoe. Shaftoe the place means 'Shaft-hoh' a shaft shaped ridge or crag and the nearby crags seem to confirm this origin. In 1304 the Shaftoes made the nearby Bavington Hall their principal seat. Shaftoes were actively involved in the Border troubles including the Reidswire Fray at Carter Bar in 1575 and were supporters of the Jacobite cause in the eighteenth century. In 1652 the Shafto family acquired the Whitworth Estate near Spennymoor in County Durham and this became their principal place of residence. Robert Shafto, an MP for the County of Durham from 1760-68 was born at Whitworth and was immortalised in the famous northern song Bonny Bobby Shafto. The song was used as an election ditty and is thought to be based on the hopes of Mary Bellasis of Brancepeth castle who believed that Bobby Shafto would come back and marry her. He married someone else and Mary is said to have died of a broken heart. Robert Shafto was one of a number of Shaftos who became Members of Parliament, his father John Shafto, uncle Robert Shafto and son Robert Eden Duncombe Shafto of Whitworth were all MPs for the City of Durham. Whitworth Hall remained Shafto property until purchased by local businessman Derek Parnaby in October 1981. (See also Belasis)
The internationally famed furniture of Thomas Sheraton, who died in 1806 and the place called Sheraton on the A19 north of Hartlepool are connected, but the link is by no means direct. Sheraton, the site of a deserted medieval village, has a name which is thought to mean 'Scurfa's ton' - the place inhabited by the one with flaky skin or dandruff. This does not mean that the first person to own the surname Sheraton had dandruff, but merely that they came from the flaky person's place. Both the surname and the place were originally Scurveton and the change in spelling and pronunciation have come about naturally over the centuries. Scurveton the place was first recorded in 1190 and Scurveton the surname is first mentioned in 1407 in the Register of the freemen of the city of York which records a Robert Scurveton. One of Robert's ancestor's will have originated from Sheraton near Hartlepool. All this would seem to make Thomas Sheraton's link with the North East all the more tenuous, if it were not for the fact that this most famous of all Sheratons was born at Stockton-on-Tees in 1751. The son of a cabinet maker, Sheraton left the region in the early part of his life to seek his fortune in London. His work did not become popular until after his death and he died in poverty.
SIMPSON a Border Reiver name
According to surname scholars Simpson and Thompson are surnames which have been infected by 'parasitic glide consonants'. This basically means that the 'p' in these surnames was not originally there and has come about naturally from the pronunciation of Simson and Thomson. Simpson is a fairly common name in Scotland, where it is a minor clan name and was also a family name of the Anglo-Scottish Border on the English side. The earliest recorded owner of the name was a Richard Symmeson of Staffordshire in 1353 and the first mention in the north was Adam Symson of Whitby in 1395. Simpson with the 'p' first occurs in 1397 when a John Simpson is recorded in Yorkshire. In the following century a John Symson living in the City of London was alternatively known as John Sympson showing that two spellings of the same name could exist side by side. Simpson and Simson in all their forms mean son of Sim, a shortened form of Simon. Other similar names include Simpkin or Simkins, meaning a relative of Sim, but these names are more commonly found in the south of England. A totally unrelated name is the surname Simple which means honest, open and straightforward. Fortunately there is no evidence that Simpson means son of a foolish, gullible, simpleton. At least I hope not.
One of the earliest recorded Smiths was an Ecceard Smith who lived in County Durham in 975 AD, although the name was spelt differently with a runic symbol used instead of the 'th'. Smith has many variations not only in Britain but throughout the world. In Germanic countries we have Scmidtts and Schmitts and in the Czech language we have Szmyt. In early England the Latin form Faber often occured. A smith is of course a someone who works in metals and the root of the name in England seems to be the Anglo-Saxon word Smitan meaning 'to strike'. Most people called Smiths are descended from someone who worked as a blacksmith, although the variation Smythe can also mean someone who lived near a Smith's forge. Some Smiths may be descended from someone other than a Blacksmith and often the name gives a clue. The surname Whitesmith, means a worker of tin, Brownsmith, a worker of copper or brass and Goldsmith a worker in Gold. Greensmith is a surname most closely associated with the midlands and is a nickname for a coppersmith, Sixsmith is a maker of sickles, Arrowsmith is a maker of arrows and Shoesmith is a farrier, that is a maker of horseshoes. An Italian form of the surname Smith, meaning Farrier has given rise to the name of Ferrari cars, which could be translated to 'Smith cars'. Other variations on the surname Smith in England include Smithers - a hammerman, Smithson and Smisson, meaning sons of Smith and Smithies, a worker at the forge. Smith is definitely the number one name in Britain but is often thoughtlesly regarded as the most typical English name of all. A scholarly study of Great Britain showed that Smith was most common in the Aberdeen area, but who would think of Smith as a Scottish name.
This is a name of distinctively northern origin and derives from the Norman French Sur Tees meaning 'on the Tees. Originally the Surtees family were called Siward, a name of Anglo-Viking origin, but acquired the name Surtees when they settled by the River Tees at Dinsdale near Darlington. Descendants of this Dinsdale family included Robert Smith Surtees (1805-1864) of Hamsterley near Shotley Bridge (See North West Durham), County Durham. R.S.Surtees was the creator of 'Jorrocks' the fox hunting cockney grocer, whose antics appeared in the New Sporting Magazine and Jorrocks Jaunts and Jollities. Robert Surtees of Mainsforth near Ferryhill (1779-1834) the greatest historian of County Durham and the author of the History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham. His four volume history of the county is still the most important historical reference work covering the County of Durham. On Tyneside, Bessie Surtees, the daughter of a wealthy Newcastle merchant acheived great fame in that city in 1772 when she defied the wishes of her father and sneaked out of her bedroom window in the middle of the night to elope with a humble young man by the name of John Scott. John Scott went on to become a wealthy peer, acquiring the baronry of Eldon near Bishop Auckland and subsequently giving his name to Newcastle's Eldon Square. In 1801 Scott became Lord Chancellor of England. The historic Bessie Surtees House from which Bessie eloped can still be seen on Newcastle's quayside. It is now the headquarters for the regional office of English Heritage.
TURNBULL a Border Reiver name
Early forms of the name Turnbull in Scotland include Turnebule and Tornebole which were both recorded in the fourteenth century. The name is of northern origin and was found on both sides of the Anglo-Scottish frontier in the age of the sixteenth century Border reivers. Enemies of the Turnbulls included the Armstrong clan of the Debatable Land on the border between Cumbria and Scotland. Turnbull is a nickname and literally means 'turns bull'. referring to a person's abilty to become strong or brave when the need arose. In the sixteenth century a Yorkshire horse which displayed these characteristics was known as 'Turnbull'. Another theory for the name is that it is a reference to a drover, which was a common occupation in the Scottish borders. The French word 'Tourneboef' is a word for a drover and may be realted to Turnbull. Some believe that the Fife names Trumble and Trimble, also of Scottish origin are corruptions of Turnbull but a Robert de Tremblee is recorded in the thirteenth century and it may be that these forms derive from this particular name. In Yorkshire a name Trumbald or Thrumball existed as early as 1313 and another form Trumbald occurs in Suffolk in 1327.These names derive from the Anglo-Saxon Trumbeald meaning strong-bold, but again sepculation that these names became Turnbull has not been proven. Today the name Turnbull is commonest in Northumberland Tyneside, Durham and the Scottish borders.
A national survey of the surname Walker showed that as a proportion of the population Walker is most numerous in the Teesside area. It is also found in large numbers around Leeds and Wakefield. There is no evidence that the Walker surname originated on Teesside, but it undoubtedly a northern name. Notably, one of the most famous Walkers was John Walker of Stockton on Tees who invented the friction match in 1827. As early as 1260 the surname Walker is recorded in Yorkshire where the Assize Rolls mention a Robert le Walker. Le Walker - 'the Walker' is a clue that this was an occupational name, as Walker is one of a number of surnames connected with the clothmaking process. A Walker scoured and thickened raw cloth by beating it in water. This was originally done by men who trampled or literally walked on the cloth in a trough - hence walker. In Durham we find a small street called Walkergate, which was the street of the cloth workers who worked at a mill near the River Wear. An alternative name for the walking process was fulling and this has given rise to Fuller, a surname more commonly found in the south and midlands. Another name for a fuller was a 'tucker' deriving from an Anglo-Saxon word 'Tucian' - 'to torment'. The surname Tucker is primarily associated with south west England. Other clothworking surnames include Webster and Weaver, who wove the raw cloth before it was fulled. After fulling the Teasler was set to work removing lose fibres from the cloth using the Teasel Thistle. This has given rise to the surnames Tazelaar and Tesler. Finally the cloth was dyed by the Dyers who were known in the north as Litsters from the Scandinavian word Litt - to dye. This final process has produced the surnames Dyer and Lister
The surname Wardle derives from Werdale and the first recorded owner of the surname was William de Werdale in 1216. Over the years this name has been corrupted into many forms including Wardale, Wardill, Wardel, Wardall and Wardle itself. The name means 'from Weardale' and the first owner of the surname will have originated from Weardale in County Durham. Similarly, the surname Wearmouth derives from Wearmouth, a part of Sunderland. Sunderland is also a surname, although the first recorded owner of this surname lived in Essex in 1230. Other names originating from the north include the surname Teasdale which is simply an alternative spelling of Teesdale. A Walter de Tesdale is mentioned in the Assize Rolls for Durham in 1235 and a Mariota de Tesdale in the Subsidy Rolls of Cumbria in 1332. Tynedale has given rise to the surnames Tindal, Tindale, Tindell, Tindill, Tindle, Tyndale and Tyndal. The first recorded member of this family was called Adam de Tindal and lived in Northumberland in 1165. Further north into the Scottish borders the name of Tweed dale in the upper reaches of the River Tweed has been corrupted into the surnames Tweddell, Tweddle and Tweedle. In 1279 a Robert de Twedhall is mentioned in the Assize Rolls of Northumberland. This is yet another spelling of the name Tweeddale.
Wycliffe, Wycliff, Wicliffe and Wiclif are all variations on a surname with the same meaning and origin. Early owners of the surname, with yet more different spellings include Robert of Wyclyve in 1252, Robert de Wyclyf 1354 and Robert Wyclif in 1388. The first two Wycliffes lived in Yorkshire, which is the place of origin for the surname. To be more exact the Wycliffe family originated from Wycliffe on the Yorkshire bank of the River Tees between Gainford and Barnard Castle. Wycliffe, as a place name has, like the surname, been spelt in many different ways during its history including Witclive, Wigeclif, Wittecliff and Wycliff. All of these names mean the white, cliff overlooking the Tees, although in its old sense the word cliffe often meant hill or river bank. The most famous member of the Wycliffe family was the social and religious reformer John Wycliffe. It is sometimes claimed that Wycliffe was born at Wycliffe, but although the Wycliffe family had lived at Wycliffe for centuries, their most famous son is thought to have been born at Hipswell near Catterick. As master of Balliol College Oxford, Wycliffe was famous for his outspoken views on religion and ths scriptures. It was due to him and his followers called the Lollards, that the first translation of the bible into English was made.
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