Audley: a Brief Survey of its Surnames from the Fourteenth to the Seventeenth Century

 Edgar Tooth

            The ancient parish of Audley is situated in the north west corner of Staffordshire, roughly halfway between Alsager and Crewe to the north and west and Newcastle-under-Lyme and the Potteries to the south and south east.  Such a dominant position overlooking the Cheshire Plain, a surrounding region abounding in fertile soils and extensive woodlands of ash, oak, beech, birch and yew, with easy access to the Roman road running through nearby Chesterton and Talke via Lyme Forest, and thence on to Middlewich, must have been decisive factors in determining the original site of the settlement, accredited to its female Anglo-Saxon founder, Aldgyth.(1)  The place itself thus means "the glade or clearing belonging to Aldgyth."  It is this strategic geographical location, owing on the one hand allegiance to north Staffordshire, and on the other hand, having strong links with the Palatinate of Chester, that is a crucial element in any study of the development of surnames in the area.

            This connection with the neighbouring county of Cheshire goes back to the years immediately following the Norman Conquest, when the Palatine of Chester was created as part of the Norman feudal system.  Under this arrangement the first Earl of Chester gave the manor of Audley to a thane called Gamel, along with lands in Talke, Balterley and Barthomley.(2)  His name lives on in the modern surname Gamble.   In the Audley Parish Registers, Robert Gamble is buried on June 27th, 1672.  He may well be identical with Robert Gannill (sic), son of William Gannill (sic), baptized in 1604.(3)  After the alleged murder of Gamel, the manor of Audley passed into the hands of the Audley family, who soon became one of the foremost medieval landowners in Staffordshire.  Amongst their impressive list of achievements is the construction of Heleigh Castle and the foundation of the Cistercian Abbey at Abbey Hulton.(4)  The subsequent history of the Audley dynasty is too well documented to require further elaboration here.  Likewise with the other major landowners in the district through the ages, including the Craddocks, Thickness-Touchets, Vernons, Smith Childs, Abnetts, the Eardleys of Eardley and the Bougheys of Aqualate Hall in Shropshire, who were the last to hold lordship of the manor.

            But what of the lesser-known inhabitants in medieval Audley and neighbourhood, who were as much part of local history as their more illustrious fellow countrymen?  What names did they pass on to posterity?  The best evidence for the formation and fixation of many of our most common surnames is contained in the Lay Subsidy Rolls for the county, a series of taxes instigated in 1283 by Edward I to finance his military operations in Wales and proposed invasion of Scotland.  These taxes were levied at the very moment when surnames were in the process of becoming hereditary.  Each subsidy roll gives a list of inhabitants for each village in the county and the amount of their tax assessment, from the lord of the manor down to the peasants, who exceeded the exemption rate of ten shillings.  Extracts from the 1327/1332 Lay Subsidy Rolls for Audley (5) demonstrate clearly this crucial stage in the development of our surnames, encapsulating for ever the ingenuity and spontaneity of the medieval mind.  The list looks extremely odd to the modern eye, with its curious mixture of English, Latin and Norman French, so beloved of the medieval clerks who compiled such tax returns for their superiors.  Nevertheless, on closer examination, many of the recordings are recognisable and fall naturally into four categories:


This class comprises placenames, which signify a particular locality where a person was born or from whence he came if he moved away to another area, or in the case of landowners, indicative of the place where their main holdings were situated.  Also includes toponymics, which describe some prominent geographical feature in the landscape where someone lived, and names from English counties, Continental places, etc.


These names state the type of work engaged in by the person in question, or official title held.  Also pageant names.


Surnames derived from physical, mental and moral characteristics, describing a person's appearance and behaviour.  Also names from the natural world, special occasions and festivals throughout  the year, expressions and phrase names.


Surnames ending in "-son", including those derived from the father - patronymics, and those from the mother - metronymics.  Also personal names of either gender and names such as Cousin, Widdows etc.

            Let us deal with each category of surnames in turn:


i) Placenames

Every placename used as a surname in the list (see page 3) is preceded by the French preposition "de" but this does not necessarily imply that the name was not already being handed down in the family.  For instance, Thomas de Bykenou and Stephen de Bykenou were either father and son or brothers and the odds are that the surname was already hereditary in their family.  This is the modern locality known as Bignall End, but the medieval spelling is obscure.  It could be a compound of "Bica" and "hoh" - "Bica's hill", one of the sources of the modern surname Bignal(l)/Bignell.  What is significant, however, is that all the placenames containing "de" are either within the parish of Audley itself, or not too far away: Thickness near Newcastle-under-Lyme; Blurton, between Longton and Hanford; Podmore near Ashley.  Boghay (Bochay), preserved in the surname Boughey and Bowey Lane, which runs from Betley to Knowl Bank, is possibly for a bow-shaped enclosure.  Later on it fluctuates with Boffey (Buffey), since, in the Gnosall Parish Register for 1785, Thomas Boughey signs his own name as Boffey.(6)  The latter normally goes back to Beaufour in Normandy.  For the vacillation between Boughey (Bowey) and Boffey (Buffey) we only have to look at the couplet "enow - enough".  Longmore is typical of south Staffordshire rather than the north and refers to a long fen or marsh.  There are field-names so called in Baswich, Brewood, Acton Trussell and Bednall. (7)




Name of Person Assessed                                            Amount of Tax Paid


Jacobus de Audeleye (de Audley 1332)          6 shillings 6 pence

Richard del delves (de delves 1332)                3 shillings

John de Wodehul (de Wodehull 1332)            3 shillings 6 pence

William de Thicknes                                         2 shillings 6 pence

John de Godhay (de Boghay 1332)                 3 shillings

Peter de Longemere (de Longemor 1332)      2 shillings 6 pence

Richard Kelinge (le kylynge 1332)                    2 shillings

Richard Buttere                                                               18 pence

Peter de knoll                                                                 12 pence

William Crocket                                                             18 pence

Thomas de Bochay (de Boghay 1332)                23 pence

John le taylur (le taylour 1332)                            18 pence

Thomas clericus                                               2 shillings

Robert del pek (del peeke 1332)                                    18 pence

John de Erdeleye (de Erdele 1332)                                  18 pence

Thomas del peke                                             2 shillings

Thomas de Longemore                                   2 shillings

Adam le parkere (le parker)                                            12 pence

Adam le taylur                                     2 shillings

Alexander de la lowe                                                       9 pence

Thomas filius Henrici                                                         12 pence

William de Blorton                                                           12 pence

Stephen de Bykenou                                        2 shillings

William de Dovere                                                          18 pence

William de Pedmor (de Podemor 1332)          4 shillings

Thomas de Bykenou                                        3 shillings

Thomas Cours (Curs 1332)                               5 shillings

Ralph Croket                                                   4 shillings   6 pence

                                                TOTAL             65 shillings   2 pence



Eardley is of unknown origin, although the final element is certainly Old English "leah" - "glade, clearing".  Eardley End occurs as Yeardley End in 1512 (8), hence the modern variants, plus Yardley, because it also appears as Yardley End in 1621. (9)  This change parallels the dialectal "yed" for "head ('ead)".  William de Mere in the 1332 list probably came from Maer, between Mucklestone and Shelton-under-Harley - the Old English being "mere", meaning "lake" or "pool".  It is pronounced as "Mare" and spelt as "Mare" by Plot in 1686. (10)  In the Wolstanton Parish Register, Elijah Mare (1746) is also quoted as Elijah Mayer in 1749 (11), hence the very common Staffordshire surname Mayer.  Mere (Meertown) near Aqualate on the Staffordshire-Shropshire border is also noted as Mayre in the 17th century, whilst Meir Heath, near Hilderstone, is recorded as Mare Heath in the Swynnerton Parish Register for 1756. (12)  The situation is complicated by the fact that another Old English word - "(ge)maere" - "boundary" - shows similar spellings and is preserved in Meyre Lane Leasow in Cannock and Hand Mare in Blymhill and Brineton.  Thus, Mayer could just as well describe a person who set up home near some such boundary.  Elsewhere throughout the country the surname Mayer (Mayor) is derived from the imported Norman word "maire" - "mayor of a borough", either an official title or an ironic appelation for someone who put on the airs and graces of a mayor to make himself look and sound important. (14)  The recording William de Dovere may be a misprint for "de Wovere", from Woore.  Jacobus de Audeleye, at the top of the list, was the second baron Audley, that is, James, Lord Audley, who fought alongside the Black Prince at the battle of Poitiers in 1356.  The Hebrew "Jacob" of disputed origin, was latinized in medieval documents as "Jacobus" and "Jacomus", both of which have spawned numerous derivatives, such as James, Jameson, Gemson, Jack(s), Jackson, Jacklin, Jackman etc.

ii) Toponymics

The second name on the list - Richard del delves - "dweller by the ditches or quarries" is presumably the same Richard Delves, one of the squires of James, Lord Audley, who reputedly carried his wounded lord from the field of battle at Poitiers.  The surname Delf/Delves could also denote a worker at some quarry or other.  There was a stone quarry in operation at Talke in 1278 and at Balterley in 1280, (15) so it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Richard could have been employed at either quarry.  In mining communities of north Staffordshire the word "delf" is still used in such expressions as "delf hole" - "pit shaft" and "delf rags" - "miners' working clothes".

            Three taxpayers dwelt by a hill or peak: Peter de knoll, which survives in Knowl End and Knowl Bank, and the surname Knowle(s); Robert del pek and Thomas del peke lived by the top of a hill - the modern surname Peake.  Alexander de la lowe set up home near some tumulus or burial mound - Low(e)/Loe, whilst John de Wodehul resided by the wood by the hill or vice versa - Woodhall.


            These names present no problems.  Richard Buttere was a maker or seller of butter - Butter(s), John le taylor and Adam le taylur were cutters of cloth, tailors - Taylor; Thomas clericus was a scribe or clerke - Clark(e), and Adam le parkere was an official who looked after the deer park, and whose duties included the preventing of poaching - Parker.


            These are a little thin on the ground.  Richard Kelinge (le kylynge 1332) is derived from Middle English "keling" - "a large codfish", either a nickname for a slippery customer or a dealer or trader in such fish.  An alternative origin might be an original Scandinavian byname, connected with Old West Scandinavian "keila" - "codfish", plus the Saxon patronymic suffix "-ing" - compare 1220 Feet of Fines, Serlo Keling of Lichfield. (16)  The form "Keling" was thus treated like any other Saxon patronymic in

"-ing" like Harding, Gooding and so on.


            William Croket and Ranulph Croket are obviously members of the same family, sharing a hereditary surname, but the name itself is obscure.  It may be a diminutive of the Old Danish name "Krok" but this certainly  would be exceptional, since the overwhelming majority of pet names are formed from Old French, Germanic, Classical and Biblical names.  The only comparable name would be Hackett - compare 1327 Lay Subsidies, Thomas Haket of Kibblestone, an Anglo-Norman diminutive of the Old Norse name "Haki".  A diminutive of Old English "croc(c)" - "crock, vessel, earthen pot", springs to mind in a county renowned for its pottery, but is not proven.  It might be a nickname used in a similar way to the derogatory nickname "testard", from Old French "teste" - "head", a slang term for a big head, but this line of enquiry seems somewhat vague.  There was a Middle English "croket" - "lock of hair" or "large roll of hair", much worn in the time of Edward I, which might have given rise to a nickname for someone who favoured such a hair style, but in the end, no explanation of the surname Crockett is entirely satisfactory.

            The one patronymic - "Thomas filius Henrici" - "Thomas son of Henry" develops into Harrison, since Harry was the regular medieval form of Henry.  One pet form from 1332 - Adam filius Atkoce - stands for "son of Atcock (pet form of Adam)".  The more common pet form is Atkin(s) together with its corresponding patronymic Atkinson.  The name Thomas Cours (Curs 1332) is unknown.

            Two remarkable facts emerge from the 1327 list.  First, 14 of the surnames occur right through the period under investigation: Boughey, Podmore, Eardley, Butters, Taylor, Parker, Clarke, Lowe, Crockett, Keeling, Knowles, Harrison, Woodall and Audley (the latter for obvious reasons), plus Mayer from 1332.  However, of these, only Boughey and Butters are more common in Audley than the surrounding area, since all the remaining surnames are found throughout north Staffordshire from the Middle Ages onwards.  This continuity is a clear indication that at this particular stage in its evolution Audley was a tightly-knit, agricultural community with a static population and minimal outside influence.  Second, out of the 29 personal names used, 11 are of Germanic origin, introduced by the Normans - William (5), Richard (3), Robert, Henry and Ranulph; 14 are Biblical in origin - Thomas (7), John (4), Adam (2) and Jacob (James); and 4 derived from Classical sources - Peter (2), Stephen and Alexander.  The eclipse of the old Saxon and Scandinavian names is total!

            By the beginning of the sixteenth century the picture begins to change dramatically with the influx of a whole new stock of surnames from Cheshire.  If we take as our guide a list of families in the Archdeaconry of Stafford for 1532/1533 (17) and the 1539 Muster Roll for Audley (18), supplemented by the Parish Registers covering the years 1538-1712 (19), these new Cheshire names comprise: Baggaley, Bostock, Cranage, Davenport, Dutton, Gallimore, Hassall, Henshall (Henshaw), Hulse, Kelsall, Hilditch, Lawton, Minshall (Minshaw), Mottershead, Mottershaw, Maxfield Macclesfield), Ravenscroft, Sinderland, Swettenham, Turnock, Twemlow, Warburton and Wareham (Weaverham).  They more than hold their own alongside the home-grown names such as Ashley, Baddeley, Bentley, Bloor, Bowers, Brindley, Buckley, Cartledge, Colclough, Drakeford, Fernihough, Podmore, Rowley, Sneyd and Whitough (Whittle).  These new Cheshire families may have been attracted southwards by the flourishing ironstone industry at Newcastle-u-Lyme or the iron-making bloomeries at Heighley, which were in operation in 1469.  It is recorded that ironstone was being mined there in 1492. (20)  Iron was also being worked at Talke by the fourteenth century and there must have been a considerable number of families disenchanted by making a living on the land, who turned towards the iron industry for their livelihood.

            In the meantime, the traditional Audley surnames survived, some ramifying more than others.  The most prolific are as follows:


Beech     -        beech tree, or from the placename Beech near                                Swynnerton.

Birks         -        birch trees (Scandinavianized form)

Bourne     -       stream

Brook(e)s-         brook, stream, water meadow

Dale          -      dale, valley

Ford          -      ford (over a river or stream)

Heath        -     heath(land)

Holt           -      wood

Lunt (Lowndes) - grove

Moss          -      moss, marsh(land)

Pool(e)     -       pool, tidal stream

Shaw (Shore) - wood

Stubbs      -       tree stumps (also a nickname for a stubby, stocky                             person)

Wood     -       wood



Barker     -        tanner or shepherd

Bailey      -        public administrator of a district.  More rarely from                            Bailey in Lancashire

Booth      -        Old Danish "both" - "herdsman's hut", hence a herdsman,                 cowman

Burgess   -         freeman of a borough or town

Dean      -        dean (academic or ecclesiastical) - also a local variant                   of Dain - "worthy"

Fletcher  -         a maker or seller of arrows

Fowler    -         hunter of wild birds

Gleave(s)-        Middle English "gleve" - lance, a lanceman,                           spearman,or applied to the person who won the race in                       which the lance was set up as a winning post and given                 as a prize

Hall         -        worker at the hall (of the lord of the manor)

Knight     -        knight, feudal tenant bound to serve as a mounted                                     soldier

Mason/Machin - mason.  Machin is the Norman French form

Proctor    -       contracted form of "procurator", an official in an                               ecclesiastical law court

Reeves    -        servant at the house of the reeve, or from Middle English                 "atter evese": dweller at the border (of a  wood or the                  edge of a hill)

Smith       -       smith, blacksmith, farrier

Stonier/Stanier/Stonehewer - stone cutter, quarrier of stone

Stringer   -        maker of strings for bows



Adams     -       Hebrew "Adam" - red

Allen/Allan -     Breton "Alan", the name of a Welsh and Breton saint

Alexander-       Greek for "defender of men"

Barnett     -       a local variant of Barnard/Bernard - Old German                              "bernard" - "bear brave".  There is no evidence for any                topographical source, that is, Old English "baernet" -                        "burning", "land cleared by burning".

Cole         -      Old English "Cola", or Old Norse "Koli".  Also local variant                  of Cowall near Biddulph

Craddock-       Welsh "Caradoc"

Daniels     -       Hebrew "Daniel" - "God has judged"

Dunning (Downing) - Old English "Dunning" - "son of Dunn"

Garratt/Garrett  - Germanic "Gerard" - "spear brave"

Harding    -      Old English "Hearding" - "son of Heard"

Kendrick   -      Welsh "Cynwrig"

Morris       -       Latin "Mauritius" - "Moorish, dark, swarthy"

Phillips      -       Greek for "lover of horses"

Unwin       -      Old English "Hunwine" - "young bear-friend", or "unwine" -                  "unfriend, enemy" or variant of Onions, from Old Welsh                       "Enniaun"



Bates         -      from Bartholomew - Hebrew "son of Talmai" (abounding                  in furrows)

Gibbons   -       "Gibb-un" a pet form from Gilbert - Germanic “Gisilbert" -                 "pledge (hostage) bright"

Hancock  -       from Henry - Germanic "Haimric, Henric" - "home-rule"

Meakin, Myatt - from Matthew - Hebrew "Mattathiah" - "gift of Jehovah"

Parrot       -      from Peter, from Greek "Petros" - "rock", or nickname                        from the parrot

Piggot      -      from Old French "Pic-ot" either from the Old French               personal name "Pic", plus the dimutive suffix "-ot" or  a                         nickname from Old French "picot" - "point, pointed                           object" with reference to a tall, thin person -          compare                     "as thin as a rake".

Willett       -      from William - Germanic "Willihelm" - "will helmet"



Dickenson-       son of Dickin, from Richard

Harrison    -      son of Harry (Henry)

Jackson    -      son of Jack (James)

Johnson/Joynson - son of John.  Joynson is typical of south  Cheshire                       and north Staffordshire

Robinson  -      son of Robin, from Robert

Sim(p)son -       Son of Sim, from Simon

Stevenson/Stephenson - son of Steven

Wilkinson -       son of Wilkin, from William



Ball         -         baldheaded or rotund or for a dweller by a ball-shaped                  mound, or from Old Danish “Balle”

Beckett  -         little beak or mouth, beak-nosed

Brown    -         brown hair or complexion

Drinkwater-      a nickname for anyone who was so poor that s/he could                not afford to drink ale even when it was four gallons a                penny

Grocott  -        compound of Middle English "grew" - "crane (the  bird)"                    and "-cock". 

                        Denotes someone with stilt-like legs, a lanky person

Halfpenny-       custom of paying a halfpenny rent for the renovation of                  dilapidated mills, etc.  Or, Possibly a nickname for a                    stingy person who "had his hand on a halfpenny"

Lovatt     -        Old French "louet" - "wolf cub".  Possibly someone  who                    was quiet and shy, but who was prone to angry outbursts

Pickering/Pickerell/Pickerill - either from Pickering in Yorkshire or from                       Middle English "pykerel" - "young pike".  The original                   switch occurs in Pickerin-Pickeril, then the "g" is added                      later.  The same change is also seen in Gaskin-Gaskill

Proudlove -      self explanatory

Rathbone -      doubtful, but could be from Middle English "hrathe bon" -                swift bone",with reference to a swift runner or messenger

Sillitoe     -        literally "silly (blissful) toe", either synonymous  with                             Fulljames - Old French "fol jambe" - "maimed leg", or with                       Lightfoot - "nimble, sprightly"

Sparrow/Sparrey - sparrow, hence "flighty", or from the Scandinavian                      name "Sperrir"

Sherratt/Sharratt - a compound, consisting of Old English "scir" - "bright,                  shining" and the suffix "-hard", referring to someone who                  set a shining example, an outstanding individual.  Also a                 contracted variant of Sherwood

Steele      -        a person who was as unyielding as steel

Viggars   -        Anglo-French "vigrus" - strong, powerful", or variant of                       Vickers (the servant of the vicar)

Wildblood-      a hot-head, a person who was impetuous and                                 unpredictable

Two remaining surnames, Brownsword and Scarratt have caused surname researchers endless problems in the past.  Brownsword is a local variant of the locality known as Brownsett rear Roche Grange.  The place itself is recorded in a bewildering array of forms in the Leek Parish Registers (21) during the seventeenth century, ranging from Brownsford, Bromsott, Braunsott, Brounsote to Brownsort and eventually to Brownsword.  The spellings are very late and any attempt at an accurate etymology is sure to be wide of the mark, although Brownsford suggests "Brun's ford".  The surname Skerratt/Scarratt is very common around Audley and Betley from the 1550s onwards, spelt in a wide variety of forms, including Skerrat, Skerriot, Skariott, Skarett, Scarrott, Scarryot and so on.  Reaney derives Skerritt/Skerrett/Skerratt and Skirrett from Skirwith in Cumberland, formerly pronounced as "Skerritt", or from a Middle English word "skirwit, skirwhit(e)" - "parsnip", applied to anyone who grew or sold such vegatables. (22)  But neither of these two derivations is suitable for Staffordshire.  It is significant that in the Inquests on the Audley estates we find a certain Henry Skaryok as one of the inhabitants of Horton near Rudyard in 1298. (23)  He crops up again as Henry Scarioc in 1307.  This looks very much like "scarred oak, gnarled oak", hence a dweller by such a tree.  The transition to "Skaryot, Scariot" etc is easily explained by the dialectal "untle" for "uncle" and "pittle" for "pickle".

This is the picture, then, at the close of the seventeenth century with the admixture of Staffordshire and Cheshire names gaining momentum.  The Industrial Revolution is imminent and another invasion of new surnames is about to take place, but that is another story.



1.  The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Placenames.  E.Ekwall.  Oxford.  1960

2.  Domesday Book - Staffordshire.  Phillimore.  1976

3.  Audley Parish Registers (1538-1712).  Birmingham & Midland Society for Genealogy and                 Heraldry. 1981

4.  Audley.  R.Speake (ed).  Dept Adult Education, Keele University. 1973

5.  Lay Subsidy Rolls 1327, 1332/3. Gen. Wrottesley (ed). Staffordshire Historical Collections. Volumes viii, x (1886-9).

6.  Gnosall Parish Registers (1572-1785). Staffordshire Parish Register Society.  1922.

7.  Placenames of Staffordshire. J.P.Oakden. English Placename Society. 1984. Part 1 -        Cuttlestone Hundred.

8.  Star Chamber Proceedings.  Staffordshire Historical Collections (1910-1912).

9.  Feet of Fines (1189-1625).  Staffordshire Historical Collections (1882-1911).

10. A Natural History of Staffordshire.  Robert Plot. Oxford. 1686

11. Wolstanton Parish Registers (1624-1812).  Staffordshire Parish Register Society. 1914.

12. Swynnerton Parish Register (1558-1812).  Birmingham & Midland Society for Genealogy                 & Heraldry.  Undated.

13. J.P.Oakden, op. cit.

14. A Dictionary of British Surnames. P.H.Reaney. London. 1958

15. Victoria County History of Staffordshire. Vols 2 & 8

16. Feet of Fines,  op. cit.

17. A List of Families in the Archdeaconry of Stafford 1532/33.  Ed. Ann J.Kettle.        Collections for a History of Staffordshire.  4th series. Vol 8. 1976.

18. 1539 Muster Roll. Staffordshire Historical Collections. 1894.

19. Audley Parish Registers. op. cit.

20. R.Speake (ed). op. cit.

21. Leek Parish Registers (1634-1695). Staffordshire Parish Register Society. 1919.

22. P.H.Reaney. op.cit.

23. Inquests on the Staffordshire Estates of the Audleys.                Historical Collections of        Staffordshire. IX, new series. Ed. J.Wedgwood.


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