Guide to North East Surnames: I

Ilderton to Irish Surnames

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Ilderton surname

A rare North East England surname from Northumberland

A North East surname derived from the Northumberland village of Ilderton. There were only 51 individuals with the surname Ilderton in the 1881 census and by county the number of individuals was 26 in Durham; 8 in Northumberland; 6 in London; 5 in Lancashire; 3 in Sussex and 1 in Surrey. A Thomas de Ildirton is recorded as the owner of Ildirton Tower at Ilderton in 1415 but its exact site is uncertain.

Irish surnames in North East England

Surnames of Irish origin in the region

Irish surnames are frequently found across the North East of England. There have been people of Irish origin in the North since medieval times when a family called De Kilkenny were the owners of Stanley in north west Durham and Sunderland Bridge near Croxdale.

However, the Irish really began appearing in significant numbers in the nineteenth century, especially following the potato famine. Irishmen found work in the heavy industries of Tyneside, Wearside and Teesside as well as in the coal mines of the region (where many initially worked in associated coke works). Irish navvies were also involved in the construction of railways across the region. Some Irish made a more mundane living ‘hawking’ basic wares in poorer districts.

Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, Esh Winning
Roman Catholic church of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, Esh Winning associated with the local Irish community © David Simpson

Found in just about every part of the region, some parts of the North East such as Jarrow and Hebburn in South Tyneside had exceptionally significant Irish communities and some county Durham pit villages were also significant centres of Irish settlement. Irish settlers were also of great significance on Teesside, Wearside, Newcastle and Gateshead.

The Irish came from every corner of the Emerald Isle including what is now Northern Ireland though many Irish surnames ultimately had surnames of Gaelic origin. Indeed some of the settlers were Gaelic speakers and the older ones might remain so after settling in the region.

Catholic church of St Patrick, Consett.
Catholic church of St Patrick, Consett is a reminder that Consett had a significant Irish community © David Simpson

Irish surnames found in North East England would come to include Brady, Brannigan, Caffrey, Callaghan, Carroll, Cavanagh, Collins, Connelly, Connor, Conway, Coyne, Cullen, Cumiskey, Docherty, Donnelly, Donohue, Doran, Doyle, Duffy, Farrell, Flynn, Gallagher, Hagan, Hamill, Healy, Keegan, Kearney, Kelly, Lynch, Maguire, Mahoney, Mcardle, McCann, McCulloch, McDermott, McDonnell, McGough, McGuinness, McKee, McLaughlin, McMahon, McMullen, McNally, Meehan, Molloy, Murphy, O’Brien, O’Hare, O’Neil, O’Connor, Quigley, Quinn, Rafferty, Riley, Rooney, and Ryan to name just a few.

In the 1881 census there were over 36,000 Irish-born individuals in County Durham and over 12,000 in Northumberland but this does not account for second or third generation Irish.

Of course, Irish-born residents of the North East in 1881 did not always have Irish surnames. Substantial numbers were descendants of settlers in Ireland from centuries earlier who had originated from Scotland and England. Sometimes they would have included the descendants of Border Reivers who had been deported to Ulster in the early 1600s. So, for example in County Durham in 1881 there were 46 Irish-born Armstrongs; 68 Irish-born Bells and 28 Irish-born Elliotts who may have been descended from individuals who had once lived in the England-Scotland border area a few centuries earlier.

As we have stated Irish immigrants in the North East seem to have come from all parts of Ireland and this was especially noticeable in parts of South Tyneside such as Jarrow and Hebburn. People from just about every county in what is now the Republic of Ireland settled in Jarrow and Hebburn but there was also influence from the Protestant communities in Ulster as recalled by Hebburn’s Orange Lodge Conservative club.

Orange Lodge, Hebburn
Orange Lodge, Hebburn © David Simpson

Generally, the specific local origins of settlers from Ireland is not always easy to ascertain as census records from 1851 onwards sometimes just give the birthplace as ‘Ireland’ rather than mentioning a specific Irish county.

However, it is known that Irish settlers associated with the iron industry in the Consett area and the mining areas west of Durham City such as Esh Winning predominantly originated from in around the County of Monaghan (from a small group of local townships) and seem to have arrived through the Cumbrian ports of Whitehaven or Workington via the Irish port of Dundalk in the county of Louth.

North East Surnames beginning with:

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Historic counties of Great Britain and Ireland
Historic counties of Great Britain and Ireland showing the six northern counties of England © David Simpson and England’s North East 2021
Note on the populations of English counties in 1881

When comparing figures for individual numbers of a surname in 1881 it is important to be aware of the actual population of each of the Northern English counties. As you can see from the figures below, 500 individuals with a particular surname in Westmorland would be proportionally much more significant than 500 people of the same surname residing in Lancashire. You might well describe such a surname as a ‘Westmorland name’ but the numbers would not be significant enough to describe it as a ‘Lancashire surname’, at least not as defined by the 1881 distribution. The 1881 northern county populations were as follows:

  • Northumberland: Population 434,658. The county included Newcastle upon Tyne, Wallsend, North Shields, Tynemouth and Whitley Bay and a mining district in the south east of the county including the port of Blyth. As well as indigenous Northumbrian surnames, ‘Border names’ are often abundant in this county, occasionally taking on a form that is distinct from similar Scottish surnames.
  • Durham: Population 869,130. The county included Sunderland, Gateshead, South Shields, Jarrow, Darlington, Stockton-on-Tees and Hartlepool. Numerous small mining towns and villages lie across the county between these major centres of population and like the industrial centres were often the home to surnames that originated in Northumberland and North Yorkshire as well as home-grown in County Durham.
  • Yorkshire: Population 2,895,049. This county included the iron town of Middlesbrough on the south bank of the River Tees in the north east corner of the county as well as ‘West Riding’ towns like Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Halifax, York, Huddersfield to the south. Most of the population of Yorkshire was and still is focused upon the urban and industrialised south west of the county where there is a close relationship in terms of surnames with neighbouring Lancashire across the Pennines. The far south of the county around Sheffield is also very populous. The rural East Riding along with the city of Hull may have a close relationship with neighbouring Lincolnshire. From a North East point of view many of the surnames we describe as ‘Durham and Yorkshire’ are almost always specifically focused upon North Yorkshire and south Durham, though often stretching across the whole of Durham in distribution.
  • Cumberland: Population 251,520. The main centres in this county included Carlisle and the industrial coastal towns of Whitehaven and Workington. As in Northumberland, ‘Border surnames’ have a strong influence here, often originating from or stretching into Scottish counties of the western borders, notably Dumfriesshire.
  • Westmorland: Population 64,204. This was a relatively small and rural county in terms of population. Characterised by small market towns and farming villages, it has its own distinct surname distribution. Along with Cumberland it is now part of Cumbria.
  • Lancashire: Population 3,466,597. This highly populated county included Liverpool and Manchester as well as major towns such as Bolton; Preston; Burnley; Oldham, Rochdale and a number of mill towns. The historic county also stretched into the south Lakeland area in what is now (along with Cumberland and Westmorland) part of Cumbria. The industries of Lancashire were a great draw for immigration from Scotland; Ireland and Wales, particularly in the nineteenth century.
  • Cheshire: We occasionally include details of surname distribution in Cheshire (its population in 1881 was 644,895) where relevant, though surnames in Cheshire and indeed Lancashire and to some extent West Yorkshire often take on a distinctly different character and pattern of distribution to surnames in the other northern counties. Welsh surnames are also quite significant in Cheshire given its location on the Welsh Border. In fact some suburbs of the city of Chester are located within Wales.
  • Counties of the Midlands and South: In addition to the six northernmost counties plus Cheshire, there were a further 32 other counties in England as follows: Bedfordshire; Berkshire; Buckinghamshire; Cambridgeshire; Cornwall; Derbyshire; Devon; Dorset; Essex; Gloucestershire; Hampshire; Hertfordshire; Hertfordshire; Huntingdonshire; Kent; Leicestershire; Lincolnshire; London (Middlesex); Norfolk; Northamptonshire; Nottinghamshire; Oxfordshire; Rutland; Shropshire; Somerset; Staffordshire; Suffolk; Surrey; Sussex; Warwickshire; Wiltshire and Worcestershire.
  • The South East: Of these other English counties, London and some of its neighbouring counties were particularly populous as of course they still are. There were just short of 3 million people in Middlesex (London) and additionally in Surrey there were 1.4 million people. In Essex there were more than half a million people and the population in Kent (996,770) was just short of a million. Such a populous region as the South East often inevitably includes Northern surnames that have gravitated southward but rarely do these surnames have any proportional significance within the population of the South East.
  • Scotland: The total population of Scotland in 1881 was 3.4 million, focused primarily on the central lowland belt stretching from Glasgow to Edinburgh.
  • Wales: The total population of Wales in 1881 was just over 1.5 million and focused upon Cardiff, Swansea and the industrial mining valleys of the south.

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Introduction to North East surnames

Border Reivers

Guppy’s surnames

North East Notable People


Border Reiver Surnames of the Anglo-Scottish Border. Poster Print.


North East England History and Culture