Guide to North East Surnames: S

Surnames: Salkeld to Swinburn

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Salkeld surname

Border Reiver family surname

A surname of the Scottish Borders, Cumberland and County Durham. As a reiver name it was associated with the Eden valley near Carlisle. In Northumberland the name was associated with Hulne Abbey near Alnwick along with Rock and Fallodon in north Northumberland.

Salkeld : Border Reiver surname
Salkeld : Border Reiver surname © David Simpson

There were 770 people of this name in the 1881 census of which 168 lived in Durham; 125 in Lancashire; 99 in Cumberland; 85 in Yorkshire; 73 in Westmorland and 68 in Northumberland. Most of the few remaining Salkelds were found in the south east of England. The surname is recorded in Cumberland in 1210 when a Hamo de Salkil is mentioned. The surname derives from the place called Salkeld just north of Penrith.

Salvin surname

Rare Nottinghamshire surname with Durham connections

The name Salvin originates in the silvan landscape of the forests of Nottinghamshire, however a Roman Catholic family of this name have a centuries old connection with Croxdale Hall, Burn Hall, Sunderland Bridge and Tudhoe just to the south east of Durham City. Over the years many of the Salvins were of the name Gerard and a Gerard Salvin of Croxdale was one of the supporters of the Rising of the North rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I in 1569, for which he was pardoned.

Croxdale Hall
Croxdale Hall © David Simpson

Salvin was quite a rare surname in the 1881 census with only 141 individuals in Great Britain, including only 9 in Durham; 48 in Yorkshire and 48 in Nottinghamshire. Others could be found across the midlands and Cambridgeshire.

The Salvins are still the owners of Croxdale Hall and were formerly the owners of the impressive Burn Hall just across the Great North Road to the north west. Anthony Salvin (1799-1881), a renowned architect noted for his medieval style buildings was born at Sunderland Bridge near Croxdale and educated at Durham School.

Burn Hall.
Burn Hall © David Simpson

Scott surname

Border Reiver family surname

The Scott surname is widespread in Scotland and eastern England but especially Northumberland and the North East. Henry Guppy considered it scattered across England but with the main centres in Northumberland and Cumberland mirrored by Berwickshire, Roxburghshire and Dumfriesshire on the Scottish side. The surname ‘Scot’ often appears amongst the names of medieval mayors of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Newcastle mayors included Peter Scot 1245-1251; Nicholas Scot 1259 and 1273; Henry Scot 1274, 1277, 1282-85, 1288-89, 1293, 1298-99; John Scot 1290 and 1295-97; Sir Nicholas Scot 1310 and 1321; John Oliver Scott 1876 and Catherine Campbell Scott in 1959.

Scott was the 6th most numerous surname in Northumberland in the 1881 census. It was 12th in County Durham; 13th in Cumberland; 19th in Westmorland and 47th in Yorkshire but was not in the top fifty names for Lancashire or Cheshire.

There were 79,191 people called Scott in the Great Britain census in 1881 of which 27,958 resided in Scotland. In the North of England their numbers were 7,493 in Yorkshire; with 5,021 in Durham; 4,972 in Lancashire;  4,493 in Northumberland; 1,942 in Cumberland and 334 in Westmorland. The surname was a little more thinly distributed amongst the remaining counties of England including 5,631 in London.

As a surname Scot means a person from Scotland though in some cases it may even refer to a Gael from Ireland or even a spy (from an old word Scutt meaning ‘a spy’) though that seems to be a variation in the south west of England.

Scottish surnames in North East England

Surnames of Scottish origin in the region

Scottish surnames can be frequently found in the North East of England and in industrial areas of the broader Northern England as well as in England in general. In the North East some of these may be Border names that have been associated with both sides of the Border for many centuries.

Others, however, may be names that originated in the Scottish Highlands, often with the Gaelic prefix ‘Mac’ meaning ‘descendant of’ though this can sometimes be Irish Gaelic in origin. Scottish names, both lowland and highland, became more numerous across the north of England with the development of industrialisation.

As seen in our introduction some Scottish surnames have Northumbrian or English equivalents. Some of these English names may have possibly been Scottish in origin while in some cases they may have been English in origin and modified following a movement north of the Border. Some of the surnames may have simply developed independently of each other without any actual historic family connection.

In the following list of examples we can see the typical Northumbrian English variant followed by the Scottish form: Thompson / Thomson; Reed / Reid; Carr / Kerr; Gillhespy / Gillespie; Howey / Howie; Stephenson / Stevenson; Straughan / Strachan.

The Northumbrian variant forms naturally predominate in the North East of England. However, in the North West of England (in the historic county of Lancashire) these Scottish surnames tend to be found in the Scottish form suggesting a more sudden and direct influx of Scots in the industrial era rather than a more gradual and subtle immigration over a long period of time.

Scrope surname

Rare surname of historic Northern note

Scrope seems to be a Yorkshire surname and was the name of an important Archbishop of York in the fourteenth century. The name is pronounced ‘Scroop’. In medieval times the surname was associated with Bolton Castle in Wensleydale where the current owners, though not Scrope by name, are descendants.

Other places connected with the Scropes in medieval times include Whalton and Wooler in Northumberland and Langley near Burnhope in County Durham where a Henry Scrope built a fortified house in the 14th century. Scropes fought at the Battle of Flodden in 1513.

Remains of Langley Hall
The Remains of Langley Hall

In  the 1881 census there were only 12 people of this name in the census for Great Britain with the family primarily associated with Yorkshire. The surname ‘le Scrope comes from an Anglo-Norman name meaning ‘the crab’.

Selby surname

Border Reiver family surname

In the thirteenth century Selbys were medieval holders of Felling near Gateshead which they leased from the Bishop of Durham in the reign of Henry III. From the 1300s Biddlestone in Coquetdale was a family seat where the Tower of ‘Bydilson’ was recorded under the ownership of John Selby in 1415.

A Walter De Selby colluded with fellow Northumbrian Gilbert Middleton in a rebellion against King Edward II, capturing a number of Northumbrian castles. They kidnapped the Bishop of Durham at Rushyford in 1317 and  imprisoned him at Mitford Castle. Middleton was captured and executed but Selby remained at large.  Selbys resided at Biddlestone until 1914.

The River Coquet, Coquetdale
The River Coquet, Coquetdale © David Simpson

In the sixteenth century Twizell Castle on the banks of the River Till was for a time another stronghold of the Selby family after it was sold to them by the Herons in 1520.

In the heyday of Border reiving in the late sixteenth century the Selbys were at feud with the Collingwood family and on November 22, 1586 a William Selby of Berwick along with a band of men, ambushed a travelling party returning from Newcastle that included the Northumberland Sheriff, Robert Clavering and Clavering’s father-in-law, the former Sheriff, Cuthbert Collingwood. Collingwood was shot in the stomach but he survived though Clavering was shot dead by Selby. The site of the murder is marked by Clavering’s Cross near Longhorsley.

Selbys were connected with the castle of Tynemouth after it was confiscated from the Percys following the Gunpowder plot in 1605 and the name Selby was prominent in the town governance of Newcastle in the seventeenth century.

A Newcastle alderman called William Selby, along with a fellow alderman, Henry Anderson, were for a time in the possession of the famous ‘Grand Lease’ of coal mining rights in the Whickham area. These mining rights had been confiscated from the Bishop of Durham by Queen Elizabeth I and sold. The two alderman subsequently sold the lease to the Burgesses of Newcastle who held the Grand Lease until 1681.

A curious but later incident involving a member of the Selby family was a quarrel at a horserace between a John Trollop of Thornley and a William Selby of Newcastle in 1636. A duel was fought in which Selby was killed and Trollop, who fled the scene, was declared an outlaw.

Mayors of Newcastle have included a William Selby in 1573 and 1589 and a George Selby in 1600, 1606, 1611 and 1622.

William Selby was the MP for Newcastle in 1572 and George Selby from 1601 and again from 1604. William Selby was the MP for Northumberland from 1697 and from 1601 and Sir George Selby, the county’s MP from 1614.

Despite the historic Border connections and political links to Northumberland and Newcastle, the distribution of the Selby surname seems to be most closely associated with Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. The surname is presumably derived from Selby, the famous abbey town of the latter county.

The Selby surname seems to have had only a small presence in the North East by 1881 and is included here because it was such an important and prominent Border Reiver surname. In the 1881 census there were 3,595 Selbys in Great Britain and in the Northern counties of England they had a relatively modest presence with 334 individuals in Yorkshire; 273 in Lancashire; 169 in Durham; only 50 in Northumberland and 32 in Cumberland.

In the midlands, Nottinghamshire was home to 365 individuals and in the south east there were 465 in London. In truth the surname was spread across the rest of the country in a rather disconnected way, so that other prominent counties for the surname included Surrey with 195; Dorset with 146; Kent 175; Gloucester 128 and Lincolnshire 144. In the whole of Scotland there were only 93 Selbys and in Wales there were 99.

Shadforth surname

County Durham name

A County Durham surname and a notable name of the North East. The name appeared amongst influential members of Trinity House in Newcastle. A George Shadforth was the mayor of Newcastle in 1829.

Various plaques in the courtyard of Trinity House in Newcastle upon Tyne featuring the surname Shadforth © David Simpson

Ultimately the surname derives from the village of Shadforth near Durham City. There were 196 people with this surname in the 1881 census of which 86 lived in Durham and 15 in Northumberland and 7 in Yorkshire, with others scattered across the midlands and south including some with the name Shadford, notably in Lincolnshire.

Shadforth village in County Durham © David Simpson

Shafto and Shaftoe surname

Border Reiver family Northumberland and Durham surname

A North East surname by origin but with a presence in Yorkshire and the home counties. Shafto or Shaftoe, the family surname, takes its name from the place Shaftoe near Wallington Hall to the west of Morpeth. Shaftoe Crags are just to the west of Bolam (another place from which a different North East surname derives).

The surname Shafto 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 Border reiving including the Reidswire Fray at Carter Bar in 1575 and they were supporters of the Jacobite cause in the eighteenth century.

Carter Bar, Northumberland
Carter Bar, Northumberland © David Simpson

A Mark Shafto was the mayor of Newcastle in 1548 and 1578 and a Robert Shaftoe was mayor of Newcastle in 1655

In 1652 the Shafto family acquired the Whitworth estate near Spennymoor in County Durham and this became a 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 said to be based on the hopes of Mary Belasis of Brancepeth castle who believed that Bobby Shafto would come back and marry her. Sadly, Shafto married someone else and Mary is said to have died of a broken heart.

Whitworth Hall.
Whitworth Hall © David Simpson

Robert Shafto was one of a number of Shaftos who became members of parliament. Robert’s father John Shafto (from 1730); his uncle Robert Shafto (from 1712 and from 1727) and son Robert Eden Duncombe Shafto of Whitworth (from 1804) were all MPs for the City of Durham. From 1847 a Robert Duncombe Shafto was MP for North Durham and a George Shafto Delaval was the MP for Northumberland from 1757. A Mark Shaftoe of Newcastle was the MP for that city from 1659.

Whitworth Hall near Spennymoor in County Durham remained Shafto property until purchased by local businessman Derek Parnaby in October 1981.

In the 1881 census there were 213 people called Shafto (or Shaftoe) with 54 in Durham; 41 in Northumberland; 33  in Yorkshire and 1 in Cumberland. Others could be found in the eastern counties and the south.

Shanks surname

Scottish surname with a North East presence

Shanks was listed by Henry Guppy as a surname in Northumberland but seems, however, to be a Scottish surname. In the 1881 census there were 2,351 people with this name of which 1,400 resided in Scotland. In the northern counties of England there were 222 in Northumberland; 176 in Durham; 94 in Lancashire; 49 in Yorkshire; 26 in Cumberland and 1 in Westmorland. The surname is a nickname from the word ‘shank’ a leg, perhaps someone who was particularly tall.

Sheraton surname

County Durham surname

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 part-Viking name which is thought to mean ‘Scurfa’s ton’ – the place inhabited by the one with flaky skin. This does not mean that the first person with the surname Sheraton had some kind of skin problem, but merely that they came from Sheraton, the one time flaky person’s place.

Both the surname and place were originally Scurveton and the change in spelling and pronunciation may 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.

The town hall and bank, Stockton
Stockton-on-Tees © David Simpson

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.

In the 1881 census there were only 151 people called Sheraton in Great Britain including 81 who lived in Durham; 6 in Lancashire; 4 in Northumberland and 6 in Yorkshire.

Shield surname

Scotland and Northern England

Listed by Henry Guppy as a surname in Northumberland and found in the North East and Cumbria. The name is mentioned in connection with the Hexham area in 1663 where Guppy found they were still focused in his time. It is presumably a name deriving from a shelter or shieling of some kind such as those used by shepherds in the uplands or the fishermen’s huts from which South Shields and North Shields are named. In some cases the name may derive from a maker of shields.

Shield surname

Shield in the singular is a less numerous variation of the surname than Shields (see below) and was less prominent in Scotland. In  the 1500s the surname was connected with East Allendale.

In the 1881 Great Britain census there were 1,368 with this name of which only 76 resided in Scotland and 901 lived in the six most northern counties of England. In Durham there were 378; in Northumberland there were 318;  Lancashire 89; Yorkshire 60; Cumberland 49 and Westmorland 7, with most of the remaining numbers residing in the South and South East. A notable North Easterner with this name was the composer William Shield (1748-1829).

Shields surname

Shields as a surname is much more numerous than Shield as there were 4,644 people called Shields in the 1881 Great Britain census. Of these, 1,751 resided in Scotland and 2,042 resided in the six most northern counties of England. In Lancashire there were 637 people called Shields; in Yorkshire there were 566;  in Durham 521; Northumberland 162; Cumberland 144 and Westmorland 12 with most of the remaining numbers residing in the south and south east. A William Shields was mayor of Durham in 1791, 1805 and 1824.

Shiels surname

There were 709 people called Shiels (without the ‘d’) in the 1881 Great Britain census. Of these 499 resided in Scotland and only 160 in the six most northern counties of England.  In Lancashire there were 87; in Northumberland 41;  Durham only 14; Yorkshire 13 and Cumberland 4 with most of the small remaining numbers residing in the south and south east.

Shiel surname

The least numerous variation. There were 537 people called Shiel (without the ‘d’ and ‘s’) in the 1881 Great Britain census. Of these 239 resided in Scotland and 255 in the six most northern counties of England. In Northumberland there were 123; Lancashire 67; Durham 48 and Yorkshire 17 with most of the small remaining numbers residing in the south and midlands.

Shotton surname

Northumberland and Durham surname

Primarily a North Eastern surname and especially Northumberland, it likely derived from one of the places of this name in Durham or Northumberland. Henry Guppy listed it as a surname in County Durham. There were 1,036 people with this name in the 1881 Great Britain census of which 727 lived in the six northernmost counties. There were 434 people with this name in Durham; 213 in Northumberland; 59 in Yorkshire; 20 in Lancashire and 1 in Cumberland. The remaining Shottons resided in other parts of the south and midlands.

Shotten, a variation of the surname consisted of only 67 individuals in Great Britain in 1881, mostly in the midlands with 21 in Warwickshire.

Simpson surname

Widespread name, numerous in the North

Simpson is a surname that is widespread across England and Scotland. According to surname scholars Simpson and Thompson are surnames that 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 across the Border on the English side. An early record of the name is a Richard Symmeson of Staffordshire in 1353 and another early occurrence in the north was Adam Symson of Whitby in 1395.

Simpson with the ‘p’ 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. A William Symson of Cockerton near Darlington and William Symson of Kibblesworth near Gateshead are listed in Bishop Hatfield’s survey of Durham (1377-80).

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.

Henry Guppy considered Simpson a surname of the northern half of England and especially the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire but also notable in Durham, Lancashire, Cheshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire. It is widely distributed across Scotland except in the North.

Simpson was the 16th most numerous name in Westmorland in the 1881 census; it was 27th in Yorkshire; 28th in County Durham; and 34th in both Northumberland and Cumberland but did not make it into the top fifty names for Lancashire or Cheshire.

There were 52,495 Simpsons in Great Britain in the 1881 census of which 13,302 lived in Scotland and 20,956 lived in the six northernmost counties of England. Yorkshire was home to 8,741 Simpsons; Lancashire 6,371; Durham 3,134; Northumberland 1,511; Cumberland 848 and Westmorland 351. In Cheshire there were 967 Simpsons. The remaining Simpsons were spread across the midlands and south east including 3,183 in London.

Skelton surname

Northern name especially Yorkshire and Cumberland

Skelton is a surname of North Yorkshire with pockets in Cumbria where it seems to have derived from the place-name there. There is of course also a Skelton in the Cleveland area of Yorkshire. In 1881 there were 4,362 Skeltons in Great Britain of which 1,243 resided in Yorkshire; 310 in Cumberland; 250 in Durham; 227 in Lancashire; 66 in Northumberland and 9 in Westmorland.

Smith surname

Widespread and very numerous in Great Britain, especially England

This surname is universally distributed across England and Scotland. One of the earliest recorded Smiths was an Ecceard Smith who lived in County Durham in 975 AD, although the name had a different spelling 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 occurred. A smith is of course 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 Smith 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.

Craft gallery in old blacksmiths’ forge, Corbridge © David Simpson

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 thoughtlessly regarded as the most typically English name of all. A scholarly study of Great Britain once showed that Smith was most common in the Aberdeen area, but who would think of Smith as a Scottish name?

In the 1881 census there were 429,197 people called Smith in Great Britain of which 53,301 resided in Scotland. Their numbers in the North were 46,836 in Yorkshire; 46,179 in Lancashire; 12,327 in Durham; 5,453 in Northumberland and 434 in Westmorland.

In that census, Smith was the number one most numerous surname in the counties of Durham; Yorkshire and Lancashire. In Northumberland it was in 2nd place behind Thompson. In Cheshire it was also in 2nd place with Jones taking the number one position in that county. In Cumberland Smith was in a lowly 6th place behind Graham, Bell, Wilson, Thompson and Armstrong. In the little county of Westmorland Smith only ranked 13th.

Snowdon surname

Mostly Yorkshire, significant in Durham

One of Henry Guppy’s ‘District’ surnames of County Durham, Snowdons included a mayor of Hartlepool in 1699. There were 5,140 people with this name in the 1881 census of which 1,648 resided in Yorkshire. There were 859 in Durham; 477 in Northumberland; 369 in Lancashire; 152 in Cumberland and 29 in Westmorland. Scotland was home to 90 and Wales was home to 43. Others were distributed broadly across the midlands, south and East Anglia. The name derives from a place called Snowdon or Snowden of which there is more than one place in Britain including a Snowden in Yorkshire.

Sotheran surname

Durham and Yorkshire surname

In the 1881 census there were 376 people with this name in Great Britain of which 138 resided in Yorkshire and 134 in Durham. There were only 14 in Northumberland; in Lancashire there were 8; in Cumberland 3 and in Westmorland only 1. Scotland was home to 10 Sotherans and the rest could be found mostly in the south and the south east. The surname is thought to be a Northern surname from what appears to be a Viking word meaning ‘southern’. Medieval forms of the surname are found mostly in Yorkshire.

Soulsby and Sowerby surnames

Durham and North East surname

In the 1881 census there were 879 people of this name of which 450 resided in County Durham. There were 282 in Northumberland; 69 in Yorkshire; 8 in Lancashire; 5 in Cheshire and 4 in Cumberland. The rest were mostly found in the south and south east.

Similar surnames that may be related to Soulsby are Sorsbie, Soresby and Sorsby. There are only 11 individuals with the variant surname Sorsbie consisting of 1 individual in Oxfordshire and 11 individuals in Kent who were a family whose head of household was born in Northumberland. The spelling may not be important but a Robert Sorsbie was a mayor of Newcastle in 1731, 1741 and 1749 and a Benjamin Sorsbie mayor of Newcastle in 1814 and 1827.

The form Soresby only occurs 24 times in the 1881 census predominantly in Derbyshire with some in Yorkshire but in the form Sorsby it occurs 144 times of which there were 6 in Nottinghamshire, 1 in Leicestershire and 1 in Edinburgh with the remaining 136 all in Yorkshire. In addition there were 155 people called Sowersby of which 76 lived in Yorkshire; 21 in Lincolnshire; 21 in Edinburgh; 14 in Hampshire; 9 in Berkshire and 7 in Durham; 4 in Lancashire; 1 in Lanarkshire and 2 in Leicestershire.

Sowerby a North East surname

Some of the above variants are barely ‘North East’ surnames in their distribution however the surname Sowerby had a much stronger North Eastern presence in the 1881 census. It occurred 1,615 times in that census and was most numerous in Yorkshire where there were 413 individuals, followed by Durham with 349.  In Cumberland there were 245 Sowerbys; in Northumberland 172; in Lancashire 137 and in Westmorland 127. Most of the rest resided in the midlands (including Lincolnshire with 77) or the south east and there were only 13 people of this name in Scotland.

A Ralph Sowerby was mayor of Newcastle in 1743, 1758 and 1750.

It is hard to pinpoint the place of origin for all the surnames above. There are places called Sowerby in Cumberland, Westmorland, Lancashire and in Yorkshire (the Yorkshire one near Thirsk) and there are places called Soulby in Cumberland and Westmorland.

De Soulby occurs as a surname in the Subsidy Rolls for Cumberland in 1332 and the surname de Sourebi is mentioned in Pipe Rolls pertaining to Cumberland in 1195. Surby occurs in London in 1381 and in the same year a William Sourby features in Poll Tax returns for Yorkshire while Saursbye and Sorsbie occur as surnames in that county in the seventeenth century.

Spedding surname

Northern surname especially Cumberland

The Spedding surname is most frequently found in Cumbria. There were 976 people with this name in the 1881 census of which 267 resided in Yorkshire and 213 in Lancashire. It was proportionally more significant in Cumberland when county populations are considered with 185 residing in Cumberland in 1881 and 38 in Westmorland. Durham was home to 145 Speddings and Northumberland 23. In the whole of Scotland there were only 16 and the small numbers that remain could be found in the midlands and south.

In 1663, a Joseph Speeding was the mayor of Hartlepool and this is likely an alternative spelling of the same name. A notable of the name Spedding is the North East-born athlete Charlie Spedding, a one-time London Marathon winner and Olympic Marathon medallist.

Stainthorpe surname

Yorkshire and Durham surname

A surname of North Eastern Yorkshire. Listed by Henry Guppy as a surname in the North Riding of Yorkshire. In the 1881 census there were 330 people of this name in Yorkshire and 111 in Durham. There were 23 in Lancashire and 19 in Northumberland with the remaining few in the midlands. Stainthorpe is an old or alternative spelling of the place called Staindrop near Raby Castle in County Durham.

Staindrop village
Staindrop village © David Simpson

Stamper surname

Border Reiver family surname Mostly Cumberland

Mostly a Cumbrian name. In the 1881 census there were 697 Stampers with 205 in Cumberland; 97 in Lancashire; 80 in Durham; 70 in Yorkshire and 44 in Westmorland. There were only 5 in Northumberland and only 8 in the whole of Scotland. Outside of Northern England there were 83 people of this name in Lincolnshire and small numbers in the remaining midlands and south. The surname possibly derives from a stamper of coins.

Starforth surname

Durham and Yorkshire surname

The surname Starforth derives from Startforth which is the place on the River Tees directly opposite the town of Barnard Castle to which it is linked by bridge. Today Startforth is in County Durham but historically Startforth was in Yorkshire while Barnard Castle was and still is in County Durham.

Barnard Castle Bridge
Barnard Castle Bridge © David Simpson

In the 1881 census this surname occurs only 85 times with a number of different spellings including Starforth, Startforth, Starford and Startfirth and nearly all are in Durham or Yorkshire. The exceptions are 2 individuals in Lincolnshire (a Starford and a Starforth), 1 individual in each of Warwickshire and London who are both called Starford; 2 Starfords in Lancashire and 1 Starforth in Edinburgh.

Of the 78 that remained, 15 resided in Yorkshire of which 9 were Starfords, 4 were Startforths and 2 were Starforths. County Durham was home to most people with these surnames being home to 64 individuals made up of 36 Starfords; 18 Starforths and 9 Starfirths. The place-name Starforth means ‘street ford’ from the point where a Roman road or ‘street’ crossed the River Tees.

A John Starforth was the mayor of Durham in 1785 and 1796 and a Gilbert Starforth was mayor of Durham in 1792. Starforths included carpet manufacturers in Durham City (see also Henderson).

Stephenson surname

North East surname

A surname of the northern half of England and especially frequent in the County of Durham followed by the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire. Stevenson with the different spelling is more of a Scottish surname. The Tyneside engineers George and Robert Stephenson were men of great note.

George Stephenson's birthplace at Wylam
George Stephenson’s birthplace at Wylam © David Simpson

In the 1881 census, Stephenson was the 27th most numerous surname in the county of Durham; it was 44th in Northumberland and 47th in Cumberland but was not in the top fifty names for Yorkshire; Lancashire; Cumberland; Westmorland or Cheshire. The name simply means ‘son of Stephen’.

There were 17,204 people called Stephenson in the 1881 census of which only 402 were in Scotland. In Yorkshire there were 5,674; in Durham there were 3,158; in Northumberland 1,326; in Cumberland 613 and Westmorland 136. It is always important to remember that Lancashire and Yorkshire were by far the most populous counties in Northern England (see the note about populations at the foot of this page). Remaining Stephensons were distributed across England including 767 in London.

Stevenson, though more numerous in the 1881 census with 21,092 individuals was much more of a Scottish surname with 9,159 individuals in Scotland but this surname also had a significant proportion in the six northern counties of England and especially Lancashire and Yorkshire where there were 1,559 and 1,355 respectively. It was not so prominent in the other northern counties with only 387 in Durham; 271 in Northumberland; 54 in Cumberland and 6 in Westmorland. Others spread across the country included 1,250 in London.

Stobart surname

Northumberland and Durham name

Predominantly found in the far northern counties of England including the Cumbria area which is of course the home county for the familiar Eddie Stobart road haulage firm.Stobart was listed as a surname in Northumberland by Henry Guppy. Stobard and Stobert are variations of the name.

There were 1,016 people with this name in the 1881 census of Great Britain with 379 in Durham; 322 in Northumberland; 129 in Yorkshire; 51 in Cumberland; 23 in Lancashire and 9 in Westmorland. There was only one person with this name in Scotland and a very small number in the south east of England. The name is thought to derive from an Anglo-Saxon personal name Stubheard.

Stokeld surname

 North East surname

In the 1881 census this surname occurs only 56 times in Great Britain with 44 individuals in Durham; 8 in Yorkshire and 4 in London. In addition there were 7 people with the variant spelling Stockeld with 5 in Durham and 1 in Yorkshire.

A John Stokeld was the mayor of Durham in 1664 and a Thomas Stokeld was mayor there in 1677.

Stokoe surname

Border Reiver surname Northumberland and Durham surname

A North East surname of south Northumberland. In the 1881 census there were 1,015 people called Stokoe in Great Britain. The six northern counties were home to over 900 of these and especially Durham (418) and Northumberland (372). There were 76 in Yorkshire; 22 in Cumberland and 8 in Westmorland with most of the remaining Stokoes residing in London and the south east.

The name may be derived from the place called Stockhow in Cumbria though there is at least once place called Stokoe in Northumberland. A notable Stokoe was the former Newcastle United FC footballer and Sunderland FC manager Bob Stokoe who played a part in FA Cup final wins for both clubs.

Storey surname

Border Reiver family surname

Predominantly a North East surname and particularly Northumberland. As a Border Reiver name it was primarily associated with Redesdale below Otterburn. The name could also be found on the Borders in the Eskdale area near Gretna.

Storey : Border Reiver surname
Storey : Border Reiver surname © David Simpson

The name Storey is thought to have described someone who was very tall, though that may of course be simply a tall story.  A Samuel Storey was the founder of the Sunderland Echo newspaper.

In  the 1881 census there were 7,623 people with this name in the Great Britain census of which only 172 resided in Scotland. The six northern counties accounted for 5,124 Storeys. There were 1,470 in Yorkshire; 1,345 in Durham; 1,139 in Northumberland; 811 in Lancashire; 224 in Cumberland and 135 in Westmorland. Of the remainder many resided in the south east including 539 in London.

The variant surname Story (without the ‘e’) might perhaps be termed the ‘Cumberland variant’. It consisted of 1,857 individuals in the 1881 census of which only 128 resided in Scotland. There were 347 in Cumberland; 281 in Yorkshire; 271 in Durham; 100 in Northumberland; 61 in Lancashire and 10 in Westmorland. The south of England was home to most of the others including 153 in London.

Straughan surname

Northumberland and Durham surname

A North East surname and listed as a surname in Northumberland  by Henry Guppy. There were 552 people with this name in the 1881 census of which 374 resided in Northumberland. Durham was home to 153; Yorkshire 8 and Cumberland 1. There were only 6 people of  this name in Scotland and very few in the south of England. It is thought to be a Northumbrian form of the Scottish surname Strachan which ultimately derives from a place of that name in Kincardineshire.

Strother surname

North East and Yorkshire

A surname associated with northern Northumberland. A ‘strother’ is a place overgrown with brushwood. In 1415, Henry Strothir was the owner of the Tower of Lanton near Wooler and a Thomas Strothir was the owner of Newton Tower (Kirknewton Tower) also near Wooler in Glendale. In that year a William Strother was recorded as the owner of Wallington Tower (where we now find Wallington Hall).

In 1418 and 1421, John Strother was the mayor of Newcastle and served terms as MP for that town from 1417, 1418 and 1421. He also served as an MP for Northumberland. In 1617 Strothers were connected with Newton on the Moor and Alnwick in Northumberland.

In the 1881 census there were only 288 people with this name including 20 in Scotland; 26 in London, Surrey and Kent combined; 8 in Devon and 6 in Somerset. Its distribution was primarily in Northern England and especially in the North East, with 80 in Yorkshire; 75 in Northumberland and 32 in Durham. In the North West there were 22 in Cheshire and 14 in Lancashire.

Suggett surname

Durham and Yorkshire name

The surname Suggett (or Suggitt) is found especially in the Durham and the Yorkshire / Cleveland areas. It was listed by Henry Guppy as a surname in the North or East Riding of Yorkshire. There were 599 people of this name in the 1881 census of which 350 resided in Yorkshire and 115 in Durham. There were 26 people of this name in Lancashire but only 2 in Scotland. Others resided in the midlands and south east. Suggett and Suggitt are a form of the surname ‘Southgate’ from someone who probably dwelled near or at the south gate of a town.

Sunderland surname

Yorkshire surname

This is predominantly a West Yorkshire name, though it may well have originated from the city of Sunderland in the North East of England. However, there are other places called Sunderland in Cumberland and Lancashire and a High Sunderland near Northowram in West Yorkshire as well as North Sunderland in Northumberland and a Sunderland Bridge near Croxdale to the south of Durham City. Interestingly, despite all these northern Sunderlands, an early record of the Sunderland surname was in Essex in 1230.

The surname consisted of 3,443 individuals in the 1881 census of which 2,333 resided in Yorkshire; 656 in Lancashire; 46 in Durham; 12 in Northumberland and 6 in Cumberland with only 24 in the whole of Scotland. Most of the remaining Sunderlands lived in the midlands and south. Compare this surname to the surname Wearmouth which is very much a North Eastern name.

Surtees surname

County Durham surname

Listed as a surname in County Durham by Henry Guppy, Surtees is very much a North East surname. Being of distinctively northern origin it derives from the Norman French ‘Sur Tees’ meaning ‘on the Tees’.

Originally the Surtees family were seemingly called Siward, a name of Anglo-Viking origin, but acquired the name Surtees when they settled by the River Tees at Dinsdale near Darlington.

The vale of the Tees near Dinsdale © David Simpson

Low Dinsdale was the principal seat of the family and in the Norman period they were allied to the Balliols at Barnard Castle with a Ralph Surtees serving as Steward to the Balliols. Later, a Thomas Surtees served as Steward to the Bishop of Durham between 1330 and 1343. In Bishop Hatfield’s Survey of Durham (1377-80), Sir Ralph Surtees of Dinsdale is listed as one of the knights of Durham and a Thomas Surtees is mentioned in connection with the Wapentake of Sadberge. In the 1575 Visitation of the county, a John Surteys of Middleton-one-Row is listed.

Lands owned by the Surtees family during this era included Felling which had been forfeited from Walter Selby (see Selby above) following Selby’s part in a rebellion in 1318. When Selby fell back into favour he unsuccessfully attempted to regain his lands in Felling from Surtees. The influence of the Surtees family extended into Northumberland in these early times with a Thomas Surteys serving as MP for Northumberland in 1372.

Descendants of the Dinsdale Surtees family included Robert Smith Surtees (1805-1864) of Hamsterley near Shotley Bridge in County Durham. Robert Smith Surtees was the creator of ‘Jorrocks’ the fox hunting cockney grocer, whose antics appeared in the New Sporting Magazine and Jorrocks Jaunts and Jollities.

This Robert should not be confused with Robert Surtees of Mainsforth near Ferryhill (1779-1834), the historian of County Durham and author of the History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham who was another descendant of the Surtees family of medieval times. His four volume history of the county is still the best-known historical reference work covering the County of Durham.

Bessie Surtees window, Newcastle
Bessie Surtees window, Sandhill, Newcastle © David Simpson

On Tyneside, Bessie Surtees, the daughter of a wealthy Newcastle quayside merchant achieved great fame in that town 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 relatively humble young man by the name of John Scott. John Scott went on to become a wealthy peer, acquiring the barony 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.

Redworth Hall.
Redworth Hall © David Simpson

Redworth Hall in south Durham near Darlington, (now a hotel) is another former noted home of the Surtees family.

In the 1881 census there were 908 people called Surtees in Great Britain of which 470 resided in Durham; 219 in Northumberland; 30 in Yorkshire; 21 in Cumberland and 16 in Lancashire. Most of the remaining Surtees lived in the south and south east of England. Scotland was home to only 5 people called Surtees.

A mercer called Robert Surtees (‘Suerties’) was mayor of Durham in 1606 and an Aubone Surtees (father of Bessie) was the mayor of Newcastle in 1761, 1770 and 1821. A Charles Surtees was the MP for south Durham from 1865.

The Surtees Society is an organisation dedicated to the publication of historic manuscripts relating to the history of North East England (or more broadly the ancient kingdom of Northumbria and especially Durham and Northumberland). It was founded in 1834 in honour of the historian, Robert Surtees of Mainsforth.

Swinburne and Swinburn surnames

Northumberland surname

Swinburne and Swinburn are very much surnames of Northumberland and Durham. These surnames derived from the place called Swinburne (Great and Little Swinburne) in Northumberland. The famous poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) was a Northumbrian. The Swinburnes were powerful figures in Tynedale and Hexhamshire in medieval times and important owners of land in the Tyne valley areas.

Capheaton was a family seat of particular significance to this family and recorded in their ownership in a list of Northumberland castles and towers in 1415. The tower of Harnahamghall (near Belsay) was also recorded as being under their ownership, belonging to a Robert Swynburn in that year.

A Sir William Swinburne was an MP for Northumberland in 1395 and John Swinburne was MP for that county in 1554. A Robert Swinburne was MP for Newcastle in 1414. An Edward Swinburn was mayor of Newcastle in 1528. The family had a presence in Durham too and in 1569 John Swinburne of Chopwell was regarded as one of the three main leaders of the rebellion called the Rising of the North, alongside Neville, the Earl of Westmorland of Raby Castle and Percy, the Earl of Northumberland of Alnwick.

In the 1881 census there were 1,208 people called Swinburn (or Swinburne) in Great Britain of which 344 resided in Durham; 116 in Northumberland; 115 in Yorkshire; 111 in Cumberland and 96 in Lancashire. Scotland was only home to only 19 people of this name and most of the remaining Swinburns were scattered across England and especially in the south east.

Scenery near Great Swinburne
Scenery near Great Swinburne © David Simpson

Swinhoe and Swinney surnames

Northumberland and Durham surname

Both of these surnames were very much North Eastern in their distribution in the 1881 census. There were 327 people called Swinney in that census of which 118 resided in Durham and 117 in Northumberland. There were 32 people of this name in London but nowhere else came close to Durham and Northumberland in numbers. Whether this is related to the Irish Gaelic surname Sweeney (from Mac Suibhne or Mac Sweeney) is not clear and it may be connected with the surname Swinhoe.

The surname Swinhoe which derives from the place of that name near Beadnell in Northumberland has a long association with the county of Northumberland. The towers of Scremerston near Berwick and Cornhill on Tweed were associated with the Swinhoe family and in 1415 were respectively under the ownership of John Swynhowe and William Swynhowe. The surname also had a connection to Mousen near Belford from at least 1427 and could be found in Durham too where a Ralph and James Swinowe of Durham were amongst the supporters of the Rising of the North rebellion in 1569.

There were 214 individuals of the name Swinhoe in 1881 of which 82 resided in Northumberland; 76 in Durham (including 5 called Swinho). Apart from 18 in the London and Kent areas this surname was thinly distributed elsewhere.

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