Guide to North East Surnames: V

Surnames: Vane to Vickers

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Vane surname
The Lords Barnard

A surname closely associated with Raby Castle and Lord Barnard. The Vanes are ultimately of Welsh origin, thought to be descended from Howell ap Vane of Monmouthshire who had settled in Kent by 1426. In 1626, Sir Henry Vane (1589-1654) purchased Raby Castle and became Lord Lieutenant of Durham at the time of the English Civil War and was sympathetic to the Parliamentarian cause. The castle would pass to Henry’s eldest son, Sir Henry Vane junior (1613-1662).

Raby Castle
Raby Castle © David Simpson

The Vanes of Raby became Barons Barnard in 1698; Earls of Darlington in 1754 and Dukes of Cleveland in 1833. The Dukedom became extinct in 1891 but the Barony of Barnard continued through another line of the family who would inherit the castle and whose family members include the present Lord Barnard of Raby.

The 11th Baron Barnard of Raby married Davina Cecil, daughter of the 6th Marquess of Exeter in 1952. She was a descendant of the Nevilles who had been the medieval owners of Raby Castle. The 11th Baron took the name Harry John Neville to mark the re-established connection between Raby and the Neville family of times past.

Members of Parliament in Durham have included Thomas Vane and Christopher Vane from 1675 (both MPs for the county); a Lionel Vane from 1698; a William Vane of West Auckland from 1708 and the Honourable Henry Vane from 1747. The Honourable Captain Raby Vane was MP from 1758 and the Honourable Frederick Vane from 1761. All of these were MPs for the County of Durham. Lord Harry Vane was MP for the constituency of south Durham from 1841.

In the 1881 census there were only 388 people called Vane residing in Great Britain almost all of whom lived in London and the south east.

Vane Tempest surname
Durham coal owning family

Sir George Vane, younger brother of Sir Henry Vane junior of Raby Castle (see above) was the first of the Vanes to own Long Newton near Stockton-on-Tees. His great grandson, Sir Henry Vane (1728-1794), the Rector of Long Newton married Frances Tempest, the daughter of John Tempest senior (1710-1776) of Sherburn and Wynyard, who was a member of the Old Durham branch of the Tempest family.

The Vane Arms, Long Newton
The Vane Arms, Long Newton © David Simpson

When Frances’s uncle, John Tempest junior, died in 1794, Frances and her husband inherited the Tempest family estates including the important coal mining interests. Their son, Henry Vane (1771-1813), a Durham MP, took the name Vane Tempest as part of the agreement of inheritance.

Durham Market Place, Londonderry statue
Durham Market Place, Londonderry statue © David Simpson

His daughter Frances Anne Vane Tempest (1800-1865) married Lord Charles William Stewart (1778-1854), who later became the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry, following the death of his half brother. His full name was Charles William Vane Tempest Stewart and he is most familiar as ‘the man on the horse’ statue in Durham Market Place and noted for his creation of the port and town of Seaham Harbour.

Durham MPs of this name have included Sir Henry Vane Tempest (the City of Durham from 1794 and County of Durham from 1807); a George Vane Tempest (North Durham from 1847) and Lord Adolphus Vane Tempest (MP for the City of Durham from 1852 and for North Durham from 1854).

See also Tempest.

Vaux surname

Dispersed surname with North East connections

Vaux was a surname most closely associated with Northumberland and especially the Liberty of Hexhamshire in the thirteenth and fourteenth century when they were perhaps the most important family in the Hexhamshire district. A Peter Vaux was Bailiff of that Liberty on a number of occasions in the fourteenth century.

The medieval Vaux family held Beaufront in South Tynedale as well as Fallowfield near Hexham and lands in Whittington and Portgate near Hadrian’s Wall along with Cowpen near Blyth; Tudhoe in County Durham and Whittonstall to the south of Hexham.

Hexham Abbey
Hexham Abbey © David Simpson

The famous Vaux Breweries of Sunderland, noted for its Double Maxim Brown Ale was founded by Cuthbert Vaux (1779–1850) in 1837 and continued to trade until 2000 when it was taken over by Whitbread.

In the 1881 census the surname Vaux was somewhat dispersed in its distribution across England. There were 409 individuals with this name which was most prominent in Yorkshire with 113 individuals. There were 59 in Durham but only 6 in Northumberland and 8 in Lancashire. Other counties where it was prominent included Somerset with 57 individuals and there were 31 in London; 19 in Dorset and 18 in Monmouthshire (Wales). The surname seems to derive from an Old French word meaning ‘valley’.

Vickers surname
Widely distributed surname especially in the North

Vickers was considered to be a ‘County surname’ in County Durham by Henry Guppy who identified it as being a Darlington surname, possibly in reference to the south and south western portion or ‘ward’ of the county. The distribution in the 1881 census does not show any special link to County Durham, although 3,276 of the 7,689 Vickers in the census of that year resided in the six northern counties of England as follows: Lancashire 1,339; Yorkshire 1,067; Durham 553; Cumberland 192; Northumberland 93 and Westmorland 18.

The famed engineering company Vickers Armstrong was formed by the merger of Tyneside engineering company Sir W.G. Armstrong Whitworth & Co in 1927 with Vickers Ltd. The Vickers engineering company had started life as a steel foundry established by a miller called Edward Vickers in Sheffield 1828 but does not seem to have any North East connection prior to the merger.

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