Guide to North East Surnames : B

North East England Surnames : B

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Bainbridge surname

(Durham surname, named from a place in Yorkshire)

Primarily a south Durham, North Yorkshire and Cumbria surname and found also to a lesser extent in Northumberland. It has not strayed far from its place of origin, namely the village of Bainbridge in Wensleydale. The name occurs in the Subsidy Rolls for Yorkshire in 1301 with a mention of Matilda De Baynbrigg and has been present in County Durham since the fifteenth century. In the eighteenth century several mayors of Durham City were of this name. It often occurs in earlier times in the form ‘Bainbrigg’.

In the nineteenth century it was mostly notable in the Darlington area of County Durham where it has been significant since Elizabethan times and present in neighbouring Stockton since the sixteenth century. There were 4,851 Bainbridges in Great Britain in the 1881 census of which 1,527 resided in County Durham; 357 in Northumberland; 246 in Cumberland; 185 in Westmorland and 743 in Yorkshire. In Lancashire there were 501 Bainbridges in 1881.

The famous Bainbridge’s department store, now part of the John Lewis Group can trace its origins to 1838 and initially started as a Newcastle drapers shop formed through a partnership between the Weardale-born Emerson Muschamp Bainbridge (c1817-1892) and William Alder Dunn. Bainbridge’s went its own way in 1849. Muschamp was the maiden name of Emerson’s mother whose family included the Emerson surname in their numbers.

Bainbridge © David Simpson 2005

Baker Baker surname

(Durham surname)

Unusual double surname associated with a family of Elemore Hall in Durham near Hetton-le-Hole. Baker itself is a widespread name in England and Wales but becomes more numerous in the southern parts of England. The Bakers of Elemore became the Baker Bakers in 1840 following a marriage and were later called Conyers Baker Baker.

Baker and Baker Baker of Elemore at Pittington
Tombs of George and Judith Baker of Elemore Hall (left) died 1774 and 1810 and Isabella Baker-Baker (right) died 1897 at Pittington church near Durham © David Simpson 2021

Their ancestors included Sir George Baker, a Recorder of Newcastle upon Tyne who played an important part in defending that town from the Scots during the Civil War in 1644. Elemore Colliery which opened in 1825 was on Baker land and a colliery called West Elimore Colliery near Consett was also connected with the family which they established in the 1830s.

Baliol / Balliol surname

(Historic baronial surname of Barnard Castle and Bywell)

An obsolete surname today but an historic baronial surname of Norman French origin  associated with Barnard Castle in Durham; Bywell in Northumberland and Stokesley in North Yorkshire. The Baliols of course included two kings of Scotland and the founder of Balliol College in Oxford.

Barnard Castle Castle
Barnard Castle Castle © David Simpson 2021

Notable Baliols with a North East connection included Bernard Baliol, John Baliol.

Only ten Baliol individuals are listed in the 1881 census for Great Britain but were they really descendants of the ancient baronial family? Nine of these Baliols (with one ‘l’, there are no Balliols in 1881) reside in the North East and include a 65-year-old Pontefract-born surgeon called John Baliol along with his wife and pawnbroker son living in Marlborough Crescent in the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne.  His wife and son were both born in Houghton-le-Spring.

Also in the North East in 1881, in Sunderland (Bishopwearmouth) there was a 62 year old Sheffield-born woman called Harriet Baliol living with relatives called Worth and in the Seaton Delaval area a photographer and coal miner called Hernry Baliol (born in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire) living with his Cramlington-born wife, daughter and two sons. The only other Baliol featuring in the 1881 census is a 19 year old servant girl called Carrie Baliol who is a boarder at a house in Campbeltown, Argyll, Scotland. Her birthplace is given as England and she describes herself as an actress and servant.

Bambrough surname

(Northumberland and Durham surname)

Almost certainly derived from the famous village and castle of Bamburgh in Northumberland. Very much a surname of North East England in its distribution. Sometimes also occurring in the form Balmbrough which was the name of a nineteenth century mustard manufacturer in the City of Durham.

Beautiful Bamburgh.
Beautiful Bamburgh Cast. Photo © David Simpson 2018

There is a suggestion that the surname might derive from Bamber Bridge in Lancashire. There are medieval occurrences of the surname in Lancashire, however in distribution it is is very much a North Eastern surname. In the 1881 census there are 330 individuals in Great Britain with the surname Bambrough, Balmborough, Balmbrough or Bambrough. Of these 171 lived in the County of Durham and 108 in the county of Northumberland.

Barker surname

(Yorkshire surname)

An old name for a tanner which Henry Guppy considered a surname of the northern counties and very frequent in Yorkshire. It occurs in Yorkshire in 1185 with a mention of a Ralph Barker in a record of Templars.

There were 39,372 Barkers in Great Britain in the census of 1881 of which 10,278 resided in Yorkshire. The next county with the most number of Barkers in Great Britain was Lancashire where there were 4,328.  Barker ranked 19th in the most numerous surnames in Yorkshire in 1881. However, this surname did not make it into the top fifty of the most numerous surnames in any of the four most northerly counties of Durham, Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland. In addition the surname did not feature in the top fifty names in Lancashire.

Other Barkers beyond Yorkshire were spread mostly across the numerous counties of the midlands and south east with only 57 in Scotland. In County Durham there were 1,234 Barkers but only 243 in Northumberland.

Barras surname

(North East and North Yorkshire surname)

A name with a strong focus in the North East and North Yorkshire. Possibly from a dweller at an outlying fort, though the Old French ‘Barrace’ was the name for a seller or dealer or a more cheeky explanation is that it identified someone who lived near a landscape feature such as a hill that resembled a ‘bare ass’. A Richard Barras is mentioned in the Hearth Tax returns for Yorkshire in 1672 but this is not a particularly early record.

There is a place-name called Barrasford in Northumberland and a Barras Bridge in Newcastle. In 1881 there were 1,540 individuals with this surname listed in the census for Great Britain. Of these, 566 resided in County Durham; 238 in Northumberland and 408 in Yorkshire.

Barras Bridge
Barras Bridge in Newcastle as it looked long ago

Barrington surname

(A Bishop of Durham and a Colliery owner’s name)

The name of a late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Bishop of Durham : Shute Barrington. A nephew of his, Lord Barrington owned land in the Choppington and Bedlington area that became the site of Barrington Colliery in 1821.

However, in the 1881 census there is no obvious connection with this surname and the North of England except in Lancashire where 234 Barringtons resided out of a total population of 1,010 Barringtons in Great Britain. Only 7 individual Barringtons resided in County Durham in 1881 with none in Northumberland and only 20 in the whole of Yorkshire.

Baty and Batey surnames

(Northumberland and Durham surname)

Batey is pet name for Bartholomew that Henry Guppy considered to be the Northumbrian version of a surname that was more likely to occur as Batty in Yorkshire and Bates in the Midlands and eastern counties. See also Beattie below. An early Yorkshire occurrence of the name is Hugo Baty in the Yorkshire Subsidy Rolls of 1301.

In 1881 its clear that the forms Batty, Battey and Battie with the double ‘t’ on the one hand have a different distribution to the more North Eastern names of Baty, Batie and Batie.

The 1881 census shows a total of 6,103 individuals called Batty, Battey and Battie all with the double ‘t’ of which 3,489 reside in Yorkshire and 739 in Lancashire but a total of only 286 reside in the four northern counties of Northumberland, Durham, Cumberland and Westmorland.

However, Baty, Batey and Batie are very much North Eastern names in 1881. Of the 1,943 people with these names in Great Britain, some 76 lived in Lancashire; only 24 in Yorkshire; 8 in Westmorland 304 in Cumberland; 670 in Northumberland and 647 in Durham. Batey and Baty were quite evenly split across these counties except in Durham where there was a quite significant difference (Batey 474, Baty 173). Of these three North East names Batie was very rare, a total of only 35 people called Batie in the whole of Britain of which 21 lived in Northumberland and 9 in Durham.

The names Bate and Bates could be another pet form of Bartholomew or perhaps a reference to a boat or boatman from the old pronunciation of the word. Bate occurs in Yorkshire in in 1286 and a Thomas Del Bate is mentioned in Northumberland in 1270. St Mary’s Island near Whitley Bay was often known as Bait Island from a Thomas Bates who once resided there.

Bates was a much more numerous name than all the Batty and Baty variants combined in 1881. There were 19,403 people in Great Britain called Bates in 1881, however only 374  lived in Northumberland and 517 lived in Durham. Yorkshire was home to 2,040 people called Bates and Lancashire a home to 1,882 with significant numbers spread across the rest of country.

The singular form Bate (5,079 in Great Britain in 1881) was much rarer in the North East with only 29 in the whole of Northumberland and Durham. Even Yorkshire was home to only 78 people called Bate in 1881. Lancashire, however was home to 1,068 people of this name with significant numbers in the western parts of the midlands and into the south west.

See also Beattie.

Beattie surname

Border Reiver surname (mostly in Cumbria)

Listed as a Guppy farmers’ surname peculiar to Cumberland and Westmorland. In Great Britain it is still most common in Cumbria and especially in the Borders area north of Carlisle as well as in Northumberland. However its is significant in Northern Ireland too and is found across Scotland where it likely originated. The Beaty surname is a variant and in England also primarily associated with Cumbria. Like the surnames Baty and Batey (see above), they are pet forms of Bate, a shortened form of Bartholomew.

In 1881 there were 7,947 Beatties / Beatys in Great Britain. In the Northern counties Lancashire was the home to 884 Beatties and Beatys; Cumberland; 693; Northumberland 313; Durham 270; Yorkshire 171 and Westmorland 16. A total of 2,331 lived in these six northern counties with the figure being proportionally very high for Cumberland when population is taken into account.

Belasis surname

(Old Teesside and Durham surname)

An old surname that derives from the historic manor of Belasis near Billingham, which was a seat of the Belasis, Lambton and Eden families. Belasis is a Norman-French name meaning beautiful seat and it is likely that the surname came about shortly after the place was named. Rowland de Belasis, identified by his place of origin was the first holder of the surname and was a Knight of the Bishop of Durham who lived at nearby Cowpen Bewley around 1264.

Cowpen Bewley
Cowpen Bewley village near Billingham. Notice the Transporter Bridge in the distance between the houses. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Later, Belasis passed into the hands of Durham Cathedral, but the Belasis family continued their association with the area. Between 1270 and 1280, a John De Belasis held land around Wolviston and there is a tradition that he exchanged part of Belasis for territory at Henknowle near Bishop Auckland.

“Johnny Belasis , daft was thy poll.

When thou changed Belasis for Henknowell.”

The arms of the Belasis family in the church of St Andrews Auckland at South Church were said to be inscribed with the words ‘Johnny Belasis daft was thy poll, when thou exchanged Belasis for Henknowell’.

The most famous member of the Belasis family was Miss Mary Belasis of Brancepeth Castle near Durham who lived in the eighteenth century and apparently fell in love with one Bobby Shafto, a County Durham MP.  She is said to have sung the words ‘he’ll come back and marry me’ of the famous song, but he returned from sea to marry someone else. She died of a broken heart. The Belasis family also had strong connections with Coxwold near Thirsk in North Yorkshire.

Bell surname

Border Reiver surname

A very numerous surname in general and especially in Northern England and Scotland. There were 56,838 Bells in Great Britain at the time of the 1881 census.

Isaac Lowthian Bell, a noted North East industrialist

The surname Bell is very northern in nature being numerous in Northumberland (4,559 individuals in 1881) and Durham (6,746) and also found in big numbers in Yorkshire (6,834); Lancashire (5,039); Cumberland (3,633) and of course across Scotland (12,872). In the 1881 Great Britain census, Bell was the second most numerous surname in Cumberland (after Graham); the 5th most numerous in Northumberland, 7th in County Durham; 15th in Westmorland and 49th in Yorkshire but did not make the top fifty names in Lancashire.

During the Border troubles between England and Scotland it was a Border Reiver name, a sheep rustling family like the Armstrongs, Robsons, Grahams and Charltons. British Surnames fall into four categories of origin, those derived from first names, descriptive nicknames, occupational names and surnames derived from localities or places of residence. Bell is unusual because it can fit all four categories and it is probable that not all Bells share a common ancestor.

As a surname derived from a first name Bell could be a pet form of Isabel and this was probably the case of Osbertus filius Bell recorded in Yorkshire in 1297. A Hugo Bel, recorded in Hampshire in 1148 is thought to have a descriptive nickname taken from the Old French ‘Belle’, meaning ‘beautiful’, ‘fair’ or ‘handsome’ but Seaman Belle of London in 1181 and Serlo Belle of Yorkshire in 1190 are thought to derive their names from the occupation of bellringing. This meaning has also given rise to the surnames Bellars, Bellers and Bellringer.

Some early Bells took their name from their place of residence, and this was almost certainly the case of Robert de la Belle of Staffordshire in 1222 and London’s John atte Belle in 1332. These Bells or one of their earlier ancestors lived near a church or town bell, or perhaps near the sign of a bell. The surname Bellas is similar, deriving from Bell-Hus, someone who lived near a Bell House though some family history sources associate this with Belasis.

Bell-like names deriving from places include Bellingham, from the village in Northumberland and Bellerby from the village in North Yorkshire. Today the Bells, Bels, Belles, atte Belles and De la Belles of old are now all called Bell, making it difficult to know the exact origin of each individual. Whatever its root or roots the surname Bell is undoubtedly primarily a northern one.

Henry Guppy considered the Bell surname to be widespread but especially focused on the Border counties of Northumberland, Durham, Cumberland, Dumfriesshire and the neighbouring Scottish counties.

Notable North Easterners include the explorer, Gertrude Bell, actor, Jamie Bell, and industrialist Isaac Lowthian Bell

Bellingham surname

(Possible Northumberland origin?)

No indication that this name has a North East or even a significant northern distribution today. However, it may originate in North Tynedale in medieval times where the Bellingham family are known to have held the manor and castle at Bellingham from which they took their name. There is also a place called Bellingham in Kent and a Bellingham Farm in Wiltshire. A William de Bellingham is mentioned in Norfolk in 1274.

Bellingham, North Tynedale © David Simpson 2021

In the 1881 Great Britain census there were 1,104 people with the surname Bellingham (plus 4 called Ballingham).  Their numbers in the North East were very small indeed. There were only 5 individuals with this name residing in Northumberland; 11 in Durham; 12 in Cumberland; 51 in Lancashire and 31 in Yorkshire. There were 267 people with this surname in Kent and a broad distribution across the south and midlands. So while this could be a northern surname in origin it was certainly not northern in its distribution in 1881. See also Billingham.

Bennet surname

(With the single ‘t’ – a Northumberland connection)

Bennett (with the double ‘t’) is fairly widespread throughout England, especially in the south. Bennet with a single ‘t’ may be more of a North East surname in distribution. It is the family name of the Earls of Tankerville, associated with the Wooler area of Northumberland. However, there were more than 55,000 Bennetts (and Bennets) in Great Britain in 1881 and on the whole it does not seem to have been a northern surname. The name derives from the popular medieval forename, Benedict.

Tankerville Arms
Tankerville Arms near Wooler. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Bertram surname

(Mostly of the Scottish lowlands)

Mostly a name of the Scottish lowlands south of Edinburgh with Northumberland representing the most significant centre in England. In 1881 some 640 of the 1,557 Bertam individuals resided in Scotland with 134 in Northumberland; 111 in County Durham and 58 in each of the counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire. A William Bertam is mentioned in the Domesday Book for Hampshire in 1086.

Bewick surname

(Northumberland and Durham surname)

A north Northumberland surname that very probably originates from Old Bewick near Chillingham in Northumberland and the family certainly have north Northumberland roots. It is listed as a Guppy farmers’ surname peculiar to Northumberland. The most famous Bewick was of course the Northumberland-born eighteenth century naturalist and engraver, Thomas Bewick. The most significant populations of this surname are in North East England and western parts of Cumbria with a significant proportion in North East Scotland, north of Aberdeen.

Old Bewick church
Old Bewick church © David Simpson 2021

A Merchant Adventurer, called Robert Bewick was twice mayor of Newcastle in the seventeenth century. In the 1881 census there were 885 individuals with the surname Bewick in Great Britain of which 411 resided in County Durham and 244 in Northumberland. Although the surname is primarily North Eastern it is worth noting that there is an early record that mentions a John De Bewic in the Assize Rolls for Yorkshire in 1219 and that there is a place in the East Riding of Yorkshire called Bewick.

Biddlestone surname

(Midlands surname with possible Northumberland origin?)

Primarily a Midlands surname. No evidence of a significant North East distribution despite the place-name Biddlestone in Coquetdale, Northumberland where the surname may fond its origins. There are 98 individuals called Biddlestone in Great Britain in the 1881 census with a further 48 with the spelling Biddleston. Staffordshire was the residence of 77 of the first and 22 of the second. Most of these were also born in Staffordshire or in neighbouring counties.

Scenery between Alwinton and Biddlestone
Scenery between Alwinton and Biddlestone © David Simpson 2021

There were 16 Biddlestones in County Durham in 1881 and 3 Biddlestons. The surname does not occur in Northumberland in 1881. Durham’s 16 Biddlestones in 1881 are a family of nine and a family of seven both living in Sunderland and all born in that town. The three Biddlestons in Durham are an ironworker and his family at Consett. He is 60 years old and born at Lemington near Newcastle.

Billingham surname

(Midlands surname with Durham and Teesside origins)

Primarily a midlands name but originates from Billingham near Stockton-on-Tees in the historic County Durham. A John De Billingham is mentioned in the Yorkshire Subsidy Rolls in 1327 and from the 1370s until the 1650s the De Billingham family were owners of the manor of Sidegate and Crook Hall in Durham City.

There is little evidence that this family were prominent in the region in more recent centuries. In the 1881 census there were 1,186 Billinghams living in Great Britain of which 6 lived in County Durham; 1 in Northumberland and 55 in Yorkshire. In Nottinghamshire there were 508 Billinghams and there were 343 in Staffordshire with neighbouring midland counties also having significant populations.

Sidegate, Durham © David Simpson

Blackett surname

(Durham surname plus Northumberland and Yorkshire)

In England this surname is most numerous in North East England. A Richard De Black-heved (Blackhead) was a forester at Stanhope in the reign of Edward III. Sir William Blackett (1621-1680) was an important Gateshead-born Merchant Adventurer at Newcastle with coal and lead mining interests. His third son, William, acquired the estate of Wallington in Northumberland. The surname probably refers to someone with very dark hair.

Reid jewellers, Blackett Street, Newcastle
Reid jewellers, Blackett Street, Newcastle © David Simpson 2019

The Blackett name is of course recalled in Newcastle upon Tyne’s Blackett Street. In the 1881 census there were 1,218 Blacketts in Great Britain with more than half of these living in the three North East counties of Durham (452), Northumberland (146) and Yorkshire (151).

Blakiston surname

(Historic Durham surname with a Royal connection)

Around 255 individuals with the surname Blakiston or Blakeston occur in the 1881 census for Great Britain. It historically had a strong connection with County Durham but in 1881 only 28 individuals with this name were born in that county compared to 107 born in Yorkshire. Others were scattered across the midlands and home counties.

There is a deserted medieval settlement called Blakeston (or Blakeston Hall) near Thorpe Thewles close to Stockton. It is what is termed a Viking Grimston hybrid place-name as it incorporates the Norse personal name Bleikr (‘the pale one’). The later surname is likely to have developed from association with the place and Thorpe Thewles was certainly one of the places once under the ownership of the Blakiston family. Other places under their ownership included Coxhoe (from 1318 to 1617), Kyo near Stanley and Chilton near Ferryhill.

Coxhoe, the main street more or less follows or runs close to the course of a Roman road
Coxhoe, the main street more or less follows or runs close to the course of a Roman road © David Simpson 2021

However, the most significant place with which the Blakistons were associated was Gibside near Gateshead which they acquired from the Marleys in the 1540s. Here in 1603-20 a William Blakiston built Gibside Hall. In 1713 there was a marriage to a member of the Bowes family of Streatlam near Barnard Castle in Teesdale and in 1720 William Blakiston Bowes built Streatlam Castle. Through a later marriage this branch of the family became the Bowes Lyons and are of course ancestors of Queen Elizabeth II.

Blenkin surname

(Mostly Yorkshire)

Listed as one of Henry Guppy’s surnames peculiar to the North and East Riding of Yorkshire and still significant in North and East Yorkshire. In the 1881 census there were 331 individuals with the Blenkin surname including 6 residing in Northumberland, 39 in Durham and 220 in Yorkshire. It is possibly a variant of Blenkinsopp. The ‘Blenkin’ element of that name is Celtic and means man who lives on a hill. A John Blenkinson is mentioned in Yorkshire in 1553 in the Register of the Freemen of the City of York.

Blenkinsopp surname

(Northumberland and Durham surname)

Blenkinsopp (or Blenkinsop) is still primarily a North East surname. A Blenkinsopp held the manor of Birtley near Gateshead in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The surname was significant in Darlington by the eighteenth century. Blenkinsopp, the surname derives from a place called Blenkinsopp which is the home of what remains of Blenkinsopp Castle in the Tyne valley near Haltwhistle. The name of the castle means Blenkin’s Hope, situated in the ‘hope’ or valley that once belonged to Blenkin.

The junior branch of the Blenkinsopp family lived at nearby Bellister Castle by the sixteenth century but Henry Guppy noted that the name is generally more numerous in County Durham. This is confirmed by the 1881 census where out of 1,158 Blenkinsopps (and the variant spellings) 542 resided in County Durham; 116 in Northumberland; 77 in Cumberland; 232 in Yorkshire and 73 in Lancashire.

An early record of the Blenkinsopp surname occurs in Yorkshire in which a Symon de Blanchainsop is mentioned in connection with records pertaining to the abbey of Rievaulx in Yorkshire. His name also appears with the spellings de Blencaneshop and de Blenkensope.

In legend the most famous Blenkinsop was Bryan Blenkinsopp who lived at Blenkinsopp Castle in Northumberland sometime in the distant past. As a young man Bryan boasted that he would not marry until he met a lady possessing a chest of gold heavier than ten of his strongest men could carry. Later in life his wishes were fulfilled when he met with a wealthy lady while fighting in the Crusades. Bryan brought her back to England where they were married. When the new bride learned of her husband’s youthful boasts, she was concerned that Bryan had only married her for her wealth, and secretly hid her treasure chest in the grounds of the castle. Bitter, heartbroken and humiliated by his bride’s lack of trust, Bryan mysteriously left his wife and castle and was never to return again.

The Lady came to regret her actions, but despite her efforts, her husband could not be traced. She died a lonely and remorseful woman. It is said that her ghost may occasionally be seen haunting the grounds of the ruined castle where she waits, ready to guide the way to the spot where her chest of treasure is hidden. Some believe that the spirit will not lay to rest until the treasure is discovered and removed. Of course it is just possible that Bryan had taken the treasure with him.

Bolam surname

(North East surname of Northumberland origin)

Listed as a Guppy farmers’ surname in Northumberland and still primarily a North East surname. The De Bolam family were mentioned in Northumberland in the Pipe Rolls of (Gilbert de Boolam 1205) and were Lords of the manor of Bolam in south Northumberland. Bolam is a short distance from Shafto Crags to the west which gave their name to the Shafto family.

Church of St Andrew, Bolam
Church of St Andrew, Bolam © David Simpson 2021

The name Bolam seems to derive from the Northumberland Bolam rather than the Bolam near Darlington in County Durham. In 1881 there were 975 Bolams in Great Britain including 120 with the possible variations Bollum and Bollam both of which seem to be concentrated in the London, Dorset and Somerset areas. However Bolam is quite clearly a North East surname as 374 resided in County Durham in 1881 and 306 in Northumberland. Many of the remaining Bolams resided in the London area.

The best-known Bolam is perhaps the Sunderland-born actor James Bolam MBE.

Borthwick surname

(Scottish Borders name)

Listed as a Guppy farmers’ surname in Northumberland but it is primarily a Scottish borders surname named from a place in Scotland. Bothwick, without the ‘r’ is a variation of this name. There were 1,705 individuals with this name in the 1881 census including 1,251 in Scotland; 103 in Northumberland; 83 in Durham; 57 in Lacashire and 29 in Yorkshire.

Bowes surname

(Durham and North Yorkshire name with a Royal connection)

Primarily a North Yorkshire and County Durham surname. The Bowes family take their name from the village of Bowes with its notable castle, to the west of the town of Barnard Castle. A Gerard de Bowes in mentioned in the Assize Rolls for Northumberland in 1269 and a John de Boughes mentioned in the Register of the Freemen of the City of York in 1341.

Tomb of Sir Ralph Bowes of Streatlam
Medieval tomb of Sir Ralph Bowes of Streatlam at Egglestone Abbey near Barnard Castle © David Simpson 2021

For many year the family were long associated with Streatlam near Barnard Castle in Teesdale. Later, a senior member of the Bowes family inherited the estate of Gibside near Gateshead (see also the connected family of Blakiston) and they became noted as one of the great coal-owning families of County Durham.

Influential across the region from medieval times in places like Sunderland, family members included mayors and MPs of Durham. Through marriage they became linked with the Lyon family (Earls of Strathmore) and are of course are ancestors of our present Queen. Another member of the family founded the famous Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle.

The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle
The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle © David Simpson 2021

There were 2,823 people with the Bowes surname in Great Britain in 1881. Of those, 942 resided in Yorkshire; 483 in County Durham; 184 in Cumberland; 109 in Northumberland; 283 in Lancashire and 217 in Scotland.

See the family tree of Bowes and its interesting connection to the Middleton family of the Duchess of Cambridge on our Hetton-le-Hole page.

Notable members of the Bowes family include Sir George Bowes, John Bowes, Mary Eleanor Bowes.

Brewis surname

(Northumberland surname)

This relatively uncommon name is listed as a Guppy farmers’ surname in Northumberland and still very much a North East surname, especially in northern Northumberland. The surname is Norman in origin, ancestors being a William De Briouze (from a place called Briouze in the Orne region of Normandy in France).

One problem with tracing the origin and development of this surname is that it has become inextricably mixed up with that of another Norman surname – Bruce – and it is possible that some Bruces may in fact be Brewis by origin or vice versa.

In the 1881 census there were 882 individuals with the surname Brewis in Great Britain of which 313 resided in County Durham and 423 resided in Northumberland with others scattered across other parts of England and very few in Scotland, so very much a North East surname.

Brown surname

(Numerous across England and Scotland)

A very widespread and common name but with a very high density in northern counties and regions. There were a staggering 204,047 Browns residing in Great Britain in 1881. In the North there were 18,024 in Lancashire; 17,501 in Yorkshire; 9,266 in Durham; 5,418 in Northumberland and 2,088 in Cumberland.

In terms of ranking in 1881 Brown was the second most numerous name in County Durham after Smith. In Northumberland and Yorkshire Brown respectively ranked third and seventh. It was 10th in Cumberland; 29th in Westmorland and 6th in Lancashire. In Scotland there were 41,395 Browns in 1881.

Browne is a rare variation of the name which seems to have had some presence in the north, particularly Yorkshire. A notable Northumberland-born Brown was the famed landscape designer Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.

Bruce surname

(Norman Scottish surname with North East England roots)

Primarily Scottish and especially north eastern parts of Scotland but with significant links and origins in the North East of England. In the 1881 census there were 14,233 Bruces in Great Britain of which 8,347 were resident in Scotland.

County figures for Bruces in 1881 across Scotland included 1,680 in Aberdeenshire; 505 in Fife; 112 in Argyll and 967 in Lanarkshire. In the Northern English Counties the number of individual Bruces were 753 in Yorkshire; 594 in Durham; 573 in Northumberland; 539 in Lancashire and 53 in Cumberland. Bruces were however widely spread across the rest of England, with 1,111 in London.

The De Brus Wall, Hart VIllage
The De Brus Wall, Hart VIllage near Hartlepool part of an important meideval manor house belonging to the Bruce family. Photo © David Simpson 2018

The Christian name Bruce, as in ‘G’day Bruce’, is strongly associated with Australia, but it also derives from Bruce the surname, which is of Norman French origin. The surname Bruce was originally De Brus and means ‘of Brus’ or Briouze, a place in France. The De Bruses came to England in Norman times, although they are thought to have arrived here in the late eleventh century a number of years after King William’s Conquest of 1066.

A great number of the early Bruses were called Robert De Brus and were very important landowners in the Hartlepool and Guisborough areas where they established the priory. The Brus wealth was great, but they were expected to earn it by defending England from the Scots. This they certainly did, and at the Battle of the Standard near Northallerton in 1138 a Robert De Brus fought against the Scots.

Gisborough Priory.
Gisborough Priory at Guisborough. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Robert’s involvement was ironic as he was a personal friend of David, the King of Scotland and owned substantial tracts of land in the Scottish valley of Annandale. In later years Bruce family territories in Yorkshire and Scotland were divided between two separate branches of the Bruce family, while Hartlepool in the middle was held first as part of the Yorkshire territory and then given to the Scottish Bruces in 1200.

The most famous member of the Scottish line of Bruces was of course Robert the Bruce King of Scotland (1274-1329). According to legend this Robert took refuge in a Scottish cave after a defeat in battle, where a persistent spider mending its web, taught him never to give up in the face of adversity.

Some Bruces may in fact be Brewis (see above) by origin.

Buddle surname

(A noted engineer)

This seems to be a surname where spellings vary from county to and region to region as in areas where Buddle, Buddell etc. are common surnames such as Bodle, Boddle, Bodell, Bodel are uncommon and vice versa. Using the precise spelling Buddle (not including the rare variant Buddell) then there were 355 Buddles in Great Britain in 1881 with the top five counties for Buddle individuals being Cornwall with 61; Northumberland with 44; Durham with 32; London with 30 and Huntingdonshire with 21.

All other counties had fewer than 20 Buddles. In Northumberland only the Buddle form of the name could be found but in Durham, in addition to the 32 Buddles there were two Boddells and a Sussex-born male called Bodle. As far as I can tell there are no records to pin the origins of the Buddle surname to either Cornwall or the North East.

Across Great Britain there were a further 763 individuals with similar (possible variants) of this surname beginning with ‘Bod’. This is most notable in Sussex where there were 183 individuals called Bodle, (compared to 7 called Buddle, 1 Buddell and 1 Boddell). In Derbyshire there were 89 Boddells/Bodills etc and only 12 Buddles; Lancashire was similar with 8 Buddles but 50 individuals with the Boddel type surname.

In Yorkshire there were 15 Buddles; 10 Boddels; 7 Boddells; 6 Bodels and one each of Boddle, Bodle and Buddel. Of course in some cases the differences in spelling could reflect the literacy of the subjects or spelling preferences of the enumerator who recorded the census details. The ‘Bod-‘ variants of the name could of course be a completely different surname with an origin unconnected to Buddle.

John Buddle
John Buddle

The most famous Buddle connected with the North East region is the nineteenth century locomotive engineer John Buddle.

Bulman and Bullman surnames

(Cumberland, Northumberland, Durham and a Gosforth connection)

Listed as a Guppy farmers’ surname in Durham this seems to be found especially in Cumbria as well as the North East where it is most typical with one ‘L’.

It occurs in Darlington in the reign of Henry VIII and there is an early occurrence of the name in Norfolk in 1209. The name possibly refers to someone who kept a bull herd.

In the 1881 census there were 1,393 individuals with the Bulman or Bullman surname and it was very much focused on the northern counties of England: 278 in Cumberland; 237 in Northumberland; 196 in County Durham; 131 in Yorkshire; 80 in Lancashire and 13 in Westmorland. The surname was not common north of the border with only 27 individuals recorded in Scotland.

The modern town centre of Gosforth in Newcastle upon Tyne was originally called Bulman Village, a place developed in 1826 by an MP called Job James Bulman for electoral purposes.

Bulmer surname

(Durham and Yorkshire surname with deep roots)

A surname listed as a Guppy farmers’ surname peculiar to the North Riding of Yorkshire that is still a notable surname in Northern Yorkshire with important historic links to County Durham. In 1881 there were 2,517 Bulmers in Great Britain including 1,228 residing in Yorkshire; 556 in Durham; 151 in Lancashire and 90 in Northumberland.

The Bulmer family take their name from Bulmer to the north of York near Sheriff Hutton in North Yorkshire. Bulmer, the place means Bull’s mere, a lake frequented by a bull. Other places called Bulmer in England include Bulmer in Essex and Boulmer in Northumberland, which has the same meaning but the family name is linked to Yorkshire. Ansketil de Bulmer was the first recorded member of the Bulmer family who lived in the area in the twelfth century.

Raby Castle
Raby Castle © David Simpson 2021

Ansketil was High Sheriff of the North Riding of Yorkshire, a title remembered in the name of neighbouring Sheriff Hutton. Bulmer, the surname is the subject of much discussion as it is believed that they were an aristocratic family of Anglo-Saxon origin who retained their status after the invasion of the Normans. It is believed that the Bulmers were related to the Anglo-Saxon noble Liulf, who is also sometimes connected with the Lumley family. Liulf was murdered at Gateshead by the retainers of the first Norman Bishop of Durham called William Walcher in 1080.

The Bulmers are thought to have continued as tenants of the Normans who inherited Liulf’s lands in Yorkshire. Sometime in the twelfth century Ansketil Bulmer is said to have married the daughter of the Lord of Brancepeth in Durham. Their son, Bertram Bulmer, who succeeded him as High Sheriff inherited this property.

Later the Bulmers intermarried with the powerful Norman family called the Nevilles, who adopted the Bull’s head for their coat of arms and inherited Brancepeth Castle.

Raby Castle, another great Neville property may also have belonged to the Bulmers as the oldest part of the castle is the Saxon Bulmer tower which is inscribed with the initials ‘BB’ for Bertram Bulmer. A William Bulmer of Brancepeth fought at Flodden Field in September 1513 as well as victoriously commanding the forces in a prelude battle on Milfield Plain in Northumberland that same year.

Burdon surname

(County Durham surname)

A Durham and North Yorkshire surname, Burdon was listed by the Victorian surname researcher Henry Guppy as a County Durham name. It is most likely that the Burdon surname originates from the place called Great Burdon near Darlington rather than the place called Burdon near Sunderland. The ancient place name means the great fort hill. An Ilger Burdon is mentioned in connection with Yorkshire in Pipe Rolls of 1166. A Zacharias de Burdun is mentioned in 1217 with regard to records relating to the Priory of Durham and in 1486 a Thomas Burdon ‘took two oxgangs of land’ in Stockton on Tees.

The Old Wearmouth Bridge
The Old Wearmouth Bridge in the 19th century with the present day railway bridge to the rear

For generations the Burdons continued their association with Stockton, a number becoming mayors of that town, including Robert Burdon who was the first mayor in 1495, William Burdon was the mayor in 1621, and James Burdon the mayor in 1683. A certain Rowland Burdon was mayor of Stockton in 1641, 1644, 1650, 1651, 1652 and 1654.

In the eighteenth century the Burdons were closely associated with Castle Eden in east Durham, where they purchased the manor in 1758. One owner of Castle Eden was Rowland Burdon (1756-1838) an MP for County Durham from 1790 to 1806 and the mayor of Stockton in 1793 and 1794. Famous for building the first Wearmouth Bridge in Sunderland, he was the great-grandson of the Rowland Burdon who had dominated Stockton’s civic affairs in the seventeenth century.

In the 1881 census there were 982 people called Burdon in Great Britain of which 441 lived in County Durham. In Northumberland there were only 21; in Yorkshire 150; in Cumberland 1 and Lancashire 13. Scotland was home to 50 people called Burdon and the rest were distributed across the south and midlands.

Burden (with an ‘e’) was a much more numerous name, with 3,838 people of this name in Great Britain including 106 in Scotland. However, only 331 of these resided in the six northern counties of England (Yorkshire 182; Lancashire 77;  Durham 53; Northumberland 11; Cumberland 4; Westmorland 4). The Burden name belongs to the south east and south west with 991 living in the south western counties in the 1881 census.

Burdon is listed as one of Henry Guppy’s surnames ‘peculiar to  Durham. Perhaps the most famous Burdon associated with the North East of England is, however, the Newcastle-born Eric Burdon who was the singer in the noted 1960s rock group The Animals.

Burn surname

Border Reiver surname

A North East surname and especially north Northumberland and the Tyne Valley but also found in North Yorkshire. Not to be confused with the famous surname Burns (as in Robbie Burns) which is a Scottish surname associated with Dumfriesshire and Ayrshire. The surname presumably refers to someone who lived near a burn.

There were 4,063 people with the surname Burn in the 1881 census for Great Britain with Northumberland being a home to 834 and Durham home to 827. There were 441 people with this name in Yorkshire; 207 in Lancashire; 97 in Cumberland and 41 in Westmorland with the rest spread throughout England and particularly London and the south east. There were only 207 people with this name in the whole of Scotland.

Burns is a much more numerous surname and in the 1881 census there were 20,180 in Great Britain with 5,696 in Scotland. In the northern counties of England people called Burns numbered 4,909 in Lancashire, 1,320 in Yorkshire; 1,309 in Durham; 821 in Cumberland; 552 in Northumberland and 61 in Westmorland. The number of people called Burns in Cumberland was notably high for a county with a relatively small population. It was 35th most numerous surname in that county and presumably associated with movement from neighbouring Dumfriesshire.

Burnip surname

(Durham surname)

The surname Burnip which might also occur as Burnop or Burnup in likely from Burnhope in County Durham or perhaps Burnopfield. Either way the place-name comes from ‘Burn-hope’ which means ‘stream valley’ and the surname identifies someone whose ancestor came from such a place.

There were only 446 Burnip/Burnup/Burnop individuals in Great Britain in 1881 and their distribution was strikingly North East in its focus with 251 in County Durham; 49 in Northumberland; 15 in Yorkshire; 13 in Westmorland; 4 in Lancashire and 1 in Cumberland. Only 10 individuals could be found in Scotland. Most of the remaining individuals lived in the London and home counties area.

Bushby surname

(Northern England surname)

Bushby is listed by Henry Guppy as a surname peculiar to Northumberland and is found in the North East and Carlisle area, Guppy found it most prominent in the Haltwhistle area of Northumberland. A Eustace De Buskeby is mentioned in connection with the records of Guisborough Priory in the 13th century.

The 1881 census shows that this is a broadly ‘northern name’ with 1,182 individuals with 194 in Yorkshire; 92 in Cumberland; 87 in Lancashire; 81 in Northumberland; 65 in Durham and only 24 in the whole of Scotland. Most of the remainder lived in the home counties in and around London.

When populations of the various counties were taken into account  for the neighbouring counties of Cumberland and Northumberland the data would seem to support Guppy’s observation of a focus in the Haltwhistle area where these two counties meet.

The similar Busby surname is also noted as a Borders name, however in the 1881 census, of the 3,226 individuals listed as Busbys in Great Britain, the six northern counties of England only accounted for 406 individuals: Yorkshire (161); Lancashire (151) and Durham (70) being the only counties with significant numbers, with a further 92 residing in the whole of Scotland. Most of the remaining Busbys resided in the Home Counties and East Anglia with others across the midlands.

North East Surnames beginning with:

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L

 M | N | O | P | R | S | T | UV | W | Y

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