Barwick-in-Elmet Historical Society

Surnames associated with local place names

Barwick, Scholes and Potterton are fairly common surnames. Does this mean that the ancestors of the bearers were from the parish of Barwick-in-Elmet? The historical society frequently has enquiries from bearers of those names on this question.

For an account of the origin of surnames see
Debrett's "Guide to Tracing Your Ancestry"
by Noel Currer-Briggs and Royston Gambler
Pub. Webb & Bower (publishers) Ltd. 1981.
Chapter Three Surnames: Their Origin and Meaning.
One of the five main origins of surnames covers those deriving from places or country of origin. Imagine a village where there were three Johns. In order to distinguish between them one would say John the Miller, John the Smart and John from Barwick if he had moved there from Barwick. Out of convenience it became the practice to drop the use of "the" or "from". To illustrate this see the 1341 Manorial Survey of Scholes. The names of Scholes inhabitants in the fourteenth century include several "de Scholes", "Manston", "Morwicke" and "de Morwicke". All three names are local place-names in or close to Scholes. Note the use of the more formal Norman French "de" for one of the bondmen. At this stage surnames were not fixed or legally required. If someone else reached manhood with the same Christian name as e.g. John de Scholes, a different surname would have to be chosen. Once the use of surnames became normal people would keep their name even if they moved elsewhere.

That is not the end of the matter, however. As far as we know there are five places called "Barwick" in England. They are in Norfolk (near Docking), Hertfordshire (near Much Hadham), Somerset (near Yeovil), County Cleveland (called Ingleby Barwick near Stockton) and Barwick-in-Elmet in Yorkshire. This, incidently, is a good enough reason for the inhabitants of B. in-Elmet to retain the -in-Elmet. Attempts by the City of Leeds and others in recent years to use plain "Barwick" on road signs etc. have been strongly challenged. In addition to Barwick (derived from the Old English berewic literally meaning 'corn farm' and used in the same sense as beretun an outlying part of an estate), variations of this name are Berrick, Berwick and Borwick which could also, when used as a surname, easily become corrupted to Barwick.

In a similar manner the name Scholes is not unique to Scholes of this parish. There is another Scholes less than twenty miles away to the west of Leeds, one in Rotherham, SouthYorkshire and one in Wigan, Lancashire. Scholes derives from the plural form of the Old Norse skall meaning 'a hut, shed, temporary shelter'. There is a Scole in Norfolk and Scales ( from the same origin) in Lancashire and Cumbria..

Potterton does not appear to have a rival in England but there is a Potterton in Scotland near Aberdeen..

Therefore without a clear traceable family line going back to medieval times, it is not possible to say with any certainty that the bearers of the surnames Barwick, Scholes or Potterton are from the parish of Barwick-in-Elmet..


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