Norfolk Surnames in the Sixteenth Century

I spent too much money today on reading materials.  I was delighted to find a used copy of The Norfolk Broads A landscape history by Tom Williamson 1997 (Manchester University Press).  I had a copy of this excellent landscape history when it was published, but unfortunately lent it out, and never saw it again.  A brilliant book for tying my mother's East Norfolk ancestors to their ancestral landscape.

The April 2017 edition of Current Archaeology magazine has an interesting article on an excavation of an Iron Age site in Fenland, and is celebrating their 50th anniversary of publication.

The real treasure of today's book shop excavation however, was an old booklet published in 1969 by Leicester University Press in their Department of English Local History Occasional Papers.  It is entitled Norfolk Surnames in the Sixteenth Century by R.A McKinley.  Flicking through it's pages on the way home, sitting on the bus, I was well, almost mind blown - as some of the conclusions knocked down some of my preconceptions of my Norfolk ancestry and heritage.  An old, yellowing booklet that I've never heard of, found on a shelf in a second hand book shop in Norwich.

The book draws on surnames recorded in the County of Norfolk, during the 16th Century AD.  It uses as it's sources several returns, and rolls particularly a military survey, and subsidy roll from between 1522 and 1525.  I want to share at least some of the key points from two chapters of "Norfolk Surnames in the Sixteenth Century": 1) Surnames derived from localities in Norfolk, and 2) Locative surnames originating outside Norfolk.

1) Surnames derived from localities in Norfolk

  • The chapter begins by discussing the problems of using locative surnames in a study.
  • "The two main sources used for this study list 739 persons bearing locative surnames derived from places within Norfolk.  Of these, only 23 were living at the places from which their names were derived.".
  • A table then shows the distances of the persons (still within the County of Norfolk) with these locative surnames from origin.  23 were still at the place of origin, 81 were still within 5 miles of it, 123 were within 6 - 10 miles away, 239 were 11 - 20 miles away, 151 were 21 - 30 miles away, and 122 lived over 30 miles from the locative place of origin.  However, these are the locative surnames that still remain in Norfolk, that appear to have an origin within the County.  Many more would have crossed county boundaries into Suffolk, Lincolnshire, etc.
  • "It seems probable from this evidence, however, that most Norfolk families must have changed their place of residence at least between the period when surnames became hereditary, and the early sixteenth century.".
  • There was no pattern to suggest a large migration from any one part of the County, to another.

2) Locative surnames originating outside Norfolk

  • "In the two main sources, there are 1,260 persons bearing surnames which can be derived with fair certainty from places in England, but outside Norfolk".
  • The author then discusses possible biases, for example, some parts of England appear to have generated more locative surnames than others.  It also suggests that about a third of all English surnames are locative, and proposes a rough approximation, that this could "be about 2,500 persons of outside origin amongst the total of about 18,000 listed in the two main sources, or rather more than 13 per cent".  This suggests quite a few people had been moving from other parts of England, into Norfolk between the 13th and 15th centuries AD.
  • Where were they from?  The two main contributors were the neighbouring counties of Suffolk and Lincolnshire. Some had simply moved from close to the Norfolk county boundary.   
  • Cambridgeshire, another neighbouring county, for some reason contributed far fewer.  The East Midlands was also, surprisingly, not a major contributor of locative surnames in 16th Century Norfolk.  There were no locative surnames from Wales.
  • Here is another surprise, Yorkshire turned our to be a common origin - equally spread through the three ridings.  Each riding of Yorkshire had contributed about 40 persons in Norfolk with locative surnames.  The author does point out that Yorkshire is a big county, and is particularly rich in locative surnames, however: "it is evident that there must have been considerable movement from Yorkshire to Norfolk.  Yorkshire surnames are distributed throughout Norfolk in the early sixteenth century.  They are not particularly concentrated in ports or coastal areas, and indeed, are as widespread in central Norfolk, well away from the sea, as in other parts of the county.".
  • There was also a notable contribution of locative surnames from NW England - Lancashire, Cumbria, and Westmorland.
  • The distribution of these surnames was by no means urban based.  Yamouth and Norwich had lower concentrations than the average.  These migrations look more rural.
  • There were very few surnames of any origin type that could be safely regarded as Welsh.
  • There were very few surnames of any origin type that could be safely regarded as Scottish.
  • The author then moves on to records of other foreign born aliens.  I am aware of the influx of Dutch and Flemish religious refugees, into the City of Norwich during the early 16th Century, however, here I learn something new.
  • "there was certainly a considerable migration of aliens into Norfolk, and foreign immigrants came to reside in many Norfolk villages, not merely in a few ports or large towns.  In 1436, for example, when many aliens took oaths of allegiance, 146 persons who took oath are noted as living in Norfolk.  This was not the whole number of aliens in Norfolk...".  A list in 1440 for example, lists 192 aliens residing in Norfolk at 62 different places.  The author feels that those 15th Century records understate the real percentage of immigrants living in Norfolk at that time.
  • The Continental immigrants did not bring in many new surnames.  Many had no surname listed, or had adopted local surnames.  For example, immigrants listed at Norwich in 1440, included persons by the surnames Rider, Johnson, Forest, Skynner, Couper, Bush, Goldsmyth, and Glasier.  Some surnames marking their nationality did survive in 16th Century Norfolk, such as French, Ducheman, Briton / Brett (Breton) etc.

Brancaster, a North Norfolk village.

In summary, what this book has taught me today:

  1. Many families, despite our ideas of the dying fuedal system, were moving around East Anglia, and even England between the 13th and 16th centuries.
  2. There were relatively few people in 16th century Norfolk, with origins in Scotland, or Wales, and perhaps few from the nearby East Midlands or Cambridgeshire.  However, there was migration down from Northern England, particularly from Yorkshire, but even from NW England.
  3. There were also migrations, from the nearby Continent, and these migrations (and the above Northern English) migrations were not strictly urban.  They reached many villages.

Immigration into East Anglia

Hear a sentence like "immigrants in Eastern England", and many people might think of the recent immigration from countries such as Poland, Lithuania, and Romania.  However, I'm interested in the longer picture, and how that has impacted the genetic genealogy of East Anglians.

I have noticed, that my mother's 23andMe ancestral composition, is more similar to those of some Dutch testers, than most Irish, Scottish, or West British testers.  23andme has reported at least one small segment shared with a Dutch tester.  My mother on Ancestry Composition speculative mode, scored only 36% "British & Irish", followed by 13% "French & German", 4% "Scandinavian", 2% "South European", and 40% unassigned "Broadly NW European".

My first reaction was that the 23andme calculators and references were confused by relatively ancient admixture, specifically Early Medieval Immigration between the 5th and 11th centuries AD.  The Anglo-Saxon and Viking periods.

However, I'm beginning to review how I see the history of East Anglia.  I think that like many people, I've underplayed the contribution not only of earlier unrecorded immigration events, but also of ongoing later immigration from the European Continent, into East Anglia.

A shock historical suggestion, is that during the late 16th Century, almost a third of the population of the City of Norwich, belonged to an immigrant community of Dutch, Flemish, and Walloon protestants, that had recently settled there, as refugees from persecution on the Continent.  I don't know how many of these immigrants, into centres such as Norwich, Ipswich, kings Lynn, and Great Yarmouth, left descendants in East Anglia.  My parent's recorded Norfolk ancestry is very rural - outside of Norwich.  However, how much DNA did these more recent immigrants leave behind in Norfolk, and East Anglia as a whole?

The immigration events of the 5th to 11th centuries AD into East Anglia, were most likely the most significant.  However, I believe it is wrong to see them as the only immigration events.  The POBI Study found DNA evidence of an earlier, perhaps late prehistoric immigration from the Continent.  Caesar claimed that the people that he called the Belgae had recently immigrated to South East Britain, from the area that is now Belgium.

Neither were the Anglo-Saxon, Dane-Law, nor Norman immigration events the last to the region.  It continued as a background, with occasional known events, such as the Strangers from what is now Belgium and the Netherlands, to Norwich.  East Anglia has always had stronger connections to across the North Sea, than some other regions of Britain. Therefore it should be no suprise, that my mother, with her strong recorded East Norfolk ancestry, has an autosomal ancestry composition, that resembles the Dutch, more than the Welsh or Irish.

I visited the Bridewell Alley Museum today, for the first time for many years, and picked up a new book: Strangers.  A History of Norwich's Incomers by Frank Meeres 2012.  It's full of references to the history of immigration into Norwich.  I thought that it might be useful, to harvest some of the continental immigrant surnames mentioned in this book:


  • Addurge (French)
  • Asger (Bruges, Belgium).
  • de Norwege (Norway)
  • Dutchman
  • Glasier (French)
  • Hensser  (Dutch)
  • Isborne 
  • Jevort (French)
  • Johnson (Dutch)
  • Kempe de Gaunt (Ghent)
  • Kenneton (French)
  • Mouner  (French)
  • Oreng (French)
  • Peterson (Dutch)
  • Petirson (Dutch)
  • Rijsel (Flemish)
  • Tiphany (French)

In 1343, a boat capsized at Cantley.  It had passengers from Latvia and Sweden.

The Strangers 1560 - 1600 AD

In 1571, a return of the Strangers, recorded that there were 4,013 Strangers in Norwich.  This included 868 Dutchmen, and 203 Walloon men.

  • Bateman
  • Clarebote (Winnezele)
  • Clapettia
  • Clercke (Dutch)
  • Baet
  • Bake (Ypres)
  • Bartingham (Dutch)
  • Coene (Ypres)
  • Dedecre (Dutch)
  • De Linne
  • De Mol
  • De Turk (Flanders)
  • Der Haghe
  • Des Passett
  • Faber (East Flanders)
  • Goddarte
  • Gruter (Antwerp)
  • Herjtes (Flemish)
  • Hodgeson (Dutch)
  • Johnson (Dutch)
  • Keerlinck (Ypres)
  • Lewalle (Walloon)
  • Moded (Antwerp)
  • Navegeer
  • Le Dente
  • Poultier (Dieppe)
  • Powells (Dutch)
  • Steene (Dutch)
  • Vamboute (St Jans-Kappel)
  • Van Brugen (Dutch)
  • Waells (Houtkerke)
  • Wervekin (Ypres)

These are just the surnames of some of the Norwich Strangers, mentioned in the above book.  Just how much did they, and others, contribute though, to the genealogy of Norfolk and East Anglia.  Most belonged to aspiring classes of artisans and merchants.  Weavers, printers, hat makers, etc.  How much of their DNA might have seeped into the surrounding countryside?