This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 13rd October 1997, reproduced by kind permission of the author, Desmond Holden.

The "What's in a Name" series has been a regular feature in the Advertiser.
Articles are confined to the origins and meanings of surnames and Desmond regrets he is unable to undertake research into the genealogy, descent or family history of individuals.

Editor's Note: Articles are provided for general interest and background only. They are not intended to provide an exhaustive treatise for any individual family history - investigations of which may yield quite different results. Or, in Desmond's own words:

"In the end it must remain with individual bearers of the names to draw upon family traditions and to seek out such documentary evidence as is available to decide the matter for themselves."


The "Peak Advertiser" has been asked for information about this name of which there are some 50 entries in the Local Directory alone. This is not surprising since it is a location name. referring to the village of the same title in North-West Derbyshire. It stands on the A626 about 2 miles south-west of Glossop.

There are two units: "Charles-" and "-worth". The latter is one of the most common elements in English place-names, because the sites of early settlements were chosen both for shelter and defence and "worth" is an old word and means "enclosure".

The greater point of interest is however on the first unit "Charles-" and remarkably enough it is not based upon the personal first name.

Although "charles" was not unknown to the Anglo-Saxons it was not much used by them and it had almost died out by the time of the Norman Invasion. Where it does appear in a place-name, it is interpreted as "churl" which described a peasant who, unlike a villein, held his land free from servile obligations to the Lord of the Manor. Hence the many places called "Charlton" refer to settlements occupied by Freemen.

Nor is it to be associated with the neighbouring settlement of "Charlestown". This is comparatively modern, being first recorded in 1843. It is understood to have derived its name from Charles Howard, duke of Norfolk who was Lord of the Manor of Glossop.

To ascertain the true origin of many obscure place-names it is essential to consult the oldest records and see what form of spelling was first used.

Fortunately "Charlesworth" was sufficiently important to be included in the Domesday Survey (1086) and there it appears as "Cheuenwrde" which immediately eliminates the "Charles" factor. Later, in 1285 the spelling had progressed to "Chavelsworthe" and this is a useful lead. It links it with the Old English Expression "ceafl" which, among other things, meant "Jaws".

Here it is desirable to explain that in the development of our language the "CH" sound (as in "cheer") frequently modulates into that of "J" (as in "jeer"). This shows up in the present case when the related words "chew" and "jaw" are compared.

However the change is not always apparent because the "J" sound is often represented through irrational spellings. It can be illustrated thus. The word "cabbage" was originally written as "cabboche". It can be seen to be related to the Latin word "caput" which means "head" and with which the shape of the vegetable is obvious. Today the final "-che" has changed to "- age" which nevertheless takes the sound of "J". Another example is found in "knowledge" which was once "knowliche".

The inclusion of "chav-" in the place-name can readily be seen to have direct relationships with "chew" and "jaw". The form "chaw" was once more widely used. In his translation of the Bible (1535) Coverdale renders Job, XXXIII:1 as "I will open my mouthe and my tonge shall speake out of my chawes". Further, the word "chavel" was used to mean chatter in the sense that "chin-wag" carries on today. In work dated 1225 we read "He grinned and chavelled". (Modern spelling).

The records show that "Charlesworth" was still carrying some semblance of its old spelling as late as 1577 - i.e. "Charlsworth" but by 1767 it began to be shown on maps as "Charlesworth".

It is interesting to note that the form "Charlesworth" had appeared as early as 1550 because in the Register of Freeman of York we come across a "Jacobus Charlesworth" and nearly a century later (1642) in a Parish Register in far away Devon (Duke of Devonshire-link??) an entry occurs for a "Thomas Charlesworth". However these spellings are probably an example of a Clerk trying to reproduce what had been spoken and imagined he had heard something akin to the personal name "Charles".

It can be stated with some confidence that if the "Charles" element had not insinuated itself into the village-name, it would have followed the usual pattern of development and ended up as "Chavelsworth".

Even so, the next question to be answered is: How do a mouth, jaws, chewing etc. fit the picture?

To begin with the area is of limestone and deeply intersected with gulleys and ravines. In fact the Old English word for "ravine" is "dough" and this unit occurs frequently in place- names in this Region. Hence it has been suggested that some deep and narrow valley or gorge was notable for having exceptionally steep sides, which, as it were, closed in like a pair of jaws and gave rise to the name. No doubt people today, who are familiar with the features of the locality could bear this out.

The idea of a deep cleft being likened unto a pair of jaws is by no means fanciful. It occurs also in the vicinity with regard to "Chunel" (2 miles east: A264). This owes its name to the Old English word "ceole" which means "throat" or "gullet", and, by extension, "channel" or "ravine": the proximity of Long Clough below and to the west of "Chunel" is evidence enough.

Apart from the weird and wild limestone landscape, many names in the Region reveal the influence of Scandinavian settlement and especially its mythology. This would have fired the imagination of the early communities and rendered the concept of giants and dragons sufficiently familiar to extend the idea of a deep cleft being likened to the jaws of a monster such as Grendel (slain by Beowulf). Certainly the way into the Underworld was traditionally believed to be by way of some dark, deep mysterious chasm - i.e. "the jaws of Hell"!

Consider local names such as Thor's Cavern, "Hobroyd" (The Goblin"s Field) and "Drakelow" (Dragon's Mound). Hence the name "Charlesworth" can be interpreted as: "The enclosure near the deep valley which resembles a pair of jaws".

Tracing the movement of the name, it is remarkable that the further afield it went, the "Charles" element was imposed, whereas nearer home the spellings approximate to the original source-name. In a Record dated 1379 for just over the Border in the West Riding we encounter a Johannes de Chalesworth and just 15 miles to the South, in Prestbury in Cheshire (1610) it appears as "Cholesworthe". Yet down in London, in 1571 it has taken on the form "Charlesworth". Just exactly how the unit "Charles" eventually took over would be an interesting item of research.

It is suggested that it came about partly through what is called "folk etymology" - that is, a mistaken belief that the first unit was identifiable with that name - and, partly through the influence of the Howard Family (Norfolk) who were strongly associated with the Area and many of whose members were called "Charles".

Be that as it may, the surname is heavily concentrated in the North-West, especially in Sheffield and Manchester and is not infrequent along the Staffordshire borders. Once beyond, the name becomes less encountered even in Merseyside, Birmingham, Leicester and Nottingham. The London Directory includes about 50 entries but in the souther counties the numbers are very few.

The most distinguished bearer of the name was Martin Charlesworth (1895-1950) an extremely able Classical Scholar whose untimely death was greatly regretted. He was born in the area, at Eastham, on the Wirral Peninsula in Cheshire. Charles Charlesworth of Stafford created medical interest in 1836. He was afflicted with progeria and as a consequence died of old age when he had completed a full-life-cycle after seven years.

The name is very well known to us here in Bakewell on account of our own Sergeant Ernest Charlesworth, for long the Community Policemen and active participant in many local events.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 13rd October 1997.

URL of this page:
Logo by courtesy of the Open Clip Art Library