This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 29th November 1993, reproduced by kind permission of the author, the late Desmond Holden.

The “What's in a Name” series was a regular feature in the Advertiser over the period 1993‑2004, taking a refreshing look at the derivation of some typically Derbyshire surnames.

Articles are confined to the origins and meanings of surnames, and do not indicate any particular interest on Desmond's part in the genealogy, descent, or family history of individuals bearing the surnames featured.

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.”

WHAT'S IN A NAME … Are you called BAGSHAW?

There is evidence that this celebrated Derbyshire name might well be the oldest in the County. It is a location-name but whether it is taken from the place bearing the same name close to Chapel is uncertain. The original Bagshaw family has been associated with several places. In 1892 a local historian wrote: "The Bagshawes were among those very old Peak families whose names are on the Census held at Wormhill in the year 1318... They took their name (a small wooded glen) from a picturesque spot... near to Ford, where they were located before the Norman period". Whether that "picturesque spot" can still be identified must be left to the map-makers because our objective is to see if the writer's interpretation of the name can be supported. In fact the meaning of "Bagshaw" is elusive and it must be admitted immediately that no explanation can be advanced with confidence.

For quite some time there was the suggestion that it was connected with the word "badger" in the sense of the wild animal. However the old name for that creature was "brock" and the current word only entered the language about 300 years ago. Nevertheless the explanation may have some significance. It might very well be that there exist folk-memories associating the site with "badgers" and that it had been forgotten that the same word, though differently derived, had long been used to describe travelling salesmen. They used to buy commodities from producers at one place and carry them for sale elsewhere. Many were eyed with suspicion since they tended to deal in damaged goods and often had only the haziest understanding of the nature and the quality of the items they were offering. Such pedlars were termed "badgers" - from which the words "bodger" and "to botch" have evolved. So it is possible that the [portion missing] did business and when that fell into disuse, the meaning was misdirected from hawkers to quadrupeds!

The investigation into the meaning of surnames is helped if the original wording can be examined. Fortunately in the case of "Bagshaw" we have a record dating from 1379 referring to a "Nicholaus of Bagschague". The second half of the name, believe it or not, would have been pronounced very much as today, i.e. "Shaw". The important thing is that it links with a much older word, "sceaga" (similarly pronounced) and which signified "untended woodland". It gives us the word "shaggy" which we would use to describe a man whose appearance was rough and unkempt! Even today the word "shaw" or "shaugh" is still acceptable when reference is made to an untidy section of the landscape, left to run wild. In the case of the first part of the name, "Bag-" there are several possible leads but none ends conclusively.

There might be some identification with the related word "baggage" which was once used to describe rubbish - "where Nettles, Thistles and suchlyke Baggage doth Growe" (1549) and so the original "shaw" might have been noted for dense and impenetrable undergrowth and it might even had been used as a refuse-tip, but knowing our ancestors' indifference to hygiene, that's not very likely! Then there was the use of the word "baggage" to describe a man of bad character, and later to a wayward girl [portion missing] to ladies they don't like! So it seems conceivable that the words "baggage" originally referring to weeds and overgrown woods and "badger" as applicable to pedlars became confused. It seems that several different notions have become intermingled. Taken separately they don't quite furnish an independent solution as to the meaning of "Bagshaw" but when set side-by-side they are very persuasive. There remains, of course, the suggestion that "Bag-" a could be an occupational name and that the name means "the place where the makers of bags are to be found". This cannot be refuted but it is questionable. While the manufacture of bags might well have progressed into a skilled speciality, at the time the name is first recorded bags must have been of very simple design and would have been homemade. Furthermore it is difficult to see why the makers of bags would have wanted to establish themselves in a wild uncultivated spot!

So, working on the material presently available, it is suggested that the original bearers of the name of "Bagshaw" took their name from being associated with an area of overgrown and untamed woodland. This idea acquires some credibility in as much as records reveal that the original family were granted rights over local woods and forests which they were (unusually for that time) permitted to inherit.

Since surnames as we know them today were not generally used until the end of the 14th century, many humble folk were content to be identified under the name of the owner on whose estate or manor they worked. Hence, in the absence of documentary evidence to the contrary, people who are today called "Bagshaw" (or one of its variations, which are not significant) may have inherited their surname simply because an ancestor worked for the distinguished family of that name or lived in a place of the same name.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 29th November 1993.

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