This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 14th February 2000, 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 BARTON?

"Barton" appears in at least 74 place-names. Sometimes it stands alone as in "Barton" in Lancashire (near Ormskirk) or in Westmoreland (near Penrith). More often it is joined with some other term as in Earls Barton near Northampton or Barton St. David near Glastonbury. Why it occurs so frequently and is so uniformly distributed is because a "barton" was once an important feature of nearly every district in medieval England. These districts were called "manors". Space does not allow the "Peak Advertiser" to embark upon a detailed description of how the ownership of land was regulated until about 1500. In highly concentrated terms it must suffice to say that each district was administered by a "lord of the manor". It was the responsibility of each lord to supervise the running of his manor, and, in return one of his "perks" was to be granted an area of land which could be farmed for his own benefit. This was called the "barton". It is worth noting that in the context of a "manor" the title "lord" did not imply nobility (though some lords did hold high rank, but many were commoners) and meant simply "man in charge". Today an equivalent meaning lies behind "landlord" i.e. "he who is in charge of a pub".

With the demise of the manorial system "bartons", as such, ceased to function. They were replaced by establishments on which the designation "Home Farm" eventually settled.

The word "barton" is made up from the Early English "here" which means "barley" and which can be extended to include "grain"; and from another old word, "tun" which had several meanings but in this context signified "enclosure". Hence, " bere tun" became "barton" and was interpreted as "barn" or "granary". The meaning was expanded into "farm enclosure" and eventually came to refer to the whole acreage reserved to the lord of the manor. The earliest allusion in this sense occurs in 1243 where the writer's Latin may be translated as: "In my barton at Cadnam I selected a new site upon which to build another granary". (Cadnam is in Hampshire).

Today "barton" still exists in some dialects, especially in the West Country, but even then has narrowed to refer to a farm-yard. Otherwise it survives only in place names and from which many families derive their identity.

The surname "Barton" is thus a location name, and, not as one might be tempted to conclude, as descriptive of an occupation. There is no title corresponding with "barton" which relates to any person as being in charge nor who laboured in one. If the lords of the manor were not themselves living in the barton, a steward was usually around - from which a surname has also emerged. The ordinary labourers shared the tasks involved and none enjoyed such a special status to have acquired, say, the designation "the bartoner". That expression is not to be found in any of the older records, but makes a fleeting appearance in the early 19th century. It does not seem to have caught on and in any case it would have entered the vocabulary (if at all) too late to have generated a surname.

Note: There were so many "Barton-based" place names that the majority of them acquired "tags" so as to provide some specific identity. Hence, "Earl Barton" indicated that it was the farmstead which belonged to the earls of Huntingdon. "Barton St. David" takes its name from the dedication of the parish church. In our own county, "Barton Blount" (9 miles west of Derby) was named on account of a family of that name which once lived there. The subsequent fate of each "Barton" during the decline of the manorial system is a matter for local historians. All that the "Advertiser" can put forward is that some simply disappeared and survived as neighbourhood names, as, for example, Barton on Irwell and Barton Moss in Greater Manchester. Whereas others could have developed into sizeable townships. People in the vicinity might have been identified, in the absence of other forms of acknowledgement, as "they folk as live in t'old barton". Of course another factor was the relative familiarity of the place if a surname was brought into being.

Some places called "Barton" would have attained greater importance than others and their existence would be known well beyond the immediate vicinity. Hence if a man migrated far afield he would readily be identified as "that there chap from over at Barton" - or even just "Barton". If however his native place had lapsed into comparative obscurity it would have meant little or nothing to his new neighbours at a distance and so whatever surname they eventually conferred upon him, "Barton" was not an obvious choice. Persuasive evidence of this can be seen in the listings in the local directories.

In that for York, there are comparatively few and this ties in with the fact that the "Barton" there (5 miles s.w. Darlington) never progressed whereas in the directories for Lancashire (Ormskirk) the numbers are considerable and this suggests that "Barton" (6 miles n. Preston) was a place of consequence. There are, in fact, well over 1000 names listed. The repeated presence of the name in the area as in "Barton Brook", "Barton Moor", and "Barton Cross" as well as a "Barton Hall" and a "Barton House" suggests very much indeed that formerly it might have stood high.

It must be left to individual families bearing this surname to determine which of the places in England is the source of their name. The earliest record dates from 1015 and is to an "Aelfric aet Bertune". In Yorkshire, for 1300 we find a "John de Barton". In Sheffield mention is made to "Thomas Barten" in 1586 and to his son also "Thomas" in 1609. In spite of its great numbers the surname has not produced any "headliner". There was Elizabeth, "The Maid of Kent" (1506-1534). She was a sort of mystic whose prophesies attracted considerable notice. Unfortunately some of them offended Henry VIII and she ended up on Tyburn. An American lady, Clara Barton (1821-1912) is highly regarded in the history of the Red Cross. Older readers will no doubt recall "Dick Barton Special Agent" whose exploits had us all glued to our wireless sets during the late 1940s.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 14th February 2000.

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