This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 16th January 1995, 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 BERESFORD?

This is a location name and, can easily be pin-pointed to the valley called "Beresford" and through which the River Dove makes its way. If you study the map and trace the course of the river from Thorpe to Hartington, a succession of attractive glens presents itself. Biggin Dale, Wolfescote Dale and, finally, Beresford Dale.

But: how it ever came to be given that name is a mystery and even what it means cannot be explained convincingly.

Of course the unit "ford" presents no problem. Wherever it is encountered it refers to a type of river-crossing and is one of the most frequently occurring elements in English placenames. It is derived from the Latin word "portus" which means "door", "entrance", "access" etc. (Note: Latin words containing 'p' and 't' often change them to 'f' and 'd' during the process of passing into English: hence "portus" gives "ford"). Thus places on a river which provided "access" from one bank to the other were designated "fords" . Although today a "ford" is now generally limited to crossings where the water is sufficiently shallow for a vehicle to "splash" its way through, it once was expanded to include stepping stones and even roughly constructed bridges, such as a log or a few planks thrown across the stream.

Because many fords lay where land lying alongside the river levelled out and so was liable to flooding, very few early settlements were actually "on site' and tended to be established on higher ground. Therefore names including "-ford" should be interpreted as referring to "the settlement near to a certain ford". Then the question is: just exactly where was such a settlement? Places such as Knutsford and Oxford furnish easy answers but settlements, lying on routes which lost their importance and ceased to be frequented, tended to be abandoned and all trace of their inhabitants vanished. "Beresford" seems to be one of these. It now exists only as a "district name" for a section of a valley and where the original site was located can no longer be determined - assuming that there ever was one in the first place! The valley itself opens out on to comparatively level stretches where the main B5064 road provides one of the few tracks crossing the River Dove until you nearly reach Ashbourne. The original settlement could have been located almost anywhere in that vicinity. No doubt local historians can enlarge upon that topic.

Then we must ask ourselves: with whom or what can a particular "ford" be associated? The lines forming the boundaries between different estates and manors often lay along water-courses and so, unless ownership of the two sides of the stream was vested in one person, very few crossings could be one person's absolute property. This occurs with the name "Knutsford", which indicates that the ford did actually belong to a man called "Knut" (more familiar in the form "Canute" but not the celebrated King). Unfortunately the unit "Bere" cannot be made to conform with any definite personal name, and, indeed, it is quite a puzzle to link it up with anything!

It has long been held that because "Beresford" in old records appears as "Beversford" and because this seems to correspond with the Old English word "beofer" which was the name for the creature known as the "beaver", then it must follow that the name signifies: "The ford frequented by beavers". This explanation cannot wholly be discounted but it is not entirely convincing. Naturalists tell us that beavers select quiet sidestreams for their dwellings and it might be wondered whether the waters of the Dove would have been too fast-flowing to encourage beavers to settle there - at least not in such numbers as to sponsor a location-name. On the other hand the unit "bere" is identical with the Old English word for the animal called the "Bear" and hence the name means "the ford of the Bear." This goes along with a very old tradition that it was here that the inhabitants of the district hunted down and killed the last wild bear in England - about the middle of the 11th century. Another animal with which it is often associated, the Wolf, survived until the reign of Henry VII (1485- 1509) in England (although sightings were reported from Scotland for the next 200 years). So there is persuasive evidence that our region was noted for its wildlife since the adjoining valley is called "Wolfescote".

Whether you prefer to believe that "Beresford" was the site of the last wild bear hunt in England or a site for a flourishing beaver colony, is entirely up to you!

Although the "Dales" are inseparably part of the Derbyshire landscape, "Beresford Dale" is placed within the boundaries of the parish of Alstonefield in North Staffordshire and was assumed as the surname of a titled family in that County. The earliest record of the name dates from about 1230 and refers to a certain John de Beversford, Lord of the Manor of Beresford. There are nearly 500 entries in the local directories under the name "Beresford" as well as variations such as "Berresford" and "Berisford". Those who have studied genealogies say that all present-day persons of the name can trace their descent from Thomas Beresford who not only fought gallantly at the Battle of Agincourt (1415) but also took time off to procreate 16 sons and 5 daughters. The most distinguished bearer of the name is probably Lord Charles Beresford (1846-1919). He was both an Admiral and Politician and his sturdy adherence to what he thought was right earned him the nickname "Bulldog Beresford" . In Naval history his reputation stands high.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 16th January 1995.

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