This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 9th August 2004, 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 BLAGDON??
(Variations: Blagden, Blackden)

This surname, principally found spelled as "Blagdon" (the variations are not significant), is derived from a place name which is shared by several locations. Hazarding a guess, Blagdon in Northumberland is very likely to be the source of the corresponding surname in this region (there are 7 listed in the local directory) but there are also about half a dozen sites elsewhere - mostly in the South-West. With the exception of Blagdon in Somerset, the remaining locations are really too small and remote and it is suggested that while a surname might have been adopted by some of the inhabitants, once they had moved beyond the immediate vicinity, the name would have been meaningless among their new neighbours and they would have adopted a more meaningful alternative.

The name, however spelled, is made up of two Old English words: blaec (black) and denu (valley). The latter is one of the commonest elements in English place names and needs no further exposition. The prefix "Blaec" or "Black" is somewhat perplexing. It is first recorded in 890 AD yet it does not seem to have any discernible relationship with other European languages. Those derived from Latin have words based on "niger" such as the French "noire". Nordic languages have "swartz" (German) and "sort" (Norwegian).

A study of the document of 890 and later examples indicates that it could be interpreted not as an absence of colour but simply shadiness. Its use in place names can usually be verified from examination of the attendant circumstances. In a case such as "Blackwood" it could only have related to dark, shady conditions beneath dense foliage and not absolute blackness. In the case of Blackburn in Lancashire it could only have referred to the brown water of the stream involved (River Blakwater) as it permeated the peaty soils of the Pennine Uplands.

In the south of England the most probable site from which the surname has been derived is Blagdon in Somerset. It is quite distinctive, on the A368 highway, about 10 miles east of Weston-Super-Mare. The "valley" implied in the name (-don) is that of the River Yeo which is now forming "Blagdon Lake" - a reservoir for Bristol. Neighbouring features bear names such as Blackmoor, Black Rock, Blackford Moor, which are significant in this case. The first recorded name is in this vicinity: Roger de Blakeden (Worcester, 1275). Other instances are all emanating from places nearby.

Families associated with the North of England can almost certainly relate their name to a site in Northumberland. It is principally park-land and is dominated by Bladgon Hall (Viscount Ridley). The valley appears to be traversed by a tributary of the River Blyth. The presence of a noble household and estate raises the distinct possibility that many of the bearers of the name today had ancestors who were in the employ of the Ridley Estate and adopted the name as their identity. To take the name of one's employer or his dwelling was a practice widely followed in the past and examples can be cited from even during the 1920s.

A location over the border in Cheshire (Buxton: 25 miles) is a possible source but its case is not argued with confidence. It is Blackden. It is close to the Macclesfield Road (A535) and about 4½ miles west of Middlewitch. It is possible that workers could have emigrated to Manchester and then across our border, but all suggestions are speculative. It has a special interest in that it is close to the site of the Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope.

The name does not feature strongly in the Standard National Biographies. First there is Sir Charles Blagden (1748-1820) who was of Scots family. He was a distinguished medical and physical scientist whose experiments to find absolute zero were innovative and still noted. As a point of interest, and no more, he has a tenuous connection with the Cavendish family. The second is Francis Blagdon (1778-1819) who was a Journalist and prolific miscellaneous writer. He was highly regarded in his day, but his reputation died with him.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 9th August 2004.

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