This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 20th May 1996, 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 BRADBURY?

This is a place-name and the unit "-bury" tells us that it must have been a defended site. In this case the site was a crossing- point on the River Skerne in County Durham. This water-way, which is about 20 miles long, rises near Trimdon and its main course flows southwards to Darlington and ultimately joins the River Tees at Croft. During its greater length, the Skeane wanders across a wide valley and certainly between (roughly) Bishop Middleharn and Aycliffe (a six-mile stretch) there are no indications of any early major crossing places except at Bradbury.

Roads usually run alongside rivers but it is remarkable that from Aycliffe the old A1 Road avoids it, keeping a good two miles to the West. This suggests that the plain of the River Skerne, which is clearly low-lying, could have been marshy and liable to flooding. Local names, such as Rushyford and Great and Little Isles are significant. For a long while Bradbury stood where the A689 Road (Bishop Aukland-Hartlepool) crossed the Skeane and where also a succession of unclassified tracks provided links from Durham to Darlington.

The hazards confronting the first settlers in the valley were overcome by the Victorian Engineers who built the railway line from Darlington to Durham. In passing it might be noted that one of the earliest bridges above River Skerne is represented on the present Five Pound Note. In the Twentieth Century, the traffic which once made its way along the old A1 has been diverted to the new A1 Motorway from Melsonby, via Bradbury and eventually to Gateshead.

All these modern developments tend to make us now forget that our ancestors had long realised that the site was an important crossing-place and that it was vital to defend it. Early fortifications were comparatively simple affairs, since they were little more than ditches and rough barricades. They don't sound as if they could have afforded much protection, but at the time they were quite adequate to ward off attacks from enemies armed only with simple hand-weapons. The grim fortresses of huge blocks of stone belong to later dates. When William the Conqueror built his first "castle" at York, it was such a simple affair that it was constructed in less than a week!

Many early settlements were established on sites which lent themselves to defence and this is reflected in their names, which are permutations upon a Germanic word "burg". This is so very ancient that its origins are lost. Its basic meaning was "to hide" or "to protect" and these ideas always emerge when a particular place-name is analysed. The notion of "shelter" survives in the unit "-bour" in "harbour" and it is believed that "burrow" (the rabbits' refuge) might also be related.

The fortified site to which the name "Bradbury" became attached is extremely old. Exactly how old it may be is not certain but we do know that when the unit "-bury" is encountered (and it is among the most frequently occuring element in place-names) it is strong evidence of there having been a settlement long before the Roman Occupation.

The first unit "Brad-" is based on the Old English work "bord" of which there were several variations such as "bred" and "brad". The word has a long and complicated history and it lies outside the scope of this little feature. It refers, of course, to "planking" and "boards" and may be taken alongside the corresponding use of sticks or staves or palings giving rise to the terms "stockade" or "palisade". The word still survives in dialect as "bred" meaning a wooden cover for crocks and water-butts.

So it follows that "Bradbury" (or "Brydbyrig" as it was written some 1000 years ago) can be interpreted as "the fortress constructed of wooden boards".

The original inhabitants would have borne local field or family names but if a man migrated further away, his new neighbours found it more convenient to identify him as "the guy from Bradbury" - and which, like in so many similar cases, became simply "Bradbury".

The name is fairly evenly distributed across most of the country and even in the North-East, the Local Directories list only a dozen or so. But, surprisingly, there is a very high concentration in a band running from the Cheshire Plain, through the Staffordshire Moorlands and into the Peak. Furthermore, the earliest form of the name is to be found in the Records for Chester - William Richard de Bradbury, 1288.

Only inspired guesswork can account for this. No doubt the problems of defence which confronted the Normans along the Borderland of Durham and Northumberland were repeated where Wales and England met. This could have led to the establishment of a fortress somewhere in Cheshire and for it to have been operated by people transferred from Bradbury. The site can no longer by pin-pointed. Of the possible contenders for the location, somewhere in the vicinity of Winsford seems most likely.

Whereas the neighbouring towns such as Crewe, Middlewich and Sandbach are all mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) there is no mention of Winsford. That name is first recorded some 300 years later. This suggests that it was the original site of "Bradbury" and was merely a temporary encampment and not deemed worthy of inclusion in the Domesday Record. When it later expanded into an established settlement it took on the new name. The people imported from Durham would have been identified by the locals as being from some distant place which they were told was called "Bradbury" and naturally gave them the same identity and from which there emerged a new surname. Having no roots, no doubt they tended to drift away to seek work elsewhere and this probably accounts for the curious concentration of the name in this Area.

A well-known family called "Bradbury" is certainly associated with Winsford, of which John Swanwick Bradbury (1872-1950) was a distinguished representative. He was a Goverment Finance Minister and introduced Savings Certificates and the old One Pound Note.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 20th May 1996.

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