This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 30th October 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 BRADWELL?

The earliest mention of this name occurs in the records for Worcester in 1275. It is to a Walter de Bradwelle. Where he took his name from is uncertain but with one hundred miles between, it is highly unlikely that is was from here in Derbyshire. There are about a dozen places in England called Bradwell. Perhaps John Braddell of Preston (1622) is a more promising predecessor. Local families of this name can almost certainly lay claim to being identified with that place which stands on the B6049, near Hathersage and almost half-way, as the crow flies between Buxton and Sheffield.

The name is made-up from two units: "Brad-" and "-well". The association of the second unit with water needs some explanation. In modern parlance as "well" is a sort of bore-hole in the ground and is usually roofed-over and with a bucket and windlass - and more often treated as a garden ornament than a supply of water. In the past, however, "well" was a general expression for most supplies of water which emerged from the earth as distinguished from that which fell as rain.

Since water is so fundamental to human existence the words used by our Medieval ancestors when referring to it were themselves already so ancient that their exact forms and derivation are now lost. All we know with regard to the word "well" is that the manner in which under-ground water could be seen to bubble and surge out of the surface was fancifully compared with the appearance of a vessel of boiling water and how it too gurgled and flowed-over the sides. The notion still survives in the expression "to well over" which means to swell or to increase in volume. The application of heat so as to cause metals to "bubble and run" during the process of uniting them also gives us the word "to weld".

It is the first unit "Brad-" though, that causes problems. Taken literally "Bradwell" means "the Broad Well" but on reflection this does not make perfect sense. Wells are generally thought of as being "deep" not "broad"! And even if, "stream" is substituted for "well", the description "the Broad Stream" is hardly appropriate. The actual waterway identified under this place-name is not the Derwent, nor indeed is it the River Noe which is one of its tributaries, meeting it at Bamford. It is a lesser rivulet called "Bradwell Brook" which seems to have provided the basis for the title. It joins the River Noe at Brough.

The undoubted antiquity of the site cannot be disputed. It was already an old and flourishing settlement even before the Romans arrived. The presence of Lead workings certainly encouraged people to settle, but there were most decidedly other factors and not the least of which was the presence of large, steady and assured supplies of water. And it is to this particular circumstance that an older meaning of the word "brad" can be attached.

As well as meaning "wide" it could also be used to signify "plenty" or "large numbers". In a narrative dated 1370 a crowd assembled in a meadow is described thus: "Of folke ye felde was brade," while even earlier - some 300 years previously - a description of a king's accumulated wealth was referred to as "broad of gold".

Now whether this interpretation is applicable for other places of the same name is not certain, but it is not unrealistic to suggest that Bradwell in Derbyshire can be rendered as "The settlement where there are ample supplies of water". In passing it might be mentioned that the "Blackwell" in Essex was formely known as "Bradwell" and in Norfolk, the "broad well" refers to Breydon Water, an arm of the estuary of the River Yare which is plainly wide.

It is pretty certain, however, that many families living in this area (Derbyshire) can lay claim to ancestors once dwelling there. When a man remained in his native place, he was easily identified by his parentage or some highly localised name. But when he moved away, such a pin-pointing would have been meaningless to his new neighbours who found it easier to describe him as "the man from Bradwell" and, in the fullness of time, simply as "Bradwell". Had such a man travelled to Worcester, the name "Bradwell" would have meant very little and he would have been far more likely to have been referred to as "Derby". In the study of surnames it is noted that the further away a person migrated from his native place, the wider and more general became his name.

It is fairly evenly distributed across the country and there are about 30 entries in the local directories. The political personality, Tom Driberg (1905-1976) assumed the title "Lord Bradwell" but that was in association with the place in Essex. Here in Bakewell the name is very well-known to us on account of the services in carpentry and joinery provided by our own Stephen Bradwell.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 30th October 1995.

This is a Genealogy Website
URL of this page:
Logo by courtesy of the Open Clip Art Library