This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 23rd October 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 CANTRILL?
Variations: Chantrill, Cantrell, Chantrell

This name is derived from the Latin term "to sing" which is "cantare" and also through its French counterpart, "chanter". In the Register of Taxes payable to King Henry I in Shropshire (1177) mention is made of a "Walterus Canterellus" to which, possibly for the removal of doubts, the medieval scribe added "Chanterel".

The word, however spelled, has disappeared from most English dictionaries. Where it is included, "chanterelle" is the form given. Principally it meant "a decoy bird" but in that sense it has long been obsolete. Another meaning was "the melody string" of certain musical instruments. During the time when the banjo was more widely played than today, it had a certain semi-professional vogue, but since about 1920 it is rarely encountered. A third meaning applies to a form of edible fungus, but it has quite a different origin and in any case dates from 1775. However "chanterelle" is to be found in modern French dictionaries and has much the same definitions.

In English, except as a surname, no form of the word seems to have been recorded before 1601. In that year, an isolated reference to "chanterelle" appears in the context of bird-snaring. There it describes a bird, specifically a female partridge being employed by fowlers, ie, bird-catchers, as a decoy for enticing male birds into traps. The call note of most birds is high-pitched and perhaps it had been compared with the tenor voice of a singer in a church choir. It certainly bore this meaning in old French. Unfortunately very little information about the arrangement and classification of voices in church choirs survived the ravages following the dissolution of the religious houses by Henry VIII (1536). Innumerable musical manuscripts were simply destroyed or exported to Europe where the parchment was used for bookbinding. It is known that musical settings for the different services sometimes provided for singers whose vocal levels were higher than usual. They were described as "quartus cantus" or "fourth voice". Details are lacking but it is quite feasible that the terms "cantorel" or "chanterelle" could have evolved in this context. It might be noted that this "quartus cantus" was also termed "quadrible" and it is very tempting to see the name "Cantrill" lurking behind it and especially when a form of the surname occurs in York (cathedral choir?) as "Quayntorell" in 1379. It is, however, a similarity which is more apparent than real and would lead nowhere.

Furthermore, even if there were specific singers called "Cantrill" etc. (and this is doubted), the name would hardly be likely to be perpetuated as a surname since celibacy was enjoined upon members of monastic orders, who made up cathedral choirs during the Middle Ages.

Another possible extension of the meaning of "chanterelle" was to describe a small bell (noting, of course, that the larger the bell, the deeper the tone). It has therefore been suggested that "Cantrill" could have described a bellringer in the sense of one who sounded a bell prior to proclaiming some announcement. This is doubtful. There is no reference to such application of the name and in any case the occupational names of "Bellman" and "Cryer" had long been established both in England and Scotland. And it certainly didn't refer to anybody who rang the Sanctus bell since that was merely incidental to the duties performed by the server at the altar. As for ringing the church bell itself, that task was allotted to the Sexton and that word had already generated the corresponding surname as early as 1198. So it might follow that "Cantrill" could have been a nickname conferred upon individuals who exhibited a talent for whistling and mimicking bird calls so as to be able to lure them into captivity. (Note: the surname "Whistler" described a flute player).

The alternative versions of the surname, in the case of the initial "C-" and "Ch-" follow a development in the language which is quite regular. Words derived from Latin which began with "C-" retained the Latin utterance in that the initial "C-" was pronounced as "K-". However in French, the "Kay" sound modulates into "ch-" (as in child). This has led to many interesting "doubles" such as "Cattle" and "Chattel" and "canal" and "Channel".

Apart from Walter Chanterel in Shropshire (1117) there was a Philip Canteral in Stafford (1203) and Robert Chanterel in Warwick (1221). A curious spelling, already noted, persisted in York, as for Johannes Quayntorell (1379). Until comparatively recently there was a neighbourhood in Liverpool called "Cantrill Farm" but the area seems to have been redeveloped under the name, apparently, of "Stockbridge village".

According to one survey (1890) "Cantrill" or "Cantrell" is special to Staffordshire whereas to another (1901) it prevails in Yorkshire. However the current directories do not include more than the average number of entries, whereas the local directory for this area lists well above the average. There are about 25 under the heading "Cantrill" and a similar number making up the variations.

The most celebrated bearer of the name was Henry Cantrell (1685-1773) who originated in Staffordshire, but spent most of his life in Derby as Vicar of St. Alkmund's. He was a supporter of Prince Charles Edward (The Young Pretender) and "drank his health upon his knees" when he arrived in Derby (4th December, 1745).

Here in Matlock the name is known to many of us on account of our own Eddy Cantrill of Tansley upon whom we call for our painting and decorating.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 23rd October 2000.

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