This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 11st December 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.”


A visitor from Australia was recently in Bakewell. His name was Entwistle. He had long been given to understand that it was based on a place-name but where it was he had never been able to discover. He was agreeably surprised when, through the "Peak Advertiser", he was told that the corresponding place-name was over in an adjoining County and about 45 miles away! Not only that, but while there, are only a dozen or so entries in the Local Directory, there are over 200 listed for Merseyside - while in that encompassing Oldham, Rochdale, Bury and Stockport, entries are counted in columns, not lines.

When investigating the foregoing numbers, all the variations on the spelling of the name, Entwistle, Entwisle Entissle, Entwhistle, etc. have all been considered together since the variations are not significant.

It is certainly an unusual name, rendered particularly so by the unit "whistle" which, not surprisingly, is identified with the musical sounds associated with that word. The confusion is still further compounded in that among the several place-names incorporating a form of the element "whistle", probably the most widely known is "Haltwhistle" on the Carlisle-Newcastle Railway.

This leads people to speculate that the name originated during the development of locomotives and is related to railway engineering. This is not so at all. In fact the earliest references to the use of a whistle by engine-drivers occurs in Canada for around 1869 and "Whistle Stop" is American Slang and first appears in 1934.

References to Haltwhistle are found as early as 1240. What has happened is that the familiarity of the spelling of "whistle" (which has quite a different origin), has caused it to "separate out" from the letters which go in front when it is part of a place- name.

So what we do is to read (for example), "Halt-whistle" or "Ent- whistle" when, in fact, we should interpret them as "Hal-twhistle" or "En-twistle". Actually the correct renderings should always be "wwistle" but the influence of "whistle" has brought about the intrusive -h-".

Going even further back, the root work in every case is "twisel" and of that, the first three letters make its meaning almost self- explanatory. Words in our language beginning with the combination of "twi-" almost invariably carry the significance of "two" - such as "twice" and "twin" and even "twist" (in the sense of two-timing or double-dealing).

In place-names, however, it is the former way of describing the place where two streams or rivers meets, or, less usually, where they might divide. The tongue of land often thus created and lying between the two water-courses, was described as a "Twissel". Since waterways often formed the boundaries of land, ownership of the intervening triangular section created where two such boundaries converged was frequently disputed, and so this extremely old expression frequently crops up in legal documents, the earliest being 931 in the records of King Athelston.

The exact meaning of the prefix "En-" in "Entwistle" is quickly revealed by references to how it appeared in 1276, namely "Hennetwisel". It dosen't require much discernment to relate "Henne" with the modern word "Hen" and it is generally accepted that in full the name "Entwistle" means: The piece of land lying between the junction of two streams which is inhabited by water- hens".

No doubt the ancestors of the people now bearing the surname were described at "the folk who live on the entwissel land" and, in the fulness of time, this became their identity.

Entwistle itself is located about 15 miles North West of Manchester. It can easily be picked out on the map from its position on the Bolton-Blackburn Railway Line. There is a complex of reservoirs now in the vicinity and of the streams which probably gave the place its distinctive name, only Broadhead Brook is mentioned in the Guide Books. It flows into Wayoh Reservoir which is linked with the Turton & Entwistle Reservoirs.

Not surprisingly the noteworthy people called "Entwistle" (or one of its variations) all originate from the North-West.

Joseph Entwisle (1767-1841) came from Manchester. He played an important part in the organisation of the Methodist Church and was an acclaimed preacher. William Entwistle (1895-1952) was certainly born in China but his parents, both missionaries, came from Manchester and Sheffield. He was a most distinguised scholar in the field of lingistics.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 11st December 1995.

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