This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 11st October 1999, 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 reader in Crich has asked about this name. It is special to Lancashire and is a township near Blackpool. There is also another site outside Garstang but its involvement is doubtful.

Greenhalgh is in the Fylde district and is now joined to form the parish of Greenhalgh-with-Thistleton Kirkham. It can be found some 7 miles east of Blackpool. One can assume it is a commuter settlement but otherwise it is within an agricultural district with nursery gardens nearby.

The alternative place may be mentioned merely for completeness. It is further north and less self-contained. Until about 30 years ago the remains of a castle appeared on most maps but the latest Ordnance Survey names only "Greenhalgh Castle Farm". The occurrence of the name is puzzling. The distinguished local historian, Edward Bain, calls it "Greenhaugh" in his Gazetteer for Lancashire (1825). This suggests that the other spelling was consciously adopted at a later date.

Information is scanty but it seems that some members of a "Greenhalgh" family were of "castle" status and may have applied the name. They were associated with aristocratic families in the region, particularly at Brandlesome Hall (Bury) and held high office such as Governor of the Isle of Man (1640).

It is extremely difficult to distinguish other places with remarkably similar names. The Old English words "halh", "holh", "haugh", "hale" and "hoh" are frequently interchanged and it is not always possible to decide how they can be made applicable to a given site. Hence it is very easy to associate places such as "Greenhaugh" and "Greenhow" with the surname. The place called "Greenhaugh" is in Northumberland, 30 miles west of Morpeth while two sites in Yorkshire, both called "Greenhow" can be found either 3½ miles west of Pateley Bridge or 4½ miles south- east of Stokesley.

It is submitted that these Yorkshire sites are doubtful origins since the oldest records for either spell them with the ending "- hou". But the place in Northumberland is tantalising because the earliest mention uses the form "Grenehalgh". At the end of the day it must be left to individual families to decide for themselves where their predecessors came from and which spelling is appropriate. For the purposes of this article the source of the surname will be deemed to have been "Greenhalgh" in Lancashire.

It is certainly an old-established settlement but what it means is not perfectly certain. For a while there was speculation that the "Green" element did not signify colour but was an Old Norse personal name "Grim" - as in "Grimsby". Since Lancashire had been subject to the Norse invaders and there were many place names incorporating such names as at "Ormskirk" and "Formby" there was considerable credibility for this notion. It is now abandoned and "Green" means exactly what it says.

The unit "haugh" lends itself to much discussion because, as has already been intimated, it can so readily be confused with other terms such as "haugh" and "how" and for which very often no precise meaning is apparent. They can be construed as "hollow" or "nook" but, frustratingly, they can mean exactly the opposite. That is to say, they bear the meaning of land slightly elevated in the midst of marshes or between rivers. This occurs in "Haulgh" in Bolton, which stands between two water courses.

In many cases it is highly desirable to study the location of the actual place to be able even to hazard an inspired guess. According to the best maps available to the "Advertiser" the ground to the south of Greenhalgh appears to rise so that two streams (Medlar and Thistleton Brook) flow north, eventually joining the River Wyre. An adjacent place name confirms this. It is "Esprick" which means "the slope on which ash trees grow".

The depression in which Greenhalgh lies certainly can't be very spectacular since the entire area from the Fylde Coast to the Pennines is within the 300ft contour. Fortunately the original spellings employ variations on the Old English word "holh" which means "hollow". In the Domesday Book (1086) it appears as "Greneholf" and later (1212) as "Grenhole".

Early versions of the surname also carry this interpretation forward. In 1220, down in Shropshire, a man called Richard is described as "being from Grenol", while "William" made a court appearance in 1251 in Lancashire as "from Grenol". The tax returns for 1332 mention a William "from Grenholl" and, finally, in the same returns we triumphantly encounter "Matlida de Grenehalgh".

So those families called "Greenhalgh" can interpret their name as "One who dwells in the green hollow".

For some reason, while bearers of the name pronounce it "Greenhalsh" the place itself (according to the guide books) is spoken of as "Green -r" (the final syllable is indeterminate).

This conflict between spelling and pronunciation is by no means easy of explanation. Very briefly, and simply for illustration, a similar development attaches itself to the modern word "enough" and its older counterpart "enow".

The name is not widely distributed. Probably it was not sufficiently well-known much outside its own sphere of influence and emigrants adopted other descriptions. Otherwise, within the vicinity the name is heavily concentrated. There are over 60 entries in the Preston directory and 30 for Kirkham itself. Once some distance has been covered, numbers drop perceptibly - there is only a handful even in Liverpool and about 18 in our own directory.

The Standard Biographies have only one entry under the name: that of John Greenhalgh who died in 1651. He has already been noted in connection with "Greenhalgh Castle". He supported the King during the Civil War and suffered reverses of fortune following the Parliamentary victory.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 11st October 1999.

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