This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 16th December 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 HASLAM?

The spelling of this name quickly identifies it with the tree called "The Hazel". One has to be careful, though, and not attribute such associations with every surname beginning with "Has-". Both "Hassall" and "Hasson" are exceptions. Equally so, it would be difficult to recognise its presence in "Aslam" "Aslum" and even "Allen". Usually variations in spelling are not significant, but in the case of "Haslam" and it counterparts ("Haslam", "Hasten", "Haslam" and "Heslcham") such variations are to be noted.

Whereas most surnames based on "Hazel" can be traced to being location names since they are joined up with such units as "wood", "grove", "dene", "well", etc., the name "Haslam" does not quite fall into this category since its literal meaning is "near the Hazels" - and the place which was "near" could be anywhere!

However, while all those who have looked into this name seem to agree that it was associated with a place called "Haslam" in Lancashire, its whereabouts and exact significance cannot be ascertained. It is not listed in any available Gazeteer or Atlas. An inspired guess is that perhaps it was an earlier name for "Hazelgrove" which is on the A6, about six miles west of New Mills.

Very slender supporting evidence is provided in that "Haslam" is a surname found in the Region (especially at Carrington, some 12 miles distant), and also in that the version "Hazelgrove" could have been a modern reconstrucion of the older name, since it makes its first appearance in 1690. That place is certainly close enough to the Derbyshire Border to justify the notion that persons moved into our County and were identified as being from "Haslam".

The place would not have been so far distant as to be unknown and meaningless. The further away a man moved from his native-place, the more generalised became his surname among his new neighbours.

Although varieties of Hazel Bushes are widely distributed throughout the World, the species which most interests us is that which was familiar to our British Ancestors. The similarity of its name from places as far away as Norway ("hassel"), from Germany ("hazel") and Scotland ("heazle" - old dialect) all point to a common origin. In this case the best one can do is to suggest that the basic word travelled from somewhere in Central Asia. The exact source has long since disappeared.

Those of our ancestors who were interested in language knew that the Hazel had been known to the Romans because in a Latin Dictionary compiled as early as the year 700, the Classical "corylus" (which is also now the plant's scientific name) is matched with "Haesil". In 1307 a popular saying was recorded as: "If thou desire grapes, then goest not to the Hasell".

Unlike most forest trees, the oak, ash, beech, etc, the Hazel does not grow to such a size as to furnish timber suitable for large projects such as building, farm-vehicles and so forth. So we might very well wonder what was so special about it to account for the numerous Hazel plantations which once abounded.

One fact is for certain. Our ancestors knew all about the value of Hazel Nuts as a source of food. They even developed a cultivated variety which they called the "Filbert". It is supposed to be named after a St. Filbert because it was deemed to ripen on 22nd August, which is that Saint's commemoration day.

Mention is made of it as early as the Eleventh Century and in 1400 a writer enthuses over it: "Ye figge anf ye filbert, were ever foode made so fair"?.

As for the wood itself, even up to the time of Queen Victoria it was put to many special uses: hoops for barrels and making crates. It also played a part in brewing. Where yeast was not always available, our Mediaeval Forebears would assemble a bundle of hazel twigs and immerse them in ale while it was fermenting. The twigs absorbed such a sufficiency of yeast that they could be hung up, left to dry, and the yeast, thus preserved, was available for a later brewing.

It is very tempting to construe the final unit of "Haslam" as being the Old English expression "hamm" which means "small settlement" or "enclosure". This is not so. Its exact meaning, "near the Hazels" has already been mentioned. In Old English, the word "by" developed rather late and the earlier way of saying something was "near" or "by" something else, was to tag on the unit "-um".

Note: A similar construction occurs with the word "of". Our ancestors used to add -es" to words and this survives in what we call the "apostrophe 's". So - People called "Haslam" can interpret their name as a reference to their predecessors who were identified as: "The folk who dwell in the vicinity of the Hazel Thickets".

The earliest mention of the name is dated 1246 and is to a "Hugh de Haslam" in Lancashire.

It certainly became wellestablished in Derbyshire. A celebrated artist called John Haslam (1808-1884) was actively associated with the China Manufactory of Derby. Sir Alfred Haslam (1844-1927), a great industrialist and a pioneer in refrigeration technique belongs to Derby. There are over 200 entries in the Local Directory, and it is well-known here in Bakewell on account of our own Bill Haslam, who, in his capacity as a Council Workman is a familiar and welcome figure about the Town.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 16th December 1996.

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