This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 25th June 2001, 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 MARPLES?
Variations: Marple, Marpel.

The origin of this surname was, for a long while, uncertain but it is now accepted that it is a location-name and is taken from "Marple" a place just over the county border, standing on the River Goyt and about 3 miles north-west of New Mills. It was formerly in Derbyshire but was first transferred to Cheshire in 1934 and, later, following the re-organisation of Local Government in 1974, incorporated into Greater Manchester.

The earliest instance of the surname is "John de Marpell" in the tax returns for Derbyshire, 1327. Then nearly 350 years elapse until the local records mention a "Francis Marples" of Derby, and whose name is preserved in "Marples Cottages" (Staveley).

This absence of early examples probably accounts for the confusion of the name with "Maple". Indeed it was stated very categorically by one Victorian authority on the subject that "this familiar Yorkshire surname has no connection with Marple, the parish in east Cheshire. At some period an 'r' seems to have intruded itself into Maples or Mapples". This misconception can readily be accounted for because not only are the Derbyshire sources still thin on the ground but they were also not available until about 30 years after that assertion had been propounded. The earliest example then accessible was from York and appeared as "Thomas de Mapples" (1379). Briefly the surname "Maple" or "Maples" is based on the Anglo-Saxon word "mapul" and would have described somebody who dwelt in the vicinity of a Maple tree. The expression "mapul" is very old and can be traced even as far back. as 100 years before Alfred the Great. As a surname it first appears in Essex (1285) and is to a "Robert atte Mapele".

There does not seem to be any obvious reason why Marple did not play a noticable part in the generating of a corresponding surname. It is usually the case that if a man moved away from his native habitation, then he was usually identified among his new neighbours as "the man from such-and- such-a-place". If however that place was hardly known much beyond its region or he moved really far afield for it ever to have been heard of, then he acquired a new identity altogether - usually based on his occupation or perhaps a nick-name. What the standing of Marple might have been in the Middle Ages is something upon which local historians are best able to comment. It doesn't ever seem to have been a particularly important place. It is not included in any itinerary of the "Blue Guides" (Visitors' Handbook to England) and is described in a popular encyclopedia (1948) as being "practically a residential suburb" of Manchester (10 miles away). So: whatever the reason, it remains that only two early examples of the surname have yet come to light. (Cited above).

There is still another problem. What exactly does "Marple" mean? Obviously as a surname it can readily be interpreted as describing the bearer as being the descendant of somebody who was associated with the place. But - the name itself? This has never been satisfactorily explained. Early spellings of "Marple" which should generally be helpful only add to the uncertainty. The first is dated 1248 and occurs in a coroner's inquest. It is "Merpel". Almost contemporary is "Merpille" and towards the end of the century, the court proceedings for Chester yield "Merphull" (1285) and "Merpil" (1288). Sometimes the topography of the site itself supplies an answer in these difficult cases, but here it is ambiguous. The first unit (Mar-) could be either a foreshortening of the Old English "gemaere" which signifies "a boundary". Or it could be read as "Marp-" which suggests a contraction of "maer- hop". In Old English "hop" means "valley" and so the unit could indicate that part of some boundary (parish? county?) followed the line of a valley. There is certainly a clearly defined line created by a stretch of the River Goyt running approximately from Marpleridge to Romiley. The second unit (-ple) could represent either "pyll" (Old English) and refer to the water-course (The Goyt). Or it could be "hyll" another Old English word and be applicable to the narrow ridge (1000 feet) which overlooks the river. Of these interpretations (which are, admittedly, very sketchily set forth), it is submitted that "the hill by the river forming the boundary" is the more likely. Again it must he left to local historians to say between Where the "boundary" actually ran.

In a survey carried out in the 1890's "Marples" was noted as being special to Derbyshire and is quite well-represented in the local directories. Near Weston Underwood is "Marples Plantation" which takes its name from a Henry Marple (1868). There are only a few variations. "Marples" i.e. "the son or child of the man called Marple" seems somewhat to prevail in the West Riding.

Only one personality appears in the standard biography. It is Ernest Marples (1907-1978) from Levenshulme in Manchester. He was an active Minister of Transport (1959-64) and it is to his initiative that the first motorway was opened up (1959). He also introduced yellow lines and parking meters.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 25th June 2001.

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