This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 11st March 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 MELLOR?

For a long while it was believed that the name "Mellor" was a variation upon "Miller" and, as such, was simply an occupational name. This explanation might still hold good in a few cases, but it is considerably weakened when the name can be shown to be heavily concentrated in North-West England, which, unlike say, the Midlands and East Anglia, is not particularly identified with the cultivation of cereal crops and with flour-milling on any extensive scale.

It is, in fact, now known to be a location-name and people around the "Peak" called "Mellor" can lay claim to ancestors who lived in either of two places of the same name - one in Derbyshire, the other in Lancashire. The "Mellor" which once belonged to our County was transferred to Cheshire in 1934 and later incorporated into Greater Manchester. It is located on the minor road which runs from New Mills to Marple and is just inside the Administrative Boundary. The other "Mellor", in Lancashire, stands about 3 miles north-west of Blackburn.

Neither place is mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) because during the time of its compilation, most of Northern England was well-nigh inaccessible. And even if the Norman Officials could have made their way, they would have encountered miles of barren moorland whose inhabitants tended to resent and resist attempts to be regulated by soppy Southerners (we still do!).

In fact the earliest record of "Mellor" in Derbyshire was made 200 years after Domesday (1283) and appears as "Melver"; although the Lancashire site, written "Malver" had been noted earlier in 1130. Furthermore, the first mention of the corresponding surname relates to this place and occurs for the year 1246. It is to a "Richard de Melver".

When the study of languages became more scientific, it was realised that against these old records, "Mellor" could not have been derived from the sources which gave "Miller". It was also noticed that the unit "Mel-" tended to occur rather frequently in place- names where there was evidence of Early British Settlements.

Apart from "Mellor" in Derbyshire and Lancashire, there was "Plenmellor" in Northumberland, "Mallerstang" in Westmoorland and (possibly) Mellor Knoll in Bowland Forest. Furthermore the widespread appearance in Wales of the similar word-form "Moelfre" (meaning "hilltop") provided clues to its possible origin and meaning. In every case, the places mentioned stood on the slopes of pronounced hills. By a process of deduction it was confirmed that when the older spellings were studied (i.e. Melver, Malver), the second unit, "-ver" was really all that was left of a very Ancient British word "bre" meaning "hill". It could have modified into "- vie" and then inverted to "-ver".

It still survives in the English and Scottish dialect "brae" which refers to the top of a hill ("Ye banks and braes of Bonnie Doon") and the sense if reflected in the use of the word "brow" when referring to the highest part of a hill as well as the highest part of the human face, above the eye-brow.

The unit "Mell-" is based on an equally Early British word "moel" which means "bare" or "barren". It is believed that there might be some link with the word "moor" because there is slender evidence for the existence of a lost word, of supposed form "mo-" or "me-" which would have meant "wild" or "uncultivated".

So, (whatever), "Mellor" is certainly one of our oldest place-names and means "The settlement set amidst the wild and uncultivated mountain tops".

A man whose home had once been in either of the places called "Mellor" would have first acquired a name which referred, perhaps to a local feature, and well-known to his family and friends. But when he migrated to another place, further away, such a designation would have been meaningless to his new neighbours. To them he was better identified by his place of origin, and became "The man from Mellor" - out of which the present surname evolved.

As might be expected, the name is heavily concentrated in Mid- Lancashire and North Derbyshire. Otherwise it is fairly evenly distributed across the country. Our Local Directories list about 200 representatives of the name "Mellor" and its corresponding form, indicating descent, "Mellors" runs to much the same number. The only personality mentioned in the Official Biographies is a High Court Judge, Sir John Mellor (1809-1887) who originated from Oldham.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 11st March 1996.
A further article on this surname was published in September 2003.

Are you called MILLER or MELLOR?
(Part One)

There are about 300 entries under Mellor (Mellors) in the local directory. While some of them have originated from the name of a village near Glossop, the occurrence of similar surnames all over the country, including Scotland - and not including continental imports - clearly indicates another source. It is, then, certainly an occupational name derived from involvement with the flour milling process. The choice of "flour milling process" though periphrastic, emphasises that "miller" did not take on its present-day meaning until well on into the 14th century and furthermore it came under the influence of two separate (though related) sources which are responsible for the multiplicity of surnames, thereby generated.

The university of the surname is readily explained. Provision for grinding corn was as much a necessity of daily life in the Middle Ages as a petrol station today. The word "mill" appears as early as 957 A.D. During the medieval period cooking among peasant households was done on open fires and outside (weather permitting). Boiling and roasting presented no problems but baking was not so easy. Purpose-built communal bake-houses were the solution, and since they were under the control of feudal landlords, people were compelled to use them as well as their lord's flour mills. It was a monopoly which in the best traditions of capitalism, was ruthlessly exploited. One notorious instance involved the Abbot of St. Albans, who confiscated the simple grind-stones of his tenants and contemptuously used them for paving his courtyard (later torn up in revenge during the peasants' revolt in 1381). To protect his interests the lord of a manor would appoint officials as the overseers of his mills: they were called "mylenweards" (millwards) and in Derbyshire reference is made to Robert le Moleward in 1327. From this emerges several status names including Millward, Mullard (locally listed) and in Scotland, Millard.

Until this time the job-description "miller" was reserved for the man employed in the mill who did the actual grinding of the corn, but following the apparent demise of the millward following both the Black Death (1350) as well as the revolt of 1381, consequent upon labour shortages, the word miller expanded to describe any proprietor of any corn mill. It first appears with this meaning in 1362. The consequences of these developments are that while miller certainly described any workman at a mill such as Ralph Mullen (Sussex, 1296), later appearances of such surnames are ambiguous.

Forms of the surname evolved in Scotland, of which "Millar" was deemed somewhat special in that country. Thus the records begin to suggest that "Miller" (often rendered in legal documents as "molendarius" - i.e. "of the mill") was mainly applicable to a tenant and not an official or a workman. In 1364 we hear of 'Ade molendarius' in a lease held from the Abbot of Moray in 1364.

Research into this name becomes complicated because the basic word "mill" was affected by two parallel influences which are not perfectly understood. However, expressed very simplistically, the root word was the Latin "molina" which accounts for the French "moulin", the Spanish "molino" and the Italian "molino". In English the final vowel, in this case "-a", was lost and by 961 it had taken the spelling "mylen". Then the intermediate "-e-" was dropped and forms such as "myln" and "mulne" are to be found.

It is from these sources that the surnames "Milner" and "Milne" have evolved. Hence Richard atte Mulle of Worcester, 1275 and Robert de Miln of Cumberland in 1332. Note: the dropping of the final "-n" is somewhat unusual in speech (that is to say evidence indicates that "Milne" was spoken as "mill"). It can be discerned in the word "kiln" which is from the Latin "culina" which can refer to an oven and provides the modern word "kiln" which in some dialects is pronounced as "kill". For some reason, while the Latin word "molina" prevailed in Southern Europe, in North European languages it seems to have entered from a differing, though related source, which led to the Germanic "muhle" and the Norwegian "molle", These variations are found in English writings, especially where continental influence prevailed and are found in such surnames as "Moller" and "Muller" (noticeable in East Anglia). Further developments of the name must be held over until the next issue of the "Advertiser."

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 22nd September 2003.

Are you called MILLER or MELLOR?
(Part Two)

Under this heading it was sought to explain that the occupational name for a person involved in the flour-milling process fell under several linguistic and social influences with the result that related surnames are more numerous than (say) Smith. That name referred to an occupation just as widely followed as that of miller yet it has generated hardly more than one surname and is rarely confused with any other source - except perhaps for "Smythe" which is East Anglian dialect for a stretch of level open ground. In the case of Mellor apart from being an occupational name, it could have been derived from one of two place names.

One such site, originally in Derbyshire, is more than likely to be the source of the surname for many of the families in our region. There are nearly 300 entries in the Local Directory (the final "-s" in Mellors is not significant). This Derbyshire location is situated some 5 miles south-west of Glossop.

Originally within the County it was transferred to Cheshire in 1934, and later, following the wholesale upheaval in the Local Government Act of 1972, it is now part of the County District of Stockport under the aegis of Greater Manchester. Location is not relevant to the surname since that had already been established several centuries previously. It follows that families who are able to verify an historical association with the site can lay claim to ancient ancestry. It has been noted that British (pre-Celtic) place names are heavily concentrated in north-west Derbyshire and that later names (e.g. Anglo-Saxon) are noticeably limited. This suggests that the region offered few attractions to Anglo-Saxon invaders and they made few incursions much before the 7th century.

This does not mean that the original inhabitants formed a wild and uncivilised community. The evidence indicates that it was well organised with a Christian foundation. Still, the physical geography of the region in which Mellor is situated provides ample justification for its name which is Ancient British and signifies "the bare hill." The unit "mel" is derived from the old word "mailo" which appears regularly in place names and is applicable to bare, tree-less scenery. (c.f. Welsh Moelfre). The second unit "or" is all that survives of the ancient word "briga" which means "hill" (c.f. German berg). It may be noted that the presence of units in surrounding place-names both locally and in Lancashire's "Mellor" as well, such as "clough" (rock); "edge" (inland cliff) and "stan" (stone) all serve to emphasise the appearance of their respective landscapes.

The earliest authentic record of the name dates from 1283 and is given as "Melver" though by 1330 this had become "Melver". Here confusion sets in: in the crabbed Gothic script it was easy to interpret a "U" as an "N" and sometimes the form "Melner" occurs. It is very likely that this was mistaken for the word "myln" (developed from the Latin "molina" - a flour mill) and that it had become an established misnomer for the site, even as early as the 10th century: Melnor, 1282.

Fortunately spellings such as "Meller" and "Mellor" (1432) were taking over and the corresponding surname became established. As is often the case with remote places, it provided a surname which meant little to any emigrant's neighbours further afield and so it doesn't seem to have been carried too far into the surrounding region. Still it was adopted by a local landed family round about the 17th century, a member of which became the first Mayor of Derby.

Turning now to the Lancashire site: it is located some 6 miles east of Preston. Both are situated on moorland, and both called "Mellor Moor". It is first recorded in 1130 as "Melver". Probably because it was less remote, the Lancashire habitation was more readily recognised when it appeared as a surname. So bearers are readily identified: Richard de Melver is mentioned in the Assize Records for Lancaster in 1286 and Edward Mellor in Oldham, 1588.

The presence of a mill is frequently implied in many place-names, which in turn have become surnames: e.g. Melbourne, Milton, Milford. Most are easily interpreted though "Millen" is less so. It means "the dweller at the entrance to the mill". Scots names can be tricky. "Millert" is apparently how "Miller" was rendered in the dialect of Moray.

Taking examples of names listed in our Local Directory, these are some personalities. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) the celebrated philosopher; Alan Alexander Milne (1882-1956) who created "Winnie-the-Pooh" and Joseph Miller (1684-1738) a popular comedian of his time whose humour was copied as to become over-familiar, giving rise to the saying, "a Joe Miller" (describing a stale joke).

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 6th October 2003.
The first article on this surname was published in March 1996.

This is a Genealogy Website
URL of this page:
Logo by courtesy of the Open Clip Art Library