This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 1st August 1994, 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 MULLINS?

The basic name lying behind this is "Miller" and "Mullins" is only one of its many variations. In the Middle Ages (450-1450) the Miller was an important member in every community. Although most households would have been able to fend for themselves in preparing food, yet grinding corn was troublesome and tedious.

Although it could be performed with a hand-mill, it was easier to carry one's grain to the local mill where the work was done for you between heavier stones which were mechanically driven. The source of power was usually water. Wind-Mills were introduced much later - about the time of King John, and, indeed, the earliest mention of such is dated 1297 and even that refers to one in Germany!

For water-Mills there was need for quite extensive premises for housing the machinery and for storage as well as living accommodation for the miller and his family. The buldings were rather more commodious and more substantially built than most others of the period - excepting the residences of Lords of the Manors and the Churches - and so the occupation and status of a miller tended to remain in the hands and under the control of members of the same family through successive generations. Hence it is not surprising that people, identified as "Miller" were to be found in almost every settlement and that as a surname it has become one of the most widely distributed all over Western Europe.

Mind you, it wasn't all quite as straightforward as it seems. Great landowners spent large sums in constructing mills and providing the materials for the machinery as well as improving or diverting the water courses. To recover their outlay they compelled their tenants to have their corn ground at these centres and prohibited the use of hand-mills.

This "privatisation" might have been all well and good if the monopoly had not been exploited. As it was it was grievously abused and in fact the Lord of St. Albans sent his troops round from house to house to seize all hand-mills and showed his arrogance and contempt for the poor people by using the stones to pave some of his yards. The peasants got their own back by digging them up again during the Uprising of 1381! Even so, millers knew they were on to a good thing and tended to push their advantages - there weren't any "Consumer Watch-Dogs" in those days!

While it would have been a reasonable form of payment for each miller to have retained a small portion of the corn each person brought for grinding, far too many of them dishonestly appropriated more than what was their just entitlement.

Today, just as certain trades and professions are deemed to be conducted by persons of questionable standards, so during the Middle Ages, to be identified as miller was tantamount to being declared a robber and a cheat. In a famous Mystery Play, there is a scene showing the Day of Judgement and the Avenging Angel descends into Hell to rescue the Souls of the Departed. The Devil complains and begs to be allowed to keep one for himself and a Miller is handed over!

Among the Canterbury Pilgrims there is to be found a Miller of whom Chaucer writes: (Modernised English). "There certainly was some justification for the low esteem which Millers brought upon themselves because the Records of Court Proceedings all over the country are full of cases about Millers and their dishonesty…"

However, Millers seem to have survived because their occupation was widely followed and caused the evolution of a surname which is among the most frequently encountered not only in these Islands but all over the Continent. This wide distribution has been responsible for the numberous variations and spelling of the name.

The word itself can be traced to the Latin "Molere" which means "to crush" or "to grind". In the Ancient Roman Empire and outside the larger cities, it seems that buildings especially designed for the processing of grain were apparantly rare and the process was carried out more or less individually with the aid of a grind-stone known as a "mola". During the Middle Ages the words were adapted to apply to purpose-built places and Late Latin word was coined - "molina." .

This point has been slightly expanded upon because it accounts for the noticable variations in the spelling of derived surnames. Where the work "molina" passed into Southern Languages, the internal "-n-" was preserved, as in the French "moulin", the Spanish "molina", the Italian "mulino". But, in the Northern Languages, it has dropped out - as in the English "mill", the German "muhle" and the Norwegian "molle".

Hence the English surnames such as "Mill", "Miller" and "Mills" are derived directly from the Early English equivalents such as "mylle" or "mell" whereas the "-n-" forms, such as "Milne", "Milner", "Mullen" etc. have more than likely been introduced from the Mainland of Europe by immigrants. The version "Mullins" can be traced to Normandy as "De Molines".

The name, in various forms, is distributed all over the British Isles and there are about 1000 entries under "Miller" and related versions in the local directories. In Lancashire the name "Molins" was worked-up into the form "Molyneux" and in that version is the family name of the Earls of Sefton.

So many distinguished people have been called "Mill" or one or another of its derivatives that it is impossible to mention more than a few. There is Sir William Mills, the designer of the particular hand-grenade; A. A. Milne, who gave us "Winnie the Pooh" and Hugh Miller, the geologist.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 1st August 1994.

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