This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 10th February 2003, 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.”


An enquiry about this name has been sent in from Matlock. The spelling was "Nethercott" but other forms include Nethercot, Nethercoates, Nethercotes etc. These variations are not significant and are easily identifiable.

It is obviously a place-name and Nether Cotes is listed as being in the vicinity of Bradwell but its exact location is ambiguous. The earliest record gives it as Caldecote (1309) which by 1452 had become simply Cotes. Not until 1688 is there any suggestion of present usage, when it appears on a map as Narcotes.

Whether the latter expanded into "Nether Cotes" is uncertain. No further evidence is, as yet, available. The proximity of a site called "Nether Hall" is interesting but inconclusive. Altogether it is submitted that this "Bradwell" site is a doubtful source of the surname which had already evolved before Magna Carta (1215).

Otherwise analysis of the place-name is fairly straightforward. The unit "Nether" is extremely widespread - there are about a dozen in this county. A standard Gazeteer lists a further 150 names incorporating "Nether" and of which there are seven forms of "Nethercott."

The word "nether" is derived from the Old English "neothera" and means "lower" or "furthermost". Apart from being retained in place-names, this word has dropped out of use, except in special contexts such as "the nether regions" (i.e. Hell). It has echoes in the words "beneath" and "nest" (i.e. a place where a bird may lower itself).

The second unit "cote" (or its variations) meant, at the time when surnames were evolving, something equivalent to "dwelling". It is desirable to say "something equivalent" because there are indications that the expression could have described a shelter for animals, sheep especially, but the point is not perfectly settled. As far as a dwelling is concerned it should be noted that at this period most rural accommodation was little more than four walls and a roof. Anything better, as might have served to house the Lord of the Manor, was designated a "hall". So a quote, although of a later date (1635) expresses it neatly as "Poor cots are even now as safe as princes' halls".

The usage of "cot" can be traced as far back as the time of King Alfred, who, in 893 mentions his people as being "at home in their cots". The term should not be equated with "Cottage" which first appears in 1271. That originally described a form of tenancy where the "house went with the job". It may be compared with "parsonage". Its use for describing something picturesque or "truly rural" was introduced by Horace Walpole in 1762.

So, adopting modern terminology, "Nethercot" would be much the same as the "End House".

Of the seven sites listed in the Gazetteer, only five can be pin-pointed with the aid of a map. The other two are apparently neighbourhood names and it is extremely likely that there are dozens of such neighbourhood locations dotted around the island and would only appear on large scale maps.

The first site listed is Nethercote of Oxfordshire (Banbury, 1½m N.E.). It is actually just within the Northamptonshire boundary - less than 1¼ mile! From the map it appears to be a few scattered dwellings alongside a lane which suddenly becomes a footpath which finishes in the middle of nowhere! In relation to Banbury it is truly the "outermost settlement."

In Warwickshire there is another place lying about half-way between Southam and Daventry, off the A425. It, also seems to consist of a few dwellings at the end of a minor road and is certainly isolated.

The Gazetteer lists another "Nethercote" but its location is uncertain, being now described as a locality in the old rural district of Stowe-in-the-Wold (Gloucester). Two other sites may be mentioned: both are in Devon. One is 6 miles south of Holsworthy and is described as "the hamlet of Nethercotts". The other is 1½ miles south of Chumleigh.

The place-name does not seem to occur in the North of England. It vanishes beyond Northampton. Yet the unit "Nether" is common enough in place-names - even over the border (although the only Scottish surname incorporating the element is "Netherwood").

This infrequency of the surname may be attributed to its being related to isolated habitations. Such sites would be small and capable of supporting few inhabitants. So, young people would be obliged to emigrate to surrounding areas where taking the identity of their native place would have meant little of nothing to their new neighbours.

Another name would have been conferred - usually a nickname based on some physical characteristic. So it is only in a very few cases that "Nethercott" has survived as a surname. It would be interesting to know the circumstances which led to its survival in these particular circumstances.

The earliest reference dates from the time of King John (1208) and mentions some court proceedings at Oxford, involving a certain Ern' de Nethercot. The next is dated 1244 and refers to Richard de Nethercote of Devon, followed in 1263 by Simon de Nethercote in Gloucester. Whether this concentration of references towards the South and West is significant, the "Advertiser" is unable to speculate. A few references in the London area belong to later dates: Elizabeth Nethercott (1574) and Edward Nethercoate (1655). The name has been carried over to the United States where it bears the unusual spelling of Nethicott.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 10th February 2003.

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