This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 27th October 1997, 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 OUTRAM?

A reader in Bakewell asks about this name. In his letter he says he believes it may have originated in Derbyshire. Certainly in a survey made in 1890 "Outram" was included among surnames special to Derbyshire but there is no positive evidence that it began here.

To find out the meaning of many surnames it is helpful to be able to see how they were first written. In this case it is "William Owtrem" which frankly tells us little. At one time it was suggested that it could have been based upon some Nordic personal name and "Othram" was mentioned but there is nothing further to support this.

The explanation which appeals most to the "Peak Advertiser" and which has found favour elsewhere is that "Outram" is derived from a place-name, but which has vanished from the map.

Confidence in this suggestion is gained from the fact that the first unit "Outr-" appears in earlier renderings of the name as "Owtr-" and "Utter-", hence William Utteram of Sussex, 1525 and Richard Owtrem of Suffolk, 1524. These correspond with the words "out", "utter" and "owt" (now largely dialect). All these share the sense of "outer" or "beyond". The word "out" can be traced as far back as 888 A.D. while "owt" occurs in 1375. (Ye blude flowed from owt his breste"). "Utter" dates from around 1200. There are frequent references in the chronicles of the time to "ye utter walls of ye toun". (1507).

What follows can be put no higher than inspired guess-work and it might very well be that some research reveals another explanation, but on what is known to date, it is submitted that if "Outram" had been a place-name, it could very well have described somewhere as being "outside" or "beyond" somewhere else.

The concept of a site being specifically described as "outside" or "beyond" is demonstrated from other place names. In Cambridge there is "outwell" (6 miles west of Downham Market) which the guide book explains as being a settlement which was later established outside the village, once called "Well". About 10 miles south of Grimsby stands "Utterby" which signifies "the outer farmstead". In 1209 it was written as "Uttrebi".

The second unit of "0utram" is "-am" and this would appear to be a short form of the Old English word "ham". The word also appeared as "hem" and this could account for the spelling "Outrem". The occurrence of this spelling indicates that in this context, "ham" (which had several meanings) indicated that the place occupied a site on the margin or just beyond the boundaries of an enclosed settlement. For example, the edges of a cultivated woodland (or a "holt") are mentioned in a deed dated 1400 as "the hems of the holt" -or, in the original, "ye holte hemmes". Here it may be noted that "hem" is used to describe, among other things, the edge of a garment, i.e. "the hem" and another word was "rim". This adds significance to that spelling of the name which is "Outrim", An example of "-am" changing to "-em" is provided by "Northam" which in some early records assumes the form "Norem".

So if the foregoing analysis is valid, it may be taken that "Outram" is a surname derived from some settlement identified as being "the place just beyond the boundaries".

Where this was located is simply not known. A search through the most comprehensive gazetteer yields no results and it is not listed in the catalogue of "Lost Villages" by Peter Naylor.

One could romance and speculate forever as to where "Outram" was first established. A point of some significance is that as a surname the title appeared rather late (1493). The notion could possibly be advanced that this is shortly after the Black Death (1349). This caused a great shortage of labour and those who possessed property were hard-put to find workers to keep their estates going. A group of itinerant labourers could have bargained with some land owner to establish themselves in a little colony or encampment. It was contemplated as being only a short term arrangement and for that reason has now vanished. In passing. it might be noted that the practice of setting-up clusters of dwellings for hired workers was not unknown, especially on the Borders and as far back as the 13th century.

Hence it could have been that the original settlers became identified as "they folk at the place over yonder" and some did, in fact, remain and made good. This could account for why the surname has established itself in Derbyshire. The oldest allusions are to "Robert Owtram" at Barlow near Chesterfield, c.1600 and to "Joseph Outram" of Alfreton, 1732. However, the earliest record is to a "William Outrem" in Nottingham (1493) and he may have made the journey south from Derbyshire and had simply assumed the name for convenience. There is a great deal in this which must be left to those who study family histories and the annals of the working classes. Contrary to a widely held local tradition the word "tram" as referring to the passenger transport vehicle is not derived from the name of a Benjamin Outram. He certainly ran trucks along stone rails at Little Eaton in the early nineteenth century but the expression "tram" had been in use among the mining community since at least the 1500's. In 1786 a history of mining in Northumberland states that "cast-iron railways were introduced as an improvement on the tram or wooden railway". Otherwise the name itself is well- represented in our area. There are about a dozen entries in the directory as well as a few variations such as "Outhram" and "Outrim". The most distinguished bearer of the name was Sir James, Outram (1803-1863) of Butterley Hall at Alfreton. He was a brave soldier who played a prominent part in the affairs of British India.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 8th May 2000.

This is a Genealogy Website
URL of this page: https://names.gukutils.org.uk/Outram.shtml
Logo by courtesy of the Open Clip Art Library