This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 28th June 1999, 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.”

(Variations: Staniforth, Standford, Staniford)

In the Middle Ages travel by road was hazardous. There were no proper highways: just dirt-tracks. There were few bridges and where water had to be crossed, only fords were provided. Nevertheless they were very important, especially on the main long-distance routes. Some evolved into major settlements as in the case of Bradford and Stafford. Otherwise most fords served only as links between neighbouring villages. There were so many of them that the word "ford" has provided the unit for over 1000 place-names. Some can be dated from before 730 A.D.

"Ford" is related to the Latin "portus" which means "entrance" or "passage". In the development of our language, the sounds of "p" and "d" in Latin convert to "f' and "t". Hence "pedes" appears as "feet". Sometimes the "t" changes to "th" so we get "pater" becoming "father". An instance of all this in a place-name is where "ford" alternates with "forth" - and sometimes both as when "Garford" in Berkshire has its counterpart "Garforth" in Yorkshire. In passing it may be noted, that the name of the Scots river, the "Forth" is not connected. It is an ancient British expression which is believed to signify "the slow-running water".

Looking at places which are named in connection with fords, it is remarkable how many of them provide information as to the nature of the crossing-place. If the point where travellers were to make their way across was wide, a name indicating that fact was used: the "broad ford" now yields "Bradford". If the stream separated into several channels which had successively to be negotiated, it became "two fords" or "Twyford". Since the beds of most rivers are covered in stones and many fords utilised rocks and boulders as stepping-stones, the description "stony ford" occurs all over the country. Regional dialects affected pronunciation and spelling, but the meaning is still the same, whether way down south in Devon at Stowford (Launceston) or up in the north at Stamford, near Alnwick in Northumberland.

The word "stone" has counterparts in most European languages and this indicates a common source, most probably a language once spoken in Central Asia. It occurs in the German "stein", the Russian "stena" and the Greek "stion".

The Scandinavian rendering is "stain" and so it prevails in countless place-names in the parts of this island which were subject to their invasions especially in the north and East Anglia. Although the Gazetteer lists nearly 50 sites incorporating "stain" and well over 200 relating to "fords", yet only 2 combine the forms "stain" and "forth". Both are in the West Riding.

"Stainforth" to the north is 21½ miles beyond Settle and the "forth" is at the point where the route from Halton joined the main north-south Roads which then followed the course of the River Ribble. They are now dominated by the Settle Carlisle Railway and the B6479. The other site is 8 miles north of Doncaster. It stands on the south bank of the River Don and routes still converge at "Stainforth Bridge". No doubt it was formerly the focus of several routes from around Doncaster towards Humberside. They have now been diverted along the Motorway (M18) and the A614 Highway.

It can reasonably be surmised that these two places are the basis of the surname "Stainforth" and of which the earliest records relate to Yorkshire. First is a "Matilda de Staniforthe" (1297) and later (1379) reference is made to "Willelmus de Staynforth".

The original inhabitants of either place would have been known to their neighbours and also to travellers as "the folk as live by't ford". And later, as if in answer to "Which ford"? would come the reply (in this case), as, "Why! The stony ford, of course!" Or, as is more feasible, "At Stainforth". If a man moved away he could probably have been identified as "him from Stainforth" and which, in the fulness of time, generated the surname.

The successful evolution of placenames into surnames however depended on how well-known the place was outside its immediate vicinity. If it was small and insignificant, it would be unknown among communities beyond a certain distance and the surname "Stailsforth" would be replaced by a more general name, or perhaps a nickname or an occupational description.

This might very well have been the case with emigrants from the site near Settle. In the local directory for that region today, only a handful of entries appear under "Stainforth". Whereas the place on the Doncaster routes has yielded a significant number of inclusions in the Directory for Humberside - Hull especially. This suggests that the name "Stainforth" was readily identified with the important crossing over the River Don. Otherwise the name is not very widely distributed. Even in Central London there are only 3 currently listed.

Corresponding explanations could be adduced in the case of its counterparts:- Staniforth, Stanford and Staniford, but space is limited!

In this area, readers who have been involved in moving house through the "Halifax" (another good old Yorkshire name) will have encountered in the Bakewell Office the charming Diane Stainforth whose sympathetic skill in handling procedures is exceptional.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 28th June 1999.

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