This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 6th June 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 "THROWER"?

This surname, along with its variation "Trower" is occupational and we all like to think we know what it means. Having been escorted through the Works at Denby and at Derby, having visited Craft Centres and possibly even tested our own skills in pottery classes, there is nothing we don't know about "throwing". With sublime confidence we state that it is the process whereby hollow vessels such as jugs and beakers are shaped upon a revolving wheel. Very true: But why is it called "throwing"? Still brimming with confidence we suggest that it has something to do with the way the potter seizes a lump of clay and forcibly slaps it down on the wheel before beginning to work it into shape. If you've ever tried to "throw" a pot you'll know only too well that if you don't chuck the clay down hard it'll immediately fly off the wheel or slip all over the place.

If this explanation were correct, then all we could have said about the name "Thrower" has just been said. People who today are called by that surname could claim descent from an ancestor whose occupation was that of making pots. Surprisingly, the old records turn all this upside-down. The earliest reference to "throwing" in the sense of working in clay is dated as recently as 1604. This is long after surnames had become pretty well established. It tells of a "Disshe-thrower" who was taken on for "IX dayes where", and for which he was paid "Three Shillinges onelie" (15p). (It seems that even in those days employers knew a thing or two about market forces and flexibility). The point though is that the reference is specifically directed towards the throwing of "Disshes" and this immediately invites the question: Were there other items which could be "thrown" as well as crockery? And the records confirm that the term extended into several other trades also.

At this point it would be helpful to break off and say exactly what "throw" signifies. It did not always mean "to chuck"! It is set amidst three words which have lost their original meanings and have either taken on new ones or dropped out of use. They are: "Turn", "Throw" and "Cast". The first, "turn" is now used in place of "throw", while "throw" has changed its meaning and taken on that of "cast" which is now going steadily out of current English. "Throw" had originally nothing at all to do with "chucking". It first meant "to twist" or "to turn". It can be traced to a Latin word "terebra" which means "a drill" or "a bore" - easily identifiable is the name "teredo", given to the dreaded marine creature which bores into and destroys the stoutest under-water timbers.

But this, again, is puzzling. How can you equate the act of twisting with that of throwing? To which the only answer is: You can't! What has happened is that the word "throw", which once meant "turn", has given up that meaning and taken on another - to "hurl" or to "chuck". These ideas were once the function of the word "cast" and which is now rarely used. This process of swapping meanings had begun sometime in the 1300's and had all but finished by the mid-eighteenth century. Today we seldom encounter "cast" except in a few familiar settled expressions such as "cast-offs" (old clothes), "cast-off" (angling and shipping) and "cast aspersions", etc. Otherwise it has a faintly archaic ring to it.

The word "throw" has taken over from the word "cast" and its original meaning, i.e. "to turn" - is all but lost except in a few, specialised contexts, of which the making of pots is the best known. Finally the word "turn" is now the accepted way to refer to "twists" and "spins". Even as early as 1440 the word "turn" was recognised as usurping the meaning of "throw" because we find the two words set side by side as alternatives: for example an allusion to wood-turning is worded as: "men such as they who throwyn or turns a vessel of a tre". ("Tre" here means "wood").

Earlier references to a person whose job description was simply a "thrower" make this quite clear. They have nothing to do with pottery but textiles. They refer to the silk industry. Workers were engaged to take raw silk fibres and twist them together to form a single thread. (Note: "Thread" is derived from the units "throw" plus "-ed", and signifies "that which is twisted (i.e. 'throwed')". The occupation was so well-recognised that a man was called a "Thrower" and a woman a "Throwster". (See "Webster": 4th October, 1993). In fact nearly 300 years before the mention of the "Disshe-thrower", we find frequent references to the "Throwsters of the Craftes of Silke Werke".

This has all influenced the history of the surname. Because it is now more readily associated with the Pottery Industry it might be thought to fill the columns of the local directories in areas such as the "Five Towns". This is not the case. The large-scale manufacture of pots began to take place there about the beginning of the eighteenth century, by which time surnames had become well-established. The local directories for regions where clay is worked into vessels contain no more than the average number of entries under that name. So a worker called "Thrower" taken on at, say, Wedgwoods as a "thrower" would have already inherited that name through several generations and as a job description would have been purely coincidental. However, where a silk industry flourished the local directories contain an unusually larger number of entries. Hardly surprising then, this is so with Norwich since that city was once the centre of the medieval silk industry in this country. The first record of the name is dated 1418 and, as might be expected, refers to one "John Thrower, Rector of Flordon" - a place about 8 miles south of Norwich.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 6th June 1994.

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