This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 6th August 2001, 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.”


There are innumerable variations on the name "Turton" which is described, in the survey of county names conducted in 1890 as being special to Derbyshire.

Along with corresponding surnames it is derived from "Thor" which was the name of a Scandinavian god. We have very little information about the beliefs of the inhabitants of this island during the time when the Romans departed (c.400) and the reign of Alfred the Great (871-899). It is known that their gods were thought to occupy a mystical realm called "Asgaard" and that they were presided over by their chief "Woden" and his wife, "Freyja" and that "Thor" was their son. As well as the days of the week their names survive in countless place names. No doubt the coming of the Christian church led to the discouragement of the use of pagan names, but a surprisingly large number have survived. Wednesbury (Staffordshire) which signifies "Woden's Borough" was an important centre for the veneration of Woden. Apparently its parish church (St. Bartholomew's) was later raised triumphantly on the site of the former temple of Woden. In the same county, near Kidsgrove is New Chapel which replaced the former name "Thursfield".

Here in Derbyshire, some 2½ miles west of Matlock is Wensley. This has undergone many changes in spelling since it appeared in the domesday book (1086) as "Wodensleie" (Woden's Woodland). There are suggestions that Friden" (near Hartington) could mean "Freyja's Dene" (i.e. Valley) but -?? An alternative name for Woden was Odin but note that the lead mine at Castleton called Odin's Cave is a bit of 18th century romanticism and is first recorded in 1778! However Thor's Cave, just over the border in Staffordshire is well- attested. It is about 12 miles south of Buxton. Of the Scandinavian gods, Thor seems to have been the most popular. Myths tell how he wedded a peasant girl called Sif' and was the guardian of the household. He had a special concern for children who were frequently named after him to ensure his surveillance and protection. There are innumerable variaions on boys' names as well as a feminine form, Thora. It is still a popular name for boys in Scandinavian countries (Thor Teyerdahl of "Kon-Tiki" for instance) but it is rarely used today in English society although as a girls' name it continues a favourite.

The name appears in far many more place-names than the other gods. In the West Riding, 10 miles north of Otley is Thruscross (Thor's Hill); Tursdale: 4½ miles s.e. of Durham; Thurlow: 8 miles south of Newmarket; Torbell: 7 miles north of Dornoch (Sutherland) and Thurso (Caithness), to name only a few.

In the case of surnames derived from personal names such as Turton and Thurston mention may also be made of some which appear in the local directory. Thorburn meaning "Soldier of Thor"; Thurgood meaning "The man called Thor belonging to the tribe called Gautas"; Thurman meaning One who enjoys Thor's protection; Thursfield (see above) and Turpin meaning The ugly man called Thor.

Families in our area who are called Turto can almost certainly trace their origins to the village of that name in Lancashire which signifies "The settlement of Thor". Whether the Thor in question was a real personality of that name or referred to the deity is unknown. Probably it was to the god Thor because in the vicinity of Turton is a druidical circle which might, therefore, be significant. The place is about 5 miles north of Bolton.

In the case of Thurston most people who bear this name can look to an ancestor called simply by that name which means "Thor's stone", or, as is far more likely to "Thurston" in Suffolk which is some 5 miles to the east of Bury St. Edmunds.

The name Thor was certainly favoured by the English as the numerous entries in the domesday book (1086) testify, but it was equally as popular in Scotland. There a man called "Thor Longus" is described as receiving a grant of land from King Edgar (1100) at Edam (Roxburgh).

In York we encounter the assistant master in the school, identified as "Thore prepositus" (1219). As a surname the earliest mention is in Norfolk (1208) and is to "Everard de Turton". In Scotland "Turstan de Crichton" (Midlothian) attended an assembly at Hollyrood in 1128.

In our region, William Turton is included in the records for the year 1478 in York and still nearer home, in Manchester we read of "Sir Henry Turton, priest" in 1523. Note: in those days, ministers of religion were regularly designated "Sir".

Looking through the standard biographies, the only outstanding personality is William Turton (1762-1835) who was a noted naturalist and contributed greatly to the study of shells, after whom the genus Turtonia is named. Under "Thurston" is mentioned the celebrated Archbishop of York who played an active part in the government of the time. He died in 1140.

Older readers might recall the novelist, E. Temple Thurston (1870- 1933) whose books and plays were extremely popular during the first quarter of the last century.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 6th August 2001.

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