This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 8th September 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 TIMPERLEY?

Although "Timperley" is the form this name most frequently takes, there are variations, the most common being "Timberley" - especially in the East Midlands. It is a location-name and refers to a former Parish in Cheshire. Since 1972 it has been incorporated into Greater Manchester and is now a neighbourhood name covering a district about 2 miles North-East of Altringham.

The first unit "Timper-" is identified with "timber" and the second, "-ley" as "field". While these easily combine to form "timber-field", on reflection, that doesn't make perfect sense. If "ley" signifies "open space" then to describe the site as being the source of timber seems to be a contradiction in terms.

Investigation into the place-names of Cheshire is still under way and the amount of information available to the "Peak Advertiser" is rather restricted. Much of what follows can be placed no higher than inspired guess-work.

However there is persuasive evidence that the site is very old. Referring to the unit "-ley", it is certainly one of the most common elements in English Place-Names, and it is understood to be especially prominent in Cheshire. Although, it is regularly interpreted as "clearing", "glade" or "meadow", there are indications, however, that in very Old English (c.800) the word "leah" (from which "ley" is derived) was capable of meaning "forest". For example, in the South, the expression "weald", which is Old English for "woodland" (compare German "wald") is interchanged with "leah" so, for example, we find both "Andredsweald" and "Andredsleah".

Now: in choosing sites for settlements, our ancestors looked for shelter or defence - and frequently both! Favoured spots were river-crossings ("-ford"), hill-tops ("-don") and islands ("- holme") and, so it seems, in the midst of the dense forests which covered many parts of the country at the time. And, where no doubt, they could run away and hide! As individual communities grew and times became slightly less hazardous, it became necessary to make space by clearing away trees and by an imperceptible process the word "leah" (meaning "woodland") attached itself to these open spaces.

The importance of this notion (and it is put no higher that a notion) lies in the probability that if the "-ley" in "Timperley" was once understood more as "the woodland" than as "the clearing", then it could follow that the unit "Timper-" also -bore whatever meaning attached itself to the expression at much the same time. Fortunately it can be shown that it actually once did mean "building" or "dwelling". This admits a more rational interpretation to be accorded the name.

The history of the word "timber" is most interesting. Like many words in Europeans Languages, it originated in Northern India. It is believed to have taken the form "demro" and gradually moved across Central Europe and the Western Regions. At some period there was a separation and the Northern people developed such forms as "tommer" (Norwegian) and "zimmer" (German).

Along the Mediterranean, however, the Greeks evolved their word "to build" as "demein" and, in Latin, the word for "home" or "dwelling" is "domus". (Note: In the progress of language "t" and "d" regularly interchange). In the Lindisfarne Gospels, for example (950) the reference to the Temple as an edifice in Mark XIII:1 is given as "timbre".

Moving ahead, it is useful to recollect that in many parts of the country (and certainly in the North-West) wood was the only material easily available for building. Hence it is not surprising that the materials used in construction (i.e. wood) became inseparably identified with what it was they had been used for. So "timber" gradually lost the meaning of "dwelling" or "structure" and was transferred to the sense it bears today - that is, "building-material".

This linguistic transfer has a modern counterpart, when, instead of "buildings" the expression "bricks and mortar" is used instead. An interesting similarity also occurs when the expression "wheels" is employed in place of "transport". The transition was gradual and in some cases it is not always easy to determine whether the word "timber" in old writings refers to the finished product or the material of which it was made, or, possibly, whether it partakes of both! In 1398 a traveller produced an account of his journeys in the East and solemnly assured his readers that "to thys daye ye timber of Noah is still to be seene in ye Mounteyne of Ararat"!

In passing it may be mentioned that the technical meaning of "timber" - that is, in the sense of standing trees, usually oak, ash, beech, etc. and of a given age, does not occur in print before 1764.

It follows then that a more convincing explanation of "Timperley" would be something along these lines: "The habitations in the midst of the forests" - or, in paraphrase, "The dwellings set up in a site which was protected by being in the middle of a forest".

People called "Timperley" or "Timberley" or any of its minor variations (which are not significant), can certainly claim descent from some ancestor who could be identified with the settlement. The earliest reference to the place occurs in Stafford (1211) where it is linked to a "Walter de Temperleie".

Over 100 years pass before it is again encountered as "John Tymperley" (1332) and "Thomas Temperle" (1340) and both in Coventry. Otherwise the original inhabitants don't appear to have wandered far afield. It is still highly concentrated in the Manchester Area where the Local Directories include about 50 entries but beyond that even in the adjacent regions, numbers fall rapidly: High Peak and Warrington about a dozen each. There are only four for the entire London Region.

The most celebrated bearer of the name was Charles Timperley (1794-1846) who was born in Manchester. He is highly regarded in the world of Printing and Typography and his writings on the subject are still consulted.

Locally the name is known to us in Bakewell on account of our own Richard Timperley. He is to be found in "Cornerstone" on Matlock Street and is a specialist in Menswear.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 8th September 1997.

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