This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 25th February 1996, 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 TWYFORD?

This is so clearly a place-name that it is tempting to say that people living in this area who are called "Twyford" must positively be able to trace their origins to the little settlement which is about 5 miles south of Derby and not far from Repton. Of course that might very well be the case for some of them and who are very proud at being able to identify themselves with such an old and distinguished Derbyshire name, but otherwise caution should be the watch-word.

As it happens the unit "ford" (i.e. in the sense of a river- crossing) is one of the commonest elements in English place-names and is the basis of similar localised surnames. There are nearly 600 major sites incorporating "-ford", not to mention countless neighbourhood names. Fortunately they can all be narrowed down into groups as to whether they might be, for example "deep" as at Deptford or "shallow" as at Scalford (Leicestershire). All the categories are a little too extensive to quote here and so it must suffice to say that "Twy-" is one of them and that there are at least eight places in England called "Twyford".

Again, it, is quite clear that "Twy-" is an old English word and it doesn't take a lot of skill to realise that it means "two" or "double" - but what exactly it was that was "doubled" is rather, more of a puzzle.

There are two possible explanations. The first is that the track leading to the ford divided when it reached the water-course so as to allow opposing passengers to cross at the same time. This notion, though, is no longer seriously entertained. Traffic in the Middle Ages was not so dense and congested as it is today, and there was no need for the modern one-way system.

The second is more acceptable and it is that the route crossed two streams in succession. This is consistent with the geographical fact that rivers tended to become more shallow when they passed over flat and open land. Travellers naturally directed themselves towards such easier tracks and found convenient places to cross rivers. In certain situations, the land could be so level and the currents so slow that the main-stream would divide, to join up further down.

This suggestion would seem to be borne out when we read in an ancient Chronicle, written by the Venerable Bede (673-675). He makes mention of a place called Twyford (exactly where is not clear) which he calls by its Anglo-Saxon name "Twifyrde" and which is explained through a Latin commentary as "duplex vadum" or, in translation, "the double crossing".

The idea of a dual crossing-place matches the circumstances found at Twyford in Derbyshire. The map shows several ox-bows, splits and what appear to be small creeks or dead ends in the neighbourhood, and all of which suggest that in Mediaeval Times the River Trent at this point followed a less well-defined and more challenging course than it does today.

Similar configurations can be made out when one studies the maps showing the Twyfords in Leicestershire, Norfolk and Buckingham. As for the sites of similarly-named places in Berkshire, Dorset, Hampshire and Middlesex, it must be left to our Readers to look at their own Atlases and decide for themselves.

It is not at all difficult to detect "two" in the structure of the name "Twyford". Forms for this number have occurred in all European tongues and it can ultimately be traced to a language spoken in Northern India well over 7000 years ago. It then appeared as "dva" and travelled south to become the Latin "duo" and journeyed north to emerge as the Gothic "twai".

This interchange between the sounds "t" and "d" occurs frequently and is to be seen again in the second unit "-ford". This appears in Latin as "Portus", meaning "door" or "access", in which the letter "p" becomes "f". This, too, is not infrequent, as when "pater" becomes "father" and "Pisces" changes to "Fishes".

The name is distributed evenly across the country and there do not seem to be any pronounced areas of concentration. Even the earliest records indicated widespread use of the name. In 1221 a Juliana de Twiford is listed for Warwick and a John de Twyford appears in the chronicles for Northampton in 1316.

Locally there are about 50 representatives of the name. It will certainly give satisfaction to the families in the region who can claim to belong to the Derbyshire "Twyfords" to be told that members of the family regularly represented the County. in Parliament during the 1300's and Sir Nicholas Twyford was Lord Mayor of London in 1388. He was a distinguished Goldsmith and took part in the opposition to Wat Tyler in 1381 and had a hand in his killing, for which he was knighted by Richard II (1377-1399). He died in July, 1399.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 25th February 1996.

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