This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 17th July 1995, 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.”


The names of counties frequently appear as surnames but in this case it does not mean that a predecessor came from the area which corresponds with the modern Westmorland - now incorporated into Cumbria. It may be noted that the variation in spelling is not significant.

There is a great deal of confusing history behind this name. As a starter, take a look at a map of the English counties prior to 1974 and you will notice that most of those in the South and the Midlands are of much the same size and that the 'County Town' is roughly central.

William the Conqueror was responsible for this arrangement. He designed each county in such a way that from its middle to the furthest point on its borders a good horseman could travel there and back in a day. Incidentally the Parish boundaries were drawn to match the amount of ground the Parish priest could cover on foot in a week.

However, as territory got further north from London, King William found things less easy to manage. There were endless border disputes and life was so turbulent that special 'Councils of the North' were set up tot try and keep order - and which still survived in attenuated form even within recent times. Hence the enormous acreage and curious divisions of Yorkshire", the oddly shaped and disjointed county of Lancashire", sprawling Northumberland and diminutive Westmoreland.

It was all such a muddle that William never really succeeded in getting places included in the famous 'Domesday' survey and the first attempts at mapping were not attempted for five hundred years, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I around 1570.

However as time went by and people began to settle down, new forms of Government emerged - all rather haphazard, but they did well enough. In these new forms, counties had little part to play. They were barely more than a focus for local historical loyalties.

Not until 1888 did the counties take on a recognised role as administrative units with the creation of the new County Councils. Among them "Westmoreland" was included but by then that was no longer its true name nor were its boundaries historically justified.

If you had lived in the year 996 A.D. you would instead have discovered a region called "Westmoringaland" and which lay towards the east and centred upon Appleby. In this old name, the unit "inga" can almost certainly be traced to several Nordic expressions which were used to describe a union of small communities. In Modern English, the idea of "grouping" can just about be detected in the related word "gang".

The "mor" in the name is obvious enough. It refers to the "moors" - that is to say" the adjacent Pennine uplands. So in full "Westmorland" originally described an area as being: "The union of those communities which occupy land lying to the west of the North Yorkshire Moors".

This county name is remarkable. Whereas other names incorporating "-ing-" such as Pickering and Wittering have remained highly localised, Westmorland was able to expand westwards and take in more and more territory until it reached the Irish Sea (just!). So it could easily follow that people whose surname is "Westmoreland" (or one of its variations) are more likely to be able to trace their ancestry to a forebear who lived along the valley of the River Eden rather than on the shores of Lake Windermere!

During the time when surnames were evolving, the further afield people migrated from their native places the broader and more general became the way they were identified. Local field-names and names based on neighbourhood features would have meant nothing to the residents of the new places to which these travellers resorted and forms such as "the man from the North" and "Him from York" were conferred, eventually being converted to "North" and "York".

In a similar way "Westmoreland" became a surname. What caused people to move away from the wild Cumbrian Hills to the placid meadows of the South must be a matter of guess-work but the Records of the City of Oxford refer to Algar Westmoreland as living there in 1273. In passing it might be mentioned that "Cumberland" is highly concentrated around. Nottingham.

The name Westmoreland is not very widely distributed across the British Isles. The local directories add up to just about a dozen entries. The name is certainly known here in Bakewell to readers of the "Peak Advertiser" owing to the presence of our local builder "Clive Westmoreland" whose distinctive green vehicle is a familiar sight in and around the town.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 17th July 1995.

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