This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 22nd December 2003, 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 WHEELDON??

Spelling of this name varies according to its place of origin, but families called 'Wheeldon' and who are associated with Derbyshire can relate their name to a site some 6 miles south of Buxton. The place is now called 'High Wheeldon' distinguishing it from an adjacent settlement which came later, known as 'Wheeldon Trees'. It is not exactly a site-name since it covers an indeterminate area of high ground over- looking the valley of the river Dove. It is not listed in the gazetteer - a fact necessary to emphasise because several other sites elsewhere have generated corresponding surnames and their locations cannot readily be determined. Furthermore, relating the very few recorded surnames with these elusive sites is difficult. The oldest name on record is Hugo de Hweldon (1279) who is mentioned as being associated with Oxford. It may be significant that the next on record is Peter de Whildon (1281) established in the neighbouring county of Buckingham. Both surnames are probably traceable to a site in the vicinity of Amersham. But it seems that this site has been absorbed in the extensive development of that area and exists now only as a neighbourhood name.

One is obliged to conclude that the infrequency of this surname can be attributed to the fact that 'Wheeldon' was a name which extended over an ill-defined area and one which did not lend itself to the setting-up of profitable communities. The original 'Wheeldon' in Derbyshire was probably sparsely populated and few inhabitants would have been identified under the name. And when the lack of resources forced people to move away, their local name would have been meaningless among their new neighbours and fresh identities were assumed. Still this limitation might have prevailed at first while there was only one location called 'Wheeldon', but there is persuasive evidence that a new (although small) settlement was being set up in the immediate vicinity sometime in the 16th century. In 1599 a new name appeared - that of 'Wheeldon Hill' - and it could well be that it was coined to prevent confusion with this new settlement and to which the name `Wheeldon Trees' was given - first recorded in 1607.

Whether the establishment of the new place encouraged many new inhabitants to set up households there is a matter best left to local historians to comment upon, but today a modern map reveals only the presence of a few buildings. They stand slightly more than 1/2 mile northwards of Crowdecote. No doubt this new settlement would have been brought to the knowledge of places round about and would have provided a recognisable identity for newcomers. But, again, these are matters for local historians to think about.

The exact meaning of 'Wheeldon' is also a puzzle. The second unit '-don' is accepted as being from the old English word 'dun' which means 'hill'. It is the first unit ('heel-') which is capable of several interpretations. To the suggestion that the outline of the hill resembles a wheel, one has only to view the eminence, especially from the north to see that it is a well-defined and distinctive cone. Another explanation draws upon the presence in the area of ancient remains and suggests that the reference to a wheel arises from memories of a stone circle which has long disappeared. Nothing has been discovered to support this idea and it must remain, as yet, purely speculative. Another notion is that there was once a mill and hence the reference to a 'heel'. Yet another suggestion is that the 'heel' is an extension of the old English word 'hweol' which could describe the winding course of the River Dove. (Compare: Wheldale, West Riding, where a situation involving the River Aire has influenced the name).

It is here submitted that the 'heel' might have originated through a fanciful resemblance being detected in the outline of the hill to one of the conical baskets once widely used as fish- traps. The old English word in this case was 'weel' and is first found in writing as 'wyl' in 1256. This ties in with the first appearance of our place-name in 1251 which is 'ildon'. Probably this meaning was forgotten and the later spellings were possible confusions with forms of 'heel'. It may be significant that the first appearance of the characteristic combination of 'h-' in 'Wheeldon' is curiously late (1415). Still this is a novel suggestion and is put forward with diffidence.

Apart from the examples already given no other records of the name are available.

Since the Second World War, High Wheeldon has become better known through having been presented to the nation as a memorial to the soldiers of the Derbyshire and Staffordshire Regiments. Otherwise the standard biography lists no personality under 'Wheeldon' although there are over 100 entries in the local directory. The name has a limited familiarity in legal circles (on both sides of the Atlantic) on account of a celebrated case which gave rise to a legal principle known as the 'Rule in Wheeldon v. Burrows' (1879). It involves rights of way.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 22nd December 2003.

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