This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 18th October 1993, 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 YARDLEY?

The name "Yardley" (and its variations, Yarley and Yeardley) is a location name which signifies "The Place where Sticks are to be found". Since places which answered to this description were innumerable, it is still widely distributed but only as a local or neighbourhood name and people called "Yardley" would now have difficulty in pin-pointing the specific place from whence their ancestors originated.

The only site in the United Kingdom actually called "Yardley" is the district lying east of the centre of Birmingham but there are several "Yardleys" in Northamptonshire, linked with other names. i.e. Yardley Hastings, Yardley Gobion and the district Yardley Chase.

Regular readers of this little series on surnames will remember from previous articles that whenever "-ley" has appeared as part of a name, it came from an old word which meant "open-space" or "clearing" or "meadow". Hence it is usually the first unit of a name ending in "-ley" that we need to study in detail. In this case "yard" creates some interest because that word itself is now generally understood also to describe a sort of open-space and so it might appear that the surname has simply doubled-up. This is not the case and it goes to show that similarities in spelling can be very misleading.

The word "yard" has many meanings but they all go back to one root: the Old English "gerd" which meant a pole or a stick and this shows up when talking about the "yard" or the spar which is slung from the masts of sailing ships. It is comparatively long and slender and so it is not surprising that the word "yard" was widely used in the past to describe most things which answered that description.

In the days of the poet Chaucer it referred to the Staff or Wand of Office carried by officials as a sign of their authority and long before then it was the word for a straight, slender shoot cut from a tree. There can be no doubt that our ancestors would have put great value on such lengths of wood, which could have been utilised for many purposes such as shafts for spears, as well as measuring devices - hence words such "rod", "pole" and "perch".

This being the case, it is quite within reason that plantations where such lengths of wood could be obtained would be sought out and highly regarded. They were called the "yard-leas" or "the clearings in the wood where sticks, poles and spars may be gathered". People living in the immediate vicinity and perhaps even appointed to supervise the cultivation of suitable specimens of timber and their cutting would take their name from the place.

There is also a very old unit of land measurement, used alongside units called "hides" and "acres" and which was termed the "yard- land" and it is certainly associated, in a roundabout way with the word "yard" meaning the length we have come to know today, but no connection between it and "Yardley" can be convincingly be made out.

The name is widely distributed over the United Kingdom and there does not seem to be any concentration in a particular place. The only well known person bearing the name was a man called "Yardley" who marketed the celebrated Lavender Water, but very little is known about him.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 18th October 1993.

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