A Norfolk Harvest - William Maw Egley 1862

My search

Soon after I began my research, I discovered that my family surname might not be the one we use today - EGLETON.

Before 1200, hereditary surnames were very largely confined to aristocratic and knightly families, tending to spread to land holders of rather lesser standing, although even among families of some rank, hereditary surnames were not universal. It was during the 13th century that hereditary surnames became much more widespread and around 1300, as many as half of families might have had hereditary surnames. During the 14th century the proportion of families with hereditary surnames increased and by the middle of the century such surnames were possessed by many free tenants, by many bondmen and by many inhabitants of towns and cities. By 1400, it was becoming exceptional for families not to have hereditary surnames.

This family has its roots in Norfolk where the surname might have had any number of sources and was certainly corrupted by the local dialect and by illiteracy. In most cases, the spelling of the name would have been the choice of the recorder. The name ranges through EGLON - EGGLIN - EGLIN - EGLING -EGLINGTON - EGLEN - EGLETON - EGGLETON - EAGLETON. The 1851 census has 378 persons, (not all of one family), recorded with these names in Norfolk with EGGLETON being the most common recorded variation and the great majority living in towns and villages in central Norfolk.

EGLIN, EAGLIN and EAGLING are thought to be Norman forms of ANGELN, that part of Schleswig-Holstein from which the Angles came to settle in eastern Britain, in what is now East Anglia and Northumbria, in the 5th century AD, together with the Saxons and Jutes. The land of the Anglo Saxons later became known as ENGALAND and they as the English. The British, the survivors of the earlier populations, called their neighbours, often in derision, not Angle but Saxon. The "Saxons" in East Anglia were mainly not of the tribe who came from Saxony - they were Angles from Angeln.

The name EGLINGTON is probably of old English origin - the Anglo Saxon suffix "ing" meant belonging to or born from - "tun" or "ton" meant estate or family . Therefore the name could be derived from someone "belonging to AEgel's (or Egel's) estate or family. EGLETON can be seen to have a similar meaning whilst EGLIN or EGLING means the son of, or descendant of, Egle (AEgel).

The town of Aylsham in north Norfolk is thought to have been founded around 500 AD by an Anglo Saxon thane called Aegel - the town’s name could have been derived from ‘Aegel's ham’ - (a "thane" in the Anglo Saxon period was a prosperous landowner of local importance.)

EGLE and EGLEN are also old English words for a stream and EGLETON can refer to a place by a stream. The name, and its variations, is widely used in England, Scotland and Ireland both as a place name - Upper and Lower Egleton in Herefordshire - Egleton in Rutland - Egleston in Durham and Eglington in Scotland and Ireland (there is also Egletons in Côreze, France) - and as a family surname.

Many names in East Anglia also came from nick names of which there were a great variety, often referring to origins, habits, appearance, animals and birds. The old Norman word for eagle is "egle" and so the name could have been derived from a nickname related to the bird.

So what is this family's name? Where are we from? Who are we?

In the 18th century, Norfolk was one of the wealthiest and most densely populated counties in Britain. It then contained over 700 rural parishes, more than 1,500 manors, one of the largest cities in England (Norwich) and two other substantial boroughs (Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn).

In the early 19th century, competition from the textile industries of Lancashire and Yorkshire, brought economic collapse in a county unable to compete with the cheap local energy sources (coal and fast streams) of its northern rivals. This period coincided with the agricultural slump affecting the whole country, leading to a major depopulation of the countryside as people migrated to the growing slums of Norwich. In 1848, 20% of the population of Norwich were classed as paupers and the city had one of the highest mortality rates in Britain.

The following pages trace the family from the beginning of the 18th century, detailing the variations of the recorded name, identifying many branches of the family, their emigration from Norfolk and some of the events affecting them.