The Stockdill Files

Husthwaite ChurchSt_John's_Church,_Easingwold

Robert Stockdill

Top: Two churches intimately associated with my Stockdill ancestors, St Nicholas, Husthwaite (left) and St John the Baptist and All Saints, Easingwold. Above: the grave of my great great grandfather Robert Stockdill (1765-1822) in the churchyard at Easingwold.

AFTER more than 40 years of research, I have never had the slightest doubt that the surname STOCKDALE – of which my own name STOCKDILL is a variant – is overwhelmingly a Yorkshire surname.  Official surname dictionaries give it as deriving from both Yorkshire and Cumberland but there are far more entries for the name on the International Genealogical Index, compiled by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (popularly known as the Mormons) in Yorkshire than for any other county.

When undertaking a one-name study, one of the most assured ways of proving the source of a surname derived from a place name is to conduct a survey of the incidence of the name in telephone directories: a check of the British Telecom CD-ROM disc for the whole country positively confirmed this view.  The surname STOCKDALE and variants had a total of 1,090 entries in the whole of Britain.  Of this figure, 326 were in Yorkshire, around one-third of the overall total – a remarkably high proportion.  No other country began to approach this figure, Lancashire being the next most frequent with 66 listings of the name.

A check with the British 19th Century Surname Atlas, the CD program that produces distribution maps of any name from the 1881 census data, provided even more powerful evidence.  Of a total of 2,457 people called Stockdale and variants in 1881, 1,146 were living in Yorkshire, almost 47 per cent of the total. However, this takes no account of those people with the name who were born in Yorkshire but living elsewhere.

As an interesting side thought, could these results, more than 130 years apart, suggest that perhaps the movement and migration of families from their areas of origin has not been as great over the centuries as is often assumed?

I have dealt with the origins and history of the surname, STOCKDALE, on the Home page of this website. There is no doubt that STOCKDALE is the original name and much the more common surname. My own particular variant, the STOCKDILL version, is rare in the UK, there being no more than about 40-50 of us with the surname in the whole of Britain.  The name has crossed the Atlantic, though, and is also found in Australia and New Zealand.  However, it is my conclusion that there are probably no more than 500 people with this variant of the name in the world.

I believe I am one of those fortunate people who can pinpoint the place of derivation of my surname fairly precisely.  I have located the principal sources to two places called Stockdale Moor, one in the North York Moors near Ingleby Greenhow, and the other in the Dales near Malham Tarn, with another remote Stock Dale near Thwaite in Swaledale.  The IGI for Yorkshire reveals exceptionally strong concentrations of families of the surname around these areas.  In my own case, I believe the Stockdale Moor in the North York Moors is the ancestral home of my forebears, as they were living not far away in the Hambleton Hills during the 18th century.  I was delighted to find on a large-scale Ordnance Survey map a remote dale actually called Stock Dale, buried deep in the moors, with a stream called Stockdale Beck running through it.  Probably my remote mediaeval ancestors were moor dwellers and wandering herdsmen.

All around this area there are to be found on the IGI families called Stockdale and Stockdill, going back into the 16th century. Another place called Stockdale lies further west in the equally beautiful Yorkshire Dales, near the little market town of Settle. This is a remote hamlet, now only a single farm called Stockdale Farm, reached down a narrow winding track. There is evidence in parish registers of the existence of a number of families called Stockdale and Stockdill in this area also. They, too, seem to have switched freely between the different versions of the name.

How did the name Stockdale become Stockdill? These variations were common with most surnames in bygone times, when illiteracy was widespread and people were unsure as to the correct spelling of their name. Often, virtually the only literate person in a village was the vicar, to whom was entrusted the task of transcribing names into the parish records on the occasions of births, marriages and deaths. He accepted the parishioners’ guesses at how they thought their names should be spelt or exercised his own judgement. Thus, surnames often varied over generations. It is only in relatively recent times, with universal education, that names became standardised as we use them today.

I have come across the name STOCKDLE as a variant of Stockdale. It may well have been that a local dialect caused the pronunciation of Stockdale to be shortened, from which it is but a short step to STOCKDILL.

Often, families used more than one version of their name in records. In my own family, for instance, both versions of our surname, Stockdale and Stockdill, appear to have been in varying use for almost 300 years. My researches have revealed that in parish registers dating from the early 1700s, and in census returns and on birth, marriage and death certificates, the family switched often between the two versions. My great great grandparents, Robert Stockdill and Mary Yellow, who were married at Easingwold, Yorkshire, in 1790, had six children between 1791 and 1806. The parish registers for Easingwold revealed that they baptised the first three children with the surname Stockdale and the last three as Stockdill. Is it possible that there was a change of vicar and the new incumbent had his own ideas as to how the name should be spelt? I believe so.

Robert had been born in 1765 in the picturesque village of Husthwaite, three miles from Easingwold. His parents were George Stockdale [sic] and Susannah Prest who were married in 1756 at the Parish Church of Husthwaite, St. Nicholas. George, who was born about 1718, according to his given age when he died in 1784, was the earliest direct ancestor so far traced on my paternal line. Susannah must have been left virtually destitute after George died, for she was the recipient of several handouts under the Poor Law and had a pauper’s funeral when she died in 1796.

Though his parents were clearly very poor, Robert Stockdill must have advanced his social status because he became a tailor with his own business in Easingwold and actually had a vote in the election for two Knights of the Shire in 1807 – unusual in those days for an ordinary man. Robert died in 1822 – the name on his gravestone is Stockdill, not Stockdale – and is buried in the graveyard of the Parish Church of St John the Baptist and All Saints, Easingwold. Poignantly, two grandchildren who died in infancy are buried with him, but there is no mention on the stone of his wife Mary, though it’s possible she was buried there too.

On the subject of this inter-change of name spellings, even my paternal grandfather, Albert Edward, was christened as Stockdale at his birth in 1861 but when he married my grandmother, Harriet Young, in 1885 he gave his name on the certificate as Stockdill, since which time it has become stabilised in the spelling of my family name today. This does not always make things easy for the family historian. Indeed, it can turn the whole business of trying to trace one’s ancestors into a positive minefield. On the other hand, some might say that this uncertainty is what makes it such a fascinating hobby!

In the 19th century the names, STOCKDALE and STOCKDILL, increasingly appear in the major cities of the West Riding of Yorkshire, especially Leeds and Bradford, where many were involved in the woollen industry.  I myself was born in Bradford and there are members of my family in Bradford, Leeds and Halifax today.

All members of my own family living today stem from two brothers, my great grandfather Robert Stockdill (1806-1896) and his elder sibling John Stockdill (1791-1868).  Both were born at Easingwold, a lovely little market town some 15 miles north of York, and moved to Morley, near Leeds, during the early 19th century, undoubtedly to find work.  Both were carpenters.  John remained in Morley, but Robert, my great grandfather, finally settled in Bradford.  The polluted industrial air must have suited him, for he married four times, had 14 children and died at the ripe old age of 89 – quite an achievement in Victorian times when Bradford was widely regarded as one of the filthiest places in the country!

At some stage the surname crossed the Irish Sea, because Stockdales and Stockdills appear on the IGI in Dublin from 1635.  Later, they moved northwards to Counties Monaghan, Armagh and Tyrone, where there are still Stockdales today.  However, there are no Stockdills now in Ireland.

I am convinced that at some time in the last 400 years, someone of the name left Yorkshire and went to Ireland, possibly as a soldier or as a retainer to some great English landlord, and settled there   However, because of the well-known problem with Irish records, it is highly debatable as to whether I shall ever be able to prove this.  Some members of this branch migrated to New Zealand during the 1870s and others went to America – and, interestingly, in both these countries the name survives today as Stockdill.  Another branch went to Scotland, the only other Stockdills in the United Kingdom who are not, so far as I can tell, directly related to myself.

One of the great joys of running a one-name study is that one comes into contact with many others of the same surname, including quite often new-found cousins. Since starting my study, I have found new Stockdill cousins, and other descendants from my family, in the USA, Canada and Australia. We have held a number of family reunions in America and Canada and one in Yorkshire, in Leeds in 1997, which attracted many of my overseas relatives.

The areas from which the Stockdills originated are largely rural, and often wild and desolate, but possessing great natural beauty. They are also steeped in history. The North York Moors, for instance, show evidence of human habitation at least 10,000 years ago. The Cleveland Hills were occupied by wandering hill dwellers during the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages. Later, a fierce, warlike tribe of Celts from Europe called the Brigantes over-ran the whole region and turned it into a kingdom.

They, in turn, were ousted by the Romans, who made the city of York, which they named Eboracum, the most important city in England. When the Romans left the shores of Britain for ever in about 400 AD, they were succeeded by the Angles, fair-haired,  heathen invaders from Germany who claimed all of the north of England as  their domain and called it the kingdom of Northumbria. They were farmers and settlers but fierce warriors, too. Our ancestry owes much to them, as it does also to the Vikings, an equally warlike race from Scandinavia, who began  invading England from about the late 8th century onwards. The Vikings conquered much of the northern and eastern areas of England and formed a rival kingdom to the Anglo-Saxons, known as the Danelaw. We undoubtedly carry a potent mixture of Anglo-Saxon and Viking blood in our veins.

Entries for families called Stockdill have been found in parish registers from as early as the 1540s, in the reign of King Henry VIII. They appear in many parts of Yorkshire, principally originally in the rural areas, as the great majority of people in those times worked on the land and lived very basic – and often poverty-stricken – lives. However, the most significant factor in the lives of ordinary people was the Industrial Revolution, that explosion of technological advance that changed the face of Britain and the world for ever. The coming of factory machines, the steam engine and the railways demanded that workers abandon the land and a centuries-old rural way of life and flock to the expanding towns and cities to find work. Increasingly from the 18th-century onwards, Stockdills are found in the booming industrial cities of West Yorkshire, especially the great woollen centres of Leeds and Bradford, which became swarming centres of population.

However, one wonders if the lives of the ordinary people improved very much, if at all, after their departure from the rural villages. For conditions in the towns and cities were dreadfully squalid and insanitary, as anyone who has read the novels of Charles Dickens will know.  Child mortality rates were high and this was one reason why the Victorians often had such large families, in order to make sure that some, at least, survived to continue the line.

The Stockdill history reflects that of most ordinary families, forced to adapt their lives to rapidly changing social conditions. Our ancestors abandoned their ploughs to become carpenters and wheelwrights, weavers, railwaymen, shopkeepers and tailors. Still others left Britain forever to migrate to foreign parts, principally America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where families of the name flourish today.


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