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   Historical Patterns of Migration & Settlement in Britain                           

 

The British Isles have not been successfully invaded since 1066, but countless incursions, most of them unrecorded and long-forgotten, must have taken place in the centuries and millennia before the Conquest. The earliest historical reference to Britain dates to the third century BC when Pytheas of Massilia wrote an account of his circumnavigation of the Prytanic Isles and the strange inhabitants whom he called Prytani. Julius Caesar, who invaded Britain in 55 and 54 BC, seems to have been first to prefer the forms Britannia and Britanni for the island and its people who at that time would have been mainly of the same Celtic stock found to this day along the Atlantic seaboard from Scandinavia to the Iberian peninsula.


Roman conquest of Britain occurred nearly a century after Caesar under the Emperor Claudius. Cymbeline's capital at Camulodunum (Colchester) fell in 43AD and by 54AD the Romans had seized controul of most of Britain south of Lincoln. In the closing decades of the first century AD, Roman power was extended into Wales, with the absorption of the client kindgom of the Brigantes, and into the North of England when a legion was stationed in York.


With conquest came a systematic program of Romanization. Temples, forums, basilicas, and public baths were built in many parts of England; streets were laid down in grids; and Roman-style farmhouses set on concrete or stone foundations soon dotted the landscape. By the fourth century AD luxurious Roman villas began to appear, sometimes equipped with mosaic pavements, baths, and hypercausts which furnished central heat and hot water.


Throughout the period of Roman occupation, however, England remained an outpost on the frontier of the civilised world, always vulnerable to attack from the Continent. That the threat was becoming urgent as early as the late third century AD is indicated by construction of a series of forts along the "Saxon Shore," although the true magnitude of this threat would not be realised until the last Roman troops were withdrawn in 407.

 

In 410AD--only three years later-- when British authorities appealed to the Emperor Honorius for help in repelling Saxon raiders, they were told that they must look to their own defense because Rome had no troops to spare. On August 24th of the same year, Rome was sacked by Visigoths under the leadership of Alaric.


During the fifth century AD Angles, Saxons, and Jutes began to invade Britain in increasing numbers, causing some Britons to flee the country and settle along the western coast of France in what later became known as Brittany. The Venerable Bede (8th century church historian and author of the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum) says that the Angles came from a district called Angulus located in what is now Schleswig-Holstein ---and eventually founded three kingdoms in Britain--Nord Angelnen (Northumbria), made up of two smaller kingdoms, Bernicia and Deira; Ost Angelnen, still known as East Anglia today; and Mittlere Angelnen, which included Middle Anglia and Mercia.


The Saxons, a loose confederation of Old Germanic tribes whose earliest known habitation was Albingia in Holstein, eventually settled in Middlesex (Middel Seaxe); Essex (Est Seaxana); Sussex ( Suth Seaxe); and Wessex (West Seaxna), while the Jutes, who came from Jutland (in modern Denmark), Southern Schleswig (south Jutland), and the East Frisian coast, established their kingdom along the southeastern coast of England in the modern day county of Kent. Jutes also invaded parts of Hampshire and Wessex but do not appear to have been a lasting influence in those areas as they were in Kent.


The Anglo--Saxon Kingdoms of Mercia, Northumbria, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex, and Wessex, are commonly known as the Heptarchy (see map of England

c  600AD.)

 

This first wave of Germanic invaders spoke West German dialects belonging to the West Germanic Language Group of which German and English are the primary modern representatives.  Although about half of our English vocabulary is derived from Latin, mainly through Norman French which arrived in the Island with William the Conqueror, the structure and basic vocabulary of English is Germanic, and many of our most common, everyday words like mother, father, son, daughter, horse, cow, red, green, one, two, three, etc., day, night, the, that, was, were, have, hold, sink, swim, work, sweat, love, hate, eat, think, sleep, and live come from  Old English, also known as Anglo-Saxon.


Toward the end of the eighth century AD, however, a new and terrifying wave of invaders speaking North Germanic dialects known as Old Norse (subdivided into East and West Norse, the former being the more prevalent of the two), began to arrive from Scandinavia. The first raid appears to have been led by Norwegians who struck the Dorset coast in 787AD, but the date most often given for the beginning of the Viking Age in Britain is 793AD when the tidal island of Lindisfarne on the northeast coast of England was attacked with devastating results.


This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine: and not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island (Lindisfarne)" -- Anglo-Saxon Chronicle


The twelfth century historian Simeon of Durham gives a more detailed account of the destruction which ensued:

 

In the same year the pagans from the northern regions came with a naval force to Britain like stinging hornets and spread on all sides like fearful wolves, robbed, tore and slaughtered not only beasts of burden, sheep and oxen, but even priests and deacons, and companies of monks and nuns. And they came to the church of Lindisfarne, laid everything waste with grievous plundering, trampled the holy places with polluted steps, dug up the altars and seized all the treasures of the holy church. They killed some of the brothers, took some away with them in fetters, many they drove out, naked and loaded with insults, some they drowned in the sea... ( Cavill, Paul. Vikings: Fear and Faith. New York, 2002, p. 9).


So great was the fear engendered by the attack on Lindisfarne and other monasteries that monks of the 8th and 9th centuries are said to have added to their prayers this urgent plea for divine assistance: A furore normannorum libera nos domine ("From the fury of the Northmen deliver us, O Lord!")


Danish Vikings who harassed the coasts of Britain and sailed inland on their longboats eventually succeeded in conquering all of the territory north of a line drawn from London to Chester, but excluding those parts of Northumbria which lie east of the Pennines. Thus, Essex, East Anglia, the eastern Midlands, and most of northern England fell under Danish rule (ie the Danelaw) which in some areas lasted for over two centuries, while Kent, the Saxon kingdom of Wessex, and the western midlands (English Mercia) remained under English controul.  

Viking influence in Britain varied considerably even within the Danelaw. Until the development of genetic testing, the only ways to measure it were cultural or linguistic. Place names in particular have long been used as a proxy for the Viking legacy in English counties formerly ruled by the Danes. Words ending in -by, -thorpe, thwaite, -holme, etc. provide evidence of Scandinavian occupation. The percentage of such place names in Parts of Lindsey in Lincolnshire, for example, is almost 50% and even higher if field names are included. In Yorkshire, Norse influence on place names is most pronounced in the East Riding where the percentage reaches nearly 48%; in the North Riding the number is 46% and in the West Riding about a third of all place names are of Scandinavian origin.

 

By contract, few Viking names are found north of Yorkshire in Durham and Northumberland or in Cambridge, Essex, and Hertsford which border East Anglia on the west and south. (Katherine Holman, The Norman Conquest: Vikings in Britain and Ireland, p. 63)

 

The Norse legacy may also be found in a number of common, everyday words like anger, sky, skirt (shirt is Germanic); slack, slaughter, thrust, thwart, die, and egg. Although the English verb ride is Anglo-Saxon,  the noun riding, as in Yorkshire's West Riding, comes from the Norse word thriding which means a third.

 

       Norwegian Vikings in Ireland & the Northern and Western Isles

 

Most of the Vikings who settled in England were probably Danes, their counterparts from Norway preferring the northern and western isles such as the Orkneys, Shetlands, Iceland and Greenland.

 

Norwegian Vikings also raided Ireland, beginning in 795AD with an attack on the monastery at Rathlin and in the 9th century their raids were followed by the establishment first of camps and later of permanent settlements in Dublin, Cork, Waterford and other towns along the southeastern coast.

 

A second wave of Viking activity in Ireland began in the 10th century with attacks from Danish Vikings in Britain; however, Vikings never achieved controul in Ireland comparable to that wielded for a time by the Danes in England and after the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, their power gradually diminished although Dublin and other Norse towns in the southeast became thriving ports and centers of commerce.

 

 

                                    The Norman Conquest

 

The year 1066 may have the dubious distinction of being the most famous (or infamous, depending one's point of view) date in all of British History, rivaled only by the signing of Magna Carta in 1215. The irony of 1066, perhaps, is that so many British people want to claim descent from the Conqueror or one of his Companions. Those who can prove their claims, in most cases, descend from William rather than his Companions, and some of these descend, through Edward III, from Harold Godwinson whom William, Duke of Normandy, defeated at Hastings.

 

The Normans represented the third and last wave of Germanic invaders to enter in Britain during the Dark Ages. The word Norman, which meant Norsemen, referred mainly to Danish Vikings who were given permission in 911AD by Charles the Simple to settle in the northwestern corner of France in exchange for protecting the French coast against future Viking raiders. Rollo, leader of the Normans, was the 4th great grandfather (in the male line) of William the Conqueror, aka the Bastard. Rollo’s origins have been much disputed, some accounts claiming that he was Danish, perhaps even a Danish noblemen, while a competing legend has it that he was the son of the Earl of More in Western Norway and that he left Norway after a dispute with Norway's King Harald Fairhair.

 

Historians have estimated the strength of William's army at 7000 to 8000 troops, half of whom came from Normandy, a third from Flanders and Brittany, and the rest from France with even a few from Italy.  This last Germanic invasion, therefore, was also the smallest, although its lasting effect on the language and culture as well as the political, social, and economic structure of Britain would be hard to overestimate. In a word, everything in England changed after 1066, and one of the most potent legacies of the Conquest for genealogists is that it erased much of the history of Anglo-Saxon England.  Only a handful of leading families--Berkeley, Arden, and one or two others--can be traced before 1066. The Old English aristocracy was systematically disenfranchised and replaced by William's Norman, Breton, and Flemish followers, the evidence for which was duly recorded in Domesday twenty years later.  Under William's rule, monarchy was strengthened, the power and size of the central government increased, a feudal system of land tenure was established, and Heraldry developed, the later perhaps brought to England by Flemings in William's army.

 

Under Norman rule, French became the language of the government and the court, although the peasantry continued to speak English, which varied so much from one part of the country to another that a man from Yorkshire would probably have had difficulty understanding someone from London or East Anglia. Over time, however, a growing tendency to mingle English and French words and the gradual loss of inflected case endings (a phenomenon occurring in other Germanic languages as well) resulted in a new language (Middle English) which remained stubbornly Germanic in structure, but owed much of its vocabulary to Latin via Norman French.

 

Both then and now, the source of a word --whether English or French--often affected its meaning and tone. Cows, sheep, and oxen grazed in the commons, but when their meat arrived in the kitchen it was beef and mutton (from Fr. boef and moton). A battlefield might be bloody, but an optimist is sanguine (Fr. sanguin). On balance, it seems fair to say that much of the beauty, variety, and power of English can be traced to this grafting of Norman vocabulary on an English base.

 

Poets like Langland, Chaucer, and Gower who chose to write in English, thereby demonstrating its worth as a literary tongue, may have played a role in replacing French with English as the official language of the realm.  By the 1360's, Parliament had begun to use English, and in the reign of Henry V (1413-1422), English was even being spoken at court.

 

 

Implications of Historical Patterns of Migration & Settlement on 

                      Haplotype Distribution in the UK

 

Over the past decade several important studies have attempted to map historic patterns of settlement  in the British Isles and explore their genetic legacy by recruiting and testing men whose male ancestors are known to have lived in a particular village or county for at least several generations.  

 

The first and still one of the most complete studies of this kind to date was the  Oxford Genetic Atlas Project directed  by Professor Bryan Sykes of Oxford University. 

 

 

 

The table below shows the distribution of  five Haplogroups represented  in the Britton project as estimated first by Bryan Sykes and later by Kevin Campbell who analysed the Oxford  database to determine the geographical distribution of R1b subgroups in the Isles.

 

 

Hap’group

Sykes-Eng

Wales

Scotland

Camp.Eng.

Wales

Scotland

R1b

64%

83.2%

72.9%

66.9%

8.2%

72.6%

I1(=I1a)

22.2%

11%

15.4%

14%

6.2%

8.9%

R1a

5.2%

1.4%

8.8%

4.6%

2.2%

8.6%

E3b(=E1b1)

2.1%

3.1%

1.5%

2.2%

2.2%

1.5%

G

NA

NA

NA

1.3%

3.9%

.3%

 

 

 

TABLE 3: Distribution of Haplogroups in the British Isles   Source: Kevin Campbell, Journal of Genetic Genealogy 3:1-13 (2007)

 

 

The following tables show Sykes’ estimate of distribution of the major Haplogroups in England, Wales, and Scotland:

 

 

                                             England             

 

                                      

Group

North-umbria

North

Central

East Anglia

London

South

South-west

All

ENG.

Oisin/

R1b

68.3

62.8

65.8

51.2

57.6

57.2

78.2

64.0

Woden/

I1

15.9

25.1

21.4

31.2

23.2

36.4

12.6

22.2

Sigurd/

R1a

7.3

7.2

7.1

2.4

4.0

2.5

4.2

5.2

Eshu/

E1b

1.2

1.9

0.0

3.2

3.3

4.9

1.3

2.1

Re/

J

2.4

2.5

1.5

5.6

4.0

3.1

1.7

2.7

Other

4.9

0.6

4.1

6.4

7.9

5.5

2.1

3.6

 

 

 

Table 4a: Distribution of Paternal Clans in England: Bryan Sykes, Saxons, Vikings, and Celts, p. 290

 

                                               

                                                           Wales

 

Group

North Wales

Mid-Wales

South Wales

All Wales

Oisin

78.5

86.4

84.2

83.2

Woden

15.0

8.2

10.5

11.0

Sigurd

2.8

0.7

0.0

1.4

Eshu

3.7

2.7

2.6

3.1

Re

0.0

1.4

0.0

0.7

Other

0.0

0.7

2.6

0.7

 

 

                                

Table 4b: Distribution of Paternal Clans in Wales: Ibid.

 

 

                                                 Scotland

 

Group

Argyll

Bor-ders

N.

Isles

Tay-side

Gram-pion

High-lands

Hebri-des

Strath-clyde

Scot-land

Oisin

81.1

78.1

59.9

78.9

83.5

75.9

71.2

73.2

72.9

Woden

3.8

12.5

16.8

17.5

11.8

16.5

17.8

20.0

15.4

Sigur

7.5

3.1

19.8

1.8

2.4

6.3

11.0

4.2

8.8

Eshu

1.9

1.6

1.5

1.8

2.4

1.3

0.0

1.7

1.5

Re

45.7

4.7

1.5

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

1.2

Other

0.0

0.0

0.5

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.8

0.3

 

 

 

Table 4c: Distribution of Paternal Clans in Scotland: Ibid.

 

                   

                 

Sykes  published his data and  conclusions in 2006.  That same year Stephen                                                                        

Oppenheimer, also of Oxford University, published his account of The Origins of the British based on data complied by Capelli and others in 2001.  Capelli’s database consists of 1722 Y-haplotypes of six markers each (ie DYS 19, 388, 390, 391, 392, and 393) which were collected from twenty-five “predominantly small urban locations”  in the British Isles. (Kevin D. Campbell, “Geographic Patterns of R1b in the British Isles – Deconstructing Oppenheimer,” 2007)  Although Oppenheimer and Sykes were not far apart in their estimates of the percentages and distribution of dominant British Haplogroups,  Oppenheimer downplayed the historical and cultural importance of  the Celts, arguing instead that “three quarters of  [the ancestors of modern Britons] came to [the island] as hunter-gatherers, between 15,000 and 7,500 years ago, after the melting of the ice caps” and that the greatest similarity to these British R1b’s was to be found not in the Celtic lands of Normandy and southern France but in the “the former ice-age refuge in the Basque country.”  He opined  that these “first settlers were unlikely to have spoken a Celtic language” and  probably spoke “a tongue related to the unique Basque language.”   (Prospect Magazine, 30 June 2007)   Thus, for Oppenheimer, the Celts, “to the extent that they can be defined genetically, were a small immigrant minority” with no “more impact on the British Isles gene pool than the Vikings, the Normans or, indeed, immigrants of the past 50 years.”  (Prospect Magazine, 30 June 2007) 

 

Oppenheimer’s view of the effect of  Germanic invasions during  the Dark Ages is similar : while allowing  that “major Scandinavian incursions into northern and eastern Britain, from Shetland to Anglia,” have left  lasting genetic, linguistic,  and cultural imprints,  he concludes from the genetic evidence that most of these incursions came “during the Neolithic period and before the Roman conquest “ and that the invasions of the Dark Ages were “less like replacements” of the population “than minority elite additions” to it .  Furthermore, since Dark  Age invaders came from “the same places” as their Neolithic predecessors, their “battles” were fought  “for dominance between chieftains, all of Germanic origin, each invader sharing much culturally with their newly conquered indigenous subjects” rather than for the purpose of ethnic cleansing.  (Prospect Magazine, 30 June 2007) 

 

Oppenheimer’s work refutes, but does not negate an earlier study published in 2002 by Michael J. Weale et al.   on “Y-Chromosome evidence for Anglo-Saxon Mass Migration.”    This study examined “an east-west transect across central England and North Wales to evaluate evidence of male population migration under a wide range of flexible population genetic models.”  To this end,  Weale and his fellow researchers took 313 samples from seven English and Welsh towns: North Ealsham, Fakenham, Bourne, Southwell, Ashbourne, Abergele, and Llangefni.  Their donors were required to live within 30 mils of the town where the sample was collected and the same was required for their paternal grandfathers.    Weale’s team tested six micro-satellites--DYS 19, 388, 390, 391, 392, and 393--and twelve biallelic UEP markers.  

 

When the British data was compared to 94 samples from  Friesland and 83 from Norway,  Weale’s team  found that “the Central English and Frisian samples were statistically indistinguishable.  Using novel population genetic models that incorporate both mass migration and continuous gene flow, [they] conclude[d]  that these striking patterns [were] best explained by a substantial migration of Anglo-Saxon Y-chromosomes into Central England (contributing 50-100% to the gene pool at that time), but not into North Wales.” (Ibid.)

 

Another  important regional study which attempted to measure Scandinavian influence in west central England was published in  2008 by Professor Mark Jobling  of the University of Leicester.   Jobling and his  team studied the correlation between Scandinavian surnames and Y-chromosomes  in West Lancashire and the Wirral peninsula where archaeological remains as well as surnames “show clear evidence of a past Viking presence.”   In order to offset the effects of  “heavy immigration and population growth since the industrial revolution”,  the team  took samples from a controul group with “two generations of residence”  and compared them to “samples based on known ancestry in the region plus the possession of a surname known from historical records to have been present there in medieval times.”   Results showed that “the Y-chromosomal haplotypes of these two sets of samples [were]  significantly different, and in admixture analyses, the surname-ascertained samples show[ed] markedly greater Scandinavian ancestry proportions, supporting the idea that northwest England was once heavily populated by Scandinavian settlers.” (“ Excavating Past Population Structures by Surname-Based Sampling: The Genetic Legacy of the Vikings in Northwest England”)

 

A companion study for Northern England was announced by the University of Leicester in January of 2009.    Men whose paternal grandfathers were born in Cumbria, Lancashire, Cheshire, North Yorkshire, Durham or Northumberland were invited to participate and preference was given to certain local  surnames  of Scandinavian origin like Satterthwaite, Thornthwaite, Borrowdale, Branthwaite, Haygarth, and  Oldcorn.   Results of this study are expected to be released later this year.

 

                       England in the Age of Surnames

                                 

 

Surnames were adopted in the British Isles at different periods. In Ireland, patronymics formed from prefixing o or ua to the grandfather's name or mac to the father's name were in use as early as the 10th century, although their spread was "slow " and several centuries passed before they were used throughout the island. 

[Note: . All quotations and other general information about the development of  surnames in Britain come from P. H. Reaney’s introduction to his Dictionary of British Surnames, p. xii, ff.]

 

In Britain, certain early surnames may have developed from descriptions used by  tax collectors and other Royal officials to distinguish individuals with the same first name.   A list of Suffolk peasants  drawn up c 1095, but probably reflecting practices common before the Conquest, indicates that 104 of the 660 persons whose names are recorded were identified by their father's name, while 163 more were identified by descriptive names of various kinds. 

 

The rapid increase in government organization and central authority after the Conquest no doubt  hastened the adoption of second names.   Even so, the transition from descriptive second names to hereditary surnames took several centuries.

 

During the early Mediaeval  period, most second names were neither hereditary nor fixed.  A man might be known by one name to the tax collector and by another to his fellows.  In London and probably in York in the 13th and 14th centuries, apprentices sometimes took the surnames of their masters “either temporarily or definitely….In most cases, where sufficient evidence is available, the new surname replaced the old one altogether.”

 

Surnames first became hereditary in Britain in the southern counties and among the more literate upper classes.  This was especially true for aristocratic families living in London where government organization was more complex and record keeping more “elaborate.”

 

In the North of England,  the use of hereditary surnames was  delayed by a century or more.  In Yorkshire, most early surnames were derived either from trades or place of residence.  While records indicate that some of these names  were becoming hereditary in the city of York by the 1300's, Subsidy Rolls for other parts of the county show that surnames tended to be "transient and ephemeral" in outlying areas,  and it was not until the reign of Henry IV (1399-1413), that sons made a habit of taking their father's surname.  One of the last cases to the contrary occurred in Yorkshire in 1431.

 

In Scotland, the earliest examples of hereditary surnames are found in the reign of David I (1124-53) and are of Norman origin;  these names (eg  de Brus, de Umfraville) had already become hereditary in England by that time.   The oldest extant enumeration for Scotland which included  ordinary landowners and burgesses as well as the nobility and clergy  is the Ragman Roll (c 1296) of deeds of homage to Edward I.   Many surnames found in the Ragman Roll  (including several variants of Britton) are still familiar in England and Scotland today.

 

Adoption of hereditary surnames was  slow in Wales, too.   Many old Welsh personal names, which provided the basis for modern surnames, appeared first in England "where they became hereditary in the 14th century or earlier, long before [they] were known in Wales."  In the eastern counties, along the Welsh marches, some surnames developed from the personal names of Breton immigrants to the area.   By the reign of Henry VIII, use of a last name had become commonplace "among the gentry",  yet "the custom spread [so] slowly among the common people" that universal adoption of hereditary surnames was largely a "post 16th century development" in Wales.

 

                               

                    Meaning and Origin of the Name Britton

 

The surname Britton is usually said to be an “ethnic name for a Celtic-speaking Briton or Breton….from  Old French bret.” (Reaney, Dictionary, p. )  The Bretons were Celtic-speakers driven from southwestern England to northwestern France in the 6th century by Anglo-Saxon invaders; some of them reinvaded England in the 11th century as part of the army of William the Conqueror.

 

In the years following the Conquest, many Bretons settled in England and were rewarded for their loyalty with large tracts of land.    Most of them probably belonged to Haplogroup R1b, but other Haplogroups would have been represented in the Breton population as well.  In fact, recent research suggests that Haplogroup diversity within ethnic or regional groups may have been somewhat greater in the Mediaeval period than it is today.  The proximity of Normandy and Brittany may have contributed further to an intermingling of haplotypes, particularly R1b and I1, within both populations.

 

The more common forms of the name today are Britton (especially in the Bristol area), Brittain ( in London), Britten,  Brittin (in Northamptonshire), and Brittan (Hanks & Hodges, p. 74), but there are many other variants, including Bretton and Breton, which are sometimes found in Yorkshire and Essex.   For the mediaeval period, Britt and Brett, which are now considered to be different names,  were  used on occasion by Britton families,  while  Bruton appears as a variant of Bretton or Britton as late as the 17th century.   Although we have yet to discover a Britt, Brett or Bruton family which matches any of our Britton families (with the possible exception of  A-14 where the original surname may have been Britt rather than Britton), there is a distinct possibility that such a match will eventually be found.

 

Most of those who originally took the  name Breton or Britton were probably Bretons themselves or descendants of Breton immigrants; however,  there are other reasons besides Breton ancestry which might have prompted a man to call himself Breton or to be called Breton either by his neighbors or by government officials.  

 

Patricia Hanks and  Flavia Hodges, have suggested one of the least agreeable of these reasons-- "in France and among Normans, Bretons had a reputation for stupidity, and in some cases this name and its variants and cognates may have originated as derogatory nicknames"[Oxford Dictionary of Surnames (1988), pp. 76, 74]--but there were certainly others, including the possibility that a man held land from a Breton, lived on a Breton fief, was apprenticed to someone named Breton, or lived near a place called Bretton.

 

In the North of England, the surname Bretton was a “habitation name from Monk Bretton or West Bretton in West Yorkshire or Bretton in Derby” and was  most “common in the area around Barnsby and also in Leeds.” (Hanks & Hodges, p. 74)

Both place names may be etymologically related to OE brec 1  rather than  to Breton (See Brittons in the North of England, below); however, Layer Breton in Essex seems to  have been named for Lewis Brito who gave land to St. John’s Abbey,, Colchester in the 12th century. (Oxford Dictionary of Place Names,  p. 290, citing Thomas Wright, History of Essex, 1831-36)

 

1 OE brec  is "probably found”  in place names like  Bircham, Braxted, Breckles, and in some Brattons  (Oxford Dictionary of Place Names., p. 59)  Bratton Clovelly and Bratton Fleming  in Devonshire [Bracton in Domesday],  Bratton in Somerset [Bracton in  Pipe Rolls of 12th century], and Bratton in Wilsthire [Bracton, 1178] all come from this root.

 

 

                    

                     Worldwide Distribution of Britton Families

 

The Britton name is found mainly in the British Isles and in former British colonies, although the form Breton is common in France. Tables 1 and 2 below

Show worldwide distribution of the most common variants.

 

                              

 

Variant

Britton

Breton

Brittain

Britten

United Kingdom

205.43

NA

71.16

38.24

Australia

172.55

NA

85.82

73.65

United States

102.37

14.13

34.43

NA

Canada

51.57

66.47

30.94

NA

New Zealand

73.30

NA

38.80

21.51

Ireland

99.08

3.09

8.57

NA

France

NA

340.52

NA

1.43

TOTAL

704.30

424.21

269.72

134.83

 

 

 

 

TABLE 1: Most Common Variants Worldwide. Numbers indicate frequency per million.  Information from Public Profiler/World Names.

 

 

Country

Most

Common

Variants

TOTAL

France

Breton 340.52

Bretton 5.33

Britten 1.43

347.28

United Kingdom

Britton 205.43

Brittain 71.16

Britten 38.24

314.83

Australia

Britton 172.55

Brittain 85.82

Britten 38.24

296.61

United States

Britton 102.37

Brittain 34.43

Breton 14.13

150.93

Canada

Breton 66.47

Britton 51.57

Brittain 30.94

144.98

New Zealand

Britton 73.30

Brittain 38.80

Britten 21.51

133.61

Ireland

Britton 99.08

Brittain 8.57

Breton 3.09

110.74

 

 

 

 

TABLE 2: Worldwide Distribution of Most Common Variants.  Statistics from Public Profiler/World Names.        

 

      Distribution of Britton & Variants in England 1841-1891

        

Most British and European surnames have a local flavour: “few…are evenly distributed throughout the countries in which they occur.  Some are characteristic of particular regions, while others are concentrated in quite small villages.” (Hanks & Hodges, Oxford Dictionary, p.74)

 

A good source for surname distribution in Britain  in the modern period is the 1841 Census of England and Wales which may be searched online by surname and county.  It  represents the earliest period for which we have reasonably accurate and comprehensive numbers and in some areas at least may still reflect  patterns that prevailed in the 18th or even the late 17th century.

 

In 1841, there were a total of 10,458 people with the name Britton (all forms)  living in England and Wales.  Of these,  3074  or 29.393% are listed as Brittons, 1718 or 16.427% as Brettons,  1561 or 14.496% as Brittains, 1159 or 11.082% as Britains, and  939 or 8.978% as Britons.

 

Nearly 75% (7809 people using all forms of the name) lived in only thirteen counties and the city of London; over 50%  lived in the top four locations, and  37.88% (3962) lived either in London or Yorkshire.

 

Similar distribution patterns may be  found in  1891,  although the percentages differ.   In Yorkshire the numbers declined dramatically from 23.32%  in 1841 to only 12.20% in 1891, while  in  London the decline was more modest--14.56% to 12.78%; however, the number of Brittons living in Essex nearly doubled, while Gloucester's numbers rose from 7% to 10.22%.

 

                               Distribution by County in 1841

         

1. Yorkshire 23.32%--fewer in 1891

2. London 14.56%--fewer in 1891

3. Gloucestershire 7%--more in 1891

4. Lancaster-5.316%--slight gain in 1891

5. Hampshire 3.394%

6. Warwick 2.945%

7. Devon 2.742%

8. Wiltshire 2.476%

9. Bedford 2.447%

10. Stafford 2.371%

11. Essex 2.17%

12. Flintshire 2.103%

13. Somerset 1.941%

14. Glamorgan 1.816%

15, Northampton 1.7689%

 

             Distribution  by Region in 1841

 

1. North--Yorkshire & Lancaster 28.638%

2. East--London& Essex--17.508%

3. Southwest--Gloucester, Somerset & Devon-11.7422%

4. Midlands--Warwick, Stafford & Northampton  7.085%

5. South--Wiltshire & Hampshire--5.871%

 

                                 Distribution by County  in 1891

 

1. London--12.888%

2. Yorkshire--12.226%

3. Gloucester--10.117%

4. Essex--5.893%

5. Lancaster--5.785%

6. Stafford--3.131%

7. Warwick--2.924%

8. Somerset--2.536%

9. Devon--2.084%

10. Durham--2.084%

11. Northampton--1.597%

12. Norfolk--1.588%

 

                               Distribution By Region 1891

 

1.  East-- London (15428), Essex (6555), Norfolk (176)= 2259=20.38%

2. North--Yorkshire (1359), Lancaster (644), Durham (201)=2201=19.864%

3. Southwest--Gloucester (1121), Somerset (281), Devon (231)= 1633=14.738%

4. Midlands-- Stafford (347), Warwick (321), Northampton shire (177)=845=7.626%

 

Source: 1891 Census for England & Wales  

 

 

                       Surname Profiler and the 1881 Census

 

Numbers alone do not tell the whole story.  While  distribution varies somewhat between 1841 and 1891, both  census returns  show that the majority of Britton families lived in Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, London, and surrounding counties.

 

What the census alone  does not reveal,  however, is the relative frequency or density of the name Britton throughout England and Wales--ie those parts of the land where the name occurs at a rate per unit which exceeds its rate per unit within the general population.

 

Surname Profiler, for example, indicates that there were 5299 people who spelled their name Britton living in England and Wales in 1881,  with an average frequency per million (FPM) of  196.  Areas where Britton reached its highest frequency in 1881--Bristol and Colchester-- are shown on the map at Surname Profiler in dark blue, and  areas with the second highest frequency are shown in a slightly lighter shade of blue.

 

In 1881 and again in 1998, the highest frequency was found in Bristol, with a top area index in 1998 of 898.  The top area index is designed to show relative frequency of a surname within the whole population; an index value of 100 signifies  average frequency; an index of 200 signifies that the name is twice as common as the average;  300, that it is three times as common, etc.   In 1998, therefore, Britton was nearly nine times as common in Bristol as it was in the British population at large.

 

The chart below, compiled from data at Surname Profiler, identifies postal districts where each of the variants reaches its highest and second highest  frequency in 1881.

 

 

 

 

Name

Total

1881

Total

1998

FPM

1881

FPM

1998

TopArea1881

TopArea

1998

TopArea

Index

Britton

5299

7627

196

205

Bristol

Bristol

898

Brittain

2317

3023

86

81

Birming-ham

Wolverhampton

418

Britten

1191

1586

44

43

Northamp-ton

Northampton

897

Brittan

552

448

20

12

Bristol

Lincoln

837

Briton

309

123

11

3

Bromley/.London

Sunderland

7846

Bretton

191

170

7

5

Chelms-ford

Hudders-field

1630

Breton

190

167

7

4

Falkirk

West London

697

Britain

178

198

7

5

Dudley

York

1943

Brittin

151

133

6

4

Northamp-ton

W.Cent.

London

3856

Brittian

NA

NA

NA

NA

Enfield/London

NA

NA

Britian

NA

NA

NA

NA

Swindon

NA

NA

LeBreton

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

 

 

 

The next chart shows the total number of people using each form of the name in 1891 and 1998, FPM for 1881 and 1998, and Top Area Index.  An asterix indicates the area with the highest distribution, but the order in which other locations are listed is random.

 

 

NAME

HIGHEST DISTRIBUTION

SECOND  HIGHEST

Britton

Bristol*, Colchester

Southend-on-Sea, Chelmsford, Leeds, Exeter

Brittain

Birmingham*, Swindon, Stevenage, Peterborough

Cleveland, Chelmsford, Milton Keynes, Walsall

Britten

Northampton*, Milton Keynes

Salisbury

Brittan

Bristol*, Salisbury

Portsmouth, London NW, Nottingham

Briton

Bromley(Gr. London)*, Ipswich, Motherwell

East London, Colchester, Hull

Bretton

Chelmsford*

NA

Breton

Falkirk*, Portsmouth

Rochester, Huddersfield

Britain

Dudley*, London EC

London NW, Leeds

Brittin

Northampton*, Milton Keynes

Cambridge, Swindon

Brittian

Enfield*

Coventry

Britian

Swindon*

NA

 

 

 

 

One of the most striking features to emerge from this data is the absence of Yorkshire from top area lists in 1881.  In  the second highest regions only two Yorkshire districts appear: Hull for Briton and Leeds for Britian.  This is a poor showing indeed when one considers that three forms--Britton, Brittain, and Britten--accounted for 84.8% of the total in 1881 (excluding the rarest forms Britian and Britian for which no numbers are available.) 

 

The same is true in London where only the rarer forms Briton, Britain, and Brittian are found in high frequency districts, and the more common form Brittan is found at the second highest frequency only in Northwest London.

 

 

                              Guppy’s Homes of Family Names

 

The first attempt to trace British surnames to their source by identifying areas where each name reached its highest frequency was made  by Henry Brougham Guppy whose Homes of Family Names was published in 1890.  At that time Guppy estimated  there were 30,000 surnames in Britain in a population of about 26 million.   Starting with the assumption that farmers were “the most stay-at-home class in the country” and thus the best proxy for the population as a whole, Guppy

used Kelley’s Postal Directories to compile lists of farmers in each county whose surnames exceeded a rate of 7/10,000 for the county.  This approach produced about

6000 names which he classified as General, when found in 30-40 counties; Common in 20-29 counties;  Regional, 101-9 counties; District, 4-9 counties; County, 2-3 counties, and Peculiar, when limited to  part of a single county.

 

Only the forms Britton and Britten appear in Guppy’s index--Britten at a ratio of 30/10,000 in Northamptonshire and Britton at a ratio of 8/10,000 in Essex.

 

Before  Guppy’s results are compared to data from the 1881 census,  however,   postal districts located  in large towns and cities where few would have been engaged in agriculture should be eliminated--ie Bristol which had a population of 206,503 in 1881; Birmingham with a population of 400,757; Leeds 309,126; Hull 161,519;and perhaps Exeter at 47,098.

 

This adjustment leaves only Swindon (Wiltshire) among top locations in the West Country and Wallsall (Staffordshire) and Salisbury (Wiltshire) among areas with the second highest density.  Cleveland (in the North Riding next to the York district)  also remains.  All other high-frequency districts are located in or near Essex and Northamptonshire: Colchester, Chelmsford, and Southend-on-Sea in Essex; Northampton; Peterborough; Milton-Keynes; and Stevenage. 

 

When the number of persons using the three most common form of the names is factored in,  Guppy’s conclusions appear  consistent with concentrations shown in the 1881 census.

 

Whether farmers were a good proxy for the British population is another matter: P. H. Reaney thought not, since many farmers have surnames which indicate that their ancestors followed different professions.   Guppy’s methods have also been criticized because his lists do not always correspond with mediaeval lists of names for the same counties,  but this deficiency does not apply for Britton,  which was a prominent name in  Essex, Northampton, and surrounding areas during the mediaeval period.

 

 

                   

 

 


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