Family History Notebook

The Origins of the Swindale Surname
Swyndle, Swindle, Swindell, Swindells, Swindall

There are many reference dictionaries for the origins of British surnames including

Charles Bardsley: "A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames with Special American Instances" (Henry Frowde, London 1901)

Henry Harrison(with Gytha Pulling): Surnames of the United Kingdom (The Eaton Press, London 1912)

P. H. Reaney: A Dictionary of British Surnames (Oxford University Press 1958)
P. H. Reaney and A. Wilson: A Dictionary of English Surnames (Revised third edition Oxford University Press 1997)

Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges: "A Dictionary of Surnames"  (Oxford University Press 1988)

Basil Cottle: "The Penguin Dictionary of Surnames" (Penguin 1967, 1978)

Basil Cottle suggests that 'Swindell(s), Swindler may be modern jests mis-representing Swingle(s), Swingler', where a swingle is a flail for beating flax and Swingler is an occupational surname. The earliest Swingler baptism I have found is in Billesdon, Leicestershire in 1619 but many Swindle/Swindell baptisms in the second half of the sixteenth century in Cheshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire. I believe Swingler/Swingle/Swingell to be a completely seperate name to Swindell/Swindle

All the remaining authors treat the Swindale / Swindell / Swindle / Swyndle name as being 'locative' or 'toponymic', e.g. someone who dwells or dwelt in Swindale, and then derive Swindale as 'the valley of the swine'. 
(However in Norway Svindalen is thought to derive from 'narrow valley' rather than 'valley of the swine'.) Swindale near Shap in Cumberland is a favoured location but Reaney and Wilson follow Hanks and Hodges in pointing to Swindale near Skelton in the North Riding of Yorkshire.  Swyndelves in Cheshire is an alternative choice of location.

Although there are (at least) four villages of Skelton in the old North Riding of Yorkshire

I have found Swindale Farm (previously known as Swindale House) and Swindale Beck some 8 km south of Saltburn. Despite the comment in Reaney and Wilson there is no evidence yet found  of any connection between this Swindale and the Swindale/Swindell &tc surname.

In my part of the family, knowing that the Swindales came from the west of the Lake District in the early part of the 20th century, there was a natural tendency to connect the name with valley of Swindale in the east of Lake District, 5 km SW of Shap. However the family can be traced back to the area around Hexham in Northumberland in the 17th century. At that time the spelling in the parish registers was commonly Swindle, Swindel or Swindall. The occurrence of the name in Northumberland may well have resulted from migration from Derbyshire - see note 2.

The Swindale Beck runs down through Brough in Cumbria to join the River Eden and there is a Swindale Grange 0.5 km outside Brough as well as a Swindalehead House further up the stream. Another Swindale runs down a few miles west to Hilton and yet another further west runs down to Knock.   In the same area, but to the south-west, Great Swindale and Little Swindale run down into Weasdale. Place names deriving from the root Swin are common in the north-east - for example 10 km north of Hexham the Swin Burn runs down from Swinburne Castle to Little Swinburn.

In southern Yorkshire the Yorkshire Wolds Way runs through Swin Dale, two kilometers east of North Newbald and 10 kilometers north of the Humber

Another Swind(a)le yet to be located is recorded near Uckington in Shropshire. Another Swyndle Hill yet to be located is recorded near Rudge on the Shropshire/Stafford border (suffiently far from Uckington to be definitely distinct.

On the Great Gaddesden estate, Hertfordshire, a Thomas Halsey was admitted to land in Swyndell and Farthingshill on the 16th of Feb 1544/5. A Swindell Close is recorded in 1624 in  which by 1768 had become Great Swindell and Little Swindell.

A piece of land in Swindell on Cowden, (2km west of) Bakewell is recorded in 1695.

If the IGI records for early Swindales (with an 'a') are reviewed they will be seen to be in Lincolnshire and Leicestershire - with a marriage as far south as Woodbridge, Suffolk. However my investigations involving several thousand Swindells/ Swindales etc show that the spelling is a matter of local practice and that Swindale must be regarded as a variant of Swindle/Swyndle and Swindell/Swindel/Swindells/Swindels etc. Early occurrences.

The Swindale spelling became more popular through the 20th century, presumably as distancing the name from Swindle.

The earliest reference to Swindell yet traced is to a William Swyndell in pleas at Nottingham in 1434.

Other early records appear in north-east Cheshire and north west Derbyshire. Humphrey Swyndles is mentioned in a Star Chamber case around 1550 and the family can be traced in the Macclesfield/ Prestbury area of Cheshire. Other Swyndles/Swindells, not apparently related to Humphrey, are to be found in the same area in the later part of the 16th Century. Charles Bardsley suggests that these families may have gained their name from Swyndelves, a 'lost' estate in the township of Bosden in north-east Cheshire only a few miles from where these early Swyndles lived. The placename later (1624) reappears in the Stockport area as Swyndells.

Equally early references appear in northern Leicestershire and in Lincolnshire and down the the east coast as far as Woodbridge but the vast mass appear in east Cheshire radiating eastwards from Stockport and from there into Derbyshire. Interestingly there was very little ramification westwards from Stockport into the more valuable land of the Cheshire plain. The real explosion of the Swindell surname accompanied the expansion of the weaving business, especially silk, in Macclesfield in the 19th century.

Robert del Swyn in mentioned in the Pipe Rolls of Edward I for Northumberland in 1291 and it is interesting that the occurrence of the surname Swin (/swinn/swyn/suin &tc) in early parish registers has a close match with the Swindale/Swindles &tc in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.

It is my opinion that the spelling prior to the middle of the 19th century is more a function of local accent than indicating different branches of the family  - for example Swindell in Derbyshire became Swindale when moved to Devon - and that it is possible that there are several original locations for the surname. However at present (2008-2013) Swyndelves would be my favourite choice for the origin of the name.


1    There is much interesting speculation on the origin of the Swindell / Swindale surname on Dave Swindell's page at Unfortunately this page is no longer available but a cached version from 2008 can be found at or here.

2    In 1687 Richard Swindel is termed a 'piper', as is his son Richard ('Pyper') in 1705. The meaning of this term has not been established; could it be a dialect version of 'pauper'? Several dialect dictionaries have not listed this meaning (nor the full OED). From May 1686 the register is including occupations such as Blacksmith, Labor, Taylor, Joyner. These are Capitalised, piper is not, generally. 'piper' is used elsewhere, for example John Bailey on 30th May. In 1692 Mark Hoggard is described as paup and in 1708 the term poor is used.

The word 'piper' may be used in its old meaning of a plumber (or lead worker?) though Richard is described elsewhere as yeoman. However it could be significant that Blackhall lead smelt mill was just a quarter of a mile east of Mollersteads and had been established since at least 1653. Dukesfield smelt mill was also very close. It is possible that the Swindalls were craftsmen making lead sheet (for roofing) and pipes at the smelt mill or were smelters. This would explain Christopher moving west to the smelt mill at Whitfield.

Taking into consideration the prevalence of the Swindell surname in Derbyshire, one hypothesis is that the family moved north (or were brought north) on account of familiarity with the new ore-hearth smelting technology that was being introduced at this time. Efficient smelting was particularly dependant upon the judgment and experience of the smelter. However the technology would probably have reached Allendale at least half a century  before the earliest recorded Swindales.

"The ore-hearth appears to have evolved on the Mendip, in Somerset, from a new type of smelting hearth, blown by a foot-blast, which was developed around 1540. The latter had evolved into the ore-hearth, with its characteristic work-stone, by the time the first of these hearths reached Derbyshire in 1571 or 1572. That hearth was built by smelters from Somerset who were employed by [William] Humfrey to re-equip his mill at Beauchief*."
(TheYorkshire Smelting Mills - Michael C. Gill - British Mining Vol 45 p133 1992. Beauchief is 6km SW of Sheffield)
(More information in "The Derbyshire Lead Industry in the 16th Century, Chapter 4 - David Kiernan 1989) 

"The first ore-hearth smelter in Swaledale was built by John Sayer, on the side of Dales Beck at Marrick, in 1574/5."
(Swaledale: its Mines and Smelt Mills - Michael Gill - Landmark Collector's Library 142 2004)

"The native population [of Allendale] in the seventeenth century was increased by an immigration of lead-miners from Derbyshire. Under the date of 7th February 1664/5, the following entry occurs in the parish register : 'Hercules Hill, a smelter, and Elizabeth Blande, ye daughter of Thomas Blande, who all of them came out of Darbyshire, was married.'" (A History of Northumberland Volume IV by John Crawford Hodgson 1897 - p75')

George Bacon of Clay Linne (in Derbyshire) moved to the Hexhamshire region in the mid-17th century - he was buried at Allendale in 1670. Clay Lane (now Clay Cross) is perhaps 13 miles south of Beauchief. (Wirksworth - where there are records of a number of Swindells - is perhaps 18 miles south of Beauchief but itself was a lead smelting centre).  The Bacon family were significant players in the lead industry.  "Here lyeth interred the body of George Bacon of Broadwood-hall, who was born at Clay Lorinne, in Derbyshire: husband of Cessilly Bacon. He departed this life at Grasse Grooves, the 21st of September, and was buried here the 23rd of the same September, anno domini 1670."( Ditto p 86)
In July, 1664, Sir Francis (Radclyffe), then of Spindlestone, let to George Bacon, gent., of East Allendale, all the lead ore in the manor of Aldstone Moore for three years, at the sum of 37s. " for every bing load of lead oare that is or shall he gotten within the said liberties dureing the said terme, being fifths or otherwise due to the said Sir Francis." (Mr. FenwicVs Coll.) (Archeologica Aeliana New Series Vol 1 p99 note 10)

3    In 'The Antiquary ' 1880 it is suggested "When a horse has difficulty drawing its load up a hill, it "swins" it - that is to say it goes obliquely from side to side of the road until it gets to the top. Before being quite certain about the derivation of a place name,  I find it very important to get at the ancient local idioms and nomenclature of the district. May not Swindale in Westmoreland be derived from the ...."

4    R.F. Tylecote in 1962 appears to believe the development in smelting technologies was introduced from Derbyshire to the Mendips relying upon  T. Morgans 'Notes upon the the lead industry of the Mendip Hills' Trans. Inst. of Mining Engineers, 1902, 20, 478-494 but I have not yet managed to read this source and at present prefer the later view.

Alan Swindale