Origins of the surname Swindale, 
 Swindell, Swindle, Swingle etc 

Compiled by David Swindell

Site set up 24th September 2002
Last revised 3rd March 2013

The surname is popularly believed to come from a place called Swindale.
The place name is popularly believed to mean pig valley.
Where the surname was found in antiquity.
Summary and conclusions.


The object of delving into the origin of a family surname is to be able to target genealogical research more effectively.

Famous family
Trade guild
If you can link a surname with place or a region, or a well-documented family, or a trade guild etc you might be able to find the earliest surviving records and work your way forwards, to join up with today's quality registration records, and living memories.

Swandal Swendalls Swind Swindal Swindale Swindall Swindals Swindel Swindell Swindells Swindels Swindil Swindilah Swindily Swindill Swindlah Swindle Swindleah Swindles Swindley Swindolls Swinhill Swinley Swingle Swingler Swinney Swyndels
This study used documented sources, targeted searches of the World Wide Web (WWW), and anecdotal accounts to look into the distribution of the various spellings of the family surname. If the name was confined to a single region of Britain in antiquity then there is a strong likelihood that our most distant ancestors lived there. If the name existed all over Britain then a different strategy must be followed.

Baptisms Births Census Enumerators Booklets Court rolls Deaths Deeds Diaries Directories Electoral register Family lore Hearth tax Histories International Genealogical Index Land transfers Marriages Military records Phone books Pipe rolls Protestation returns Published accounts Rates Subsidy rolls Wills Window tax WWW

Written accounts, diaries etc are extremely valuable in this research, but beware where they just repeat long-standing suppositions and speculations. Family lore passed down through many generations can give valuable clues and can't necessarily be ignored, but this must not be confused with casual suppositions about places and surnames. It can be hard to separate family lore from unjustifiable suppositions, but remember that repeating unsubstantiated speculations again and again does not make them any truer.

The WWW must be treated with particular caution.

Targeted searches are used in this study to look for the surname in all its versions in each county of England, to find where they were in past centuries. But you can't assume that all counties are equally represented. It depends on the keenness of genealogists and archivists, and their use of web publishing. The WWW also holds an awful lot of quite unjustified claims and statements, even from reputedly "authoritative" sources. Question what you find, and get back to original sources rather than baldly taking it as fact.

I hope the strategy described here proves useful to people working on other surnames. Many mysteries still remain, but some hypotheses are presented to help answer them.

NB. The WWW has expanded greatly since this web site was first published. The site is reviewed from time to time and revised as necessary.

Click on one of the key paragraphs on the right, or page down and read on

 Objective study 
 Starting point  
 Places called Swindale in Britain  
 Where do the oldest records say the Swindales/Swindells used to live?  
 Where else might the name have come from?  
 The swingle connection  
 Surnames and placenames outside Britain  
 What does Swindale mean?  
 Summary and conclusions  
 Contributors, references and acknowledgements

 Starting point 

The most common, and intuitively reasonable, notion is that the Swindell/Swindale surname came from a place called Swindale. This derivation was given by all the authorities examined, and all the Swindell/Swindale/Swindle etc families known to the compiler. It was the starting point for the principal contributors to this site, including my own family where it was the origin suggested by my father.

The reasoning behind this is that a placename can also be a surname if:-
a waif, stray or bastard was accepted as a liability by the parish under the poor laws, and having no surname of their own they were given the name of the parish or a place within it CLICK FOR MORE
or •after moving elsewhere, a person was associated with their place of birth CLICK FOR MORE
or •the place was associated with a noble or landed family CLICK FOR MORE

But most notably, it has long been a commonly held belief, reflected for over a century in sources on the subject, that many, if not most, surnames evolved from the names of places, that is towns or villages - these are called locative or locational surnames - the term locative will be used here.

To test the assertion of a link between Swindell/dale as a surname and a particular place called Swindale you must trace ancient records associating a significant group of Swindell/dale families with the precise locality.

So first you have to identify where the place called Swindale is, and if there are several of them find which is the most likely candidate.

But the surname might not have evolved from a placename at all - some sources suggest it came from Swingle or Swingler; a swingle was an agricultural implement used in flax production.

These and a number of other possibilities are examined here.

 Places called Swindale in Britain 

© Ordnance Survey [20]
Seven geographical locations in Britain today bear the name Swindale. Six Swindales/Swindale Becks are all on the same latitude in the north of England, and a solitary Swine Dale is found on the island of Westray in the Orkneys, off the northern tip of Scotland (Ordnance Survey's gazetteer of 250 000 placenames - Ref [20]).

Click on one of the key paragraphs on the right, or page down and read on

Swindale in the parish of Shap•   
 Swindales in Edendale   
   •Swindale Beck, Brough•   
   •Swindale Beck near Hilton•   
   •Swindale Beck near Knock•  
 Swindales off Weasdale in Lunedale   
   •Great Swindale•   
   •Little Swindale•   
Swindale near Moorsholm, North Riding•  
Swine Dale on the island of Westray, Orkney•  
 Other possibilities  
 Distribution of Swindale placenames  

 Swindale in the parish of Shap [12] 

Swindale in Westmorland, modern Cumbria.  CLICK TO SEE MORE VIEWS
Swindale © Andrew Leaney [21]
Click photo to see more
Shap in Westmorland/Cumbria
© Ordnance Survey [20]
Ordnance Survey map showing Swindale and Shap in Westmorland, modern Cumbria.  Click to enlarge
© Ordnance Survey [20]
Click map to see full size
The largest, and historically most populous, Swindale lies south west of Shap on the eastern fringe of the Lake District, in the ancient county of Westmorland, now in the modern county of Cumbria.

This is the one most often cited as the origin of the surname.

Some genealogy web sites examined called it Swindale Beck or Swindale Chapelry, but word constructions like these are seldom, if ever, used in England to name hamlets, villages and towns.
• Swindale Beck is found in road atlases of Britain based on the Ordnance Survey.
Road atlases normally list villages and towns, but there isn't one in the dale.
Whoever chose the features to show in the road atlas probably worked from a small scale OS map, in which only the tumbling, stony stream or beck running down the dale was named, not the dale itself.
However, the valley is named as Swindale on the 1:25 000 scale OS maps and larger.
None of the other Swindales in the Ordnance Survey gazetteer have roads associated with them, which is presumably why they are not shown on road atlases.
Some road atlases call the beck Swindale River, though it would never be known as such by local people.
There is no historical evidence for the settlement in the dale being called Swindale Beck.
•  Swindale Chapelry stems from published sources such as Mannix & Co., History, Topography and Directory of Westmorland, 1851 [12], which mention the status of Swindale church in the local parish hierarchy (see below for more).
The settlement would never have been known as Swindale Chapelry, but the term would be used when talking about the cure, the area over which the incumbent of the chapel has responsibility.

It would appear that the reason many people mention Swindale Beck as the origin of their name is because it is the only Swindale they find in road atlases. Swindale Chapelry was probably found in a search of the WWW, but its use to name a settlement or village is erroneous.

Swindale is a glacial valley down which the Swindale Beck flows some 3 miles (5 Km) to its confluence with the River Lowther at the village of Rosgill about 2 miles (3 Km) north west of Shap. At its narrowest the dale floor is only about 200 yards (185 metres) wide, with the hills on both sides rising steeply some 800 feet (250 metres) above the valley floor.

The plateau above the head of the dale bears the name Swindale Common and a rocky slope above Swindale Foot is called Swindale Foot Crags. The Swindale Beck is for much of its length only a few strides wide, and shallow and stony enough to ford in hiking boots without getting your socks too wet.

The dale is unusual for a Lake District glacial valley in having two significant bends.

The narrow, single-track, minor road serving the dale is unfenced for much of its length and ends half a mile (1 Km) short of the head of the dale. In recent historical time this road was no more than a cart track, and it continues as footpaths over the fells to adjacent dales.

Swindale in Westmorland, modern Cumbria.  CLICK TO SEE MORE VIEWS
Swindale © Andrew Leaney [21]
Click photo to see more

The farmstead of Swindale Head lies at the top of the dale, and Swindale Foot lies a mile (2 Km) further down where the dale begins to widen out onto the valley of the River Lowther (farmstead names following this pattern are very common in Cumbria and the Pennines).

Most of the the half dozen or so house sites in the dale were strung along the half mile (1 Km) of the road in the central, narrowest part, above Swindale Foot, and this was the pattern of settlement in recent historical time.

Ordnance Survey map showing the site of the chapel and school in Swindale, Westmorland, modern Cumbria. Click to see full size
© Ordnance Survey [20]
Site of chapel and school
Click map to see full size
The chapel in Swindale, Westmorland, modern Cumbria. Click to see history of chapel
Click the picture to see a history of Swindale chapel

The hundred years after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 embraced a period of rapid population growth in rural Britain, followed by massive migration from rural areas to the growing towns and cities of Britain after the onset of the Industrial Revolution. In 1777 the parish of Shap (of which the settlement in Swindale was only a very small part) had 182 families, and throughout the 17th and 18th centuries the parish of Shap never had more than 1,000 inhabitants in total.

In 1703 a school was built in Swindale, and nearby in 1749 a chapel of ease, administered by the vicar of Shap. Small schools were built in sparsely populated, isolated situations till well into the 19th century, and children often walked considerable distances from outlying farms and hamlets to attend them.

Shortly before 1850 there were 13 inhabited houses in Swindale, with a population of 54. In 1854 there were only 8 habitations, and at the turn of the 19th/20th century there were only 3 occupied houses, namely Swindale Head, Truss Gap and Swindale Foot, with a total population of 10.

In 1894 the chapel in Swindale was described as having seating for no more than 40 people, and in 1938 it was demolished as part of the construction of Haweswater in nearby Mardale.

See a newspaper acount of the farewell service at the chapel (see Ref: [2]).

Haweswater in Westmorland, modern Cumbria.  CLICK to see more
Haweswater © Ann Bowker
Click photo to see more
Swindale was overshadowed by the larger and more populous Mardale running parallel a mile (2 Km) to the north west. Mardale was originally administered by the vicar of Bampton, and like Swindale a chapel of ease was built in the 18th century; this later became a separate parish, demonstrating its greater significance over Swindale which remained a chapelry to Shap.

Mardale was flooded in 1941 to create the reservoir known as Haweswater, from the smaller, natural lake that was already there. This transformed the landscape and destroyed the villages of Measand and Mardale Green and their outliers.

Ordnance Survey map showing the site of the chapel and school in Swindale, Westmorland, modern Cumbria. Click to see full size
© Ordnance Survey [20]
The dam diverting water from Swindale to Haweswater
Click map to see full size
Wet Sleddale Reservoir, far smaller than Haweswater, lies at the headwaters of the river Lowther in the adjacent, unspectacular dale a mile and a half (3 Km) to the south east of Swindale.

It is said that Swindale was to be flooded with Mardale to supply Manchester's water needs. Although this plan was not carried out, a dam near Truss Gap diverts a proportion of the Swindale Beck through a tunnel to an outfall into Haweswater.

Click on the map on the right to locate the dam. Follow the beck downstream (north east) from the site of the school and chapel to the ford that carries two footpaths across the beck, one from the steep Gouthercrag Gill and the other coming upstream parallel to the beck. The dam is a similar distance further downstream.

The following description was found in Swindale, Gateshead Civic Walking Club [13]

"Swindale - is seldom visited by fellwalkers, although it is a rugged and remote dale with plenty of interesting sights. It is deemed to be too far off the beaten track and is therefore left mostly to walkers living in nearby Penrith and Kendal. There is a fine circuit available which takes in an old Corpse Road, a couple of quiet summits, a long and empty dale, and some striking waterfalls; it is very rare to meet anyone else in the area."

 Swindales in Edendale 

© Ordnance Survey [20]
© Ordnance Survey [20]
Three Swindale Becks are found very close together spread along the north side of upper Edendale. The most significant one lies to the north of Brough, the next close by about 4 miles (7 Km) to the north west, due east of Hilton near Appleby, and the last 7 miles (12 Km) north west of Hilton, near the village of Knock.

The geology of this area is dominantly limestone, and sink holes are found everywhere. Sink holes are evidence of caverns carved by underground rivers collapsing, and the area is famous for its pot holes.

 Swindale Beck, Brough [2] 
Click to enlarge
© Ordnance Survey [20]
Click map to enlarge

CLICK HERE to see pictures and a description of Swindale Beck near Brough
© Alan Swindale [20]
The Swindale Beck as it enters Brough
Click photo to see more
The Swindale Beck crosses the ancient Roman road from Scotch Corner to Penrith at Brough, at the head of Edendale, some 20 miles (30 Km) east by road from Shap, but rather less as the crow flies.

Above Brough, to the north, the valley down which the beck runs has the features of a V-shaped valley cut by the swiftly flowing waters of the beck rather than a glacial formation. At its steepest and narrowest it cuts about 200 feet (60 metres) below the surrounding moorland in a winding, wooded clint.

CLICK HERE to see pictures and a description of Swindale Beck near Brough
© Alan Swindale [20]
Upper Swindale looking up to Windmore Edge

Click photo to see more
The beck is born at a point 2 miles (3.2 Km) to the north north east of Brough, at the meeting point of a number of small gills draining off Warcop Fell, and in its upper course it passes through a number of areas of shake holes. It crosses the main road in the middle of the town, before passing in the shadow of the ancient Norman castle, built on the remains of an earlier Roman fort, and then flows through meadow land into the river Eden a mile (2 Km) to the west south west at Great Musgrave.

For much of its course the Swindale Beck is deep and wide enough to be popular with rough-water kayaking enthusiasts in the right weather conditions.

A road meanders roughly parallel to the east of the beck above Brough, heading into County Durham.

The farmstead of Swindalehead House lies close to the beck half a mile (1 Km) below its source,

The farmstead of Woodside overlooks the beck on a high knoll a further half a mile downstream from Swindalehead House.

The farmstead of Thornthwaite stands on the west of the beck opposite Woodside.

Swindale Grange was till the end of the 19th century Brough High Mill and stands on the east bank beside the road half a mile (1 Km) upstream from the town.

The small, scattered hamlet of Helbeck lies west of the beck about half a mile (1 Km) distant.

No other houses or farmsteads are directly associated with the beck above Brough, though about twenty habitations are loosely scattered over a square mile (260 hectares) of moorland to the east.

Swindale Wood occupies the banks of part of the steepest, most inaccessible part of the course of the beck, where it carves through the escarpment overlooking Brough - this wood has increased considerably in size since the first edition Ordnance Survey map, so much of it appears to be man-made.

There are no other landscape features that bear the name Swindale in the vicinity.

Three farmsteads to the east of the beck bear the names Windmore End, Windmore Green and Windmore End Farm. These names may be as new as Swindale Grange, or perhaps Swind- and Wind- had the same root in antiquity, and over time they lost or gained the initial S. This could suggest the existence, in antiquity, of a community distinguished by names with the same root.
NB. This is pure conjecture, no research was done to examine the possibility, and no further comment is made.

Below Brough there are no habitations associated with the beck till its confluence with the river Eden.

The valley of the Swindale Beck above Brough is a significant geographical feature, but there is no coherent group of habitations associated directly with it as at Swindale in the parish of Shap, only a couple of farmsteads overlooking the beck at a distance.

The Swindale Beck lies in the parish of Helbeck. There has never been a separate parish called Swindale near Brough, which has always been the centre of administration and trade.

A good description of the area can be found on the WWW in Take a Walk around Brough by Nick Channer [14].

 Swindale Beck near Hilton [2] 
Click to enlarge
© Ordnance Survey [20]
Click map to see detail

This Swindale Beck lies some 4 miles (6 Km) north west of Brough, and due east of the village of Hilton near Appleby.

Click to enlarge
© Richard Webb
Swindale Beck, below Warcop Fell

Click to enlarge
The beck falls some 850 feet (260 metres) in its mile-long (2 Km) course, as it drains off of Warcop Fell in its curving, deeply-cut valley to its confluence with the Hilton Beck at the mouth of nearby Scordale.

In all but the most severe conditions the beck can be crossed in a single stride without getting your feet wet.

At its deepest, at the mouth of the valley, the evenly-sloping sides climb almost 1,000 feet (over 300 metres) to crags and moorland carrying names such as Swindale Edge, Swindale Crag and Swindale Brow.

The valley was either cut by the waters of the beck, or it was part of a glacial head feature that has since been modified by erosion. There are many shake holes in and around the valley (see the full-sized Ordnance Survey map), showing that the bedrock is very porous - this may explain the nature of the valley itself, perhaps formed from regular collapses of underground watercourses, whilst the beck may disappear underground in drought conditions.

A bridleway climbs parallel to the beck from an unfenced, unmettled road alongside the Hilton Beck onto the high moorland of Warcop Fell, and eventually leading to the head of the nearby Swindale Beck above Brough, with a footpath branching off into Brough itself via the hamlet of Helbeck.

There is no trace of any human habitation associated with this Swindale Beck, though there are abandoned mine workings in nearby Scordale and a single abandoned shaft at the head of the Swindale Beck, and sheep enclosures are found on the moorland above.

 Swindale Beck near Knock 
Click to enlarge
© Ordnance Survey [20]
Swindale Beck near Knock
Click map to enlarge

This Swindale Beck lies about 5 miles (8 Km) due north of Appleby-in-Westmorland.

For most of its length the geology is such that the beck is little more than a stony ril, and can be crossed by stepping from rock to rock without getting your feet wet.

Click to see more
© Alan Swindale [2] Swindale Beck
Click photo to see more
Click to see more
© George Tod [25]
View towards the Lakeland Mountains
from Swindale Beck

Click photo to see more

Its source at Swindale Head is at an altitude of 2,300 feet (700 metres) between High Scald Fell and Green Fell, an area of bog and shake holes.

From there it cuts a deep, rocky gill through the escarpment overlooking Edendale, through another extensive area of shake holes, before passing beneath the Pennine Way footbridge in the illustration below.

It then tumbles more gently towards the south west through the boggy Howe Cauldron at the foot of Knock Pike to meet the Great Rundale Beck at Knock Gill just north east of the small village of Knock, a total fall of some 1,600 feet (500 metres) in 3 miles (5 Km).

Apart from the ril cutting through the escarpment below the fells, the beck appears to flow through relatively flat, though steeply sloping, land rather than a feature that you could call a dale.

The beck and its source at Swindale Head are the only geographical features on the OS map that carry the name Swindale.

There is no trace of any human habitation associated with the beck, its only claim to modern fame being the Pennine Way that follows it on its way over Great Dun Fell to Cross Fell.

 Great Swindale and Little Swindale off Weasdale in Lunedale 

Great Swindale near Weasdale

© Alan Swindale
Great Swindale near Weasdale
Little Swindale near Weasdale

© Alan Swindale
Little Swindale near Weasdale
Click to zoom in
© Ordnance Survey [20]
Click on the map to zoom in

These Swindales are some 10 miles (16 Km) south east of Shap and a similar distance south west of Brough. They both lie on the east side of Weasdale, and carry tributaries of the Weasdale Beck, which drains northwards off of Howgill Fell and Ravenstonedale Common into the River Lune in Lunedale.

Weasdale, Great Swindale and Little Swindale all share the same geology, soil and grassy, heathland habitat.

Great Swindale has the characteristics of a glacial dale, as does Weasdale itself, whilst Little Swindale is shallower and less well defined, and is dominated by the gill carved by the Little Swindale Beck.

The sandstone and siltstone geology of the area is very different from the limestone of the Yorkshire Pennines to the north and east, and the igneous rock of the Lakeland mountains to the west. Here there are no shake holes, crags or rocky, precipitous gills, rather the area is characterised by rounded, open hills most typical of the title fell.

Great and Little Swindale are very isolated, lying to the north of Howgill Fells, and bypassed by tracks which generally follow the highest ridges, taking in the spectacular views.

The watercourses in both these dales are insubstantial, and can be scrabbled over fairly easily without getting your boots wet.

There is no trace of human habitation in the Swindales or along the Weasdale Beck before the village of Weasdale itself, though there are a couple of large sheep enclosures.

 Swindale near Moorsholm, North Riding [2] 
Click to enlarge
© Ordnance Survey [20]
Click map to see detail

Some 60 miles (100 Km) due east of Brough, below the foothills of the North York Moors, 12 miles (20 Km) east by south east of Middlesborough, 6 miles (10 Km) west by south west of Staithes and 4 miles (7 Km) south by south east from Saltburn inland from the North Sea coast, 4 miles (7 Km) east of Guisborough, 3 miles (5 Km) south east of the village of Skelton, and half a mile (1 Km) west of the village of Moorsholm in the ancient North Riding of Yorkshire, lies a roughly rectangular area of undulating countryside less than half a mile square (less than 1 square Km) named Swindale.

Next to Swindale near Shap this is the second most popularly cited location for the origin of the surname, probably because it is mentioned in "A Dictionary of English Surnames" (see below for citation [11]).

Click to see pictures and a description
© Alan Swindale - Swindale Farm
Click photo to see
Alan Swindale's description
Swindale Farm, recorded in the 17th century as Swindale House, lies near the centre of the area beside the Caukerdale Beck, which bisects the the area marked on the map as Swindale and was probably the house's original water source.

The area is skirted on the south by Swindale Lane which runs westwards out of the village of Moorsholm, on the west by an ancient land boundary, on the north by the Dale Beck, and on the east by the Swindale Beck.

The Swindale Beck, wiggling its way some 4 furlongs (800 metres) through a scrubbily wooded valley, is just one, short section of a watercourse with several names along its length, following the custom of the region. This watercourse starts as the Haredale Beck in Haredale on Moorsholm Moor, becoming the Oven Close Beck at Oven Close Bridge near Smeathorns, and finally the Swindale Beck at Swindale Lane, before joining with the Dale Beck to become the Hagg Beck north west of Moorsholm. (The Dale Beck is also just one section of a watercourse that has many names along its length, and the Hagg Beck finally flows into the sea as the Kilton Beck.)

With care the narrow Swindale Beck can be leapt without getting your boots too muddy.

A feature called Swindale Nook is marked about the middle of Swindale Lane.

An area of grouse moor some half a mile (1 Km) to the south west of the end of Swindale Lane is called Spindle Bogs, draining eventually into the Dale Beck. If this is an ancient name then it is surmised that it could be related to Swindle, and eventually Swindale.
N.B. This is pure surmise, and no attempt is made to look into it further.

An early reference records the place name in the 13th century:-

He [Peter de Brus] was made constable of Scarborough Castle; and departing this life 14 Kal. October, anno 1271 (55 Hen. III.) without issue, left his four sisters his heirs: viz, the wife of Walter de Fauconberg, who had for her share the castle of Skelton and Manor of Merske (Marske), Uplethum (Upleatham), Westby, and Eastburne ; Lucia, the wife of Marmaduke de Thweng, who had the lordships of Danby, Bretton (Brotton), Yarum (Yarm), and Kirkeburne, as also the town of Great Moresdon, with the common and chase of Wauer, viz. Swindale, Laharenes, and other dales, as the roadway extendeth from Lardthorne to Skelton by Scortbeck, between Katerig and Strangewig, &c.; Margaret, the wife of Robert de Ros, who had all Kendall; and Laderina, the wife of John de Bellew, who had for her share the lordships of Coulton in Balne, Kalmesworth, Thorpe Arches, Tithethorpe, and certain yard lands in Sethbarne.
The History and Antiquities of Cleveland: Comprising the Wapentake of East and West Langbargh: p595 from Dugdale's Baronage. By John Walker Ord ? reprinted 1972 Alan Swindale [2]

This describes the dismemberment of an estate spread across the north of the North Riding of Yorkshire consisting of a number of separate, discrete land-holdings. The estate would have been made up from land units granted to a supporter of William the Conqueror after 1066, with other small units perhaps coming from marriages during the following 200 years. The slice given to Lucia, the wife of Marmaduke de Thweng, includes a number of valuable villages and towns, with Swindale being just one part of the common and chase of Wauer. This description shows that Swindale was an area of land reserved for hunting, with commoners rights granted to local inhabitants for pasturing animals, gathering wood, etc.

The following entry is taken from "A Dictionary of English Surnames" [11]:-

Swindell, Swindells: James Swindell 1621 SRY; Humphrey Swindells 1647 PN Ch i 147. From Swindale House in Skelton (NRY).

"As I interpret this it means that the name James Swindell was found in the Subsidy Rolls for Yorkshire in 1621, and the name Humphrey Swindells in a reference from 1647 in 'The Place Names of Cheshire' from the English Place Names Society, Vol i, page 147, and these people were associated with Swindale House in Skelton in the North Riding of Yorkshire". Alan Swindale [2]

So the placename has existed in the landscape since at least 1271, and probably for centuries before that. The regular nature of the field boundaries shown in the First Series Ordnance Survey map, coupled with the references above, suggests that the present-day Swindale Farm was founded as a result of a land enclosure some time during the 16th to the early 17th century, when it was created from open, common moorland. The farm was called after a long-established and accepted traditional name in the area. Before the enclosure this area would have been kept uninhabited as a chase, or hunting land, and for commoners to exercise their rights.

 Swine Dale on the island of Westray, Orkney [2] 
Click here to see Westray
© Ordnance Survey [20]
Swine Dale, Westray, Orkneys
Click map to enlarge

Westray is one of the northernmost inhabited islands of the Orkney archipelago, twenty miles (30 Km) off the northern tip of Scotland.

Historically the Orkneys were ruled by Norway after Vikings settled there in the 9th century. The Vikings displaced the Celtic or Pictish population, and for centuries the language spoken there was Norn, a dialect of Old Norse similar to Faeroese and Icelandic.

In the middle ages the population began to come under the influence of Scotland, their nearest trading partner, and Norn gradually gave way to Scots. The lordship of the Orkneys passed to a Scot, and they were finally annexed by Scotland in 1468. Norn died out in the late 18th century, though most placenames in Orkney today are of Norse origin.

(See more about Norn and Scots.)

The geographical feature marked as Swine Dale on Westray in the Orkneys is a shallow depression, some 540 yards (500 metres) long, running down the middle of a spur or ridge. There is no suggestion of a stream on the Ordnance Survey map of the area, though it may have been obscured by peat growth over the last couple of thousand years. Or the feature may represent a fault or some other geological phenomenon.

Swine Dale runs steeply down towards cliffs some 200 feet (60 metres) high just south of the point of Red Nev on the exposed western coast of the island, with nothing to protect it from whatever the Atlantic might throw at it.

There are no traces of human habitations in the area, most dwellings being on the eastern side of the island, in the lee of the few, but high, hills.

 Other possibilities 

 Uckington in Shropshire [2] 

The following deed from 1756 names the constituent parts of an estate in Shawbury and Moreton Corbet, Shropshire. One of these parts is called Swindle and is highlighted below.

[29]  [from Scope and Content] Confirmation of an assignment of 15 August 1755 Walter Smythe, Thomas Ottley and John Windsor TO the same trustees, of 5000 secured on the manor of Acton Reynold, capital messuage and land (tenant late John Dickin), property in Shrewsbury and Moreton Corbett (tenants late John Dickin, Robert Beech and Elizabeth Burrey widow), a messuage and land (reserving Duncott meadow, Little Duncott and Mill Leasow), with the Upper New Leasow, Lower New Leasow, Bradmore croft near Fern Hill, Further Fern Hill, Nearer Long Breach, Further Long Breach, Old Hill, Old Hill meadow, Over Field, New Piece, Clover Leasow, Chappel Yard, and Sheeps Yard, all in Uckington in the parish of Atcham (tenant William Jones); another messuage and land called Broad Yard, Long Croft, Turners Hedge Buttfurlong, Marsh Furlong, Tilmoor furlong, Gorsty Piece, Seech Leasow, Brice Furlong, Bolas Hill, Springswell Bines, and Swindle, in Uckington (tenant Robert Bolas), Meadow Brook Leasow, Bradmoor croft, Tilmoor New Leasow, the Patch, the Croft Wall Hill, and Bine Wickett in Uckington (tenant Joseph Bennett); a messuage and Meadow Marsh Furlong, and Marsh meadow in Uckington (tenant Edward Blockshead); a messuage and Crossfeild, Wettreans, Butlers Yard, Wheat Hill, Lower Whiteway, Middle Whiteway, Upper Whiteway, Charlton Field side, piece by Grices, the Yard, New Leasow, Overfield, Marsh Meadow, and Further Field in Uckington (tenant Nathaniel Jones at 113 10 rent); a messuage (tenant Joseph Battley) at 3 10. 0d. rent; a third share in the Shrewsbury waterworks and of an island in the Severn belonging to the waterworks; all for the remainder of a term of 1000 years (created by a mortgage of 30 October 1752 John Corbet TO John Windsor).

The deed lists packages of land, most of which appear to be specific fields, but some may be larger packages constituting farms or smallholdings.

The compiler will investigate this further.

 Syndale in Kent [28] 

CLICK to see more
© Ordnance Survey [20]
CLICK to see more
This was identified by a correspondent whose ancestors include a Joseph Alexander Swindale, a farmer living near Lenham in Kent, who is mentioned in Bagshaw's 1847 Directory [28]

Syndale is a dry valley through the chalk downs of north Kent, climbing gently south westwards from near Faversham.

A large house now called Syndale Park Motel appears to have been the centre of an old estate, and buildings called Syndale Farm and Syndale Farm Cottages are found in the vicinity.

Five miles (8 Km) further up the valley, near the village of Wichling, is a house called Syndale Bottom.

 Distribution of Swindale placenames 

Six of the eight Swindale and Swindale Beck placenames are found within 20 miles (30 Km) of each other in Westmorland, and a seventh is on the same latitude on the other side of the country.

The placename Grizedale is also taken to mean pig valley (from Old Norse), and it is found in the same area as the knot of Swindales in Westmorland. These Grizedale locations are greater in number than the Swindales and they spread more widely, extending southwards into north Lancashire.

The concentration of Swindale/Grizedale place names in this one small area is a curiosity that fascinates the compiler, but for reasons you will see below it probably has no relevance to the origins of the surname Swindell/Swindale etc, so the question is not pursued here.

However if you are interested, See thoughts on this clustering.

 So did the surname come from a place called Swindale? 

Baptisms Births Census Enumerators Booklets Court rolls Deaths Deeds Diaries Directories Electoral register Family lore Hearth tax Histories International Genealogical Index Land transfers Marriages Military records Phone books Pipe rolls Protestation returns Published accounts Rates Subsidy rolls Wills Window tax WWW
On the assumption that any Swindell/Swindale family members who had lived in an area in antiquity would have left some trace in the records, the WWW was interrogated for genealogical studies, published citations, Hearth tax, Window tax, Census records, births, deaths, marriages etc for Westmorland [5], Yorkshire [6] and Orkney (NB. Surnames became established in Orkney centuries later than on the Scottish mainland and in England). The Westmorland Protestation Returns for 1641/2 [30] were also inspected - these cover all the parishes where Swindales and Swindale Becks (and Grizedales) are found in Westmorland.

To the compiler's surprise, no surnames whatsoever that would approximate to Swindell/Swindale etc were found in any official records relating to the parish of Shap, nor in upper Edendale or Lunedale.

A few Swindale marriages appear in the 17th to 19th centuries in towns close to Shap in Westmorland, such as Penrith and Alston, and the surname is still found in Cumbria today. However, similar numbers of Swindell/Swindale records are found in other counties of England in the same period, so it cannot be concluded with certainty that those found today in Cumbria represent a significant concentration of long-standing native residents rather than more recent immigration (more about these later).

The only link between Swindale House in the old North Riding of Yorkshire and a Swindale family is the implicit suggestion in a Cheshire reference. Searches of the WWW revealed no other Swindells/Swindales in the area in antiquity, nor in more recent times.

No record of any surname similar to Swindale was found in Orkney, nor in the vicinity of Uckington in Shropshire.

Only one Swindell/dale family was found on the WWW in the area of Syndale in Kent, in a blog reporting on the 1881 census - they lived near Faversham and were involved in stone masonry, and they were all born in Matlock in Derbyshire. Also Joseph Alexander Swindale, the ancestor of the correspondent who brought him to the compiler's attention, was not found in the search - this was because Bagshaw's Directory is presented on the WWW in image form only, not as text (Note that only the actual text of a web site can be automatically incorporated in indexes generated for search engines, not the contents of a picture, photograph or other image) - this does not deny Joseph Alexander Swindale's existence, but a single name can easily be lost on the WWW. (These occurances will be reexamined against the greatly increased genealogical information now available on the WWW. David Swindell, March 2013)

 The answer? 

The only Swindale etc locations found to be associated with the surname Swindell/Swindale etc were those near Moorsholm in the North Riding in the 17th century, and Syndale and Faversham in Kent in the 19th century. A Swindell family appears to have had a fleeting association with Swindale farm near Moorsholm, but left after a generation or two with no descendants remaining in the area. The only family found near Syndale in Kent hailed from Derbyshire, and no other trace was found of the family of Joseph Alexander Swindale.

The earliest records transcribed onto the WWW for the Shap, Edendale and Lunedale areas show no Swindell/Swindale etc surnames, and there is no trace of the name there today. This strongly suggests that these areas did not contain Swindales etc at the time records began.

The placename Grizedale is considered to have the same meaning as that generally ascribed to Swindale, and it is found in the same area as the knot of Swindales in Westmorland. It is also a well-known, long-standing surname in the area today, and in the Westmorland Protestation Returns of 1641/2 [30] it is seen as Grosdall and Grysedall - but no Swindale etc surnames appear in the Protestation Returns.


It is the compiler's conclusion that none of the Swindale locations examined here was the original home of the Swindell/Swindale/Swindle etc surname. (See the reasoning behind this conclusion.)

This calls into question those "authoritative" sources which place the origin of the surname in a place called Swindale, and specifically that Swindale near Shap.
It would appear that they do so on no firm evidence, but simply on :-
• a cursory analysis of the modern spelling of the surname
• the assumption that surnames are very frequently derived from place names
• the assumption that the this surname is derived from a place called Swindale
and • the belief that this Swindale is near Shap in Cumbria.
These analyses, assumptions and beliefs are not supported by the evidence presented in this study.
If you can refute any part of this assertion with documented evidence I will be pleased to incorporate your comments in this web page and modify its conclusions. But please do not simply quote "authoritative" sources or family lore without firm, documented evidence - even the "authorities" get it wrong sometimes, as they have in this case.

 Where do the oldest records say the Swindales/Swindells used to live? 

No records of Swindale etc surnames were found associated with any of the Swindales in Cumbria, nor in Orkney. The Swindale name associated with Moorsholm is believed to be transient, and references to the name at the other possible locations are extremely sparse or non-existent.

If the absence of records can be taken as indicating that they didn't come from a place, then where did they come from?

Or if they did come from a Swindale but the line died out in their native place before records began, where did the unrecorded ancestors(s) migrate to in order to establish the dynasties we see today?

The studies below examine Swindell/Swindale etc communities in all English counties, and specifically in Cheshire, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Kent, Manchester, and in Hexham and Alston in Northumberland.

Click on one of the key paragraphs on the right, or page down and read on

 Research into the Origins of the Swindale Surname  
 Documents surviving in the compiler's family  
 Analysis of records available on the WWW  
 Surname SWINDEL in Stoney Middleton and Eyam, Derbyshire  
 The Wirksworth Churchwardens Accounts  
 Manchester Swindells  
 Cheshire Swindells/dales etc  
 Independent study "Surnames as a quantitative resource"  
Or if you've had enough, go straight to:-
 Summary and conclusions.

 Research into the Origins of the Swindale Surname by Alan Swindale [2] 

Alan Swindale's family was resident in Cumberland (north west Cumbria) throughout the 20th century. The starting point was the assumption that the family had its roots in Swindale near Shap, but the conclusions were a surprise.

Click to enlarge
© Ordnance Survey [20]
Click map to locate Hexham
The earliest traceable surnames in the area are found in Northumberland, where John Swindale or Swindall and Richard Swindel, possibly John's brother or son, are mentioned in various records between 1653 and 1667.

Richard Swindel lived at Mollersteads, 4 miles (6 Km) south of Hexham, a quarter mile from a contemporary lead smelter, and he and his son (also Richard) are described as 'piper/pyper's, ie plumbers or lead workers. Another son, Christopher, later moved to work in the smelt mill at Whitfield 10 miles (16 Km) south west of Hexham, on the road to Alston. John Swindale lived in Warden 2 miles (3 Km) north west of Hexham, but considerably further by road, in the crook of the North and South Tyne rivers, and had no known connection with the lead industry, but there were early lead workings just to the north. [2]

There is strong reason to believe that many, if not all, of the Swindales later recorded in the Hexham area, Alston, Allenheads, west Cumbria and County Durham are descendants of these.

In Northumberland the surname was first recorded as Swindale, but was most commonly spelled Swindle, Swindel or Swindall. Marriages in the lead mining areas around Alston, Allenheads and in the Lake District over the following two centuries can be traced to these lines. Later generations reverted to the Swindale spelling.

Lead smelting Mendips Derbyshire Northumberland Westmorland Cumberland Cumbria
The author cites a number of documented cases of Derbyshire families moving to the Hexham area with the lead smelting industry in the 1600s. These citations do not specifically mention Swindale/dell families, but they demonstrate a migration from areas of Derbyshire where the surname existed, and still exists in significant numbers, and this migration coincides with the period when the surname first appears in Northumberland.

One Swindle family living in Nenthead near Alston throughout the 20th century maintains the family lore that they came originally from Derbyshire, this lore dating from before 1916. Family lore must always be treated carefully, but cannot necessarily be discounted. In this case the Derbyshire connection is so surprising that it may have a much stronger source than mere supposition, since Swindale near Shap is very close by. Also the Swindale families in Hexham to the north, who are known to have been there since at least the 17th century, are known to have spread to Alston and the surrounding lead mining communities before moving further west to the Cumbrian coast. So this Derbyshire family lore, possibly dating back as far as eight generations, may be quite credible despite the lack of documentary evidence. However, it might also be that these Swindles are unrelated to the Hexham Swindales, and moved to Nenthead from Derbyshire more recently.

IGI records show one Swindale family to be in Leicestershire (adjacent to Derbyshire) in 1692, and others in Lincolnshire (adjacent to Leicestershire), with a marriage as far south as Woodbridge, Suffolk, and a record in Thirsk, Yorkshire, in 1605.

See for a full update of Alan's report.

 Documents surviving in the compiler's family [1] 

The following letter was written after 1862 by the compiler's great great grandfather, who was born and bred in north Kent. It records the family lore and memories of one person concerning his genealogy dating back about 130 years, covering four generations. Other documents surviving in the family, of a similar age to this letter but gathered independently, support this family lore, and extend it back at least another 50 years.

Manuscript letter edited with punctuation and capitalisation inserted in blue
Dear Son
I saw Wm Faulkner this Evening and he tells me you wanted to see me about the Derbyshire property, but I have nothing to show about it. I can give a little information of Ancestors. Francis Swindell, my great Grandfather, was from Derbyshire, he left his native place and entered for a Soldier, I think in the 32nd foot but I am not certain that was the Regiment, but I think it was for I saw his Discharge at Mr Langham's about twelve years ago, I think it was dated about 1790 but I am not sure. I have heard my Father say that after my Greatgrandfather was Married his Regiment was ordered to America and he left my Greatgrandmother with two Children, my Grandfather and a Daughter. My Grandfather was Christened Thomas I think. I am not certain where he was christened, at Orpington or at Farnborough or where else I do not know. My Greatgrandfather Died about the 1794 or 5 and buried at Orpington for I have heard my Father say he was at the Funeral. My Grandfather Thomas Swindell Died in 1823 and was buried at Farnborough, I was at his Funeral. My Father was the second Son of Thomas. The eldest Son was Thomas but he Died before his Father and left two Sons who I believe are living; their Father's name was Thomas. My Father was the second Son and was Christened Francis after his Grandfather. He was born in 1783 and Died in 1863. I have heard that shortly after the Death of my Greatgrandfather that two Gentlemen came from Derbyshire into Kent in search of Francis Swindell and found his Widow at Orpington and they told her there was property left to her Husband and told her that her Son had better see into it, but he a poor easy man never troubled him self about it. I have heard they made her a very handsome present before they left her. Dear Son you can take this to them that has spoken about it and if I am wanted send me word and I will come If Please God and nothing happens I will come [up on] Sunday Next to see you all Hoping all is well I remain your ever
F Swindell
Beadon Well
Lessness Heath

© Ordnance Survey [20]
This letter was written from Lessness Heath, North Kent. Many Swindell families still live in the area.


From this letter and other sources, Francis Swindell (the compiler's great great great great great grandfather) was born about 1735 and left his native place around the middle of the 1700s to settle in North Kent. It is presumed that the last of Francis' family remaining in Derbyshire died out, with no further issue, some time after Francis' death in Kent in 1794/5, hence the visit by two gentlemen ... from Derbyshire looking for his widow to arrange distribution of property from the estate.

It was always a matter of family lore that two brothers came down to Kent from Derbyshire, and the name Jasper appears in the family archive relating to the legacy. No property came to the compiler's family, but some appears to have gone to the descendants of Jasper's daughter, Elizabeth, so Jasper may have been Francis' older brother, or his uncle.

There is reason to believe that the small concentration of Swindell families present in North Kent since the 18th century originated from Francis and Jasper Swindell.

This small collection of letters, connected with a small number of Swindell families in Kent which claim their origin in Derbyshire, cannot on its own be reckoned to be firm evidence for the origin of the surname, but it was the spur for this study, and in particular the analysis of records on the WWW below.

 Analysis of records available on the WWW 

The compiler knew that his family line started in Derbyshire, and family lore equated the name with swine dale. So it was a great surprise to find there was no locality named anything like Swinedale in the county. However, neighbours in London where he lived at the time pointed to the name existing in other parts of England, in particular Appledore in Devonshire. So from an early age the compiler was determined to look into where the name may have actually originated.

After identifying the Swindales in Westmorland, the North Riding and Orkney, it was a further surprise to find no significant presence of the surname in any of those localities. However, searching the WWW for versions of the surname in Derbyshire gave a very significant return.

But searching solely on Derbyshire, Westmorland, the North Riding and Orkney is unsatisfactory, it doesn't prove anything because it ignores the possibility of significant communities elsewhere in Britain. So WWW searches were made for the presence of various versions of the surname in each county of England. (Methods used when searching the WWW.)

In this lengthy, tedious procedure only Derbyshire produced more than just a few responses, and many English counties produced none at all.

The few responses from present-day Cumbria centred on Alston and Penrith, towns later identified in Alan Swindale's Research into the Origins of the Swindale Surname [2] reported above, most of which were involved, historically, in lead mining. No responses came from Shap or any of the other settlements close to the Swindales and Swindale Becks surrounding Upper Edendale.

Searches on Cheshire found no more instances of the surname than most other counties, and certainly far fewer than Derbyshire, leading to the initial conclusion that it was not an ancient home for the family name. This has since been re-examined in the light of correspondence received since this web site was published (see below).


Kent was the first home for the compiler's branch of the family after Francis, and perhaps Jasper, Swindell left Derbyshire in the 18th century. A growing population of Swindell families lived there throughout the 19th century, and many are still there today, but the searches of Kent gave a negligible response, far smaller than for Derbyshire, so the name was definitely a minority presence there. Also returns from Cumbria and all other counties were considerably less than those from Derbyshire, in a great many showing no presence for the name at all.

These searches were my very first major use of the WWW, done on a dial-up line - broadband wasn't available to me at the time. The searches were tediously slow, I was still on an upward learning curve with my personal computer, and I didn't keep a record of precise numbers of responses. I do, however, remember the difficulties I had disentangling responses relating to American towns and counties. The results reported above are consequently subjective, not supported by statistics. The results nevertheless convinced me that Derbyshire was probably the home of the largest number of Swindale/dell families in antiquity.
David Swindell, March 2013

The observations and conclusion from this study are supported by the more recent, and far more objective, study "Surnames as a quantitative resource" to be presented below.

 Surname SWINDEL in Stoney Middleton and Eyam, Derbyshire [3] 
Swind Swindale Swindal Swindall Swindel Swindell Swindells Swindels Swindil Swindill Swindles Swindolls Swinhill

Click to see OS map
© Ordnance Survey [20]
Click map to see Stoney
Middleton and Eyam
Some 170 occurances of related surnames appear between 1663/4 and 1860 in the parish records of the Stoney Middleton and Eyam area of Derbyshire. These are variously spelled as Swind, Swindale, Swindal, Swindall, Swindel, Swindell, Swindells, Swindels, Swindil, Swindill, Swindles, Swindolls, Swinhill.

The variety of spellings in this study is worth noting, as more limited studies by their very nature represent a sample, where this is a full account for the period, including some questionable spellings.

Analysis of Swindel spellings in Stoney Middleton and Eyam over time.
Information and views of Eyam [17].
Information and views of Stoney Middleton [18].

 The Wirksworth Churchwardens Accounts [4] 

Click to enlarge
© Ordnance Survey [20]
Click map to see Wirksworth
Swindale Swindall Swindell Swindill Swindle
This study complements the previous one [3], giving information on genealogy and local history of the Wirksworth area of Derbyshire from 1600 to 1900, listing some 350,000 original records.

Fourteen occurances of the surname are recorded in the archive during the 46 years between 1668 and 1714, variously spelled as Swindale, Swindall, Swindell, Swindill and Swindle.

Note that the Stoney Middleton and Eyam occurrances average out to some 0.85 references per year, where at Wirksworth this figure is 0.31. The Wirksworth figures, however, fall in the period before the explosion in population of the mid 1700s.

Fourteen examples over 46 years is too small a sample to examine the occurrance of the surname over time as with Stoney Middleton and Eyam above.

Targeted searches on the WWW for Swindale/dell/etc in Wirksworth found a few Swindale etc births and marriages in the 17th to 19th centuries, and also showed that the surname is still in the area today, but again, information on the WWW cannot be considered fully representative or complete. The compiler has since spoken to people from Wirksworth, who recognise Swindell as a common surname in the area.

No Swingle or Swingler records are recorded in the archive.

Information and views of Wirksworth [19].

 Manchester Swindells 

In verbal statements given to the compiler in 1972 and 1987, members of separate Swindell and Swindells families from Manchester acknowledge Derbyshire as their ancestral homes [1], and demographic analysis by the compiler suggests this could be true (but see also Cheshire below).

The dates their ancestors moved there are not known, and this information is so far only anecdotal, but the proximity of Derbyshire to Manchester, which grew rapidly in the 19th century, suggests that a number of different ancestors could be involved.

NB. The centre of Manchester lies some 24 miles (38 Km) from Buxton, the northernmost major town in Derbyshire, and the suburbs of Greater Manchester come within 12 miles (19 Km) of Buxton.
Swindell's Fold, Godley

The postcard on the right shows a house or farmstead called Swindell's Fold at Godley near Manchester about 1910. Godley lies east of Manchester, and about 7 miles (12 Km) north east of Cheadle in Cheshire, of which more below. The name of this house suggests that a moderately wealthy Swindell family may have been established in the area at some time in the past.

The compiler looks forward to hearing from Swindell etc genealogists in Manchester to add positive substance to the history of their name there.

 Cheshire Swindells/dales etc 

Cheshire is the county adjacent to north Derbyshire to the west.

When carrying out searches on the WWW to identify knots of Swindale/dells in various counties of England, Cheshire produced no more returns than any other county, and considerably fewer than Derbyshire.

However, further research and correspondence since the initial publication of this web site showed a firm presence of the name in the county.

Contributors included a reference to a A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames, with special American Instances [26], published 1901, in which the author points to the existence of a small estate called Swindelves in the ancient township of Handforth cum Bosden, south of Cheadle, with the implication that his Swindells ancestors and the placename Swindelves could be connected. Handforth cum Bosden lies about 9 miles (14 km) north of Macclesfield, and 20 miles (32 km) by road from Buxton in north Derbyshire - See more.

It appears that the county boundary and hilly terrain between Cheshire and Derbyshire was never an obstacle to the movement of the Swindell/s name and families. Or perhaps there is a characteristic of the language, local terrain or traditional, agricultural practice around the Pennine hills in this area that has predisposed the surname to appear there in more than one locality.

The greater occurance of the name in north Derbyshire in my early searches may simply have been a result of a few diligent Derbyshire genealogists setting up web sites, whilst Cheshire family historians had not yet done this, relying rather on the excellent CHESHIRE SURNAMES DIRECTORY [8] of the Family History Society of Cheshire. The several web sites in Derbyshire were more likely to give multiple hits on a WWW search than the single Family History site for Cheshire.

It is getting on for twenty years since the searches described above - my first serious forray into the WWW - and there is now a great deal more genealogical information available on the WWW. Cheshire genealogists have added their own researches, expanding on the Family History site, and if I were to repeat my tedious searches of all the British counties I am sure Cheshire would give a bigger return than my first try. However, the general conclusions here still hold without looking further into Cheshire.
David Swindell, March 2013.

 Surnames as a quantitative resource [16] 

© Surname Profiler [16]
"A recent research project based at University College London (UCL) has investigated the distribution of surnames in Great Britain, both current and historic, in order to understand patterns of regional economic development, population movement and cultural identity. This website allows users to search the databases that we have created, and to trace the geography and history of their family names." ([16])

This study, which was released onto the WWW in 2006 as the Surname Profiler, allowed you to examine the distribution of surnames in Britain in 1881 and 1998. The statistics for 1881 were, of course, taken from the national census in that year.

Examination of the Surname Profiler confirmed the conclusions of this study, that the highest concentration of the surname Swindell/dale, and other closely related names, in antiquity was around Derbyshire.

Compiler's comments on the Surname Profiler database.


 So did they all come from there? 

It looks as if centuries ago significant groups of people sharing the Swindells/Swindales etc surname lived in Derbyshire and East Cheshire, but did all of today's Swindells/Swindales etc come from this area?

Click to enlarge
© Ordnance Survey [20]
Swindell/Swindale family moves 17th to 19th centuries

Click to enlarge

Swandal Swendalls Swind Swindale Swindal Swindall Swindel Swindell Swindells Swindels Swindil Swindill Swindle Swindles Swindolls Swinhill Swyndels
The variety of spellings of the Swindell/Swindale etc surname in the records in Derbyshire and East Cheshire, and their relative or complete absence in other counties, coupled with the certain knowledge that significant Swindell etc communities elsewhere in England can show their ancestors came from Derbyshire, suggests that in antiquity the region was the home of a great many Swindell/Swindale etc families. (See the reasoning behind this assertion)

Another conclusion might be that it is the earliest home for them that can be traced through the records. It might still be suggested that the original ancestor(s) moved to this area from nearby Leicestershire or Lincolnshire, or one of the Swindales in Westmorland or the North Riding, or from Northumberland, Orkney, or even the Mendips, but no records were found that could support this.

 So did they come from somewhere in Derbyshire called Swindale? 

No, because there isn't one!

Despite the county being rich in ruggedly beautiful dales, and the home of the largest recorded number of Swindell/Swindale etc families in antiquity, there is no present-day placename that approximates to Swindale, and none that might be construed as having looked like Swine Dale in antiquity.

There was, however, in antiquity a place whose name comes down to us today through 14th century documents as Swindelves in the present-day district of Hazel Grove, Stockport, where one source places his Swindells ancestors over a long period. The precise location of Swindelves has not yet been identified. In the same area today there are remnants of three farms called Swineseye, Upper Swineseye and Lower Swineseye.

Once again this calls into question the notion that the surname derives from a place called Swindale.

To counter this you might surmise that the Swindale ancestor did indeed come from one of the Swindales further north, but that all traces of the line in their native place died out completely before records began. By its very nature it is impossible to test this further, and the negative evidence so far found makes it a tenuous hypothesis.

 Where else might the name have come from? 

The following paragraphs discuss other possible origins for the surname. Some of this is based on fact, and some is as speculative as the traditional assumption that it comes from a place called Swindale.

Click on one of the key paragraphs on the right, or page down and read on

 The swingle connection  
 Surnames and placenames outside Britain  
 What does Swindale mean?  

But if this doesn't interest you go straight to:-

Summary and conclusions.

 The swingle connection 

Some genealogical literature suggests that the word swingle or swingler could be an origin. A swingler was a person who used a swingle, an implement used in flax production, and a swingle tree was part of the couplings of a horse-drawn cart. The suggestion is that the trade name Swingler could have changed to Swindler or Swindle.

This derivation is also suggested in the following documents from the compiler's family archive:-

Letter sent to the parish clerks of 37 parishes in London, Surrey and Kent in 1857 [1]

Post Office
15 Royal Hill
Greenwich Kent
1 July 1857
Will you refer to your Books for the Marriage Certificates of Jasper Swindall or Swingle and Mary - from 1706 to 1720 also the Certificate of Jasper Swindall or Swingle and Catherine Hutchins from 1738 to 1750. One pound is offered if either of the Certificates are found and Twenty Five Pounds when the property is obtained.
I am sir
Yours respectfully
G Howard

Advertisement in the Times Monday December 26 1859, edition 23,499 [1]

TO PARISH CLERKS and others. - WANTED, the MARRIAGE CERTIFICATES of JASPER SWINGLE or SWINDELL, and MARY, from 1708 to 1720; also the Certificate of Jasper Swindell and Catharine Hutchings, from 1738 to 1750, supposed to have been married in London, or in the counties of Kent or Surrey; also, the Baptism of Jasper Swindell, or Swingle, from 1680 to 1690. TWO POUNDS REWARD is offered for each certificate if found. Information to be sent to G. Howard, chymist, head post-office, Royalhill, Greenwich.

It isn't known whether the Swindell/Swingle synonym in the above documents was introduced by the solicitor or by his client, the compiler's great grandfather, but it did not come down through family lore to the present day despite these documents being known to subsequent generations [1].
Swindall Swindell Swingle
Note also the three versions of the surname in these documents, Swindall, Swingle and Swindell, all from the same solicitor (he styles himself a "chymist", or chemist, but other letters in the same hand show that he also carried out legal work).

 From Swingle to Swindle in Derbyshire 

Swindale Swindall Swindell Swindill Swindle
Considering the variety of spellings of Swindle/Swindale etc existing around the same time in the Wirksworth Churchwardens Accounts [4], it is reasonable to suppose that if they all, or at least some, of them derived from the same source, Swingle, then all the surnames, Swindale, Swindall, Swindell, Swindill, Swindle and Swingle, could have existed there at the same time.

But the Wirksworth archive [4] doesn't show any Swingle or Swingler surnames.

NB. The Stoney Middleton and Eyam study specifically examined Swind- spellings, so no comment can be made on the presence of Swingles there.

Furthermore no Swingles, neither ancient nor modern, appear in a web search of Derbyshire.

However, Swingler appears in the early 1800s, and continues to the present day.

NB. Targeted searches on the WWW cannot be considered fully representative or complete [1].

 From Swindle to Swingle 

It might be assumed that, where it happened, the switch from Swingle to Swindle happened long ago, but during his research the compiler found one family in Australia which consciously decided to change in the opposite direction, from Swindle to Swingle, in the late 20th century.

A Canadian correspondent researching Swindleys in Cheshire [15] also investigated similar names, in particular Swindler and Swingler. They noticed that the proportions of Swindler to Swingler surnames seen in the IGI for North America and Britain are to all intents and purposes reversed, as seen in the table on the right.

The significance of this is not immediately clear, however it must be stressed that the IGI, from which the data in the table were extracted, is not the definitive source, though like the telephone book it gives a feel for population numbers. The IGI reflects church records from the 1500s in Britain, covering about 350 years, whilst the figures from North America, likewise church records, only cover about 150 years from the late 1700s, whilst the social history of population movements with regard to the two regions is very different.

The compiler found no connection between the surname and swingle or swingler as an agricultural tool or occupation.

This calls into question those "authorities" who suggest that this was an origin.

 Surnames and placenames outside Britain 

 Norse and Scandinavian names and places 

The English placename Swindale is only found in areas of Britain that were Norse speaking, and similar names survive throughout the Norse and Scandinavian world.

The Norse tradition has two ways of forming a surname :-

In the first the daughter of Sigurd can choose the surname Sigurdsdottir, whilst her brother might take the surname Sigurdsson. Alternatively you could choose to take your surname from a place, most typically the place you were born.

The surnames Svinadalur, Svinadal, Svinndal and Svindal are found in Iceland, Norway and Sweden. These are taken from placenames that are generally presumed to mean Pig Valley.

Svinedal, Svendal and Svennedal are placenames and surnames found in Denmark, and the surname Svandal is also found in Iceland and Scandinavia.

See more about Norse and the other Germanic languages of Britain.

 Swindells in the United States 

A search for Swindell finds a great many in the United States, where most of the family genealogy sites seen followed family lore (and questionably "authoritative" sources) in suggesting the surname derived from Swindale, or Pig Valley, locating it near Shap in Westmorland, modern Cumbria, England.

Many of these certainly came from England, but in many other cases the name had a quite different root :-

One American Swindal family traces their surname directly to an Icelandic ancestor who adopted the surname Svinadalur (pronounced "SVEENA-DLR"), from his native place, before emigrating to the United States in the late 19th century, where it was anglicised to its present form. This was a time of massive emigration from Iceland to Canada and the United States, after the ash fall-out from a volcanic eruption devastated Iceland's farm land. Svinadalur is taken to mean Swine Dale by all sources seen.
These German surnames, pronounced shvindle and shvindler, are words that can convey either dizziness or swindling/cheating. Apart from their perfectly legitimate occurrence as names, they were often given, scurrilously, to refugees fleeing from persecution in the east as they entered the Austro-Hungarian Empire or Prussia, irrespective of the name they gave to the border official at the time, which the official may have found impossible to pronounce or spell. This was written into official papers given to the refugee, and later taken through Ellis Island into the United States, where the name may have been anglicised to Swindle or Swindler etc. In many such cases the refugee's original name may have been lost altogether.
A documented origin of Swingle and Swingler in the United States of America is the anglicisation of the German names Schwingel (shvingle) and Schwingler (shvingler), which may also have been anglicised to a name similar to Swindle. The German name may be taken as meaning Shakespear.
The name Zwingler, pronounced tsvingler, is a Jewish and east European surname that has been shown to have been treated by immigration officials in much the same way as Schwingler, and anglicised to Swingler or Swingle, or by less kindly officials as Swindler or Swindle.

Slave masters in America often had children by female slaves, who would take their surname from the slave master.

So, although many American Swindell/dale families can be shown to have originated in Britain, care must be taken in assuming a link in all cases.

The link may not, however, be completely impossible:-
• European families have settled in Britain at various times in antiquity and the recent historical past.
• On the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 Charles II brought Dutch and German artisans back with him.
• During the Commonwealth (1649-1660) Jews were officially allowed back into England after their expulsion in 1290 during the reign of Edward I.
• Mercenary troops or soldiers of fortune of all nationalities fought with the various armies during the Hundred Years war (1337-1453) and the Forty Years War (1618-1659), and many fighting for the English later settled in England.
• Merchants established representatives in Britain during the middle ages, many of whom became accepted citizens and took an active part in society, trade and government. Notable among these are Flemmings who settled in East Anglia with the wool trade, and Italian wine merchants in Southampton.
• The compiler once met an architect from Cologne who was taken aback by the name Swindell, recognising it as German, Schwindel[1]

The following section is the compiler's speculation on other meanings of the surname and placename, based on his knowledge of the way that surnames and placenames have changed over the centuries. If it doesn't interest you please skip straight to the Summary and conclusions.

 What does Swindale mean? 

This study began with the assumption that the surname we write today as Swindell/dale/etc was taken centuries ago from a place called Swine Dale.

The study found no link in the records between today's Swindell/dale/etc surname and any of the Swindale locations in Britain. It would appear that the assumption that a name ending in -dale or -dell must necessarily have come from a valley does not always hold.

We have also seen that within a single genetic line, a family name that was first recorded in 1754 as Swindel varied through Swindilah, Swindale, Swindily, Swindley, Swindlah, Swindley, Swindleah, Swindley, Swindlah and Swinley, until it finally settled on Swindley.

This suggests that the pronunciation of a name can vary greatly within the same family over several generations, so how can we know what the family called itself before it first appeared in the records as Swindel? And what was so special and inevitable about the Swindley pronunciation? Couldn't it just as easily have ended up as Swindale or Swindell?

The following is the compiler's thoughts and flights of fancy on how the name might have developed from something that might have had nothing much to do with pigs and dales. This is, of course, pure speculation, but is it any less valid than the notion that Swindale/Swindell derives from a place whose name means pig valley, a notion that both the major contributors to this site have found to be false?


Salisbury  Searobyrg
Shrewesbury  Scrobbesbyrig
York  Jorvik
Pendle Hill  Pennal
Newcastle on Tyne  Monkchester
Blackwater, Surrey  Bredeford
Bradford-on-Avon  Wirtgernesburg
Simonburn  Simonsbyrgan
The table on the right shows just a few placenames you will come across today, with the names they were known by at some time in the last thousand years, the period during which surnames emerged. Some of them have changed subtly, some have been replaced, and at least one has changed its meaning significantly.

For instance Simonburn, a small village in Northumberland, looks like it is called after a stream or burn, but its ancient name, Simonsbyrgan, shows it was a fortified place or byrg, and sure enough the ancient ruins of a substantial fortified house sit on a hill in the village.

So we can't be sure that a placename we see today is anything like it was centuries ago. Consequently we cannot claim that a surname which today looks like a particular, modern placename must have come from there, because we don't know what the placename was in antiquity, in the age when surnames were beginning to emerge.


Similarly with surnames.

When a young man ran away to be a soldier he might have named himself after the place where he grew up, and on his discharge he might have settled just a few miles or many counties away from his native place.

As the generations went by the pronunciation of his surname would change with the dialect of his new adopted home. Coupled with that, changes in the English language would make elements of the surname that were once meaningful quite meaningless, or take on new meanings, whilst the placename suffers similar, quite independent, changes.

On top of this, the memory of his original native place will be lost within a generation or so. It might be passed down to his children, and possibly his grandchildren, but how many of us knew where our great grandparents lived before we started digging into the records, records that were much more difficult to find and consult in days gone by?

So any real family association between the surname and a location can be lost in a couple of generations, and the pronunciation of the name will then evolve quite independently of the pronunciation of the forgotten placename.

Blanksby  Blingsby Gate
Sapsford  Sawbridgeworth
Stopford  Stockport

The table on the right shows just a few modern surnames, with the modern spellings of the places which it is known they originated from. The last two surnames in particular could lead you to assume that they refer to places beside fords in rivers, but this is obviously not the case. And a name that originally had nothing whatsoever to do with a dale or a dell could also evolve in just the same way to look, misleadingly, as if it did.

So claiming that a surname as we see it today must have originated from a placename that today looks somewhat similar is often quite false. This could then lead the genealogist in completely wrong directions in their researches, as indeed it initially did with the main contributors to this web site when we followed family lore to the Swindales in Westmorland.

Unfortunately, the questionable assumption that certain names, such as Swindale, must be locative still persists, with many sources quoting the authors and antiquarians of over a hundred years ago who started and perpetuated the notion.

Modern writers put less emphasis on placenames being the origin of surnames than was the case in the mid 20th century. For recent published accounts see:-

   • The relevance of surnames in genealogy [10]        
   •Surnames and Family History [9]        

In these writings it has been demonstrated that locative surnames, ones derived from the names of geographical places, most notably towns and villages, tend to be concentrated close to the places the names were taken from, remaining there even if the original settlement disappeared long ago. It is further noted that many such surnames now look nothing like the original placenames, and only close etymological and historical examination has drawn out the connection.

You should not make assumptions about the origins of placenames or surnames from their modern spellings without looking more deeply into their etymology and histories.

But authors continue to perpetuate the locative notion, which in this case, and many others, may well be a myth.

But a surname could equally, and perhaps more probably, have come from a descriptive nickname, trade name or occupation rather than a place.

An occupation, in particular, may be passed down from father to son, such as Thatcher, Archer, Shepherd etc, and after a few generations it could be fixed as the surname of everybody in the family.

You may feel that a surname like Swindale is unlikely to have come from an occupation or nickname, because the dale at the end has all the features of something that is seen in modern placenames. But the fact that dale in a surname looks like the word we use for a geographical feature, a valley, could be nothing more than an accident of time, dialect and spelling.

Who can say what a nickname in the Danish/Saxon dialect of the mid Pennines in the middle ages sounded like? We only have their modern spellings, not their ancient sounds, and these spellings have only been stable for a couple of centuries, a few generations.

It may well have sounded and meant nothing like the surname we see written today - the elements swin and dale could have grown from something quite different from the pigs and valleys we assume from today's speech and spelling.

 If it doesn't mean pig valley what does it mean? 

From the absence of any Swindale placename in Derbyshire it looks as if the name may not be a locative name, so some descriptive name should be considered.

Amongst the contenders might be names ending in the Old English word dœll meaning a dalesman (OED). So Sweindœll (swain-dool) could have been the name of someone called Swein living in a nearby dale - "Swein the Dalesman". Or in an age when Saxons were differentiated from more recent Nordic settlers, Sweondœll (swee-on-dool) could have identified the Swedes or Vikings living in the dale.

Names like these could have been applied to many people living in separate dales, which could explain the wide distribution of the name in the county. Also a Danish dialect could have survived long after the Norman conquest in the rough, remote, hilly countryside of Derbyshire, and the personal names would have been carried into the new age of the "standard" English of the official translations of the bible.

This is, of course, speculation, but for more thoughts on how the surname could have evolved from ancient Saxon and Nordic words meaning something other than pigs and dales see :-

What else could the name have meant?

But if you prefer to believe the surname comes from somewhere called Swindale, by all means go straight to the conclusions below.

 Summary and conclusions 

© Ordnance Survey [20]
© Surname Profiler [16]
Many Swindale/dell families, and many "authoritative" sources, put the origin of the Swindale/dell surname in a place called Swindale, and many of them place this near Shap in Cumbria. Many sources also suggest a link with the agricultural activity of the swingler.

Swandal Swendalls Swind Swindal Swindale Swindall Swindals Swindel Swindell Swindells Swindels Swindil Swindilah Swindily Swindill Swindlah Swindle Swindleah Swindles Swindley Swindolls Swinhill Swyndels

Swindale near Shap is only one of several locations bearing the name, all of them in the north of Britain, but the studies presented here find no evidence to link the surname Swindell/Swindale etc with any of them.

Large groups of many different spellings of the surname are recorded in Derbyshire in the earliest extant records. No other counties in England sampled on the WWW had such numbers.

Independent analysis of the 1881 census shows the greatest concentration of Swindell/Swindells surnames in the Derbyshire area, with a significant population of Swindales, and a significant, though lesser, presence in east Cheshire.

This suggests that Derbyshire/East Cheshire is the earliest traceable home of the Swindell/Swindale etc surname.

No link was found between Swindell/dale etc and Swingle/Swingler in Derbyshire in antiquity.

No Swindale placename has been found in Derbyshire, but there was in antiquity a place called Swindelves in east Cheshire, and places carrying the name Swineseye survive there til today.

It is the compiler's conclusion that the surname did not originate in any of the Swindales in Westmorland, but in the Derbyshire/East Cheshire area.

If you know of an existing place or any other lost village in Derbyshire or East Cheshire that could be construed as Swindale I will be more than pleased to incorporate your comments in this web page.

If you can present documented proof of a significant, firm, ancient link between the name Swindale, Swindell, Swindle etc and Swindale near Shap, or in Edendale, or near Weasdale, or any locality elsewhere than the Derbyshire or East Cheshire area, I will be very pleased to incorporate it in this account.

The information available on the WWW is continually expanding.

The situation is reviewed from time to time and changes made when new information appears on the WWW.

If you know of a documented source of information that can add to what I have presented here, or demolish any of my flights of fancy, please get in touch.

David Swindell

 Contributors, references and acknowledgements 

 Subsidiary discussions presented in the above text 

Methods used when searching the WWW
Interpreting the information in the early records
Languages in Britain
The welsh connection
Thoughts on the clustering of Swindale placenames
        List of Swin- placenames in Britain
        List of Grize- and Grise- placenames in Britain
        Boar- and Bor- placenames in Britain
        Placenames beginning with or containing the element "hog"
Justification for saying they didn't come from Swindale in Cumbria
Analysis of Swindel spellings in Stoney Middleton and Eyam over time
Spellings of Somerset surnames in Toad Pool, Derbyshire, circa 1630 to 1870
Swindelves in Handforth cum Bosden
Swineseye in Handforth cum Bosden
Analysis of the Surname Profiler database
What could Swindale/Swindell mean if it doesn't mean Pig Valley?
        Other possible origins of the placename Swindale
        Occupations and nicknames that might have evolved into the Swindell/dale surname

 References to the following sources are given in square brackets in the text - eg [4] 
 These sources are checked from time to time, and amended where a source is no longer available 

[1] David Swindell - Compiler
Documents surviving in the compiler's family

[2] Alan Swindale
The Origins of the Swindale Surname  (now here)
And personal correspondence

Swindale - Skelton Parish (now here)

Great and Little Swindale - Weasdale (now here)

Swindale Beck - Brough (now here)

History of Swindale Chapel in the parish of Shap
Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian & Archeological Society
Vol 1 New Series 1901
Pages 256 - 267
ART. XX. - Swindale Chapel.
By the Rev. J. WHITESIDE, M.A.
Communicated at Carlisle, June20th, 1900.

The History and Antiquities of Cleveland: Comprising the Wapentake of East and West Langbargh:
p595 from Dugdale's Baronage.
By John Walker Ord ? reprinted 1972

Swindale Beck - Knock (now here)
Newspaper cutting concerned with the building of the Haweswater reservoir.
Bound into a copy of "A Backwater in Lakeland", published in 1925.

Further information is added to these references from correspondence between the author and the compiler

[3] Rosemary Lockie et al
Surname SWINDEL in Stoney Middleton and Eyam, Derbyshire

[4] Cumbria/Cumberland/Westmorland Genealogy Links

[5] The Wirksworth Churchwardens Accounts

[6] Yorkshire genealological sources

[7] Rosemary Lockie et al
Surname SUMMERS/SOMERSET/SOMERSALL in Toad Pool, Derbyshire

[8] Mr Alan Bennett
Cheshire Surnames Directory
The Family History Society of Cheshire

[9] David Hey
Surnames and Family History
History Today, Volume: 51 Issue:7 July 2001 pp38-40

[10] Society of Genealogists Information Leaflet No. 7
The relevance of surnames in genealogy

[11] P. H. Reaney, R. M. Wilson
A Dictionary of English Surnames: Revised third edition 1997
Oxford University Press

[12] History, Topography and Directory of Westmorland, 1851

[13] Swindale
Gateshead Civic Walking Club

[14] Nick Channer
Take a walk round Brough

[15] J D'Annunzio
Email correspondence on Swindley, Swingler and Swindler

[16] Daryl Lloyd, Richard Webber and Paul Longley
Public Profiler - gbnames
From "Surnames as a quantitative resource - 2006 et seq" -

[17] Cressbrook Multimedia 1997

[18] Derbyshire UK
Stoney Middleton
Guide to Derbyshire and the lower Peak District

[19] Cressbrook Multimedia 1997

[20] Ordnance Survey Maps
All maps in these web pages marked © Ordnance Survey
are produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service,
and reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey
and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.

Ordnance Survey's gazetteer of 250 000 placenames

The Ordnance Survey ATLAS of Britain
Ordnance Survey and Country Life Books 1982

[21] Andrew Leaney
Leaney's Lakeland Fells

[22] Sub 3000 - The Wee Hill Bashers Web Site

[23] Sub 3000 - The Wee Hill Bashers Web Site
Mickle Fell

[24] //

[25] George Tod
Diaries of a Long distance Walker

[26] Charles Wareing Bardsley M.A., Worcester College Oxford, Late Vicar of Ulveston, Lancs. Revised for the press by his widow.
A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames, with special American Instances
Henry Frowde, London, Oxford University Press, Amen Corner, 1901

[27] East Anglian Magazine, July 1964
D.A. Sidell
17th Century Tokens and their Origin

[28] Bagshaw's 1847 Directory - see page 7 in the following link :-

[29] Shropshire Archives: The Stobbs Collection
Creator(s): Stobbs, M S, fl 1946, of Shrewsbury, Shropshire
Deeds - ref. 163/1-100
Shawbury (Acton Reynold) and Moreton Corbet
FILE [no title] - ref.  163/72 - date: 31 July 1756
(To find out more about these archives contact Shropshire Archives)

[30] The Westmorland Protestation Returns 1641/2
Edited by MA Faraday, M.A.
KENDAL: Titus Wilson and Son Ltd, 28 Highgate, 1972

Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford University Press

The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer
edited from numerous Manuscripts - Skeat ed. 7 vols., Oxford, 1894-7

Sweet's Anglo-Saxon reader
ed. By C.T.Onions Oxford: Clarendon Press

Hall's Concise Anglo-Saxon dictionary
ed. By Sean Crist

Zoëga's Old Icelandic Dictionary

David Swindell