05/10/2022

Starting out – Soulsby searching

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Let’s start, as my research did, by trying to establish where that slightly embarrassing middle name came from. My findings ensured that I will never again be embarrassed by it!

Origins of Soulsby: the surname emerged in Northumbria, most likely it was a habitational name derived from either of two places called Soulby, one near Penrith and the other near Kirkby Stephen (both, today, in Cumbria).

Ancestry.co.uk suggests these are from Old Norse, súl for ‘post’ + býr for ‘farm’, ‘settlement’. The additional ‘s’ is found in other surnames (for example Bowlby becomes Bowlsby).

In 1891 there were 491 Soulsby families living in Durham, and these represented 51% of all Soulsby family names then used in England. The name has been used in England, Scotland, the USA and Canada.


But our usage stemmed from a mining disaster.

This tale has to start with my GGF2, Peter Denton (1809-1871), and his move away from his extended family which was until then mostly based around Prescot in Lancashire (today’s Merseyside).

Peter moved first to Hunslet in West Yorkshire and then on to several locations in Durham. Presumably this was to find or follow the work, but as a potter why did he not go south to the Potteries? More about Peter later but suffice to say this was what led to our encounter with the Soulsbys.

In 1831 Hannah Soulsby (b: 1813 in Hebburn, Durham, d: 1860) married Andrew Cruddas or Crudis (b: 1808 in Heworth, Durham) and they had a daughter Margaret Cruddas (b: 10 Mar 1851 in Trimdon).

In 1874 Margaret Cruddas married Peter’s son, Joseph Denton (1852-1935), at Coundon, Durham. They were my paternal great-grandparents (GGP1s).

In the 1881 Census, Joseph and Margaret lived at 12 Gib Terrace, Pollards Lands, Bishop Auckland in Durham. Their three young children lived with them (Elizabeth, Peter and Mary). In 1881 the Bishop Auckland population was just 614, but would double over the next ten years.

In 1882 they would have a fourth child, who they would name after Hannah Soulsby’s uncle – see below.

Map showing Bishop Auckland, Coundon, Durham, Kelloe, Stockton, Trimdon… ©Google Maps

Pollard’s Lands – the area where Joseph and Margaret were living, has an interesting history. It derives from the Pollard ‘brawn’. A brawn is a wild boar, and in the Middle Ages there was a large and ferocious one terrorising the Wear Valley. The Bishop of Durham offered a reward for someone to kill it.

A rather (financially) poor young knight, Richard Pollard, stepped up to the plate, he stalked and killed it. After his lengthy battle with the boar he cut out its tongue as a souvenir and promptly fell asleep. While asleep some unscrupulous passer-by stole the carcass and went off to claim the bishop’s well-publicised prize. When Pollard arrived he learned the cash prize had already been taken, yet he was able to prove his claim to be the real slayer by presenting the tongue. The bishop decided that Pollard should be awarded all the land he could ride around in the time it took the bishop to finish his meal.

Auckland Place, the Bishop of Durham’s seat

He surprised the bishop when he arrived back quite promptly; this was because he had ridden around Auckland palace, the bishop’s seat. The bishop was not prepared to give up his home but was impressed enough by the knight’s quick-wittedness and awarded him a fertile area of Auckland – Pollards Lands.

Another version from the Parliamentary Survey of church lands in 1649, mentions the tradition of presenting a new Bishop of Durham with the falchion (sword) that that was used to slay the beast, and that it was for this deed that the Pollard family were given their lands around Bishop Auckland.

ASIDE: (for fellow quizzers!) Just a few miles SW of Pollards Lands is West Auckland. In 1910 West Auckland’s miners’ football team travelled to Italy to represent England in the first ever ‘world cup’. They played against German and Swiss teams and were matched against Italy’s Juventus in the final – then won by two goals to nil. Now you can impress all your friends by stating that England has won the World Cup twice – 1910 and 1966.
Escomb Saxon church built around 675 CE

I will allow myself just one further diversion because two miles NW of Pollards Lands is Escomb Saxon church, said perhaps to be the oldest church in England. It was built using stones taken from the nearby Roman fort Vinovia or Binchester. One stone still bears the marking ‘LEG VI’ denoting the sixth legion, though it has been set upside down. An architectural authority, Sir Nicholas Pevsner, described Escomb as one of the most important and moving survivals of the architecture of the time of Bede. Escomb is one of only three Complete Anglo-Saxon churches still extant in England.

Now back to searching the reason for my Soulsby.

Forward to GGF1 Joseph Denton – Soulsby search cont’d – Back to Next steps
Back to Where did I come from? – Back to Denton Family Bible

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