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2,405 study surnames with us
and a further 6,120 variant names.

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About the study

thraell keld
Old Norse dithematic combining forms of "Threlkeld."
Click image to view full size.

The Threlkeld One-Name Study has its principal website at The Study is a global initiative that aims to research the genealogies, histories, and demographics of all persons with the surname Threlkeld and variant spellings. It is not time-bounded and will continue indefinitely to add to the body of knowledge about the origins, history, ancestors, and descendants of related family lines.

There are numerous variants of the Threlkeld name. Not only are they welcome, but they are in fact essential to meet some of our objectives.

We charge nothing to participate, and require no effort or time commitment. Registrants will be free to access all areas of the Study website, and read and download files. There are also varied levels of active participation you can read about in the sections on Objectives & Scope and How to Participate. Whether you wish to work only on your own Threlkeld line, join the discussion on the Threlkeld Forum, or even engage in a research project, all types of active participation are highly valued...and come with everyone's thanks.

Our purpose is:

  • To improve understanding of the history and origins of the Threlkeld surname and its common variants
  • To identify and categorize surname variants, and to prove or disprove unique or shared lineage and history among the various surnames
  • To reconstruct/document the genealogy of lines bearing the surname
  • To analyze patterns of immigration and emigration
  • To model the distribution of Threlkeld families in geography and time
  • To store and make available to researchers select core genealogical datasets; electronic images or transcriptions of source materials; pertinent data derived from the sister Threlkeld Surname DNA Project; and related compilations, analyses, and narratives

Variant names

A brief research paper scheduled for January 2018 will analyze the many variant spellings than have been attributed to or associated with Threlkeld. Two categories of these stem from seemingly distinct etymologies and, while still welcome to participate in the Study, will not be a focus.

By order of occurrence, the 10 most prevalent spellings are:

  • Threlkeld
  • Thrailkill
  • Threlkel
  • Thurlkill
  • Threldkeld
  • Threkeld
  • Thelkeld
  • Threlkild
  • Thraikill
  • Thirlkeld

Name origin

The surname Threlkeld is of definite place-name origin, and is an Old Norse dithematic form:

  • Old Norse þrǽll, "thraell"; from the Proto-Germanic þrāhilaR; from an Old Teutonic root þreh–, to run. Meaning: serfdom, a serf, or servant.
  • Old Norse kelda; cognate with Middle High German qual (German Quelle); Danish kilde. Meaning: a spring, wellspring, or fountain.

Blencathra is one of the northernmost fells in England's Lake District. Strictly speaking, Blencathra might be considered a small range rather than a single fell, constituting a few summits along a curving, three-mile ridgeline. It has comfortable, easy slopes popular with hikers on the west and north, and to the east and south a more challenging, complex array of scree and rocky crests.

Threlkeld and Blencathra
The village of Threlkeld at the base of Blencathra.
The course of Kilnhow Beck is clearly seen through the mountain.

An aside is that the term fell is also from Old Norse: it existed in the forms of both fell and fjall. The term generally refers to the mountains and hills of the Lake District and the Pennine Dales of northern England, in the border area of southern Scotland, the Isle of Man, and Fennoscandia, the Scandinavian peninsula. While geographers often distinguish mountains from hills at a demarcation of 2,000 feet (610 meters), there is no such distinction between fells.

The tallest point on Blencathra is Halls Fell Top which, at 2,848 feet (868 meters), is the third highest point in England (the others being Scafell Pike, 978 meters, and Cross Fell, 893 meters).

Several rivulets and streams (becks) originate on Blencathra which, in addition to normal rain run-off, sees snow accumulation in the winter and the resultant spring melting. The village of Threlkeld sits at the southern base of Blencathra. Kilnhow Beck runs almost through the center of town, directly past St. Mary's, the Threlkeld Church, and feeds into the River Glenderamackin a quarter-mile later, just past the A66. A third of a mile west of town is Riddings Beck, and less than that distance east is Gategill Beck. A half mile to the southwest of Threlkeld, the Glenderamackin is joined by St. John's Beck to become the River Greta, which meanders west past Keswick to feed into Derwent Water from the north.

A source of fresh water was always a determinant site selector for our early ancestors. Though steep slopes to the north limited land for agriculture, the streams, rivers, and lakes of the area around Threlkeld certainly provided ready access to water. It would also seem to explain the kelda portion of the name.

The þrǽll portion of the name is less clear. In 2013, Robert Gambles (Lake District Place Names. Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria: Hayloft Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-904524-92-3) posited that it was likely that "thraell" was the term by which Norse settlers generally referred to the native Britons. While certainly possible, if that were the case we might expect to see the term used more widely than it is in existing place-names.

A research project in progress to analyze the many variant spellings often associated with Threlkeld, groups the various names into five categories:

  • Threlkeld/Thrailkill/Threlkel
  • Threlfall/Threlfell/Threfall
  • Thirkell/Thirkettle/Thirkill
  • Threadgill/Threadgold/Treadgold
  • Surnames Not Determined Classifiable

The most closely related etymologically is Threlfall: the first component, þrǽll, is identical, and "fall" is from the aforementioned fell or fjall. Threlfall seems to have originated in what is today near Kirkham, Lancashire, about 60 miles south of Threlkeld, Cumbria. Thrale may stem from "thrall," but there seems no direct evidence of that.

Thrale is used as a surname, but is rare and is not included as a possible variant in the research project. The Thirkell/Thirkettle/Thirkill and Threadgill/Threadgold/Treadgold groupings have dissimilar etymologies and, while we welcome people with interest in those surnames to participate here, the project will show that they are not variants of Threlkeld but are separate and distinct.

First Use of Thraell
Per the Oxford English Dictionary, the first written uses of þrǽl ("thraell"; Old Norse þrǽll) in England. Click image to view full size.

The explanation for why þrǽll ("thraell") was used as the root for the Threlkeld/Thrailkill/Threlkel and Threlfall/Threlfell/Threfall surname groupings remains a mystery.

The Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press; Oxford 1978; Volume XI, p. 344) indicates that first known use of þrǽll/þrǽl in writing in England appeared about 950 AD. This corresponds with the period of the Danelaw (886 through 1066), and the assumption that the name Threlkeld was first used in or near that timeframe.

There have been human settlements around the area of Threlkeld for about 5,000 years. Below what's called Threlkeld Knotts are the remnants of a substantial Early Bronze Age settlement with some 40 hut circles, as well as the enclosures above the old, now closed quarry. The "Knotts" portion of the name is another Old Norse derivation: knǫttr, meaning a ball, or hard round mass.

Even older is the stone circle at Castlerigg, a little over a mile from the modern village of Threlkeld, on the way toward Keswick. Part of a megalithic tradition of such circles that lasted from 3300 to 900 BC, the Castlerigg Stone Circle is believed to have been built around 3200 BC, making it centuries older than Stonehenge and one of the earliest stone circles in Britain.

Threlkeld and Blencathra
The ancient Castlerigg Stone Circle, situated just over a mile from Threlkeld and believed to date from around 3200 BC.

The first written use of the name Threlkeld—held at the British Museum—is reference to a priest called Randulf at Threlkeld in 1220. Referring to it as a church or chapelry at that time have been generous: the area was never very populous and the original structure was no doubt quite modest. Threlkeld seems to have been be the oldest chapelry in the Diocese of Carlisle. In its early years it was part of the parish of Greystoke, which served ten hamlets, only four of which had chapels: Threlkeld, Matterdale, Mungrisdale, and Watermillock.

Whether or not the original was on the same site, there has been a chapel at the current location beside Kilnhow Beck since at least 1341. It was demolished in 1776 and a new building erected on the site in 1777. In 1911 the church, St. Mary's, was restored, notably the flooring and interior woodwork. Local materials from Threlkeld Quarry were used for the tiling and font. Church registries date from 1572, and can offer a glimpse into life in Threlkeld over the centuries, including records of marriage contracts.

The first documented use of Threlkeld as a surname was in 1292 by a Henry de Threlkeld. He was described as being Sheriff of Westmoreland however, as clarified by William Jackson in his July 1887 presentation to the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian Society (available in the Study's Assets & Archives area), he was probably Under-Sheriff. The office was hereditary and, at that time, would have been held jointly by Isabella de Clifford and Idonea de Leybourn, as co-heiresses of their father Robert de Veteripont.

We will never know if that Henry de Threlkeld was the first to adopt the surname.

In 1085, King William the Conqueror ordered the "Great Survey" of most of England and parts of Wales that came to be known as the Domesday Book. At the time, much of the northwest area of England, home to Blencathra and the village of Threlkeld, was still part of Scotland and, unfortunately for family historians, not included in the survey.

Following the Norman conquest, possession of the region moved back and forth between Scotland and England. Henry II regained claim in 1157, and made it into two counties, Westmorland and Carliol. Sometime shortly before 1177, the name "Carliol" was dropped and it became County Cumberland. In 1237, with the Treaty of York, the border between Scotland and England became permanent.

With the first known written use in England of þrǽll/þrǽl appearing in 950, the first documentation of Threlkeld as a place-name in 1220, and its first recorded use as a surname in 1292, we at least can be reasonably confident we have narrowed it to a 300-year span of time.

As the Threlkeld One-Name Study's DNA Project advances—hopefully with the inclusion of multiple testers of yDNA next-generation sequencing—it will be fascinating to see if our ancestors, pre-surname adoption, still trace to this rugged and scenic region of the England/Scotland borderlands where people erected stone circles in alignment with solar and lunar astronomical events 5,000 years ago.