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2,395 study surnames with us
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About the study

There was always a legend in our family that we were directly descended from Lord Cuthbert Collingwood of Trafalgar fame. The Royal Navy traditions in my branch of the family are strong, with my father serving for 22 years spanning the Second World War and my grandfather serving before him in the First World War. Alas, no such direct connection exists as Lord Cuthbert Collingwood died with no male line of succession.

However, this discovery only increased my eagerness to track my family back as far as possible, in the hope that a connection could be established between Lord Cuthbert's ancestors and mine.

It was only after the death of my father and grandfather, that I started out on my quest. I quickly discovered that my particular branch of the Collingwood family were living in the Poplar area of East London from the late 18th until the late 19th centuries. They were humble folk mainly working as shipwrights, carpenters, mast makers, rope makers, shoe makers as well as stevedores and dock labourers in the Port of London. They gradually migrated down the Thames in the early 20th century to the Tilbury and Grays area.

My study is in its infancy and I am concentrating first on identifying all of the various branches in the UK in the period between 1837 and 2007.

The focus of my study is on all individuals, male and female, who were born with the surname Collingwood, rather than those who married into the family. Likewise, females born as a Collingwood who then subsequently marry and raise a family under a different name drop out of the scope of my study after their death and their descendants are not included.

Variant names

We all know that genealogy is littered with dead ends and blind alleys caused by variations in the way that surnames in particular are recorded. Literacy levels were not high in the working classes and it is little wonder that mistakes were made and went unchallenged. Often, the name would be written down as it sounded so variants such as Colinwood, Collinwood and Colingwood were not uncommon. It was not uncommon for a person to be christened with one version of the name, married with another and even buried with a third variation. Such are the trials and tribulations of the modern genealogist!

In my research, I have come across many examples of poor transcription from early written records as they have been input into the commercial databases we use today. This has lead to a plethory of unintentional variants in the 20th century. I try to ignore the modern errors of transcription and just suggest corrections to the appropriate vendor. However, some of the more ancient variants I have recently discovered include:

Collynwood in Lincolnshire and Norfolk circa 1560
Callengwood in Derbyshire and Staffordshire circa 1610
Callingewood in Edingale, Staffordshire circa 1770
Calengwood in Rolleston, Staffordshire circa 1610
Callengewood in Rolleston, Staffordshire circa 1610
Challengewood in London, Middlesex circa 1660
Challengwood in Netherseal, Derbyshire circa 1690
Challingwood in London, Middlesex circa 1670
Colingwood in Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland circa 1660
Colingwoode in Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland circa 1600
Collingwod in Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland circa 1640
Cullingwood in Durham, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Leicestershire, Staffordshire & Yorkshire circa 18th & 19th century
Kollingwod in Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland circa 1660
Kollingwood in Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland circa 1650

As my research develops, I will add to this list of variants as they emerge.

Name origin

Many believe that the surname Collingwood originated from the Boernicians. This ancient founding race of the north were a mixture of Scottish Picts, Angles and Vikings, a race dating from about the year 400 A.D. From 400 A.D. to 900 A.D. their territory was overrun firstly by the Ancient Britons, then the Angles from the south, and finally, the Vikings, Picts and Dalriadans from the north. By 1000 A.D. however, the race had formed into discernible Clans and families, perhaps some of the first evidence of the family structure in Britain.

The name itself is most likely a locative, topographical name. It has been suggested that the name Collingwood was a place name and arose from a wood, the ownership of which was disputed (from the Middle English 'calenge' meaning 'dispute' or 'challenge'). Thus 'calenge wode' or 'wood of disputed ownership' probably became the name Collingwood. However, the origins of the name can be more clearly identified and relate to events which took place in the year 1138.

Robert de Ferrers was the son of one of William the Conquerors Norman knights who came to England in 1066. His seat was in Derbyshire in Tutbury castle. Robert was made an Earl by King Stephen and became the 1st Earl of Derby. Robert raised a body of local Derbyshire soldiers to fight the Scots in 1138 in what became known as the 'Battle of Northallerton' in the August of that year. To motivate his men, Robert promised that he would give a grant of land to 'that man, who should perform the greatest feats of valour' during the ensuing battle, which was a resounding victory for the English army. The promised land was claimed by a Derbyshire man by the name of Ralph and true to his word, Robert Ferrers granted the land from his estate in the Forest of Needwood, under the name of Boscum calumpniatum, Callingwood, or the 'Claimed wood'.

So the 'challenge' was not about a dispute over ownership, it was about the Earl of Derby setting a 'challenge' which was claimed by Ralph for his valour in the 'Battle of Northallerton'. Ralph became known as Ralph de Calengwode or Ralph of Challenge wood and the grant of land remained in his hands and in the hands of his heirs as decreed by the Earl of Derby. The actual place Callingwood can be found in Staffordshire, not far from Burton upon Trent at OS map reference SK 194238.

Most of the variants listed above which contain the hint of 'Challenge' are  to be found in the county of Staffordshire or Derbyshire. It is worth noting that with the exception of Callingwood and a couple of others, most of the variants listed above fell out of use long before the 19th century.

There is a new hypothesis written by Robin Sydney Collingwood (a Stanhope, County Durham descendant) which suggests that Coanwood, a settlement near Haltwhistle in Northumberland is the actual origin of the name in this county. It is reputed that Coanwood was sometime written as Collingwood in ancient times. Coanwood literally means 'hazel wood'. A very early variant of Collingwood has been discovered in the form of a William Collanwode, sometimes written as William de Colleinwod, who was probably born circa 1385. This William had a son called John Collanwood who was born circa 1416 and in all probability, it is from this line that the famous Collingwoods of Eslington are descended. 

In all probability, the name may not have existed before this time. In 'A History of Northumberland in Three Parts' by John Crawford Hodgson, a list of knights and men-at-arms is listed by Sheriff Gilbert de Beroughdon on 7th July 1323 in the 17th year of the reign of King Edward II, which includes - Robert de Esselington (knight), William de Esselington, Robert de Byker and Robert de Ryhll (all men-at arms). It is my belief that these four are the earliest Collingwoods that can be found, even though the were named after their place of origin. Eslington, Byker, Great and Little Ryle are all place names famously associated with the Collingwood family in Northumberland and are well known to those who seek the origins of the name today.

Speculation will continue of course, regarding the meaning and origin of the name and I have to accept that I may never find any conclusive proof to answer this question once and for all and beyond all reasonable doubt. In the meantime, we have to speculate, based on the balance of probability, that there were most likely two separate places of origin with two completely different meanings, which over the course of the last 700 hundred years have merged into the surname Collingwood as we know it today.

Historical occurrences of the name

The earliest records of the name Collingwood are found in Northumberland, a rough and hilly tract of land on the borders between England and Scotland. In particular, the name is associated with Coquetdale, which is one of three valleys which lead through the Cheviot Hills from England into Scotland. In the 13th century, the Collingwood family were one of many such families or Clans, collectively known as the 'Border Reivers'. These fighting families were loyal to the family first and paid little allegiance to the Crown either side of the border. They were finally forcibly dispersed by King James I after centuries of lawlessness which included cattle rustling, kidnapping, prison breaking, murder, rape and pillage.

The Collingwood family established their ancestral seat at Esslington where they held a manor and estates in Northumberland. Sir John Collingwood was the early scion of the family, holding the rank of High Sheriff of Northumberland. His son, Sir Robert Collingwood, was also High Sheriff and had no fewer than four wives. Sir Cuthbert Collingwood was an English Border Chief of great renown, head of the Clan which was known for its defence of the Middle March on the border.

The estates at Esslington were seized by the Crown and the head of the family, Sir George Collingwood, was tried for treason for his part in the Jacobite Rebellion. Sir George was hung, drawn and quartered in Liverpool on the 24th February 1717.

A later Sir Cuthbert was elevated to the peerage on 9th November 1805 as Baron Collingwood of Caldburne & Hethpool for his part in the Battle of Trafalgar.

From recent history, prominent bearers of the name Collingwood include:

General Sir George Collingwood
Brigadier Sidney Collingwood
Rt. Rev. Canon Cuthbert Collingwood
John Collingwood, Director of Unilever
Adrian Collingwood, Chairman of the Eggs Authority
Paul Collingwood, England cricketer
Charles Collingwood, actor and television presenter

Name frequency

In the United Kingdom today, the Collingwood name is shared by approximately 3,096 people giving it a frequency rate per million of population (FPM) of 49.69 (based on population of 62.3 million).

World-wide, there are approximately 6,344 people alive today who share the Collingwood surname.

As of November 2013, I have pieced together 52 separate branches of the Collingwood family tree containing approximately 10,000 named individuals world-wide who fall within the scope of my study (i.e. were born with the surname Collingwood, or married into the Collingwood family).

Out of these 10,000 the top 10 most common names in order of popularity are:

1. John
2. William
3. Thomas
4. George
5. James
6. Joseph
7. Edward
8. Henry
9. Charles
10. Robert

Distribution of the name

Since 1841, the main areas of distribution for the Collingwood surname has been in the English counties of Northumberland, Durham, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and London (which includes those parts of the counties of Middlesex, Surrey and Kent deemed to be within London) and Essex. This suggests a migration pattern down the east coast of England following the dispersal of the 'reiver' families by King James I. Wales, and the western counties, both in the north and the south have far fewer occurrences of the name, though numbers have increased slightly over the latter part of the 19th century and into the 20th century.

The maritime heritage associated with the Collingwood family is well recorded in both the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy. However, another link with the sea has been established associated with HM Coast Guard and HM Revenue and Excise. All of these connections go part way to explaining the distribution of the name along the sea-board of the United Kingdom.

Another factor associated with the distribution of the name is mining and in particular coal. The collieries in Northumberland and County Durham are linked with many of the Collingwood families in this region.

World-wide, the highest density of the surname as a FPM rate is found in some districts within New Zealand. However the current number of people bearing the surname Collingwood is only approximately 214.

Australia has approximately 796 people bearing the name today.
Canada has about 389.
USA has about 1,753.
Ireland has about 9.
Argentina has about 31.
Spain has about 24.
France has about 29.
Belgium has about 3.


The data I am collecting is contained within numerous spreadsheets and documents and is initially focused on English counties.

I have circa 52 branches of the Collingwood tree so far with English roots which are maintained in conjunction with Whilst these trees are currently private and inaccessible to the general public, I am prepared to consider all requests for access on an individual basis, provided a valid reason for the request is given. I also reserve the right to remove access if I feel my research is being abused for any reason.


I have completed a Y-DNA 37 marker test and have published the results on under the surname Collingwood. In October 2013, I created a Collingwood DNA Project with Anyone who visits this site who is a direct male descendant of a Collingwood (ie shares the surname or a close variation) and has also completed a Y-DNA test, is encouraged to share their information on this site in an attempt to identify matches. I have also added my DNA profile to the website

The Y chromosome passes from father to son virtually unchanged from generation to generation. It is therefore possible to identify long lost cousins and calculate with a high degree of probability how many generations ago we shared a most recent common ancestor!

My haplogroup is R1b1a2 (R-M269). This group is shared by almost half the male population in Western Europe and in the British Isles it accounts for about 70% of the male population. Migration means that this group is also present in the Americas, Australia and New Zealand. The individual nucleotides within this chromosome mutate over time and it is therefore possible to pinpoint with a high degree of accuracy which family one belongs to despite the millions of individuals who are within this particular group.

This haplogroup is believed to have originated in western Asia around 7,000 years ago and spread north into Europe via the Balkans (modern day Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia) where the highest concentrations of this haplogroup are to be found today. This migration happened after the end of the last Ice Age and was the result of the spread of farming, which replaced the hunter/gatherer way of life.

One of the oldest known male to share this haplogroup is the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun. As this particular haplogroup accounts for less than 1% of modern day Egyptians, it can be assumed that Tutankhamun's family were not indigenous to Egypt!

Another early ancestor who shared this haplogroup was the Irish King Niall of the Nine Hostages (he reputedly kidnapped St Patrick and took him to Ireland). Niall reigned from the late 4th Century AD to the early 5th Century AD. Niall regularly attacked Scotland and England and reputedly fathered many offspring which explains why today, there are countless thousands, possibly millions of people who share his genetic material.