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About the study
The name Cumpston(e) also spelt as Compston(e), Cumston(e) or Comston(e) originated in the North West of England. During the period 1550 to 1799, 240 baptisms (95%) are found in Westmorland, North Lancashire and the Yorkshire Dales. Seventy two per cent occur in Westmorland with more than half of these recorded in the parishes of Kirkby Stephen and Brough.
The surname is probably derived from a name given to the people who lived in the remote parts of the Pennines before the Norman Conquest. Danes settled the coastal areas and river valleys of Cumbria in the ninth century. In the tenth century new invaders, this time Norse speakers from the old Viking settlements in Ireland and the Scottish Isles, fought with and conquered the Cumbrian Danes. Over time the native Celts would have been assimilated into the Danish/Norse way of life, but semi-independent pockets of Celtic speakers would have survived in the uplands. The new immigrants may have referred to these people by their name of Cymry (Celtic) adding the Norse word Stain to indicate that they lived in the hilly parts. The Anglo-Saxons who held sway in Northumbria may have applied the name. However, this is thought unlikely as there is little historical evidence to suggest that many Saxons settled West of the Pennines.
During the early Middle Ages, the population throughout England adopted surnames. In many cases these were occupational such as Smith or Baker. Others were patronymic, for example, Johnson or Robson, or descriptive such as Fairbrother or Lightfoot. In some cases people would adopt a name from the district or village where they were born such as Halstead or Townsend. In the case of the people who lived in the uplands of Westmorland and the Yorkshire Dales most would have adopted descriptive or occupational names. Others, however, would have used the locality to describe themselves; hence Cymry + Stain becomes anglicized as Cumbre + Stan or Cumpston(e), and probably evolved as a name unique to one or two family groups who lived in a small and remote area.
Now all this does leave one outstanding question which relates to the connection between the Cumpstones of the North West and the surname of Cumpson/Cumson/Comson which was once concentrated in the West Midlands. Whilst there are examples which point to a connection between the two, it is thought that the names evolved quite separately, and is based again on an analysis of the distribution of baptisms covering the period 1550 to 1799. This reveals that more than 90% of all Cumpsons are recorded in parishes in the West Midlands with heavy concentrations in the Counties of Worcestershire and Staffordshire (75%). Of all the baptisms in these two counties more than two-thirds appear in the registers of the adjacent parishes of Old Swinton (Worcs.) and Kingswinford/Brierley Hill (Staffs.). Only four Compson baptisms have been found in England north of the Mersey. Conversely, only twelve stray Cumpstone baptisms are found South of the Yorkshire Dales (four of these relate to a Cambridge family).
Paradoxically, the two names may have a similar meaning. Bearing in mind the close proximity to Wales the ancestors of the Cumpsons could have been small settlements of Welsh speakers, who would have described themselves as the Cymry. Over the centuries this may have evolved by people describing an individual as a son of a Cymry which became anglicized as Cum + son, or Cumpson. The only problem with this is that the Saxons normally referred to the Celtic peoples as the wealisc (modern day Welsh) from the Anglo-Saxon word wealh meaning foreigner. Examples of surnames derived from this source are Walton and Walcot. The only other explanation is that the name is a patronymic derived from an English surname such as Combe or Comp(ton).
Few persons named Cumpston live today in the Cumbria region. By the time of the 1881 census many had already moved to the industrial areas of Scotland, Wales, Lancashire and the Midlands.