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About the study

For many years, I've been researching our Family name and am delighted there are hundreds of Darwoods around the world today - welcome to our site and do join our new Darwood DNA Project.
My initial research was spent in the open galleries of Somerset House in London, carefully lifting down the large and heavy (22 lbs) index volumes of Births, Marriages, Deaths and Wills from 1837 to the present and studiously recording all 2,000 Darwoods.  In those days, Census records were only available on microfiche or film at the Land Registry buildings near Chancery Lane but alas, these were not indexed by person, only by place; this resulted in many more days of strained eyes. 
Joining the Society of Genealogists in 1973 and using their extensive records in London, helped focus my research and challenged me to dig further.  The  recent cascade of easily accessible records on the internet has enabled me to complete my Birth Brief,  showing  my 16 great great grandparents.     
At Christmas 1973, I wrote to all 104 Darwoods listed in the UK Phone books and since then, many have shared their fascinating family stories.  I've been privileged to meet super Darwoods both in England and abroad and we continue to build our Family histories.         

Complementing my surname research, I'€™m equally interested in the social history of my ancestors. I was horrified to discover that my great grandfather'€™s town of Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, had the lowest life expectancy (just 27 yrs) in the whole of England during the 1840'€™s, the contaminated water supplies leading to repeated outbreaks of cholera.  I doubt that today's Wisbech children are aware that under their large, grassed play area just outside the town, are the cholera burial pits.

Since joining The Guild of On-Name Studies, I'€™ve concentrated on the Darwoods and welcome contact with all those who share our unusual surname, wherever in the world they currently live.  Please read the final paragraph of this Profile which gives details of the latest and most exciting genealogy development - the opportunity to join our new Darwood DNA Project.

Variant names

In earlier centuries, our surname had various spellings, the most common being Darwarde, Darrwood and Dorwood - easy to understand in those days when exact spelling was unimportant. The spelling of names was dependant on the foibles of local clergy and the accents of the informants who often could not read or write so were unable to check the accuracy of their entry.  However, none of these variants is still in use in England today although if you come across one of these, do contact me.

Name origin

Some folk conjecture that Darwood is a locative name, meaning "€œan important person who lived by or in a wood, whose occupation was in the manufacture of seed crops"€ and suggest our name derives from the ancient Adamic generation. There was a medieval Lincolnshire settlement named DARWOOD but all that now remains is a C15th House and a farm.
Another possible derivation of 1640 links it to Derwent, a Derbyshire settlement now submerged under Derwent reservoir.  Interestingly, during WWII this reservoir was used by pilots of 617 Squadron for practising the low-level flights needed for the "Dam Busters" raids, due to its similarity to the German dams.  Today, one of the towers of Derwent dam houses the commemorative Derwent Valley Museum.

Others believe Darwood to be an occupational name, meaning those who guarded (ie door-ward) the king'€™s room, and this has some credibility in ancient Scottish records where in 1228, Alan Durward was granted a large estate in the Dee valley.  My Family folklore suggested that all Darwoods originated from just two English families although with the benefit of recent research, this is unlikely to be true.

Historical occurrences of the name

East Anglia, Gloucestershire and NW England together with London

The first recorded Darwoods that I've found appear in 1528, with The Protestation Returns of 1641 and The Hearth Tax of 1674 showing many Darwood families occurring in Huntingdonshire where my ancestors lived. Other early records show Darwoods in Gloucestershire and London at a similar time.

Name frequency

Checking through various Census records (and correcting mistranscriptions) shows:

  •  in 1841, there were 109 Darwoods in England and Wales
  • by 1881, this had risen to 164 Darwoods, predominately in London, East Anglia and Cumberland
  • in 1911, the Darwoods totalled 223
  • the 1939 Register (an 'emergency Census' at the outbreak of WWII) shows 232 Darwoods - this Register excludes those who were born less than 100 years ago unless their Death has been verified                                                                                                                          

More recently,

  • by 2002, an official database indicates 362 Darwoods living in England and Wales, confirming that ours remains a fairly unusual surname
  • a further 30 Darwoods live in Canada, 83 in the US and a sprinkling in Australia and S  Africa.      
    I have records of 683 marriages registered between 1837 and 2009 including copies of many Certificates -€“ perhaps I can help your research by sharing a copy.

Distribution of the name

In the early C19th, the devastating effects of the Agricultural Revolution such as the introduction of threshing machines, resulted in mass unemployment in the countryside.  This led to a huge exodus from the land to the towns. and by 1851, urban populations equalled rural populations.  Much of the Darwood migration from East Anglia occurred between 1840 and 1860.
Many Darwood families can trace the time their ancestors were forced to leave the rural way of life and migrated from Huntingdonshire/Cambridgeshire to other areas for work.  My direct ancestors were amongst those who went to London which was an easy train journey of sixty miles.  London, known then as the city whose streets were paved in gold, attracted a huge influx of people, growing sixfold in just one hundred years from one million in 1800 to six million by 1900.  
With hindsight, we know that London's streets were not 'paved in gold' and this unprecedented population increase often resulted in horrendous living conditions for the poor. The 1889 Poverty maps of London produced by Charles Booth clearly show that 35% of East Enders lived in abject poverty, with half of those children dying before their fifth birthday.  Even in the 20th century, social deprivation was widespread in East London, my ancestors included - the TV series "Call the Midwife" accurately portrays the lifestyle of the 1950s and 1960s prior to the concerted Slum Clearance programmes.
One James Darwood, a canal boatman, died during an outbreak of Cholera in 1834 at Braunston in Northamptonshire, leaving his wife Charlotte with six young children (eldest nine) to raise with the support of her local family.  Eventually, they all moved to Kings Norton in Birmingham with two brothers joining the glassmaking industry and their descendants form a large group of Darwoods in Birmingham today.  I'm keen to find where this James d1834 fits into our Family tree and I welcome any evidence that may help.
Other Darwood families travelled to Cumbria becoming miners.  Unfortunately, in those times, mining accidents were common and in 1897,  James Darwood was killed in Walkmill Colliery, Whitehaven aged 20. On a happier note, twelve year old Arthur Darwood, the eldest of 11 children, ran away from the family farm in Huntingdonshire to make his fortune in Grimsby.  Arthur also had 11 children and many of them became Grimsby trawler captains.   One of these captains achieved notoriety within a month of World War II starting; in September 1939 he sunk a German U-boat by ramming it.  The Darwood dynasty in Grimsby continues to this day. 
Other Darwoods ventured abroad; an entrepreneurial John Darwood had become established in The Far East, developing a huge timber empire in Burma.  In 1901, he also built The Strand hotel in Rangoon which was regarded as "€œthe finest hostelry east of Suez of the most luxurious in the British Empire"€ and John had many other business interests in what is now Yangon.
David Darwood, the Wimblington miller, emigrated with his family to the USA in the mid-19th century, eventually establishing the Texas Darwoods of today. Sixty years later, in the early 20th century, two teenage brothers escaped from their overbearing stepfather in Huntingdonshire and their descendants are today'€™s Washington branches. 

Agents of the Canadian government toured East Anglia during the mid to late 19th century, offering inducements of land and money to persuade young families to emigrate and Darwoods now in Vancouver, were among the many families to do so.  Darwoods also emigrated to Australia (and not just as criminals!) whilst more recently, some have emigrated to South Africa.

A Darwoods House was sold in St Ives in 1945 and Darwoods Place still exists there, a Darwood Court is in Huntingdon and another in N. London. A Darwood Street appears in Plymouth, a Darwood hotel in Ayr Scotland whilst in Derbyshire, there is a Darwoods Lane near Bathhurst Colliery. Further afield, there are Darwoods Gardens in Harrison County, Mississippi, and the Sheriff's office in Augusta, California is in Darwood Drive - no significance, of course!

Our name also appears in Julia Parks'€™ romantic, historical novel:  To Marry an Heiress - €“ "it will take a fortune to restore Darwood Hall to glory and a fortune is at the heart of his father's latest scheme to snare Montgomery a wealthy wife"€,   published in the US in 2003.  When I contacted Julia, she told me Darwood Hall no longer exists, if it ever did.


 I need your help, please. Although I do have many records, I'€™ve hit various brickwalls in my research on the Darwoods -€“ your information could be vital in moving us forwards, so please make contact.

I have complete Darwood records of all BMD references from 1837, the various census records from 1841, the Boyd Marriage lists and a huge amount of un-indexed Darwood material, collected over the years. As time becomes available, I try and match all these Darwoods into one of the 29 Family trees that I have currently identified and my aim, with your help, is to link these various trees together -€“ although this is taking me a lifetime, it is very rewarding. I will be delighted to help you with a specific query by referring to my substantial paper records, but please don'€™t ask for a copy of everything I hold!

There were Darwoods sentenced to transportation in the 19th century for what today would be regarded as a petty crime; in 1838, blacksmith John Darwood of Huntingdon was transported for assault to Australia and settled there after completing his sentence.  In 1844, Sarah Darwood, aged 20, was convicted of infanticide - fortunately, her sentence was six months whereas Rebecca Smith of Wiltshire was hanged in 1849 for a similar crime. More recently, another John Darwood, poultry farmer, was convicted of manslaughter in 1939 for shooting dead a suspected chicken thief in Essex.

These 'criminals' are outnumbered by the many Darwoods involved in public life over the years, including Sir John Darwood, a High Court judge and his wife who ran a successful horse-racing business at Newmarket.  Most Darwoods were ordinary country folk; farmers, blacksmiths, shoe/bootmakers, millers and publicans living and working in The Fens of East Anglia, with the trawlermen of Grimsby, the miners of Cumbria and Durham and the coffee-house keepers and carriage builders of London living out their lives often in difficult economic situations, yet each of whom is a part of our rich ancestral heritage.

Your information will enable us to build more family trees, so please do make contact - together,  we may uncover some great surprises.


One of the most exciting developments of recent years has been the introduction of DNA testing into genealogy research, enabling men to prove ancestral links between families.  I've recently set up a Darwood DNA Project and strongly encourage you to join this.  If you go to our website   you'll find more details.

We use the 37-marker Y-DNA test inviting the male line to take a simple DNA test.  This involves wiping cotton swabs inside your cheek; the swabs are returned to the FamilyDNA analysis centre in Houston, USA.   The test result contains no personal information and will match you to those to whom you are closely related, hopefully confirming our common ancestor. 

As my research extends back to the 16th century embracing many different family trees, it's very likely that your DNA discoveries will link you into one or more of these trees and I can share my research with yours. 

If you buy your DNA testkit through the Guild of One-Name Studies, you'll receive a good discount - I'm a Guild member and will be pleased to arrange this - email me for details.  Alternatively, you can approach Familytreedna direct via which will give you a Project discount as it links you directly into our Darwood DNA Project.


Thanks for reading my Profile - please join our new DNA project.


This site last updated September 2016.