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About the study

The Duncalf One Name Study began in 1982 as a result of research into my own direct paternal line, and I joined the Guild of One-Name Studies in 1983. The first issue of the Duncalf Dossier was published in May 1987 and has continued as a twice yearly newsletter ever since. Since 1982 information about Duncalf families in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand has been gathered, with the help of many Duncalf descendants around the world.

Variant names

There are two true variants of Duncalf(e). Although at least two families, at present unconnected, always use Duncalfe, the 'e' has been attached to the name at random throughout the centuries. There are also some families whose recent ancestors have added the 'e' to Duncalf.

Isaiah Duncalf was baptised at Bowdon, Cheshire in 1700. He moved to Oldham in his twenties and immediately became a Duncuft. His present descendants still use this spelling. His brother, who remained in Cheshire, named all Isaiah's Duncalf children in his will, whilst the Oldham parish registers almost always describe them as Duncoft or Duncuft.

In the 18th century a mistake was made (according to the will of Wiilliam Duncalf alias Duncuff of Birmingham) and to the present day almost all Duncuffs can be traced back to the Birmingham area.

Duncliff(e) has been included as a variant as this is a very common mis-spelling, which has been adopted over several generations by one family. However, not all Duncliff(e)s are Duncalfs. I also have a family in Wednesbury, Staffordshire that alternates in many different records between Duncalf, Duncuff, Duncum and Duncomb.

There are a great many other spellings of Duncalf due to regional accent (did John Duncaleph have a Welsh accent?), and the vagaries of spelling before the 19th century. One of my favourites is a Doouncallfe baptised at Prestbury, Cheshire in the 16th century. Transcribing errors have produced Dimcalf, Dewcalf, Duncup and even Dimcugli!

Name origin

Duncalf is a nickname, but how was that nickname acquired? The earliest currently known reference is to an Adam Duncalf of Macclesfield, a shoemaker, who appears in the book "Enforcement of the Statutes of Labourers During the First Decade after the Black Death 1349 - 1359" by B. H. Putnam. He was fined in 1349 under the Statutes for selling his shoes at too high a price. A second, or perhaps the same, Adam Duncalf was fined one shilling in 1361 [National Archives ref: SC2/252/14 membrane 10] for not living within the borough (of Macclesfield). This second Adam was a tanner and cobbler. There was in Macclesfield a street named "Soutergate", souter being the Latin for cobbler, and it is possible that Adam the shoemaker/cobbler/tanner had a shop on this street. He would have had a sign outside his shop to show what he was selling. Is it possible that if he was a tanner as well as a shoemaker or cobbler he might have had a dun coloured calf on his sign, and so became known as "Adam at the Dun Calf"? This seems a feasible theory. However, a complication is introduced by the appearance of Thomas Duncalf, a soldier who had fought at Poitou near Anjou, France with Sir James Audley in 1369. Thomas gave evidence at a famous trial in which Sir Richard Scrope and Sir Robert Grosvenor both claimed the same coat of arms. Thomas's evidence was given in 1386 and he gave his age then as 58, perhaps making him contemporary with Adam. Whether Adam and Thomas were related is not known, but if they were Thomas may have acquired the surname by association, Adam perhaps being his brother or father. None of this can be proved at the present time and remains just a theory.

Historical occurrences of the name

John Duncuft (1796-1852), MP for Oldham 1847-1852.

John Duncalf of Codsall (1655-1677) who stole a bible, then denied the theft with an imprecation wishing that his hands might rot off if he did. Within a few weeks he was dead, his hands and legs having rotted off. His story was told in writing by J Illingworth, a Puritan minister, who spent some time with John before he died. It is said that people from as far away as London came to see John, holding scented handkerchiefs to their noses, and that sermons were preached about him from pulpits throughout the land.

Roy Duncalfe (1919-1999), a member of the Long Range Desert Group during the second World War. Roy was portrayed by Richard Attenborough in the film 'Sea of Sand'.

Distribution of the name

It is almost certain that the name appeared first in Cheshire, in the Macclesfield area. The Harleian manuscripts for Cheshire contain several pedigrees showing the Duncalf family going back to the 14th century; one Thomas Duncalf married Elizabeth de Foxwist, daughter and heir of Vivian de Foxwist, thereby becoming the Lord of the Manor of Foxwist, near Prestbury in Cheshire. This Thomas is said to be the grandfather of another Thomas, a lawyer, who was born c1410. However, there are as many variations of this pedigree as there are well known Cheshire historians (Ormerod, Earwaker and Renaud).

By the end of the 16th century Duncalfs were to be found in fairly large numbers in Cheshire, Lancashire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Yorkshire. This shows a natural spread from Cheshire to surrounding counties, and the 15th and 16th century Duncalfs at Foxwist were known to have Lancashire connections. The Duncalf family in East Yorkshire can be traced to Cheshire, as can John Duncalf, Vicar of Ashby Puerorum in Lincolnshire (died 1624). Duncalfs in London at that time do not cause much surprise, but what of the isolated families in St Albans (Hertfordshire) and Tewksbury (Gloucestershire), and the rather large Duncalf family in Cornwall. Is it possible that the name Duncalf could have arisen simultaneously in several places at once, or is it more likely that the social status of the early Cheshire family gave a greater chance of mobility to its descendants? I am also intrigued by a priest called Hugh Duncalf who was buried at Micheldever in Hampshire in 1543.

It is interesting to note that in the 1901 census returns Duncalfs are still mainly restricted to Cheshire, Lancashire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Yorkshire, Warwickshire, Cornwall and the London area. Duncalfs elsewhere are isolated cases, such as the dentist in Northamptonshire (origin Cornwall) and two single sisters on the Isle of Man (origin Shropshire). Many of the Cheshire families had migrated to Liverpool in the 19th century, and of the two main London families the Southwark branch originated in Penkridge, Staffordshire whilst the Duncuffs of course originated in Birmingham. My father left Cheshire with his parents for Essex in about 1930, and for many years we were the only Duncalfs in the local telephone directory.

Many Duncalf families emigrated to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Most of the present day Canadian Duncalfes are descended from one Shropshire family. There is a large family of Duncalfs in Iowa of Yorkshire descent, and a Macclesfield family emigrated to Wisconsin. I haven't yet been able to trace the ancestry of two Duncuffs who were in New York by 1850. At least one Duncalf was forcibly removed to Australia, and other families went of their own accord, the largest contingent being from two Staffordshire families, one of which definitely had its roots in Cheshire. New Zealand became the home of the descendants of one Cheshire born Samuel Duncalf who is buried at Palmerston.


Thirty four years of research has amassed a very large amount of data. The usual sources i.e. births, marriages and deaths, IGI, wills, census returns (UK and USA), parish register entries, marriage bonds and allegations, monumental inscriptions, military records etc. combined with other interesting material from Quarter Sessions, poor law documents, apprenticeship records and newspapers amongst others, have been collected and used to draw up family trees for many separate families, several of which show signs of merging in the future. There are also a few hundred 'unattached' Duncalfs. I am proud to say that I recently found my first vagabond in the Cheshire Quarter Sessions - Mary the wife of a Devon curate (origin Cheshire) was apprehended in Stockport in 1742.

Duncalf and variant births, marriages and deaths from July 1837 to December 1983 may be found at my Guild Archive.