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About the study

A very warm welcome to the Foulds One Name Study page, (incorporating Folds, Fowlds and other variants).  I have a Facebook page where I post information, snippets and stories every week.  Just search on Foulds One Name Study and 'like' the page to receive a regular feed.  A big thank you too, to those of you who continue to contribute information or ask questions about their own family research which links into the One Name Study, its always great to hear from you, wherever you are in the world.

A bit about me: I originally studied Geography and Anthropology at university and am now a student of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies. My special interests are in the history of the landscape and gardens, and migration, so the latter will form a major focus of my research. Whilst working in the NHS, I spent many years producing, analysing and presenting workforce information so population statistics fascinate me. At the present time, I have traced my own lineage back to Thomas Ffolds of Hasland, Derbyshire, who died in 1669. My One Name study ranks as a medium sized study, and will be global in nature.


Variant names

Whilst the Foulds form of the surname has the highest frequency in the UK and worldwide, other variants being studied include Folds and Fowlds, (alongside other possible variants or deviants - Fould, Fouldes, Fold, Foldes, Foldys, Fowld and Fowldes).  In states like Georgia in the USA, Folds is the more prevalent spelling.

Redmonds argues strongly that each hereditary surname is unique and one can only find the real meaning of a surname when you delve more closely into the circumstances surrounding each origin and evolution. Some surnames could change fundamentally in the course of two or three generations, become identical with other surnames, or become confused with place names or personal names with which they had no real connection (G. Redmonds, Surnames and Genealogy, A New Approach, 2002). I will be applying this thinking when I look into the potential origins of Foulds and its variants.

Name origin

There are two main theories about the origins of the name Foulds in surname dictionaries. One derives from the word meaning an enclosure or pen, normally for retaining sheep or other animals. As such, it could be a topographical surname, derived from a manmade feature of the landscape and meaning (someone who lived near) a fold, or possibly metonymic, derived from the occupation of someone who worked at a fold. The origin of the word is the Old English word falod or later fald, and the Middle English fold (Reaney and Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edition). The 's' on Foulds would be genitive, meaning 'of the fold' or could mean son of someone who lived or worked at the fold; however it is more normal in the latter instance to find the full suffix '-son' applied in the northern counties from which the name appears to derive. I have found only a very few instances of Foldson or Fouldson to date.

The second theory is that the surname is toponymic and derives from a place called Folds, possibly a village in Sharples township, Bolton parish, Lancashire (C.W.E. Bardsley, A Dictionary of English and Welsh Names with special American instances). However, research has already shown me that there are other potential places from which the surname could be derived, if it is indeed a toponymic name.

Historical occurrences of the name

Some of the earliest occurrences of the surname are shown below and they also demonstrate the variety of spellings found:

Hugh del Foldis 1275 (Wakefield), Adam in le Fold 1327 (Derbyshire), John atte Fold 1327 (Somerset), Adam de Falde 1332 (Staffordshire), John del ffald 1332 (Cumberland). The latter four are found in Subsidy Rolls, the former in the Court Rolls of the Manor of Wakefield.

The earliest mentions in the IGI are:
Elizabethe Fouldes, daughter of James Fouldes, buried 19th June 1521 in Lancashire.
Robert Fouldes, buried 28th September 1523 in Lancashire.
Male Folds, baptised 1541, Wingerworth (Derbyshire).
Margret Fould, daughter of John Fould, buried 15th January 1549 in North Elmham, Norfolk.

There were two Foulds or Folds families identified early on in Trawden, Lancashire, one in Wycoller and one in Beardshaw. Geoffrey Folds was at Beardshaw in 1527 and his son James in 1547. Piers Folds was at Wycoller. The family remained at Trawden until the nineteenth century, appearing in hearth tax returns and other documentation. (Key references include the History of the County of Lancaster Vol 6 - included in, and the Annals of Trawden Forest by Fred Bannister, 1992.)

A nineteenth century book called the Sayings and Doings of the Rev. James Folds (Joseph Dodson Greenhalgh and James Folds) refers to his direct descent from 'an ancient and respectable family of that name, of Danes House, now a deserted mansion situated about half a mile to the north of Burnley ..'

Early references in the United States include Elizabeth Foulds who migrated with her husband and three children to Bucks County, Pennsylvania from Marsden, Lancashire, in 1699, but died two months after arrival, with her children being taken under the care of the Middletown Meeting.

Famous people bearing the Foulds surname include the following:

JOHN HERBERT FOULDS, British composer of classical music (1880 - 1939).
John Foulds was a controversial figure, whose daring, creative abilities were scorned by many in the musical world at the time. He further upset the establishment by failing to serve in the First World War as well as espousing political beliefs deriving from his underprivileged background, which were feared by those who had seen the Russian Revolution of 1907. He was largely self taught and used a technique called 'clairaudience' to compose, whereby strict dieting and meditation enabled him to receive his music as dictation from the spirit world. His second marriage was to the Irish writer and musician, Maud MacCarthy. After moving to India in 1935, he immersed himself in Indian music and synthesising it with Western music. One of his best known works is the Requiem, which was played from 1923 to 1926 at the Armistice Day Festival, using no fewer than 1,250 musicians. After his death, his work was largely ignored by the musical establishment although the Requiem was performed once again in 2007 on Remembrance Day at the Royal Albert Hall. Other works include orchestral works such as Epithalamium and Three Mantras, plus lighter works such as the Keltic Suite.

ADAM FOULDS, poet and novelist (born 1974)
Adam Foulds was awarded Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year 2008 for his comic debut novel, The Truth about these Strange Times. His verse novella, The Broken Word, won the Costa Poetry Prize in 2008. The novella presents the story of a public school boy experiencing the Kenyan Mau Mau uprising of the 1950's on his family farm in Kenya, before proceeding to Oxford. Foulds explores a white settler's personal experience of the uprising and his new life, juxtaposed against the suffering he is removed from. The Quickening Maze was published in 2009. It focuses on the incarceration of the poet John Clare in High Beach Asylum in Epping Forest and was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize.

ELFRIDA VIPONT FOULDS, teacher and writer (1902 - 1992)
Elfrida Vipont married R Percy Foulds, a research technologist in 1926. She became a teacher, a writer and was a lifelong member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). She wrote books on Quakerism, short biographies and many books for children. The Lark on the Wing (1950) is a children's book for which she won the Carnegie Medal in Literature. By far her most famous book is the Elephant and the Bad Baby (1969), for which she collaborated with illustrator Raymond Briggs, of James and the Snowman fame.

NEAL FOULDS, snooker player and commentator (born 1963).

In my own direct family line, there is JOHN TORR FOULDS, Engineer and Chief Millwright, London Bridge Waterworks (born 1742, Derbyshire, died 1815 London). He was one of the foremost early engineers of his day. In 1795 he received the Gold Medal of the Society of Arts for inventing a machine which cut piles under water. He played a notable role in the planning of the West India Docks and the early phases of the City Ship Canal. He was admitted to the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers in 1793 and became Master of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers in 1801.

Name frequency

According to the frequency of the FOULDS surname in 1881 was 2035 (75 occurrences per million names) but had dropped to 1819 in 1998 (49 occurrences per million names). It had a rank order of 2121 in 1881, which had changed to 3132 by 1998.

FOLDS had a frequency of 5 per million names in 1881, reducing to 2 by 1998. FOWLDS had, by comparison, slightly increased in frequency, moving from 3 per million in 1881 to 4 by 1998.

Internationally, in 1998, the frequency of the surname Foulds per million names was very similar in Canada to Great Britain, lower in New Zealand (71% of the GB frequency rate), Australia (49% of the GB rate) and fairly low in the USA (12% of the GB rate).

Distribution of the name

FOULDS: The 1881 census (UK results) shows a marked clustering of the surname around its potential area of origin ( The highest concentration was in Lancashire, particularly around the Blackburn area. There were also high concentrations on the west side of Yorkshire, and lower concentrations in Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, with virtually no other significant findings other than on the west coast of Scotland.

FOLDS: Although there was some presence of the surname Folds in the 1881 census in Lancashire, this variant had a notable geographical pattern, being confined very largely to the area around Hertfordshire and the north of London.

FOWLDS: This surname also had a notable geographical pattern, along the Pennine spine. There was a clustering around Chester/North Wales in 1881 and some usage across Mid Wales. In Scotland, there was a marked distribution along the west coast.

By 1998, the Foulds surname was found across a broader span of the northern counties, stretching from Cumbria to Leicester, although still with the highest concentration in Lancashire and W. Yorkshire. The top UK town by total occurrence was Colne, Lancashire ( There were higher frequencies around London and the home counties, and areas of high urbanisation such as the Southampton area. The distribution on the west coast of Scotland also remained.

There are similar surnames to Foulds with potentially the same meaning in other countries, such as Fauld or Faulds in Scotland, Ffald in Wales and Fold in Denmark. There is a separate word meaning sheepfold in Cornish and the surname is found very infrequently there. The surname Fould is found in France and Germany but has a different derivation.  In order to make the project manageable I am not proposing to study Faulds, Fauld or Fauldes as the 1881 distribution map seems to indicate a specific and different origin for that name, on the west coast of Scotland, even if the meaning of the surname could be similar. However, I will be looking at occurrences of Foulds, Folds or Fowlds on the west coast of Scotland, to see if these represent variant spellings, the results of migration northwards, or other factors. It would be nice to think that at some point in the future, a parallel One Name Study on Faulds may be created by another researcher.


During the past year I have concentrated on transcribing census data into Excel, for England, Wales, Scotland, the US and Canada. Whilst the UK data is furthest advanced, I have also established a comparative position for 1880/81 across England, Wales, Scotland, America and Canada, which is already highlighting some very interesting areas for analysis. These will include the comparative location of the spelling Foulds and Folds - the main variants - which have very distinct patterns. I plan to undertake further analysis on areas such as occupation, age profiles, marital horizons, size of family, migration patterns etc. As the project is in its relative infancy, I have not yet stored any data in the Guild Archive but that is my eventual aim.

I have downloaded and transcribed all births, marriages and deaths for Foulds and variants from FreeBMD, and also parish register entries for the UK from Family Search. I will be extending this type of work to cover other countries, on a systematic basis - for example, starting with counties in which the surname Foulds, Folds and variants were prevalent in 1880 in the United States.

I have set up an electronic record of all soldiers who died in World War I, plus the location of their graves, via the Commonwealth Graves Commission site.

I have begun collecting the Foulds surname and its variants from a variety of sources, such as burial records, wills, memorial inscriptions, printed sources, newspapers etc and incorporated these into relevant databases.

I have started on family reconstitution in England, commencing with the counties of Derbyshire and London as pilot areas.

Research in the UK to date is already showing that spelling of the name varies considerably over time (not unexpectedly), and that a spelling of Folds in one census can be Fowlds or Faulds in another, and so on. What I need to try to do is identify true variants, rather than deviant spellings.

I would also like to extend my data transcription to include at least some electoral registers for Australia and New Zealand, so that the study is global from an early stage, even though this creates further complexity for the study.

My background reading has included some detailed reading on migration issues for the UK, US, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, so that I can better understand the factors which may have affected the movement of the Foulds/Folds families over time. If any reader of this page has information in particular on the Folds families in Georgia, or perhaps ancestors who lived there, I would very much welcome further information at this stage.

Perhaps the other area to mention is that I believe I could have identified a further meaning for the surname Folds, other than that which is listed under origins, above. In 1881 there were a very specific cluster of Folds families in Hertfordshire, where I understand that fould could mean a hill in local dialect. If, over time, it could be shown that these families originated separately from the northern clusters of (predominantly) Foulds around Lancashire, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire, there may be a separate derivation of the surname. If any reader has further information on the meaning of 'fold' in Hertfordshire or family history in that area, I would be very pleased to hear from you.

Thank you once again to readers of the webpage who share information and family stories with me. I welcome all queries, information and enjoy reading the fantastic work which has been done to date.


I have registered a future study, but I do not anticipate that it will become active until after the first couple of years of the study, as the priorities are set out above.