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About the study
Two variants of the Gwatkin name are currently in use, 'Gwatkin' and 'Gwatkins'. Historically, the name was also written 'Gwatkyn', but this spelling was rare by the middle of the eighteenth century. Like most names, 'Gwatkin' has been written in many different ways, both in original records and in transcriptions of those records. The name was recorded in parish registers in such forms as 'Gwatkyne', 'Guatkin' and 'Gwattkins'. None of these alternate spellings was passed on as a surname.
The 'Gwatkin' names are closely related to the 'Watkin' names. Some Gwatkin family members have been named Watkin, sometimes through the writer mishearing the name, and sometimes through personal choice. Thus, in 1557, the brother of David ap Gwatkyn of Garway, Herefordshire was named Thomas Watkyn (From the will of David ap Gwatkyn).
Interestingly, the name seems sometimes to have been pronounced 'Watkins'. George Hardwick said that in March 1780 Col. Charles Gwatkins of Bedford Viriginia, 'pronounced (his name) Watkins but...spelled his name Gwatkins' ('Pension Application of George Hardwick', Shirley Hornbeck, 2000).
The 'Gwatkin' names originated in Wales and the English counties that border Wales. The Welsh had a patronymic naming system. A child was given his or her father's first name as a second name. Llewelin ap Gwatkyn, who witnessed the signing of a document in Wales in 1466, would have been the son of a man whose first name was Watkyn (Document among the Tredegar Manuscripts, National Library of Wales). At times more than two generations would be reflected in a name. 'Lewis ap Howell ap Gwylim ap Gwatkin' who was granted a tenement in Merther Kenocke in Breconshire in 1539, was Lewis, the son of Howell, who was the son of William who was the son of Watkin (Penlleâr-gaer records, National Library of Wales).
Why would Llewelin ap Gwatkyn be the son of Watkin? The 'ap' or 'ab' used in such names is an abbreviation of 'mab' the Welsh word for son. According to the *Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames*, the name 'Watkin' was derived from 'Walter', 'Wat' being an abbreviation of 'Walter', and '-kin' being a suffix added to names. 'Walter ap Gwyllym of Monmouth', for example, was also known as 'Watkyn ap Gwyllym' (Court of Chancery records, 1544 - 1551, The National Archives). The Welsh sometimes put a 'G' in front of names beginning with 'W' when they followed 'ap', hence 'ap Gwalter', 'ap Gwilliam' and 'ap Gwatkin'.
What would Llewelin's sister Elinor be named? It seems likely that a girl named Elinor with a father named 'Watkin' would have been known as 'Elinor verch Watkin', or 'Elinor ferch Watkin', where 'ferch' meant daughter. I have not found any cases of someone named 'verch Gwatkin' or 'ferch Gwatkin', but I also haven't found any cases where a brother and sister were named 'ap Gwatkin' and 'verch Watkin'. Under the Welsh patronymic system, if Elinor were to marry, she would keep her birth name rather than adopt her husband's name. Hence, in 1539, the wife of Thomas ap Gwatkyn of Coughoell (Crickhowell, Breconshire) was called Helena verch John (Will of Thomas ap Gwatkyn, in *The Gwatkins of Herefordshire*).
Historical occurrences of the name
The earliest use of Gwatkin and its variants that I have found is in 1428, when Thomas ap Gwatkyn is described as living at or owning land known as Tyre Nest in the area of Woluesnewton, Usk, Monmouthshire (Badminton Deeds, National Library of Wales).
Surnames, in the sense in which we use them now, came into use gradually in Wales and the Welsh border counties over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The first use of Gwatkin that resembles the use of a surname that I have identified is in 1543 in Monmouthshire, when, on the 21st of April, a prenuptial agreement was made before the marriage of William Herbert of Monmouthshire and Jane ap Gwatkin, daughter of John Thomas ap John of Langattoke iuxta Veke, gent. and widow of James ap Gwatkin of Lanthewy Rothergh (Milborne Manuscripts, National Library of Wales). The earliest case I have found of the Gwatkin name and its variants being passed from father to child is an IGI record of the baptism of Julian Gwatkyn, daughter of John Gwatkyn, on the 19th of April in 1563 in Little Birch, Herefordshire, England. It is, however, important to realise that one hundred years after this time some people still used their father's name as their last name, hence, in 1666, David Watkins' father was Watkin David of Preston upon Wye, Herefordshire, not Watkin Watkins (Skreen and Velin Newydd, National Library of Wales).
Famous Gwatkins include such people as Henry Melvill Gwatkin, Robert Lovell Gwatkin and Willoughby Garnons Gwatkin.
- Robert Lovell Gwatkin was born in 1757, and became famous for his work as a political reformer, as well as for marrying Theophila Palmer, the niece of Sir Joshua Reynolds.
- Henry Melvill Gwatkin was born in Leicestershire in 1844, to a family which seems to have originated in Herefordshire. He is famous mainly for his time at Cambridge University and his work on theology and church history, but also for his work as a naturalist. Gifford Lecture Series biography of Henry Melvill Gwatkin
- Lieutenant-General Sir Willoughby Garnons Gwatkin was born in 1859 in Twickenham, London, and became famous for his leadership of the Canadian army from 1913-1923, and his work developing the Canadian air force. Sir Willoughby Garnons Gwatkin biography
More infamous Gwatkins include George Gwatkin, who in 1819, aged twenty-three, was prosecuted for breaking into a house and stealing an assortment of clothes, including a pair of stays, valued at six pence, and a sheet, valued at one shilling. His punishment was transportation to Australia for seven years. It seems highly likely that he is the Captain George Gwatkin who, in the 1840s, made many sailings from Tasmania to other parts of Australia and to New Zealand, and who has the following warning written on his gravestone in St David's churchyard in Hobart, Tasmania: *'To spirits he ever was inclined, And spirits 'tis has brought him here, All ye that spirits drink in waste, Consider his untimely end.'*
My current favourite historic Gwatkins are:
- Thomas Gwatkin (1839-1918) whose photograph heads this page. Thomas was the son of Rev. Richard Gwatkin (one time Fellow of St John's, Cambridge) and older brother of Henry Melvill Gwatkin. He was admitted at St John's College 1858, recieved his BA (10th in the Classical Tripos) in 1862, and became a Fellow in 1864. He was Assistant Master at Bromsgrove School 1862-3, at the City of London School 1863-5, and at Dulwich College 1865-9, and Second Master at Lancing School 1869-72, before he retired due to health problems. He was ordained deacon at Ely in 1865, and priest in 1866. He edited the First Philippic of Demosthenes and Aeschines in Ctesiphontem. He resided for many years in Cambridge, where he died 15 Oct. 1918. Four of his sons attended Cambridge. (Thanks to St John's College, Cambridge, for permission to use the photograph and for information about Thomas Gwatkin)
- Captain Gwatkins, who in 1722 challenged the 'pyrates' who attacked his ship, the Amy, as it sailed from Carolina to England. He and his crew killed about 30 pirates and forced the pirate sloop ashore, then attempted prevent the pirates from attacking other ships by sailing to land to burn the sloop. Unfortunately, a shot from the shore killed him. His rather pragmatic crew decided it would be sensible to carry on sailing to England rather than pursue the pirates further! (Information in several newspapers from 1722, including the London-based Post Boy)
- A Gwatkin by marriage - Jane Wardle Gwatkin, nee Brown, of Christchurch, Monmouthshire. When her husband died, she carried on their business, and is a widow working as a Coach Builder on the 1871 census with six children and two nieces, all aged ten and under.
- Geoff Gwatkin, the (living) maker of extremely useful historic maps!
How many Gwatkins are there and have there been? Exact numbers are difficult to determine due to record and transcript errors. What follows is an estimate.
1841: England 153; Wales 47; Scotland 0; USA (1850) 21
1881: England 175; Wales 60; Scotland 0; USA (1880) 68; Canada (Ontario) 12
2002: United Kingdom Gwatkin 482; Gwatkins 20 (Office of National Statistics database, based on a list of surnames in use in England, Wales and the Isle of Mann in September 2002)
The name is not in the U.S. Census Bureau 1990 census sample database, as it is occurs too infrequently on the census to appear in the sample.
Distribution of the name
Prior to the migration of British families throughout the United Kingdom and the world, Gwatkin families mainly lived in Herefordshire and Monmouthshire, with a smaller, but still significant, number living in Middlesex and Gloucestershire. There were clearly a number of Gwatkins living in Breconshire prior to the mid-eighteenth century, but by the nineteenth century there were none - I would love to know what happened to them. Did they all change their names to 'Watkins' or leave the county? The first Gwatkins to live outside the United Kingdom appear to have emigrated to Virginia, USA, in the early to mid eighteenth century.
The name 'Gwatkins' is often written down in records that are actually those of Gwatkin family members, so a simple search on the name will not reveal the distribution of people who actually used this variant of the name as a surname. However, 'Gwatkins' seems to have been passed on as a surname in one family in the London area, and among the American Gwatkins.
1841 Distribution in the United Kingdom
- England, Cornwall: 5 Gwatkins in 1 household
- England, Devon: 7 Gwatkins in 1 household
- England, Gloucestershire: 25 Gwatkins in 7 households
- England, Herefordshire: 65 Gwatkins in 37 households
- England, Kent: 2 Gwatkins in 1 household
- England, Lancashire: 9 Gwatkins in 1 household
- England, Leicestershire: 4 Gwatkins in 1 household
- England, Middlesex: 24 Gwatkins in 8 households
- England, Surrey: 8 Gwatkins in 3 households
- England, Sussex: 4 Gwatkins (recorded 'Watkins') in 1 household
- Wales, Monmouthshire: 47 Gwatkins in 11 households
1881 Distribution in the United Kingdom
- England, Cambridgeshire: 10 Gwatkins in 2 households
- England, Essex: 2 Gwatkins in 2 households
- England, Gloucestershire: 24 Gwatkins in 9 households
- England, Herefordshire: 69 Gwatkins in 25 households
- England, Lancashire: 24 Gwatkins in 5 households
- England, London: 21 Gwatkins in 11 households
- England, Middlesex: 2 Gwatkins in 1 household
- England, Shropshire: 1 Gwatkin in 1 household
- England, Somerset: 3 Gwatkins in 2 households
- England, Surrey: 2 Gwatkins in 1 household
- England, Sussex: 9 Gwatkins in 3 households
- England, Worcestershire: 3 Gwatkins in 2 households
- England, Yorkshire: 7 Gwatkins in 2 households
- Wales, Breconshire: 2 Gwatkins in 2 households
- Wales, Glamorgan: 2 Gwatkins in 1 household
- Wales, Monmouthshire: 56 Gwatkins in 21 households
I currently have more than 9000 individual records relating to Gwatkin family members, and regularly add new information to my database. My records include:
- All the IGI extracted parish records, and a few useful, if less reliable, submitted records
- Birth, Death and Marriage Index records prior to 1910
- Most of the UK census records for Gwatkins up to, but not including, 1911
- Some emigration and immigration records from a variety of sources
- Complete cemetery records from several New Zealand cemeteries
- Some parish records, mainly from Monmouthshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire
- Many newspaper entries from the United Kingdom, USA, Australia and New Zealand
- And information from a wide variety of other sources, including information from historical directories, wills and military records
I have not been as systematic in my collection of data as might be desirable. At times I have followed particular families, collecting information only relating to that family, rather than all the information available from that source. Needless to say, I am interested in increasing the amount of reliable data that I hold, and am happy to share information with other people researching this set of families.
Male Gwatkins have a Y chromosome, part of which will have been passed from Gwatkin father to Gwatkin son, typically unchanged. Testing this section of the Y chromosome will reveal information about the direct male Gwatkin line.
This study is now at the stage where research involving DNA could prove useful. Such a study might reveal the answer to such questions as the origin of the Gwatkins of Virginia, USA, or the relationship between two Gwatkin families in the United Kingdom.
If any male Gwatkins are interested in taking part in such research, I am happy to organise a DNA-based study. I would prefer to use either Family Tree DNA, or DNA Heritage, but please let me know if you have reason to prefer another company.
If any male or female Gwatkin descendants have already had a DNA test carried out, and are willing to share any information at all, please contact me.