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About the study
This study has, at its heart, the HIGTON family that originated in Cromford and the area surrounding the ancient town of Wirksworth, Derbyshire, England.
It was started nearly forty years ago by John Stuart Higton of Draycott, Derbyshire. In those days, before email, the internet, and the availability of online genealogical data, his research involved visits to libraries, record offices, LDS family history centres, etc., to pore over microfilm copies of documents. and many Saturday mornings in the vestry of Wirksworth and other churches consulting the original parish registers. Communication was by letter and telephone. From the early 1980s onwards, John wrote to all of the HIGTONs he had found in telephone directories, asking for whatever information they might be willing to share regarding their ancestry. Two of those letters reached Tom HIGTON, then living in Co. Durham, and his son Nicholas HIGTON (me). We responded, and then promptly forgot about family history.
A decade later, my own interest began and, in 1995, my father and I spent an enjoyable afternoon with John. He very kindly gave me a copy of his research database, on a floppy disc and comprising the “Brother’s Keeper” program together with his HIGTON data.
John’s research was thorough and comprehensive, and he was continuing his study, so I spent the next twenty years mainly researching other family lines, whilst adding HIGTON data as it became available, including from the 1901 and 1911 censuses.
Recently, John and I re-established contact, and we are now cross-checking each other’s research in an effort to resolve queries and the inevitable brickwalls. We each have around 2,000 HIGTON/HICKTONs in our databases albeit with a high degree of duplication between them, and many thousands of other names of people who married into the family.
The registered variant (i.e. a name which the individuals would have used) of the name is HICKTON. However, and perhaps resulting from local dialect pronunciation coupled with the high rates of illiteracy in past centuries, there are other variants existing in the records, including HICTON, HIGDEN, HIGDON and HIGHTON (the latter is a regular mis-spelling to the present day, for reasons inexplicable to the HIGTONs! Possibly, it is thought that HIGHTON sounds more posh than HIGTON.) However, most of these are actually “deviants”, that were really clerical errors in recording or transcription.
It is recognised that there is a sizable population of HIGDONs (centred on Somerset) and HIGHTONs (centred on Lancashire), but generally these are assumed to be of separate origin to the HIGTONS.
The origin of the name HIGTON is uncertain, but it is possibly a variant of HIGDON which evolves from the personal name Hikedun, a medieval pet form of Richard. It is apparently a variant of Ricardun, a form of Ric(h)ard with a diminutive ending.
History of the name
The earliest reference to the name and its variants/deviants was Ranulf Higden or Higdon (c. 1280 – 12 March 1364), who was an English chronicler and a Benedictine monk of the monastery of St. Werburgh in Chester. He is believed to have been born in the West of England, taken the monastic vow (Benedictine) at Chester in 1299, and travelled over the north of England. (The largest population of HIGDONs in the census records is in Somerset).
The earliest currently known documentary evidence of the HIGTONs in Derbyshire is in a document dated 1491, and involving William HIGDEN of Cromford, near Wirksworth, in a contract for smelting lead ore. It is unlikely that there would have been HIGDENs and HIGTONs at about the same time in a tiny village, so he is probably one of our ancestors and also an early example of the problems of spelling a name when most of the people could not read or write.
Over the centuries, descendants of the Wirksworth HIGTONs have migrated to other parts of Great Britain (notably the adjacent counties of Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire, and Lancashire) and abroad, and there are also other HIGTONs (and variants) around the world who are not yet linked into the Wirksworth HIGTON diaspora.
There were 166 HIGTONs recorded in the UK 1841 census, 151 in 1851, 163 in 1861, 201 in 1871, 213 in 1881, 229 in 1891, 371 in 1901, 442 in 1911 and more than 421 in 1939 – (The 1939 Register records remain closed for people born less than 100 years ago until proof of death is verified).
Distribution of the name
In 1841, the principal clusters of the name were in Derbyshire (70), Lancashire (18), Nottinghamshire (18), Staffordshire (16), London and Yorkshire (10 each). Largely because of the decline of the lead mining industry in Derbyshire, and the move from agriculture to industry, the principal clusters in 1911 were in Derbyshire (153), Nottinghamshire (89), Yorkshire (48), Staffordshire (28), Lancashire (40), Warwickshire (21), and Kent (20).
This study has benefited greatly from three particular sources. First, Thomas Norris INCE (1799 – 1860), a solicitor in Wirksworth, compiled during his working life a 484 page handwritten book entitled “PEDIGREES & sketches of pedigrees of families in-about WIRKSWORTH and other places thereabouts in Derbyshire compiled from abstracts of Title, Wills, Deeds and other documents, church & churchyard notes, Bible entries, Court rolls and from information of various people as to their descent”. Ince’s work included, to some extent, the remembrances of people living in the first half of the 19th century, and so was simultaneously both anecdotal but also containing information not now available in any original document.
Second, and commencing in 1998, John Palmer of Dorset led an online one-place study of Wirksworth, and this included indexed transcripts of a wide variety of sources, including the parish registers, the 1841 – 1901 censuses, memorial inscriptions, Wills, legal documents, Ince’s Pedigrees, and other Wirksworth ephemera of interest to genealogists and social historians.
Third, the information provided to John Stuart HIGTON by several hundred family members, in response to questionnaires in the early 1980s and 1990s, has helped to fill out the HIGTON family tree in the 20th century, and has provided insights into earlier generations.
As far as possible, the information provided in these documents has been verified by reference to original documents, and supplemented by other sources including the GRO indexes, Probate Registers, the 1911 census and 1939 Register, and BMD data for other counties, particularly where available online.
The study has not yet used DNA data.
Wirksworth website: www.wirksworth.org.uk