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About the study
The Hounslow one-name study has slowly emerged from my interest in my own ancestry and family history. Over a period of time I became aware that there were not very many Hounslows, and that they didn’t seem to have much to do with the place in west London. In fact, back in the 1880s they were concentrated in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire with an outpost in Kent. I have started to collect information about the various groupings to see whether and how they link up. In 2014 I took the plunge and registered the name with the Guild of One-Name Studies.
The spelling of the name as ‘Hounslow’ has been remarkably constant over the centuries, perhaps helped by the fact that the west London Hounslow, and in particular its heath, is so well known. The only true variant (ie where there is evidence that it was used by the owner) I have found is ‘Houndslow’, and I am not sure that it is currently in use. On the other hand, officialdom has generated a huge number of sometimes quite inventive deviants, of which ‘Hownslow’ is perhaps the most common. Some of these deviants are names in their own right (for example ‘Hounslow’ is sometimes transcribed as ‘Onslow’) but their distribution is different and so they don’t constitute true variants.
The Hounslow surname is locative, meaning that it may be derived from a geographic feature or place name. Dictionaries of surnames, if they mention the name at all, suggest that it comes from the anglo-saxon ‘Hlawe’ meaning hill, tumulus, burial mound or rising ground, and ‘Hound’, a hound or dog, hence ‘the burial place of a dog’. Or, since it is unlikely that a dog would be buried in a tumulus, possibly the burial place of Hunde, some ancient anglo-saxon chieftain.
It is not clear that this is the origin of the name of Hounslow in Middlesex, and a history of the town by GE Bate (And so Make a City Here) points out that the name was applied to a Hundred (an administrative area) in the Doomesday book, and that the earliest variants, Honeslaw (1086), Hundeslowe (1214) and Hundeslawe (1296), suggest that the name may be derived from ‘Hundred Hill’ or the elevated land above the Thames where the Hundred-court met.
Hounslow, the town, became known partly because of the founding there of a Trinitarian Friary in 1211. The friary, thought to be the first founded in England, is the source of the ‘coat of arms associated with’ the name Hounslow and forms part of the arms of the London Borough of Hounslow. As a friary it seems to have been successful and in 1293 founded a priory in Oxford dedicated to St Frideswide, creating an intriguing link to the later distribution of the surname. The friary also give rise to the first use of the name as a surname. Robert de Hounslow (fl 1430), one of the friars, was described as a ‘native of Hounslow’ and although he appears to be of lowly birth he was sent to be educated at Oxford University and rose to become Grand Provincial of the Order of the Holy Trinity for England, Scotland and Ireland. However, since friars took a vow of chastity, it is unlikely that he is the progenitor of the family.
In any case David Hey, the historian, is critical of the use of linguistics in deciding the origins of locative surnames. He suggests that the geographical distribution of a name is more useful in deciding its origins. Certainly the origin of the modern surname seems to be in rural Oxfordshire in the late 16th century, and if the name is not linked with Hounslow in Middlesex through the priory in Oxford, there is a possible source for it in the Vale of the White Horse.
Historical occurrences of the name
The Hounslows have generally eschewed the limelight for supporting or cameo roles in history. John Hounslow (1794-1871) kept a grocer’s shop on High Street, Oxford and was obviously a character, who took an interest in religious politics. This clearly impressed the Rev Tugwell, who refers to him in his book Reminiscences of Oxford as ‘The Radical Grocer on the High’. John was married three times, but none of his wives seem to have had a recipe for marmalade, as did the wife of his competitor, Frank Cooper, who had a shop down the road and whose name lives on as a household brand. One of his wives, Sarah, is buried in the churchyard of St Peter in the East, where her tombstone has become something of a local landmark since Jan Morris pointed out in her book Oxford that it gave her date of death as 31 February 1835.
Alec Hounslow (1911-1976), while still an apprentice at Morris Garage in Oxford, served as riding mechanic to Tazio Nuvolari when they won the 1933 Ulster TT in an MG Magnette. He was one of the founding members of the British Racing Mechanics Club. He had a long career at MG and was instrumental in bringing forward the TD model which helped the company after the war, and was involved with a number of attempts on the land speed record.
Perhaps future Hounslows will become better known since there is now an Olympian with the name, Richard Hounslow, who is a double silver medal winner in the canoe event.
In the 1881 Census there were 401 people with the name Hounslow: 103 in Oxfordshire, mainly in Oxford and Woodstock, and 65 in Buckinghamshire, mainly in Aylesbury and Leighton Buzzard. There were 87 in London and 21 in Kent. There were also 10 people with the name Houndslow and 2 with the name Hownslow.
In the Taliesin-Arlein database there are 795 Hounslows making it the 7,948th equal most common name in England and Wales. It is suggested from this that there may be as many as 3,000 individuals to be found in the records of births marriages and deaths since parish records began to be recorded in the 16th century.
Distribution of the name
The earliest Hounslows that I have found in the Parish records are in rural Oxfordshire in the 16th century; at the end of the 17th century there are Hounslows in Buckinghamshire; and in the 18th century they are to be found in Kent and in Devon. This is still the main distribution by the time of the 1881 census. It is very tempting to think that the name originated in Oxfordshire and then subsequently spread. Certainly my own ancestors moved from country to town at the end of the 18th century, and then to London in the 19th century, before moving out to the provinces again in the 20th century. There has also been emigration of Hounslows, mainly from the Buckinghamshire clan, to the commonwealth, principally Canada and Australia.
The study proper is at an early stage. I have recently completed adding individuals from the Free BMD birth listings and have about 2500 individuals with the name in my database, in a number of family trees. Does this mean I only have another 500 Hounslows to find? Somehow I doubt it!
There are no plans at present for a DNA study, although it would be of great interest in the future to test whether the various branches of the family can be linked.