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About the study

My one-name study of the name MUDDLE and its variants started, like most, as a result of my research into my own ancestry. This showed that my mother's family, she was Ivy Muddle, had been living in the little Sussex village that I was born and raised in for over 300 years, and before that had only moved from an adjacent parish. This led me to investigate the name a bit more generally resulting in the discovery that it was predominately a South-East England name. It was then a small step to start a one-name study and register it with GOONS.
The information that I have collected over the last decade or so has enabled me to construct a number of family lines. I have given names, for ease of reference, to those for which I have so far produced detailed lineage charts and written histories. There are three lines that originate in Sussex, the 'Ardingly Muddles' the 'Buxted Muddles' and the 'Framfield Muddles' and it is from these lines that the majority of living Muddles are descended, including those in Australia, Canada and the USA. Kent is the county from which the second greatest number of Muddles came, but only the 'Loose Muddle' line has at the moment been fully documented, this line includes the prosperous shipbuilding Muddles of Gillingham. Two lines of Dorset origin are the 'Portland Muddles' and the 'Wimborne Muddles', the Portland Muddles mostly ended up in Dover and the Wimborne Muddles ended up in London, the name dying out in Dorset itself. As time permits detailed histories of the other Muddle lines for which I have information, particularly for those from Kent, will be produced.
Contact with anyone interested in any aspect of their Muddle ancestry is welcome; I am happy to help them with advice and information and hope that they will feel able to add to the information known about these families, as a free exchange of information seems to lead to the most interesting results.

Variant names

What I consider to be the modern variants of the name MUDDLE are MUDLE, MUDDEL, MUDDELL and MODDLE. The Moddle spelling is only known from one family line in Canada where the original immigrant had his name changed by officials. The Mudle spelling is from a line of the Wimborne Muddles who changed the spelling when they moved to London. The forms Muddel and Muddell have arisen from several instances of individuals or families changing their name from Muddle in just about all family lines from the early 19th century onwards.

Name origin

The earliest records that I have, which are from Sussex, are for a William MUDEL of Forest Row in 1296, William le MODEL of Goring in 1321, William le MODEL of Sheffield in 1327, and William le MODEL & Roger le MODEL of Sheffield in 1332 (Sheffield is essentially the modern village of Fletching).
The early form of the name with the preposition 'le' meaning 'the' rules out this being a locative or topographical name, instead indicating that it was probably one describing the characteristics or occupation of the originator. Possibly it is a form of 'Middle' meaning someone who was middling in terms of size, or who was the middle one of three siblings.
In the early records the name was frequently spelt differently even in the same document, but generally it seems that documents produced by national authorities more frequently spelt the name as Muddle, whereas local records, which were probably produced by scribes with lesser education, tended to use forms such as Muddell, Modle, Modyl, etc. For about three generations at Rotherfield the name was spelt as Muddell in the parish registers, but the same people were referred to as Moddle in the manorial rolls. From the mid 17th century to the early 19th century the name settled into the spelling Muddle. But then from the early 19th century some family members seem to have started to feel uncomfortable with the name and started to modify it, mostly to the spelling Muddell, see the above section on variants.

Historical occurrences of the name

Muddle is not a name that you will find among the 'great and the good' recorded in history books, theirs is the history of the ordinary people of England and her overseas colonies. They were probably yeoman farmers when they first appeared in the historical records in the late 13th century. They were then living in the Ashdown Forest area of the High Weald of Sussex and with the growth of the iron industry in this area in the 16th & 17th centuries they made money from this industry; in particular they were suppliers of the charcoal that fuelled the furnaces. They were also involved in the manufacture of products from metal, being blacksmiths, whitesmiths and clockmakers. As the iron industry died out in the Weald in the 18th century some family lines returned to being yeoman farmers, with the result that their money seems to have slowly drained away, so that by the early 19th century they were mostly farm labourers, and it's from these that the majority of the migrants to the colonies came during the hard times in 1830s England.
Another Sussex family line became coopers and parish clerks, and it was a migration from this line that produced a Deputy Registrar-General of N.S.W.
In Kent the family line that settled in Gillingham prospered building ships, and one bachelor member was the captain of commercial ships sailing to Australia and the Far East from the 1820s to the 1840s, during which time he went whaling in the Southern Ocean and transported four shiploads of convicts to Australia.
For centuries there was a scattering of mariner Muddles in the ports of the south coast of England. The most famous of these was Richard Henry Muddle who was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy at the time of Trafalgar and went on to become a captain in 1817; ending his days as a harbour master in South America.

Name frequency

The Office of National Statistics database of surnames currently in use in England and Wales, which is based on National Health Records, lists Muddle as the 17290th most frequent name, Muddell as the 34906th, Mudle as the 76659th and Muddel as the 109436th.

Distribution of the name

There are about 1400 people in the world that currently go by the name Muddle or one of its variants. Of these about 600 live in England, 600 in Australia, 100 in America, 50 in Canada, and less than 10 in both New Zealand and South Africa.
Nearly all those in Canada and the majority of those in Australia originate from migrations of the 'Buxted Muddles'; the 'Buxted Muddles' are by far the largest single family line and the one I belong to. Most of the rest of those in Australia are from migrations by members of the 'Ardingly Muddles'. The 'Framfield Muddles' account for a migration to New Jersey, USA, whose members mostly adopted the Muddell spelling. The other main migration to America was by three Kentish brothers to New York State.
An analysis of the registered births for Muddle and variants in England and Wales from the start of registration in 1837 to the end of the century shows that 51% were born in Sussex (almost all in the eastern end of the county), 21.7% in London, 13.6% in Kent, 5.6% in Surrey, and the remaining 8.1% in other counties with the number diminishing rapidly as you move away from the South-East of England. The births in London and Surrey have all proved to be in family lines that originated in Sussex, Kent or Dorset, and shows the magnetic pull that a large city has on the population of the surrounding area. The Muddles in Dorset had just about died out in their own county by the time of the start of registration.


All GRO index references for births, marriages and deaths in England & Wales from 1837 to 2002, together with a considerable number of certificates and transcripts of marriages from parish registers for this period.
Transcripts of the full details of most census entries for England & Wales from 1841 to 1901.
Transcripts of all wills proved by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury up to 1857.
Transcripts of most wills proved in local church courts up to 1857.
Index details of all wills proved in England and Wales from 1858 to 1943, together with transcripts of some.
A large volume of transcripts of baptism, marriage and burial entries in parish registers from 1538 to the start of registration in 1837, together with baptisms and burials after the start of registration until the present-day.
Scottish registration and census records (there are very few of these).
Census records for the USA from 1790 to 1930.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission entries for those killed in war.
Manorial court records for some Sussex manors.
Migration records to Australia and the USA.
Newspaper cutting from England and the USA.
Details from the indexed issues of the *London Gazette*.
Assize and Quarter Session records for Sussex and Kent.
Many other miscellaneous records such as directory entries, overseers of the poor accounts, land tax assessments, militia ballot lists, poll books, apprenticeship records, etc.


Retained study profile

This study is no longer registered with the Guild, but this profile page has been retained at the member's request. Please note that neither officers nor members of the Guild are able to answer any questions about this study.

However, the Guild has preserved the member's original website here.