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About the study

The Rathmell One-Name study effectively began about 1980.  It grew out of a desire to trace my own family roots and leave a legacy for my children having lost both my parents in 1970.  I have with absolute conviction gone back to my 4 x great-grandfather Joseph Rathmell (1763 – 1805) who married Ann Todd at Kirkby Overblow, North Yorkshire in 1782.   Joseph was a Cordwainer and farmer.  Subsequent generations were predominantly of farming stock until the 20th century.  I have identified and verified approximately 260 Rathmells with one branch of the family emigrating to Australia in the early 20th century.  Further studies have traced Rathmell forbears beyond Joseph to my probable 7 x great-grandfather John Rathmell who married Easter Lupton in 1684. The One-Name study therefore effectively covers over 300 years.   My own family history research has exhausted all known avenues to date and so I registered with the Guild of One-Name Studies in December 2017 with a view to broadening my areas of interest.





Variant names

The registered variant of the name is Rafmel.

Name origin

The little village of Rathmell from where this surname originates, is in the county of North Yorkshire, England just south of the market town of Settle on the Lancashire/Yorkshire border. It is recorded in several spelling forms including Rathmell itself, Raithmill, Raithmell, Rauthmell and Rathmill, although all these latter spellings are either very rare or extinct.  The name means "the red bank" from the Olde English pre 7th century words "raud-mealr".

This name is the same as the Old Norse rauðr (rauthr) 'red' + melr 'sandbank'. Ref Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames.

I believe that the real story of the Rathmell family name begins with the Vikings.  The village of Rathmell now in the Craven district of North Yorkshire is called “Rodemele” in the Domesday Book (census 1086) and has the same etymological root as “Raucamelr” in Iceland.  Note: The Domesday Book is available to view online free of charge courtesy of UK Parish Records. This is believed to be the first record of the name itself.  The surname is a locational name. That is to say that it was a name which was usually given to a person after he, or sometimes she, left their original homestead and moved elsewhere. One of the easiest ways to identify a stranger was to call that person by the name of the place from whence they came. Typically “John of Rauthmell”.  Spelling being at best erratic and local accents very thick, lead to the development of "sounds like" spellings.

There is no known connection to the village of Rathmell of anyone by that name. 

Historical occurrences of the name

The surname Rathmell emerged as a notable English family name in the county of Yorkshire where they were anciently seated at Rathmell near Settle.  William de Rauthmell succeeded to the estates in 1379.  During the time of the Norman Kings there were many feudal rebellions.  Many barons were attained, traded their lands, and moved their families out of the royal influence even into Scotland.  Of note amongst the family at this time was the Rathmell family of Yorkshire.  The spelling Rauthmell is interesting as it suggests Norman French influence.

Another early record of a Rathmell after Domesday appears in the Calendar of Patent Rolls 1381 where it is recorded “On Jun 17 in London Pardon was granted to Richard de Rauthmell for the theft of 12 arrows value 3s-4d, of Henry le Mercer and of a heifer value 6s-8d”. 

Joseph Rafmel (1811-1897) grandson of Joseph Rathmell and Ann Todd was a farmer in Horsforth and staunch Methodist Local Preacher and trustee at Grove Vine Methodist Chapel for over 50 years.  There was a strong Methodist tradition in the Rathmell family all through the 19th century and well into the 20th century.

Michael Rathmell (1828-1888) Leeds Poet published a collection of poems in 1866 titled "Spring Blossoms and Autumn Leaves"

Leonard Rathmell (1885 -1935) my grandfather was a Master Butcher in Brighouse, Yorkshire between the two world wars.



Name frequency

The 1881 census records 169 individuals named Rathmell living in Britain. Of these 165 lived in Yorkshire, 3 in Lancashire and 1 in Hampshire.  The distribution through Yorkshire in 1881 was:-

Horsforth - 26

Rothwell - 16

Stainburn - 13

Wakefield - 11

Pannal - 8

Southowram - 7

Leeds - 7

Ruswarp - 6

Otley - 6

Rigton - 5

Bank Newton - 5

Arncliffe - 5

Burley in Wharfedale - 5

Grassington - 4

Weeton - 4

Hunslet - 4

According to the 1891 census there were 268 individuals named Rathmell living in England and Wales.  Of these 203 (76%) lived in Yorkshire.

Authors note: there are currently about 373 people named Rathmell living in the UK, 337 in the USA and 67 in Australia i.e. approximately 777 people worldwide.



Distribution of the name

It is no surprise that as the Rathmell surname is a locational name based upon the hamlet of Rathmell near Settle on the Yorkshire/Lancashire border the distribution of Rathmells has down the centuries followed the valleys on either side of the Pennines looking for good pasture and employment.

The earliest census record of 1841 totals 185 persons named Rathmell.  Of these 121 persons (65%) were resident in Yorkshire, 61 persons (33%) in Lancashire and 4 persons(2%) in Staffordshire. The distribution in Yorkshire showed a concentration in Upper Wharfedale at Gargrave(8), Grassington(11) and Conistone(1). In Lower Wharfedale there were concentrations at Stainburn(13) and Weeton(11).  A large number of persons were also resident in the villages around Leeds i.e. Headingley(8), Armley(9),Horsforth(9) and Hunslet(6).  Rathmells were also living as far afield as York and Selby. 

On the Lancashire side of the Pennines Rathmells were resident in the northern towns of Blackburn(5), Bury(7), Rochdale(7) and Whalley(7).  A large concentration of Rathmells were also living in villages which are now part of Greater Manchester. The most distant Rathmell was living in Warrington.

In the 1891 census the distribution is very similar with a growth of 45% to 268 persons named Rathmell.  Of these 203(76%) are living in Yorkshire, 47(18%) Lancashire, 8(3%) in the South of England, 5(2%) Durham and Northumberland and 2(1%) Glamorgan.  It should be noted that 96% of Rathmells at that time were living in Northern England. 

This distribution of Rathmells is borne out by place names eg Rathmell Fold in Grassington (dates from 1674), Rathmell Road in Leeds LS17, Rathmell Street, Bradford BD5 and Rathmell Hall in York.  There is even a Rathmell Drive in Clapham, London.

A number of Rathmell graves may be found in Linton Graveyard, the next village to Grassington.

It is interesting to note that in the latest census of 1939 there are 190 records of Rathmells living in England and Wales.  Of these 135 were resident in West Yokshire ie 71% confirming that little has changed over 100 years and the surname was still largely concentrated near its roots. 


Records held on Ancestry for the Rathmell surname comprise:-

9305 BMD records

292 Immigration records

605 Military Records


DNA Verification of Viking Ancestry

A most interesting development in original research is being undertaken by Dr Turi King of the University of Leicester.  In an article in the Yorkshire Post 28 December 2011 she is reported as having said “In Britain surnames have been passed down from father to son for 700 years.  Part of our DNA, the Y chromosome, is like the surname passed down the paternal line.  We know that the Vikings left a lasting legacy on our language, landscape and place names but did they leave any trace on today’s surnames?” 

Men with a surname matching a published list on her web site and father/grandfather who had been born in the north of England were invited to attend sessions in York and Harrogate on 21 January 2012.  I attended the York session and donated a sample of saliva which has been used to look for the Y chromosome type.  She has also travelled to Norway and the Isle of Man taking samples and looking for links. 

The DNA test carried out by the University of Leicester on behalf of the author Robert David Rathmell confirmed a Y Chromosome DNA Haplogroup I–M170.

The I-M170 Haplogroup is one of the most numerous haplogroups in the male population of Europe and that 50-75% of the male population of Iceland and Scandinavian Countries and South East Europe notably Croatia have this Y-chromosome.  Whilst not conclusive it provides evidence that Vikings settled in North Yorkshire under the Danelaw and first gave the village of Rathmell its name.  In later centuries people leaving the village would adopt its name as their surname to denote where they had come from. 


I have built a Rathmell Family Tree on Ancestry.Co.Uk based upon studies of my own immediate family and the wider members of the Rathmell family beginning with Joseph Rathmell and Ann Todd.  These studies are primarily concentrated in and around the villages of Stainburn, North Rigton, Huby and Weeton  near Harrogate, North Yorkshire.  I have also studied one branch of the family based in Horsforth, Leeds which lead me to a related family member in Australia.  This tree contains approximately 259 Rathmell individuals together with other family members.  The tree is private and may only be viewed by permission of the named contact.